It used to be a big deal to fly in on a commercial airline, an experience that most would never forget, so good was the service. Now, the art of flying has been replaced by the ‘act’ of flying. And airline service that says, “Screw ’em.”
Take it for what you will, but travel on commercial airlines has taken that last step, and a big step, away from that which we once anticipated with such excitement.
Can any of you even remember when people actually dressed up for flights – men wearing suits and women and children in their Easter finest?
Flying was a big deal then. Service went overboard to make the experience one you’d never forget. And while airline food was never “Pine Club” quality, it was a long way from the tiny bag of pretzels you get now…and $7 for a beer to wash them down. The art of flying has become the “act” of flying now, and anything but a glamorous memory. If you fly frequently I don’t have to tell you this, but for the sake of my experience in coming home from Phoenix last weekend…I will!
There really are no words to describe how frustrating it is to fly now on a commercial airline, for the endless bait and switch they do with promotions, for the games they play with charging for baggage, and not to be underappreciated…just how uncomfortable it is to fly. I can’t remember the last time I flew and the plane wasn’t crammed with people 1) too big for the seats, 2) the coughing and sick, and 3) those who don’t bathe.
Baggage has always been a nightmare, but now there’s a new wrinkle. Because I often fly with a lot of very expensive camera equipment I insist on carrying that equipment onboard. I’ve checked it before in the past, and I’ve had $3000 Nikons damaged by impact, and sub-zero temperatures at 30,000 feet…and just plain stolen. Baggage handlers know when they see a ‘Pelican’ case that it’s not full of crackers.
So, because the guidelines are very strict about the size of what you can carry on you can now buy custom camera luggage that’s tailored to fit the overhead bins; and a lot of people carry these bags with the hope that they can trust in the system.
Except, when I got to the gate in Charlotte last Sunday to board flight #5115 home to Dayton, the attendant said, “You’re not taking that bag on the plane.”
“Why?” I questioned, pointing to the guideline example by the side of his counter. “It conforms with the specs on the example.”
“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s too heavy and doesn’t conform to weight and size restrictions.”
“How can you know that?” I asked. “You haven’t weighed it. You haven’t even looked inside it.”
Stumped for a moment, he asked. “What’s in it?”
“About $50 thousand dollars of Nikon camera bodies and lenses,” I offered. “And there’s no way anyone would be naive enough to check those under the plane.”
“Well, you’re not going on the plane with it,” he demanded.
“But I don’t want to check it at the gate. And besides, I just carried it all the way to Phoenix and back this far in the overhead bin. So what’s the difference now?”
Frustrated, I could see the color rise in his neck as he glanced up and saw 30 people waiting behind me, caring even less than him about my baggage predicament.
“Mister, I don’t care. You can either check it, or skip the flight. It’s up to you.”
In the meantime I knew that the next available flight wasn’t for hours.
“So,” I tried to ask. “If you do damage this equipment are you willing to sign for responsibility?”
He tried to ignore my question, signaling for the person behind me to take my place at the counter.
“Not so fast,” I said. “I want an answer before I check the bag.”
The line continued to grow.
“All I’m telling you is that I don’t care about your issues. I’ve got 21 minutes to get this plane filled and off the ground.”
“And you think that’s more important than the value of the contents in my bag?” I asked firmly, but respectfully. I knew I had him. “You’re telling me that American Airlines’ schedule is more important than its clients?”
Now the people behind were edging closer, interested to hear his response to my increasingly-unexpected questions. After all, it could have been happening to them (or it already had), and they knew it.
“Look,” he finally relented. “If you’ll check it I’ll see that it gets placed with other first class luggage, with attention to it being a fragile bag.”
To which someone directly behind me asked the inevitable question. “Well, why aren’t all bags handled that way?”
Faced with either checking or a night in Charlotte, I finally handed the bag to a guy at the end of the ramp who left to put it with the rest of the checked baggage. And when I got off the plane in Dayton it was the first bag sitting outside the door. There was no apparent damage, but I really won’t know for a few days until I use all of that equipment.
Upon arriving home I contacted customer relations and upon their advising I sent an email detailing the incident. Within hours I got a return email and the offer of a $100 voucher for a future flight. $100, by the way, amounts to about .002% of the value of my equipment. And those ads you see now about the a new way of doing business, and of how valuable you are as a customer…? Think again.
They wrote: “Our goodwill represents an amount we believe to be fair and reasonable considering the circumstance you described. To remain competitive in the airline industry, we must consistently provide good service.”
More bait and switch. I don’t need the $100. No one does for what you put up with now to travel by air. No more dressing up to fly, now it’s flip flops, tank tops, and the guy next to you weighs 350. There’s no comfort and there’s no elegance. Fantasies about a “mile high club”? Preposterous.
Competitive? They’ve got 21 minutes to get the plane filled and off the ground. That’s it, and welcome to the “friendly skies”.
They make no pretense…about good service!