The Wall Street Journal Is Upset About Having to Interact With Poor People At the Airport

The last few months have not been kind to the airline industry. The main culprit seems to be United Airlines, which has been caught engaging in shady behavior ranging from forcing a mother to carry her toddler during a flightdragging a passenger off of an overbooked flight after he refused to give up his seat; allegedly accidentally killing a rabbit; and later, accidentally killing a French bulldog puppy confined to an overhead storage compartment. So it's fair to say that the airline industry in general has taken a major PR hit recently.


Yet for all the gripes about flying, you know what you shouldn't gripe about? The elite having to suffer sub-par airport lounges, where they might be forced to sit next to (gasp!) non-affluent people. Oh, the horror.

A recent Wall Street Journal article breathlessly chronicles the decline in airport lounges with language normally reserved for actual victims — you know, like the family that had to experience their beloved dog suffocating to death in an overhead bin.

Take this passage about the experience of one passenger who experienced a six-hour layover at an airport in Atlanta.

What he envisioned: a quiet space where he could relax and eat free before boarding his flight to Ukraine. What he found: A packed room with no available seats. A buffet with barely any food left. Toilet paper on the bathroom floor.

Truly such travesties are indeed worthy of being chronicled in a major newspaper. Can you imagine the trauma endured by the IT executive who remembers the days in which "lounge staff used to approach him to ask if he would like a drink, and the food available would be a full entree" and now "has to stand in line for a Coke" while "the food options consist of cheese squares, crackers, soup and 'what passes for salad'"?

The reason behind this cavalcade of horrors, according to the Journal, is the proliferation of so-called Priority Passes, such as the Sapphire Reserve credit card offered by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Apparently so many people are now able to take advantage of various airport lounge services that the sheer quantity often reduces the quality of what can be received there.

To be clear: I am not denying that a drop in airport lounge quality has occurred, or even that this drop in quality can be unpleasant. It is merely alarming that such an openly classist article was able to make it to publication.

Bill McGuinness, a 57-year-old real-estate developer, was at a Centurion Lounge, which is open to certain American Express cardholders, in Seattle in April when a woman placed her toddler on a bar table. She stripped him down to his diaper and changed him into his pajamas. Mr. McGuinness said the woman then ordered a cocktail and talked on her phone while her son was “running laps” around the lounge for the next hour.

His biggest pet peeve about the various lounges he has visited: people stacking piles of food from the buffet on their plates and loading up on cheap Chardonnay. “The whole thing is so bleak,” he said. People are behaving like “farm animals.”

First, anyone who refers to fellow human beings as "farm animals" simply because they're trying to go about their lives during a stressful situation — and, let's be honest, because their behavior around free food and "cheap Chardonnay" suggests they are from low-income backgrounds — needs to get off their proverbial high horse. One could plausibly argue that this is elitist, but if you want a more generous interpretation, it is callous and out-of-touch.

Yet there is something deeper at work here. I don't work for the Journal and have no way of knowing what went on in their editorial room, so I'm not going to speculate as to whether they intended for this story to be contextualized as part of our zeitgeist's larger list of grievances arising about how air travel is awful. Yet it's reasonable to assume that other people might interpret it this way. That is why a crucial distinction must be made between situations in which people are wronged and situations in which they are inconvenienced.

Being physically dragged off of a flight, to the point where you are injured, because the airline goofed and needs you to relinquish your seat is wrong. Having to hold your toddler for several hours — thereby endangering both of you — is wrong. Losing a loved one (and yes, animals count as loved ones) because the airline made a mistake is wrong.

On the other hand, the vast majority of people who travel will need to encounter overcrowded waiting areas, cheap food, squealing children and disgusting floors. It is certainly reasonable to complain about these things and to call for them to be improved. If you feel like you're spending money on lounge services that aren't delivering what you expected, you can justify no longer giving them your money and even writing a strongly-worded letter to the company explaining how their ineptitude motivated your decision.

But please, oh please, let's leave the air of victimization to people who are actually being victimized.

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