The Pain of Flying Is Good Business for Airlines

Airlines make a lot of money by creating miserable flying accommodations and then charging customers "convenience fees" to avoid them.

Airlines make a lot of money by creating miserable flying accommodations and then charging customers "convenience fees" to avoid them. In fact, it's the industry's fastest growing source of income.


Among the strategies used are cramming more seats into coach by shrinking the seat size and reducing leg room, forcing flyers to stand in sluggish lines by using back-to-front boarding procedures, and the now common surcharge for checking luggage. Of course you can avoid these inconveniences (first class seating, priority boarding, luggage fees) for a cost.

"Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as 'calculated misery.'"

The customer, it seems, is no longer the priority in the airline industry. Mergers have created conditions for pricing collusions, a demoralized staff, boarding procedures modeled on the caste system, and fees that make people cram their overstuffed bags into undersized carryon bins.

In 2013, the airline industry made a collective $31.5 billion in fees. Yet the fuel savings caused by falling petroleum prices will not be passed on to flyers. More than ever, we arrive to our destination cramped, tired, sore—and all for a higher price.

In his Big Think interview, aeronautic engineer Richard Schaden explains how the lack of competition has stifled innovation in the airline industry:

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

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  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
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  • Like the U.S., Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership. However, it has a considerably lower rate of deaths from gun violence.
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  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.