Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Singing

I think that Song is the future of air travel, at least for common people. We flew them to s.f. last weekend. Somehow we ended up with $200 (tax included) round-trip tickets. That’s not typical even for Song — thanks though!

I’ve never flown JetBlue. They’re one of those “cheap” airlines that always seems to be underpriced by a traditional airline. Every time I fly one of their routes I can find a ticket on Delta or American conspicuously priced $20 less. For this trip, at least I was able to try out the JetBlue-inspired Delta division.

Song is the happy ending, the barely missed catastrophe in deregulated air travel’s long degradation in service. Over the past few decades, and particularly after September 2001, we’ve watched as tickets became cheaper, meals sparser, and flight attendants bitchier. (Can you believe it? At some point it becomes theater.)

Nobody’s been very happy in coach class for at least a decade. The consolation is a cheap ticket, the fact that you’re taking a trip you wouldn’t have been able to afford in the old days. Air travel had become a painful but necessary stress-test on wings. Mentally, you had to shut down for the duration and think about Buddha (or your deity of choice).

Coach class used to feel like welfare. You’d sit around, trying to be patient, waiting for First Class’s proper service to terminate so airline employees could toss some pretzels at you. The handout wasn’t much, but dammit, you were entitled to it!

Song is proof that, in the sky too, capitalism is better than its alternatives. Nobody’s entitled to nuthin’ except television, a quiz game, and beverages. (They say this, in similarly careless language, as you’re preparing for takeoff.) Flight Attendants, for the first time in years, are forced to be convincingly cheerful beyond row 10 in order to sell snacks and meals. They hand out menus, hawk “food items” as they walk by, and you start to hate them a little less just because they’re trying. Up front, there isn’t even a first class section to resent. Suddenly, the plane just feels lighter.

Beyond à la carte food (quelle idée), it’s nice to see some useless old customs rightfully abandoned. Much of the language you hear over Song’s loud (no, really, LOUD) speakers has been updated for the 21st century. They’re still reading from a script, but the script is so cheeky and unprofessional that it’s obvious to everyone — yes, even flight attendants — that a little improvisation will not bring the plane down in flames. Tray tables in your “upright and locked position,” may you rest in peace.

I didn’t buy anything in either direction on the trip. We took p.b. sandwiches with us on the way out, and coming home I had eaten a big french toast breakfast to sustain me. Most people on the plane didn’t buy anything. The nice thing is, it’s up to you. If you think airline food is lousy (or, Buddha help us, you have a special diet) you can silently meditate the $7 you saved instead of complaining to everyone about it.

Mrlittlepants, incidentally, has different ideas about Song. (He returned one day prior and suffered weather delays.) He’s right about what happened to him, but mark my words: all hoi polloi air travel is going to look more and more like Song, and this polloi is glad for it.