Why the Airlines Deserve to Fail

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 20, 2010 in Travel Archives |

I’ll admit it.  I’ve never been a fan of flying, not even before 9/11.  But I do remember the days when flying wasn’t so…well…painful.  Those good old days when it was actually faster to fly from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta than to drive there.  Remember those days?

Now unless you’re flying across the ocean or across the country, flying just doesn’t make economic sense anymore.  Apart from the ridiculous prices you’ll pay for an airline ticket these days (and mind you, that’s a ticket that does not include the cost of checked baggage, though it does include a bag of exactly six tiny pretzels and a complimentary beverage–mostly ice in a little plastic cup), by the time you factor in the time driving to the airport, then finding a parking space, then riding some shuttle all over half the countryside to reach your terminal, then standing in a TSA line for an hour or more, finally getting on your flight only to find it delayed an hour (an hour you spend in a cramped seat on the tarmac), then flying to your destination, where you spend another hour or two trying to track down your luggage and an over-priced rental car….well, yep, you could have driven there faster.

The true headache of flying was made manifest to me over the holidays when I and my family were scheduled to fly out of D.C. to Minneapolis.  Yes, as it so happened, our flight was scheduled the day after a blizzard, which meant a seven-hour drive on snow-packed roads to the airport, only to find out 30 minutes after our arrival that our flight was cancelled.  Did I mention we were scheduled to fly on AirTran?  (That was the first mistake–there is a reason AirTran’s rates are lower.)

Well, initially I wasn’t worried, despite the mile-long line in front of AirTran’s customer service desk at Reagan International.  I had my cell phone, and AirTran’s customer service number.  I could get this mess straightened out and have us on another flight in no time!  How wrong I was.  AirTran, true to their lousy reputation, dropped all calls that day, forcing its thousands of unhappy, stranded customers to wait in long lines at the airport, many of them with exhausted two-year-olds just like ours.

THREE hours later we found ourselves at the customer service desk, after watching many folks ahead of us get turned away with no alternative flights, flights leaving on Christmas Day, and various other unhappy outcomes.  And here comes my first big piece of advice: If you find yourself in this situation, KNOW YOUR AIRLINE.  Know what cities they fly out of, and keep your options open.  If you go up to the desk after your flight is cancelled expecting you’ll get on another flight to your destination that very same day, especially in the wake of weather-related cancellations, you’re smoking more than cigarettes.  It took 45 minutes of negotiations with the lady at the AirTran desk, but we finally found a flight to Minneapolis that would put us there before Christmas.  But we had to be willing to drive three hours to another airport in Newport News to get on it, then be willing to spend the night in Atlanta before proceeding on to our final destination.

We took it.

And….40 hours after we intially started our journey to the airport, we were safely on the doorstep of my grandmother’s house in southwest Minnesota.  40 HOURS.  Did I mention it takes a little over 20 hours to DRIVE from our doorstep to my grandmother’s?   Exactly what did we gain by flying?  Certainly not any extra time with family.  Certainly no savings for our pocketbook given we had to pay full price for our two-year-old to fly even though she spent the whole flight in my husband’s lap.

Most businesses that offer this level of terrible service (and did I mention the cramped seats that make the airplane water closets seem spacious?) would eventually drive themselves under.  How do the airlines manage to stay afloat?

You got me.  But I’d be glad to hear any explanations you might come up with.

This is one increasingly less frequent flyer who is desperate enough to consider Amtrak an option in the future….

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