There’s a lot of budget travel passenger shaming going on these days, and I’m here to call “El Toro Poo Poo,” as my Dad used to say.
I am a budget traveler.
Maybe you are too.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Airline marketers: you’re spinning this all wrong. It’s offensive. It’s manipulative. We can see right through these shady practices.
And we as #gatelice are calling you on it.
It’s not Your Imagination: Passenger Shaming is Rampant
If you’ve traveled at all in recent years, you’ve probably noticed how bad it’s gotten. It’s sinister, and it’s a shady business practice if you ask me. It starts when you book, with red-lettered warnings about the things you DON’T get with your $1,000 purchase.
For some airlines (honestly, Delta seems the biggest offender in my recent experience) the follow up email confirming your purchase also contains red-letter warnings about what you don’t get with your massive expenditure.
It continues with additional emails reminding you that you are poor. It’s an empty promise that if you spend more money, you won’t feel the growing knot of terror in your stomach. It’s a snake oil salesman selling you a vessel that doesn’t even have snake oil in it.
And it culminates at check-in, where you are reminded you don’t yet have a seat. And the gate, where you are in group 9, or some other number as inflated as the meaningless “miles” you are or are not accruing. Miles which can be taken away from you, or devalued without notice.
Oh, did I mention you can BUY MORE MEANINGLESS MILES?
Imagine if any other industry did this.
“OHHH, you want the grande mochaccino? YOU DON’T GET A PLACE TO PUT YOUR CUP with your cheapo purchase! Sorry not sorry. Upgrade for $5 and you can get a packet of sugar.”
“Oh, you want an entree but no appetizer? Well, then you don’t get a guaranteed seat.”
Seriously. If I’m giving you literally hundreds of dollars for your product or service, you should at least thank me.
Yes, of course, offer me additional upgrade options–by all means. It is good to have choices, and I appreciated the recent attempted to upsell more legroom on upcoming next trip to Portugal for many thousands of dollars. Which I cannot afford.
But shaming me into buying more? When I just chose to do business with you? Spitting out the words “basic economy” as if they are poison, while we’re all standing at the gate? Inciting fear by not assigning a seat until people are at the gate? That’s poor form.
The Luggage Storage Problem – It’s the Airlines’ Fault
As airlines increase fees on budget travelers who actually deign to bring luggage with them, more people are packing light and carrying on only.
And that’s a good thing. It shows that you’re a smart traveler. It pays dividends, as I detailed in two recent blog posts about why I always carry on only and you should too, and how you can travel with a carry on only.
I didn’t even get into the cost of checking luggage these days.
But airlines knowingly supply insufficient overhead bin space for the number of passengers they are carrying on their flights. (Imagine if movie theaters sold more tickets to a show than they had seats!) More, they’re banking on you panicking about the lack of overhead bin space.
Hence, the advent of the term: gate lice.
It’s a derogatory term further meant to shame all of us who aren’t paying for upgrades, who JUST WANT TO GET OUR LUGGAGE ON THE FLIGHT WE PAID FOR.
Let’s be clear: we’re just seeking to actually receive the service we purchased.
I, for one, am proud to be gate lice. If it means I need to get in line a little bit faster to get my clothing on board, so be it. I didn’t create the shortage, and I deserve to have my teeny tiny carry-on size bag with me.
I’m proud to be a budget traveler.
And I think we should all own it. Which is why I created gear so you can say it loud and proud.
If it means some fat cat paid $100 in baggage fees and I get to afford 10 more nights at a cheap hotel in Bangkok, hey, gate lice it is.
Basic B*tch Economy? Girl, I’m there.
Being “basic,” being a budget traveler is awesome. It means I’m brilliant. I’m savvy. I’m paying thousands less than you yahoos in first class. I’m paying hundreds less than you yahoos who both packed too much and need a “free” cocktail. I’m okay with a little discomfort for a few hours if it means I can stay in another country for days or weeks. That is the tradeoff for me. And it’s anything but shame-worthy.
Here’s an idea, airlines: how about you actually provide the service you are selling? We are allowed a carry on, but you aren’t providing the space for it. Explain to me how that’s okay? Isn’t that fraud?
To clarify: this seems an issue that is distinctly domestic airlines-related.
Airlines in Asia treat passengers very well. Food on flights, even short ones. Bangkok Airlines famously treats everyone like they’re first class: every single passenger has access to their passenger lounge. You guys. Flights with Bangkok Air cost pennies compared to U.S. domestic airlines.
I also just booked a flight through Air France, and there was no passenger shaming on the booking or the follow up emails.
