Over the past 30 years, I’ve traveled the world to almost 40 countries and have witnessed the airline industry evolve, from a passenger’s point of view, into an aging fleet suffering from employee morale, antiquated equipment and the master of creating new revenue streams from preexisting, passenger perks.
It’s these perks that passengers now pay extra for that are affecting employee morale and creating passenger pains that are effecting the airline travel industry in many forms, as pissed off passengers combined with employees with poor morale is like a ticking time-bomb, someone someday is going to explode with emotions and I hope it’s not on my flight.
Speaking of flights, my latest experience is what finally became the last straw that caused this post. It all started with my normal flight to the Virgin Islands, a flight I take six times a year, starting out be loading my own bags into the bed of my truck at 3:00 a.m., then heading down to the airport for my early morning flight. All went well as normal, until we were asked to deplane because of mechanical problems with the aircraft. I can live with that as who wants an unworthy airplane transporting them at 35,000 ft. altitude without a parachute?
So coming off the plane was no problem, the problem was with all my Virgin Islands workshops I have assistants, make-up artist and models normally all flying in on the same day, so logistics is critical. First the gate attendant said, You’ll have to try again tomorrow, and of course my reaction was, No I have to arrive today, find me a flight, and of course the gatekeeper began researching for alternatives, which in turn irritated about 30 people behind me in line.
A little note here, by law, if it’s their mistake, they have to get you to your destination even if they put you on another airline at their additional costs. If it’s the passenger’s fault, showing up late at the gate, etc., then the passenger has to obey the airline’s solution, even if it means coming back the next day to try again. If it’s nature or weather related, they have no obligation other than to help you the best they can.
Fortunately, it was their mistake due to mechanical failure of the aircraft, something I’ve experienced more often than ever in my past thirty years of flying and I’m sure that statistic is because most aircraft fleets for the airlines are over 25-years old today. Sure, there are some new aircraft, but the chances of a passenger being on one of those planes is almost like bowling a perfect game when you consider the amount of airborne planes at any given hour. Airports like John F. Kennedy in New York and others are constantly making commercial, passenger jets fly in holding patterns because they are overloaded with traffic.
It’s not unusual today for a flight to land early due to a great captain with tail winds helping reduce drag, though in the old days, an early flight meant going straight to the gate and getting home early. Today, it’s the pilot coming across the intercom system stating, We’ve arrived 15-minutes early, but they don’t have a gate ready for us, so please stay in your seats and keep your seatbelts on.
In this case, I eventually I arrived at my destination, St. Thomas, about eight hours late, but what I realized in this adventure along with past experience is what I wanted to share so hopefully the word gets out and the more people getting the word out, hopefully will lead to improved legislation, rules, regulations, etc., that benefit everyone, from the passenger to the porter. Let’s look at what I observed in one day:
1. Porters are pissed because the airlines have enacted a policy where they charge for the curb-side baggage check-in perk, including at least three-dollars per bag for curbside check-in. What happens is that passengers automatically assume, I know, I have, that this new, mandatory fee is in fact the longstanding tip for Porters. Well it’s not, that fee the porters collect goes straight to the airlines not the porter’s pockets. The end result is killing the curbside check-in porters that rely on tips just like a waitress or bartender. Passengers’ believe the porter has been tipped by this mandatory fee when it fact, they have not, the result, low morale. If you’re reading this and are a frequent flier, please, please tip your porters in addition of the mandatory curb-side, check-in fee.
2. Speaking of porters helping passengers with bags, airlines are now charging for each bag checked in, something they never did before. Who travels without bags, after all, who doesn’t pack their toiletries, underwear and clothes? And I don’t mean extra bags, but all bags. Want the above essential items to accompany you, well then budget extra cash for all future trips as baggage today is considered like a passenger on the flight-you pay if you want luggage to get there with your owner. I don’t understand it, how can you fly somewhere without your shaving kit? Speaking as a man of course, but if I were a woman, how can you fly somewhere without your make-up kit and panties? And with today’s rules on liquids and gels, all make-up is practically part of your checked-in luggage.
3. Now that leads to cost savings passengers doing the wise and common sense thing, pack a legal, carryon sized bag, also know as a roller board, with all you can, besides liquids, so the passenger doesn’t have to pay the extra $50 for checking in a bag. The end result, especially in overbooked flights, is no overhead bin space for passenger’s carryon bags. The third-leg flight I was on from Miami to St. Thomas was only 50-percent full, but out of overhead space. The flight before, from Dallas to Miami, was sold-out and they ran out of overhead space that caused them to jet-way check in carryon bags, which in turn caused the flight to leave late, which almost caused me to miss my connection in Miami. I predict the future brings surcharges for any carryon bags.
