Before the United Airlines fiasco fades, I have a few bones to pick with the industry — small issues compared with being dragged, screaming and bloody, down the aisle — but red meat, nevertheless.
This is the time to rail, when the culprits are still cowed and listening.
For the past decade, I have flown eight or nine times a year to Montreal to see my grandsons. These are milk-run flights on creaky regional jets, nothing glamorous, although in the past I’ve crossed the pond on Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Air Canada, Swissair and El Al.
Delta was my main carrier, because of price, but I also flew US Airways, United and American. I chose the Greensboro airport (PTI) instead of RDU, which is a zoo, only bearable for direct flights. The two facilities are equidistant from Southern Pines, but PTI is quiet, with light if any traffic, easy parking, plenty of departure options.
Consider these line items that drive me nuts.
Price: The price for the same flight fluctuates from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. A fare quoted on the phone may differ from what I book online.
This turns booking a reservation into roulette. Should I buy six weeks in advance — or wait? Mustn’t wait too long. Fares may double near departure date. Or, suddenly drop.
You’re allowed to cancel a reservation within 24 hours of booking, but who wants to check online every few minutes, then plod through the paperwork? Furthermore, after American merged with US Airways, fares soared from lack of competition. The lowest fares are at inconvenient times, or with long layovers.
Personnel: Long gone are the days of pampered travel. With few exceptions, ground personnel toe the party line, couldn’t give a fig about inconveniences, seem more interested in talking amongst themselves than solving your problem. Flight attendants excel at reading scripts. Of course, safety is their primary concern, but smiles/humanity are doled out with the same enthusiasm as pretzels.
Seating: Not bad enough that these regional jets have been configured to hold more (cramped) passengers. Pity the guy who shops at Big & Tall. I went ballistic when roomier coach seats were classified “comfort zone,” at a surcharge. That’s worse than usury.
Boarding: One door separates the gate area from the jetway. A rope divides this approach into two lines, the left one for regular customers and big spenders, the right for common folk like me.
After first-class ticketholders, “mothers with small children” and “passengers who need extra time” have passed through, the rest of us are “invited to board” by rank. Personally, I don’t care when I board but hate being stigmatized by fare. Once or twice I’ve presented myself, successfully, as “needing extra time.” Extra time to control my temper, that is.
Amenities: After boarding a 6 a.m. flight from Montreal, in January, I asked the surly attendant for a blanket. “Sorry … blankets are only available in first class.” Don’t cross me that early, hon. I inched back from steerage to the roomy leather seats and asked a gentleman (traveling on the corporate dime, no doubt) if he would request a blanket and pass it to me, which he did, as the attendant hissed bullets. Lucky I didn’t get dragged off the plane.
Security: I would gladly strip to the skivvies and dump my carry-on if asked politely by a TSA agent. The ones in Greensboro are nice, but attitudes at big-city terminals range from pompous to rude, especially since studies show how many disallowed items slip through.
The occasional please, thank you and “take your time” would neither hurt nor compromise safety.
Common sense: C’mon, how dare you sell me a 45-minute connection in Atlanta or Newark on Friday afternoon? Why on Earth did you replace comfortable seating at LaGuardia with bar stools facing computer screens selling things? And what happened to the eateries’ pledge not to hike prices for captive customers?
Rough landing: I could write a book about untoward or outrageous experiences on and off the ground. After a particularly heinous one that resulted in spending the night on a bench at Jackson Hartsfield, the nation’s busiest, I wrote to Delta, detailing how their misjudgment was to blame. They answered with a tepid apology and — just imagine — two inflight drink vouchers.
Yet airline revenues are up, up and away. Luxury long-haul carriers offer sleeping cubicles, desks, smiling hostesses serving fine cuisine. Maybe the time has come for a pretzel-eaters revolt. The line forms behind me, to the right of the rope.