The greatest thing about covering airports and airlines full-time is that I can log onto the website Flyertalk several times each day and call it work.
Flyertalk, if you’re not familiar, is essentially a message board for frequent fliers. It has grown over the years to include more than that — you can get some travel news and chat about cars and hotels — but at its core it is road warriors speaking to other road warriors about how to have the best flying experience. (Casual fliers can learn a lot from them.)
Flyertalk’s parent is called Internet Brands and it’s based in El Segundo, Calif. The offices have a pretty cool view of LAX’s southern two runways.
Since Flyertalk is sort of local, I wanted to inform readers about the site. My story appeared in the newspaper and online on Monday. Here’s how the story starts, but if you want more, be sure to check out the full piece on our main website.
If there’s a common thread among frequent fliers who follow and cheer on their favorite airlines as if they are sports teams, it is this: Significant others do not understand the obsession.
Why, the husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends ask, do these men — and they are mostly men — spend large swaths of their day reading and commenting online about the latest gossip at American Airlines or United or Delta or Southwest? Is it really necessary to debate the tastiness of Delta’s in-flight cheeseburger?
“I believe I had it coming back from Paris this November. Truly excellent,” one person wrote on the most popular of these frequently flying websites. Or even that some of American’s newest planes — A319s — are more cramped in coach than the aircraft they’re replacing. “There’s just no way around the fact you’re riding in a sardine can,” another person wrote.
“My wife thinks I am a bit bonkers,” said David Renshaw, a Los Angeles-based broadcaster. “She’s skeptical. Definitely skeptical.”
The platform for many of these vigorous airline-related discussions is a website called Flyertalk, which bills itself as the world’s “largest online travel community” with more than half a million members. They engage in message boards on seemingly inane topics. The cheeseburger thread, for example, has about 100 posts dating back to 2011. Another thread, in which frequent fliers ask United Airlines pilots questions about their jobs, received almost 6,000 posts from 2008 to 2013.
“You hear this a lot — ‘My significant other does not understand it,’ ” said James Dozier, an Orange County travel blogger. “It’s just one of those things. People who get it get it and people who don’t don’t. Flyertalk builds a community about it with people who just get it, and people who want to be immersed in it. It’s kind of like a support group, you know what I mean?”
Like a lot of things on the Internet, Flyertalk.com started in the 1990s as a labor of love founded by a quirky hobbyist with a no-rules attitude. Also, like a lot of sites, it has since gone corporate. Flyertalk is owned by El Segundo-based Internet Brands, a privately held company that also operates carsdirect.com, loan.com, apartmentratings.com and many other niche websites.
Just about every major airline in the world — in alphabetical order, starting with Greece’s Aegean Airlines and ending with Canada’s West Jet — has its own section at Flyertalk.
Members critique first-class meals, entertainment systems, flight attendant uniforms and, of course, frequent-flier programs. They can be ruthless, especially when commenting about “rival” airlines, or carriers on which they don’t usually fly.
For members, these airlines are as important to them as the Dodgers are to a baseball fan in Los Angeles.
“I’m a University of Oregon alum, and I’m a huge Ducks fan,” Dozier said. “This is similar. Frequent-flier programs are not the best. They do some great things but they do some things you are not happy about. They may devalue their program or may add fees. But you don’t see a lot of people switching airlines. People talk about it. But they don’t really do it.”