Like many seniors, my parents are retired and live on a fixed income. That doesn’t mean they’re broke, but they do watch spending. They’ve got their mental facilities but aren’t as nimble, flexible, and fast moving as they were a decade ago. Talking with them about an upcoming trip, it hit me how miserable they would be on an American Airlines flight.
After fifty-five years of marriage, my parents still like sitting together. It’s not just the company, they carry snacks, medicines, and so on that they share. Two married people on a plane can share the tight space by lifting the seat arm and sitting close.
Sitting together on American Airlines gets expensive fast. On a recent Economy flight, we were offered seats together – for $40 per seat per leg. In Economy, what American Airlines calls “Seat Choice” was limited to single middle seats. Any seats together cost a lot more. American Airlines seems to separate couples to encourage paying these fees. Wy wife and I asked at check-in to be reseated together and the attendant was easily able to. The seats were available, they just didn’t want to seat us together, presumably, so we’d pay more. This is less than ideal for a couple on a fixed income.
Space in the Seats
Much has been made in the news about the incredible shrinking airline seat. American Airlines has been leading the charge to add more seats by cutting space. It is nearly impossible to just stand up and exit a seat now. Flying Economy on an American Airlines Airbus A321 getting up from the aisle seat required an “Airline Limbo” to get out if the seat in front was reclined. While I’m not a gymnast or an athlete, I’m a lot more flexible than my septuagenarian parents.
Just getting to the bathroom would be an adventure. I shudder to think about how they could extricate themselves from those seats in the event of an actual emergency. The seats are close enough to pose an exit hazard for anyone who is slightly less flexible or slim.
And if you can’t shift your hips without smacking the seat in front of you, how can you reasonably expect to shift enough to prevent “Economy Class Syndrome” (or Deep Vein Thrombosis)? You can’t even reach your wallet to pay for a cocktail without standing.
Let’s Talk About the Bathroom Situation
In the continuing drive to add more seats to the plane, American has removed bathrooms from some economy cabins and made them smaller. While adding a dozen more seats is good for the bottom line, this is not a good move for the senior traveler. More frequent restroom use is a feature of aging as is reduced flexibility and maneuverability. Make the lines for the bathroom longer, remove space to bend, flex and turn, and increase the odds of a breakdown as the remaining facilities get more use and you have a recipe for a deeply unpleasant experience for the aging.
American Airlines advertises “Senior Fares”. But there is the fine print – “…may offer Senior Fares in some domestic markets…” When I tried to use American’s website to find some of these fares, I could not. Numerous combinations of departure and destination got the same price no matter the age of the travelers. The American Airlines website suggests calling for “further information”, but that number tells you it will cost you more to book by phone, then takes you through many voice prompts trying to get you to book a flight before putting you into a long hold queue. I gave up without being able to reach an operator to ask a simple question. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect the American Airlines “Senior Fare” may be a bit of a unicorn hunt.
As every airline reminds you when they thank you for flying, you DO have choices. American Airlines is positioning itself as a low price carrier, dangling cheap fares with a lot of hidden costs to lure you to an uncomfortable, unpleasant flight. Flying by my middle-aged self, I’m cheap enough to give it a go and I’d get through it with some grumbling. But I wouldn’t inflict it on my parents. There are many better options when you add up all the costs.