4. With that much stress, where I’d be stuck between my departure location and my final location, while my crew waited for me, I was further appalled by the fact that airlines can show a movie, then collect several dollars from you to just listen to it. Every airline wants to sell you a headset for a few bucks. I don’t understand, it’s like a billionaire asking you to pay for your own drinks while visiting their home, ultimately this just spoils the movie for all passengers, besides, it’s a movie adapted for airlines. Yes it’s free in first-class, but does a three-dollar, free headset justify the double-in-fare difference for first-class, not at all. The airlines would probably save more money by turning up the volume and killing the headsets all together.
5. It’s all about creature comforts, speaking of the latest point of purchase display add-on for airlines, some are now charging for the standard free pillows and blankets. That’s like the doctor charging you for the plastic ear-piece cup when examining your ears, who knows, perhaps my doc does charge for that, but I haven’t had my ears examined in sometime because I hate going to the doctor and dentists like many people-is that where the airline industry is headed?
6. Well if it is, then I’m ready for a drink. Oh, that’s another story on airlines, drinks cost from $6 to $8 per drink, sometimes the same, sometimes more than what the local bar or club will charge. I have never two-stepped on an airplane and the dance floor is the perk when I go to a club, that’s why I pay so much for my drinks.
7. And it doesn’t stop with drinks, now the airlines are charging for premium coach seats, most about $25 and up. Basically the middle seats and seats in the back of the airplane are the cheap seats and the isle, window and exit row seats come with a premium. Delta recently reversed this for it’s top-tier frequent flier members after many complaints, but if you’re not in their top-tier, along with other airlines, you’ll pay premium for that coach seat. Airlines are becoming great at collecting a dollar here, a dollar there for any creature comfort, even in coach class.
8. Paying for premium seats, in coach or first-class and contributing to the extra baggage charges and curbside fees doesn’t guarantee your luggage will arrive with you either, as in my case on this travel experience to the Virgin Islands–I might add, I experienced this in my Moab trip experience when my bags arrived in Aurba while I arrived in Salt Lake City. This time, no one knew were my bags were, as they didn’t arrive with me, but since my original carrier was Delta and I was moved to American when the Delta airplane suffered mechanical malfunctions, every airline employee was pointing their fingers at each other. The most troubling statement that I heard over and over, from both sides, "Well someone didn’t do their job somewhere and if they had, your baggage claim tickets, all four of them, would be in the system." While I eventually received my bags almost 24-hours later, the moral of the story was that no seemed to care, even as a platinum, frequent flier member.
While those are some things I noticed on this flight adventure, there are others we sometimes take for granted. For example, most airlines charge at least $20 if you book your flight through the telephone or with a ticket agent at the airport. The fee is waived for Internet, on-line booking.
Additionally, since I was rebooked on another airline, I lost my frequent flier miles with the original carrier and while yes, I’m signed up in every frequent flier program, I fly certain carriers to maintain my premium level membership perks. I will admit, even with Platinum status with Delta, Delta no longer gives Platinum members a free Crown Room (private airport lounge) membership, another perk lost.
The booking on another airline when it was the original carrier’s fault opens you up to additional security screening. Basically the airlines automatically add SSSSSS to the bottom of your airline tickets to alert the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that you’ve been, get this, randomly selected for additional screening, think a pat down, feel around and reach around plus rummaging through your hand carried items. This random screening is mandatory for anyone that changes airline carriers on the same day because it’s considered the same as purchasing a ticket at the last minute. Purchase an airline ticket within 24-hours or less of your departure time, budget extra time for your extra security screening that is everything short of a strip search.
Now morale issues aren’t just with the airlines (carriers) and airline employees, much is faltering with the FAA and air traffic controllers and anyone involved with the airline industry in some form or fashion. Some of this deterioration of morale at various levels and professions trickles down from the fact that the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is also paid by the consumer, is being spent Congress on things that it wasn’t originally designed for, thus leaving many in the aviation professionals to work with antiquated equipment and the lack of improvements to things such as runways and traffic control computer systems.
The multi-billion dollar fund was originally set-up by Congress in 1970 to provide a dedicated source for funding aviation programs. Unfortunately the fund has been used for things it wasn’t intended for, such as to supplement large portions of the FAA’s operating budget, the Essential Air Service
Program, and for one-time items such as security funding after the September 11th attacks. This fund has shifted it’s original intent to fund the infrastructure and modernization needs of the National Airspace System, thus reducing or delaying something as simple as the upgrading of computers for traffic controllers. It’s really scary, considering as consumers we’ve paid into that fund with every airline ticket purchase in a form of an excise tax.
Now I can live with the fact that many flight attendants are aging with their tenure of employment, but I hope the computer guiding in the 757 I’m flying on isn’t controlled by an air traffic controller with low morale, operating an antiquated computerized system on a rainy day. I also hope the pissed off porter actually took my bags to the conveyor belt and that the flight attendant will give me the proper salutation of the day as it seems something as a simple common courtesy are becoming rare on the airplane. Soon they’re going to run out of common perks to charge for and you’ll be forced to ask the flight attendant for the bathroom key, of course, you’ll get it for a buck or too.
That’s my thoughts, please don’t forget your Armed Forces service members, their families and friends. God bless, rg sends!