Air Travel Sucks!

by Dave Michels
Airlines Suck!
What happened to air travel? This is normally a telecom blog, so let’s just say this post is pro videoconferencing.

I am writing this from an airport will I will be, if all goes well, for a total of 7 hours (then another airport before I get to Denver). Air Travel used to be glamorous. Twenty years ago it was considered a perk – now it is downright disrespectful. It is like they (the airlines collectively) are trying to see how much we will take while still gladly forking over money.

This is a rant, and I have good reason. This week it’s Delta that has me grounded in JAX. Last time I flew Delta I got a bonus extended airport stay as well (HSV). Last week Southwest had me spend the night in the LAS airport, the week before it was Southwest felt I should stay in LAX several hours longer than planned. I am sick of it, air travel sucks and it isn’t just because flights get cancelled. It’s the whole thing – everything.


Dealing with airlines and travel agents is an exercise in frustration. The “contact center” is used to prevent contact. They don’t want to talk to people that want to pay them hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The first the recording says is something like “Stay on the phone and we will screw you, our better prices are online.” Some charge a fee if you book through an agent. I just called Frontier regarding an upcoming trip and the recording said there will be a 20 minute wait. How do they stay in business?  Then comes the nonsense of fares – why do one way trips cost more than round trips? Why is it an upgrade for legroom? Why aren’t tickets refundable or transferable like ANY KIND of other ticket? Fares make no sense and the restrictions imposed are barbaric.  

Here is one area where the Internet as lowered the quality of life. Travel sites make a lot of sense conceptually – shop one site to compare and shop. Particularly if you don’t know which airlines fly a specific route. But the only thing airlines hate more than taking to customers is customer talking to an indirect channel. Several airlines aren’t available on brokers, and in other cases lower fares are teased/threatened on the airline’s own website. If you do buy a ticket on a broker site (such as Travelocity), don’t expect the airline to help if you need to make a change… “Not our problem, talk to them.”

Now the fun really starts. Be sure to arrive two hours before your departure time because jet travel is so efficient, you probably have time to spare. I won’t get into TSA security theater, that’s a whole separate post for another time – but wear slip-on shoes, and a non metallic belt. Try the “thorough” opt out sometime if you haven’t. Don’t even think about bringing a drink or more than 3 oz of a liquid. All that safety if for your benefit, the lynchpin is the unforgable home printed boarding pass- and by the way, an ID is not required. Theater first, security second.

But once in the concourse – what is it with outlets? Any airport that doesn’t have free wi-fi should be shut down for excessive greed. Airport clubs are fascinating. Either side of the door, they make you feel like a fool. On the outside, I am wistful of those that are inside. Membership has its privledges, though not many. One the inside, it’s basically the same as the outside, with slightly larger chairs and the same crappy snacks and sodas on the plane are freely available for the impatient.

I use Pre-flight because that makes sense. Why do they call people boarding first “preboarding”? I can’t get over that stupid red carpet UA has for their favorites. I don’t mind the concept, but it’s in the way – and don’t even think about stepping on the precious red door mat after the elite are “preboarded” – the rest of the plan (80%) need to walk around the mat.

And that brings me to frequent flyer clubs. I agree with the basic concept that customer loyalty should be recognized – but they don’t do that. The loyal just get less punishment. My brother flies around the world every year just to maintain his status, he calls them “mileage runs” – which seems crazy. But he gets “benefits” that really should be normal for everyone. He can check a bag, he can use his miles (never seems to work for me) on days I can’t. Get this, he can go through a reasonable line for TSA. I lost my premier crown royal (pain in the ass) elite designation which makes travel much more painful (but I think I came out ahead with overall less travel).

No elite status means I can’t check my bag for free any more. So, happy to check it, I have to lug it through security, all the way to gate, and then – with boarding group RR, I can gate check it. Explain why this is a better model. Actually, there is less chance they will lose it, but any trip with a connection still has a reasonably high chance. Between the fees and the chance of lost luggage, we all bring as much on as we can which slows boarding and deplaning and keeps planes grounded longer. Smart.

The story keeps getting better. I am pretty good about sleeping, but I prefer to sleep with my music. So I have to wait to sleep. No problem, I can just do email… no, sorry – evidently cell phones are as dangerous as an iPod. No problem, I can read – oops, Kindles too must be shut down. Travel in the jet age? Bring a book. Does anyone not know how to buckle a seat belt? Does the safety instruction actually help in an emergency?

Don’t plan on working on the laptop – not if the person in front reclines. Don’t expect food, enjoy the free drink – I doubt it will last much longer. Hope you charged up, because power outlets still are the exception. If your suitcase is shoebox size, it might fit under the seat in front of you – but where you put your feet is another matter.  Basically, once on board, the only way to win is to sleep. If you get a meal, you won’t get rid of it for hours. Think about that, the best experience you can have on a flight is to sleep.

The whole concept of travel has become flawed. Any type of transportation can be pleasant or border line tolerable, any type except air travel. The airlines need a major disruption, like a viable alternative. Video conferencing justification needs to go beyond ROI, pain and frustration need to be considered as well. Airlines act competitive, like they are earning our business, but the fact is loyalty is more of obligation than earned. Loyalty programs provide the illusion of loyalty, they are a major contributor to the current broken model. Loyalty programs foster contempt.

There was a Seinfeld episode where Elaine lost her Free Sub punch card and was upset because she endured so many bad subs and was now denied her free one. It was funny – why would anyone value such a painful reward? Airlines need a remedial lesson in the value of customers  – the whole processes needs to be redesigned. ..