Travel classes

[29 March 2006]

By Rob Horning

When we arrived at LaGuardia for our flight to Tampa, we had to check ourselves in with those self-service machines that prints boarding passes, and then wait in a fairly long line to merely check our bags in with one of the two harried clerks behind the Delta counter. (This is at 5:30 AM.) Meanwhile a few other clerks were doing nothing over in the first-class check-in area—they were simply on stand-by in case a first-class customer rolled in, so they could get the red carpet rolled out for them. Then as we were padding around in our stockinged feet in the absurdly long line to get through security, the first-class line through the check point was empty, and the TSA agents there waiting, in case, were idle. After we arrived in Florida, we needed to take a shuttle to the rental-car depot. Our shuttle driver told us we’d be making two stops, one for “Emerald Club” members and one for the rest of us. He stopped for the preferred members—there were none, but we had to stop anyway—and then he literally drive another fifteen feet and then stopped to let us out. “I’m sorry folks, but we have to do that,” he explained.

The reason why he “has” to do that, I’m guessing, is because the geniuses who manage tourist businesses have decided the best way to maximize profit margins is to segregate consumers into classes and use misery as leverage on one class to get them to pay for the right to join the other. So the waiting, the inferior service, the discomfort—these begin to seem by design, as an inherent part of the business model rather than an unfortunate but unavoidable aspect of traveling. Tourist businesses seem determined to undermine all the incentives they have to make traveling pleasant for all, and replace them with stronger incentives to make it pleasant for a few wealthy and capricious people.

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