Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Airline Travel of Days Gone By OR Airlines Barely Getting By

I am winging my way back to DC this morning. Those who have delved into the very earliest days of this little enterprise, will remember that I was in DC when I discovered and the Almanac was born. Since I am only staying a single night, I don't know if I will venture back to the point of origin, Soho Tea and Coffee.

I am on a Midwest Airlines (Formerly Midwest Express) flight to Ronald Reagan (National) Airport, just across the river from DC proper.

Many amenities remain to make Midwest a great choice. Though travel rules at work preclude the non-stop when a cheaper fare is available, the arrival time of this flight made it a necessary (oh darn!) choice. Just HAVE to put up with the Business-Class sized leather seats… ;-)

Other things, alas, have gone by the wayside. I remember the second business trip I took for my present organization was a multi-segmented week that started out with an early Morning flight to Boston. At that time we were REQUIRED to fly to Boston via Midwest (then Express). Our company has so many Boston-area clients that , when US Air cancelled it’s KC-Boston direct flights, management negotiated with Midwest into offering daily early-morning and evening non-stops. One could theoretically fly in for a meeting and return the same day. They could guarrentee a minimum number of passengers on these flights, making it a win-win situation. The memo then came down from on high that you WOULD fly Midwest , (Once again, dang!) The same process was repeated a year or so later for New York trips. Alas! Those days have passed… On this particular flight I had made the mistake of specifying a Kosher meal with my profile at the travel agency. (This used to be a road-warrior trick to get a better meal than the usual fare. Of course, that was pre-911 when you still got meals on flights.) My meal on that flight was actually worse than the standard breakfast, and I made a point of specifying the normal meal on all subsequent trips. Back then meals on Midwest were a throwback to the hey-day of Airline travel before de-regulation. Real food on real china with real silverware. Complimentary Mimosas with breakfast, an excellent Red or White wine with other meals. And if your flight happens to not occur during a timeframe where a meal is not customary, hot chocolate-chip cookies!

After 911, with the need to minimize the number of people on the tarmac, most airlines have gone to box lunches. (I remember flying just after 911 on Midwest with plastic knives but normal silverware otherwise.) Midwest is no exception. Somewhere in the transition, they stopped being ‘complementary’ and you have to shell our cash to purchase pre-packaged nourishment. I have been desperate enough to try Midwest’s as well as some other offerings. The Midwest meals are still superior, in my opinion. I know we were really paying for the meals before, but I do wonder if the 7-10 dollars has been knocked off the price of the ticket…

(I believe the cookies are still on the menu, so, ironically, I would get a better treat if this WEREN’T a ‘meal’ flight… :-/)

I can hardly blame them; this flight is, if anything, half full. The only people sharing seats on their side of the row are obviously families traveling together.

Experts predict that Airline travel this summer will finally reach levels matching the time before the War on Terror became a reality. This is a Wednesday, and a fairly early flight.

Still, I don’t know that business travelers are ‘spreading the wealth’ amongst the Airlines, Rental Car companies, livery services, Hotels, Eateries and the like as they once were. All those employees (especially those who rely on tips) are still feeling the pinch.

I suppose I can’t complain, with so many Airlines in some form of financial distress…

Still, I do miss the good ol’ days!


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