The Upselling on Airlines is Whack
Let’s talk about the rampant upselling on airlines.
Paying to Pick Your Seat? Poppycock!
Some airlines now refuse to let you choose a seat unless you pay additional money for it.
More, they try to scare you by saying you’ll have it assigned at the gate. As you can see from a recent flight I purchased, I was offered several options for a seat, ranging from $17 per flight to an additional $166 RT for main cabin seating with a free beer and 6 inches.
Hardly worth it, but then again, I have short legs and even I know I can get a beer at the airport for a tenner. It’s not like it’s open bar in the main cabin, you don’t get an AYCD wristband! They come around once, parcel out your rations, and then move on.
Let’s get real. Shouldn’t we be shaming people who are spending $166 for a beer and 6 inches? Instead of shaming people who are too budget smart to blow that cash?
I’m not great at math, but, to me, that doesn’t add up. Keep in mind, you are traveling the same distance as those flying in first class, business class, kiss some arse class, and the 6 inch knee room class. And getting from point one to two is the end goal.
Yeah, I think I’ll use my $166 more wisely, thankyouverymuch.
Confession: for international flights, I’ll purchase a window seat, because 10 hours in the middle or aisle is so uncomfortable, because I hope to pass out from anxiety meds and because chances are I have two or three other flights that day.
Paying for Early Boarding
Can we talk about paying for early boarding? Airlines increasingly are trying to scare us into paying $15 or so more each way for the privilege of sitting on the plane for an extra five minutes. I have so many thoughts on this.
First, it’s false logic to assume I want to sit on a plane longer than I have to. It’s abject misery being on your plane, particularly as someone with flight anxiety, someone who knows exactly how germ infested those planes are, and someone who overall finds fellow passengers to be pretty unconscientious. The armrest stealing. The manspreading. The seat kicking. The reclining. The devices at volume. The stink-making. The lack of temperature control.
I want to whittle my time on your plane down to as little as possible.
It is not a bonus to be sitting on a flight any longer than you have to; stop selling it like it’s hot wings happy hour.
Second, as a budget traveler, I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis, and I’d rather buy 15 bowls of pho in Hanoi than pay extra to be on your plane longer.
Third, you’re trying to squeeze blood from a turnip, people. I am paying what I can as a budget traveler. Take away drink service. Keep your darn peanuts and pretzels. As a bonus, it will be better for the environment.
Sure, $15 may not seem like much, especially when you’ve just dropped a grand to sit in a sardine can for 8 hours. But if you make a minimum living wage, it’s taken you an hour of your life (two if you figure in taxes) to purchase five additional minutes on a plane.
Start selling me things I actually want. What I really want is that overhead bin space, or the space under the seat. That’s all I want. As a budget traveler, that’s what I need.
And start selling luxury to your passengers who have the money to spend.
The entire lack of service on some U.S. domestic airlines
One more thing–and this has really ticked me off recently. Airlines seem to have a get out of jail free card: “weather-related delays.” On a recent trip, our American Airlines flight got cancelled, leaving us stranded overnight in Miami. We were already at the airport when we found out.
They had auto-booked us on a flight three days later. Three days! What kind of lifestyle would a person need to have to be able to stay unexpectedly in a city for three nights and get home three days after they were due? (Maybe mine…but that’s besides the point.)
And on top of it, we were actually treated rudely at the counter by two different staff, in spite of going out of our way to be kind. It was unbelievable. We were treated worse than lice.
You see, if they can claim “weather,” they don’t have to offer any compensation or assistance to passengers AT ALL. Even if you are already at the airport. And they don’t have to explain where the weather is happening (it was lovely weather in Florida.) Nor, apparently, do they need to provide ANY customer service.
In the end, we flew out of an entirely different airport, into a different airport, arranged a two hour ride from that airport home, arranged additional dog care, dropped $200 on a hotel room and another $200 on meals, trains, cabs and more.
It was a very expensive delay.
You guys. We spend $1200 with a business and got treated like trash. Like we didn’t matter.
And then, when we book a budget ticket with them, we get treated like garbage too.
I get treated better when I buy a $2 coffee.
What other business do you know that can get away with this crap? Shaming customers. Drumming up anxiety. Failing to deliver on the service you sell, and failing to help those left in the lurch. Treating your customers like crap.
The budget travel customers are not the problem here.
Our only recourse, perhaps, is to own it. To refuse to buy in to the airlines’ shaming economy. To pay for upgrades only when necessary. And then, to take ownership of the derogatory terms intended to shame us. To use them as a sign of empowerment, to show the world what it means to be budget savvy travelers.
We know what we are.
We are gate lice. Hear us roar.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.