a man standing in front of a wall with art

Take the “c” off chips, you get hips.

Take the word airline out of a story, you got nothing.

This morning I read a story in which a passenger didn’t like their breakfast on board an airplane. Take away the word airplane, and the story becomes “person didn’t like their breakfast”. Even in the dire standards of what’s considered news today, I don’t think that story ever gets printed.

“Drunk person disrupts flight”. Take away the word flight, and you have a standard Saturday night in basically every major city around the world. If every person who says something racists, is asked to sit down or requires the authorities being called became news, we’d never ever get to hear what our world leaders are up to. Perhaps thats the deep dark secret plan?

In short: the press is entirely illogical when it comes to covering airlines. Planes are the only place where things which are entirely uninteresting anywhere else become the subject of fascination and viral clicking. That’s right – if you – the person reading this – click those stupid stories, you’re a part of the problem.

Do you really care what some random person you don’t know thought about their breakfast from a restaurant 5,000 miles away? No. So why do you care just because they’re on a plane?!

I often wonder if airlines can actually ever do anything right in the eyes of the press. Take this weeks wild weather throughout Europe, for example. If airlines cancel flights, the headline reads something along the lines of “airlines strand thousands cancel flights with passengers sleeping on floors”. If the airlines fly in tricky conditions, you get “harrowing moment passengers nearly crash land”. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

I won’t even start on actually getting facts right, like stories of passengers sleeping on airport floors when in reality most were placed in hotels and the rest were placed in VIP lounges with open buffets. Or another classic, telling the world they only need two words to get upgraded to business class. A total and utter waste of everyones time.

I believe there’s a greater responsibility with all of this as well. Because of stories of racist rants, in flight fights, mediocre airline meals, drunk pilots (ok, that’s a very fair one) and the gamut of things which are only interesting in the context of planes, people board flights on extreme edge. You can see it, and I believe it’s a reason for increased confrontation and issues aboard flights.

With so much negativity surrounding air travel, people are constantly looking for things to hate and are always quick on the draw to pull out the phone, start tweeting or worse – videoing a seat mate. As amusing as passenger shaming is, it’s created an egotistical, elitist system.

You hear sighs as soon as you sit down. You see eye rolls in the boarding line and this added tension has cabin crews on edge too. Crews know they’re always one step away from being a viral video with passengers sticking a phone in their face just hoping they slip up, and this undermines the intent to actually deliver service. It places them on nerves edge from the first hello and it’s far more difficult to disarm a cabin crew member and enjoy a nice relaxed encounter than ever.

If you want better customer service interactions and to actually enjoy the golden age of travel – which is actually right now by the way – you really need to think about what impact each click you make on the internet has. If no one read those stories, no one would write them and instead, you might hear about cool places to go and things to do when you get there. I can think of a recommendation…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Well done. Trump wouldn’t get two minutes of press time because of how stupid he is if he hadn’t managed to figure out that half of america is stupid too and so lazy they can rely on racism as a crutch.

  2. There’s a lot of awful reporting about airlines. Just follow @AwfulAviation (https://twitter.com/awfulaviation) for a samle.

    I generally avoid doing media following disaster incidents, other than to say “we just don’t know yet, there will be an investigation to determine the probably cause and that will inform recommendations to make air travel even safer.” In other words I skip a lot of TV opportunities.

    That said no matter what you think of an individual story on British Airways breakfast,

    * BA is a flag carrier and its reputation matters a great deal to many British citizens. Whenever I criticize BA a number of Brits come out of the woodwork to speak in their defense, since they’re defending their national pride.

    * The disconnect between a major company’s promises and the product they deliver often is very much news.

    * And from a consumer information perspective, resetting expectations about what customers are going to get is helpful — maybe not so much world news but for UK and London-centric news it seems on point.

    And sometimes stories are just *fun*. Like the cheese sandwich sold on easyJet that listed an expiration date 10 years in the past. It was probably just a labeling error. But it also matches our priors about easyJet. So It’s kinda funny, plus schadenfreude.

    Travel holds an outsized place in our attention. It’s aspirational. It’s emotional. People want to hear travel stories, the inspiring and the awful. So yeah — British Airways premium economy breakfast being disappointing comes up. Most airline meals are bad, or at least worse than what marketing would have you expect. But it fits a counter-narrative, that despite what Alex Cruz says about ‘BA always being a premium airline’ there’s the passenger reality on the ground.

  3. You’re right about the media and planes. The media in general today is more gossip and talking heads and less news and facts. They need to sell sensationalism for ratings to stay relevant.

  4. ever thought you hear or click these stories more than an average person? I am pretty sure an average joe who doesn’t travel much wouldn’t click it or would not even know. Actually most of my friends who don’t travel much (due to their work and family) never hear these stories. The components to this: I think you hear a lot more because you are in this hobby. the second is speculation, ever thought you are data mined?

  5. I agree with you in general, although want to point out that the media overall is focusing on mostly wrong things. And not just because of demand, but because they like to focus on easy and familiar themes: like gossip, “celebrities”, pseudo-politicians, and so on of such nature.
    Altogether media mostly concentrates on negative news, crashes, disasters, scams – in proportion to very little coverage of the positive: thriving communities, successful farming, new environmental-friendly technologies, and just every-day people helping other ordinary people to reach their goals.
    Nowadays media feeds on negativity, instead of shifting public views to positive outcomes and achievements that can help (or already helping) wide range of people on the planet. For example, why there are millions of hungry children in the USA while many farmers have to destroy crops because of over-production?
    Why 30-60% of total healthcare spending in USA goes straight to the insurance companies, with another 20-30% to administrative costs, and only a fraction spent on actual “healthcare”?
    Why most developed countries still have millions and millions of soldiers in their armies – wasting so much money on nothing, instead of putting it toward community development, education, etc. – where it needed most investments??
    Media just choosing a quick and lazy path to make money, without much concern for the people it suppose to serve. Same goes for most of the governments, so they go hand-in-hand and it’s main reason the changes in the world go with such a slow pace. The society does not learn from it’s own mistakes, only multiplies them. Human civilization need to wise up and reduce the stupidity that gets passed from generation to generation; so-called “traditions” need to give way for understanding of the common good and prosperity for all, not just selected few. And media could be on the forefront of this…

  6. Hah, totally agree and my theory about the fascination of unimportant details regarding air travel has to do with the fact that flying makes everyone feel like they are toddlers in day care. Complete loss of control where all that matters is the punctuality of snack time and whether we get a good nap or not.

    Say what you will for adults who REALLY DO CARE about the fact that United no longer serves fresh baked cookies in F, or the SQ flight attendant forgot to provide the teddy bear during turndown service!

  7. Not sure I got the point you are trying to make, if any.

    However, there is enough evidence linking violence to racists and drunks. While you can put some distance between yourself and a racist or a drunk if you are in a bar or any other open space, you can’t do this in an airplane.

    In summary, your examples are poor at best and disingenuous at worst.

    1. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, some are just more polite than others.

      The point is made in the title of the article. Most airline news isn’t actually news.

  8. If British Airways were honest in their marketing or delivered the product they sell consistently and / or service recovery when things go wrong there wouldn’t be any interest in such stories. Were a telecoms provider to claim to sell the latest iPhone but deliver a cheap Chinese android that too would be news…

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