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The pre-deregulation fares were considerably higher - enough that many couldn't afford to fly. I'm not a big fan of being in a flying sardine container but the old days weren't that great unless money was no problem.
A man orders a quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's. He takes one bite and it's rancid and has multiple hairs in it. He storms to the counter.
My point is, start up cheapie airlines started cutting out services and charging less, and people flocked to them. The majors had to follow suit to compete, but since they also had business and premium passengers who still wanted those services, they came up with the model that offered competitive fares and ala carte services. And so the cheapies got even cheaper and started charging for even basic services. And now the people who caused this change are the ones complaining about being nickle and dimed on services.
It's interesting – what matters is what happens on aggregate, and one can see why the base ticket price wins out on aggregate. I've flown a great deal in the past decade, and as a frequent commuter with limited time to mess around going by way of Kansas City, I often paid a little more for direct flights at convenient times of day. But I won't pay several times more, and for every person who will pay a little more for some feature (schedule, connections, convenient airport), there must be several who don't mind a bit of inconvenience. And obviously, every time of day is convenient for somebody, and for lots of people seven hours flight time is as good as four, Grandma can just spend more time baking anyway :)
As for the food, I would have paid extra not to have to eat the American Airlines "Bistro Bag."
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