For many people, flying is about as appealing as cleaning a toilet — and it may get worse.
On Wednesday, American Airlines announced that its “no-frills” Basic Economy seats would go on sale Feb. 10 in some markets. If you buy one of these seats, you can only bring on a carry-on small enough to fit in the seat under you (if you bring any other bags, you must pay extra), will be among the last to board, will not be able to change or get a refund for your ticket or get same-day standby, and will have a seat assigned to you automatically. American says it is doing this to more effectively compete with the low-cost carriers.
This comes at a time when just one in four Americans say that air travel is enjoyable, according to a recent CNBC survey of 815 travelers, while 27% say that it is either awful or not enjoyable and 40% characterize it as merely bearable. Airlines for America, an airline industry trade group, says that “facts don’t back up that assertation” as “it’s a great time to fly as air travel is as affordable and accessible as it’s ever been, as evidenced by the record number of passengers taking to the skies.”
Among the most hated aspects of flying: Uncomfortable seats (77% say they don’t like this), added fees (71%) and unpredictable delays and cancellations (67%), according to a recent survey of more than 2,700 people by travel firm TripAdvisor. Despite these passenger grumblings from the survey, Airlines for America notes that the “the customer complaint rate remains remarkably low, with approximately 2 in every 100,000 registering a complaint with DOT.”
Those issues likely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon — and some of them are getting worse. Here are four ways experts say that flying will soon get even worse.
You’ll pay for worse-than-standard-economy seats
American isn’t the only airline to offer a version of “Basic Economy” seats. “Low-cost carriers are typically offering inexpensive fares by charging add-on fees for services that were traditionally built-in to the ticket price, for example charging extra for carry-on bags, checked-bags, seat selection, snacks, change and cancellation options,” explains Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for airline fare research firm Hopper.com. “In response, the full service carriers are experimenting with different ways of breaking out their own amenities and offering various ticket options with different combinations of extras.”
Delta (DAL) was the first major U.S. carrier to do this, introducing what it calls “basic economy” seats that offer “fewer flexibility options such as advance seat selection.” These seats give “the most price-driven customer additional options for their travel,” the airline says. United also has a version of these seats. “We expect the other carriers to follow with their own variations,” says Surry.
You’re in for a bumpier ride
Climate change will likely increase the incidence of turbulence, a study in 2013 published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds. In some conditions, clear-air turbulence (this is the most difficult for pilots to avoid because they can’t see it) will show a 10% to 40% increase in median strength of turbulence and a 40% to 170% increase in the frequency of occurrence of moderate-or-greater turbulence,” the study authors write.
Already, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers, the FAA reveals, though these injuries are rare and usually involve someone who wasn’t wearing their seat belt despite the “fasten seat belt” light being on.
Some flights will be even longer
Thanks to global warming, you may be spending more time smushed on airplanes in the coming years, a study of flights between London and New York published in 2016 by Paul Williams, a professor of meteorology at the University of Reading in the U.K., reveals.
“Climate change has important consequences for aviation,” he writes. Even assuming no future growth in aviation, applying his results to all trans-Atlantic traffic suggests that aircraft will collectively be airborne for an extra 2,000 hours each year, he adds, “burning an extra 7.2 million gallons of jet fuel at a cost of $22 million.”
To be sure, not all flights will be longer (this flight just looked at flights from London to New York), and technological advances could make some flights speedier.
There may be fewer — and smaller — bathrooms
You’ve almost certainly waited in line for the teensy bathroom on a plane, and that issue may get worse in the coming years. Two companies that supply jets to major airlines have recently unveiled designs with smaller bathrooms: Boeing made the bathrooms on its 777 jets smaller so that it could fit in more seats; and Airbus recently unveiled a design that will roll out this year for its A320 jets for smaller bathrooms, so it can have room for more luggage. A spokesperson for Boeing (JBLU) notes that airlines can choose a new option “that enhances the design of lavatories in the 777, making them smaller on the outside while increasing the volume of usable space for passengers.”