Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Open letter to airlines: we hate you

Major airlines spend billion of dollars annually on splashy ad campaigns trying to get our business. “Friendly Skies”, “Doing what we do best”, blah blah blah. . And no one’s buying it. In fact, we all hate you. Traveling is now an ordeal and you’re a big part of it. Security lines are a pain but that’s fifteen minutes. The rest of the six hour wisdom tooth extraction is all you. If airlines really want our patronage and loyalty, save the ad budget. There are better uses for that money. Just adopt the following simple policies.

TALK TO US – Even if it’s five announcements in five minutes. We hate to be left in the dark. Don’t worry that the news will upset us. What we’re conjuring up is far worse.

Pilots are real chatty on the PA when they’re pointing out the sites of Lubbock, Texas on your left, but when we’re just stuck at the gate, and we see maintenance men and guys with clipboards coming in and out of the cockpit, tell us what the fuck is going on. When we’re stuck on the tarmac for a half hour let us know why. It’s not like you’re busy. You’re just sitting there in idle like the rest of us.

When our flight is delayed and a hundred frustrated people are milling around the gate, would it kill you to give us an update? You say you do but trust me, YOU DON’T. Instead we have to go up to the counter so you can blow us off individually.

We’re not just doing this to annoy you. Many of us have connections to make.

TELL US THE TRUTH – Not every flight is delayed due to weather at O’Hare. There has to be a different reason the Sydney to Tokyo flight is cancelled. And get your stories straight. Ask two airline officials why a certain flight is delayed and invariably you’ll hear weather problems from one and maintenance problems from the other. (And the truth of course is neither)

Also, you KNOW when a flight gets in late that is supposed to turn right around it’s going to be late taking off again. First you assure us it’ll still get off as scheduled and then you systematically push back the departure time every fifteen minutes. It’s going to take off an hour late. You know this. Tell us.

Arrival times are now padded to make it appear more flights are on time. Don’t crow about your sparkling on-time record. We know it’s bullshit.

One airline justified its charging extra for heavier luggage because they were concerned for their baggage handlers, worried that the additional strain would result in back problems. But that extra fee we pay, does it go directly to the baggage handlers? Does ANY of it go to them, even indirectly? No. Of course not. Just who do you think you’re kidding?

Passengers are tired of being lied to. You must either hold us in contempt or think we’re all really stupid. Either way you have let the credibility gap widen to the length of a cross-country flight.

PRETEND THAT YOU CARE – Okay, we get it that you don’t. That’s very clear. And you’re in a quandary. If you do pretend you give even the slightest rat’s ass about us then you’re not telling the truth again. We’ll give you a pass on this one. I can’t say just act pleasant, that might not compute. So just act like you would if you wanted something from someone.

Now of course I understand that not all airline employees are like this. Some are lovely compassionate people who genuinely want to help. Have them wear badges so the others can see whom to emulate.

Look real busy and active so you give the impression you care that the flight gets off on time. Recently I was on a delayed flight and of course told the reason was weather at O’Hare (I was flying to Hawaii). Then I overheard the counter agents say the pilot was late. He hadn’t shown up yet. Fifteen minutes later this guy strolls in with a Starbucks coffee he must’ve waited in line ten minutes for. Two hundred people arrive late, half of them miss their connecting flights because the woman ahead of the pilot had to ask which muffins were diet.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CHARGE EXTRA FOR A PIECE OF LUGGAGE THERE SHOULD BE A BIG PENALTY IF IT DOESN’T ARRIVE -- And I don’t mean within the month. I mean on THAT flight. It’s bad enough you lose our bags but now we have to pay you for the privilege?

IF THE FLIGHT IS DELAYED GIVE US THE FUCKING SNACK PACKS FOR FREE. Half the passengers won’t take them anyway because they’re disgusting at any price, even free but it’s a nice gesture.

GIVE US THE AMENITIES WE WANT. For instance -- snacks
with our drinks. A little bag of peanuts. Those stale pretzel sticks. Is that too much to ask? You say you’re trying to save money? Shit can the goddamn Sky Mall magazine.

And finally….please PLEASE….

STOP APOLOGIZING – It’s so disingenuous and patronizing. You’re not sorry. Not in the least. If you were you’d adopt the above guidelines. And everyone knows you won’t.

That's all. You're now free to go about screwing the public.


Bitter Animator said...

Ah, the language of hate. This is something I understand.

For various reasons, I have ended up flying a lot in my life and I hate every second of it. I love being in other places but the getting there is hideous.

Actually, until you were attacked in 2001, you Americans seemed to have it easy as far as I could see. Security wait times were nothing for one thing. 15 minutes? We'd be lucky to get through Heathro security in half an hour and that's not a new thing. That's the way it has always been.

You think getting out of the US is tough, try getting in. Sure, I can just skip across the Mexican border with no problem and set myself up in a strawberry farm but actually trying to get from the UK to the US on a plane? Form filling, angry immigration police that seem to hate you for even taking a meeting in the US. It's long and, worse, dull.

That said, as much as I loath airports and the intense boredom of travel, I find my mind wanders as a defense mechanism and that sometimes leads to some good writing tim after.

By the way, Mr.L, have you ever done a run down of your favourite non-Levine sitcoms? I'd be curious as to what ones you rate.

Bitter Animator said...

Bah. That was full of typos. It's 7 in the morning here. I'm sleepy.

Workman said...


What the airlines fail to understand is just a little effort goes a long way. I was on a Southwest flight (which usually has me in a foul mood) and the attendant asked me if I wanted a few extra packets of peanuts. I said "yes" and she tossed me an extra handfull of honey roasted goodness.

I felt like a king. That's all it took, 30 cents worth of peanuts. Is that so hard?

blogward said...

The world would be a better place in every way if the jet engine had never been invented.

Anonymous said...

What happened to "Digg it"? That wasn't up long.

Anonymous said...

But Ken, how do you REALLY feel?

Anonymous said...

Anyone who moans and groans about airlines should be forced to travel cross-country on Greyhound. Believe me, it's not a fun time.

And yes, I'm looking forward to when I have enough money to fly. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, was your flight back from Florida?

Anonymous said...

And did ya’ ever try to get those little packages of peanuts open? I mean what’s the story with THAT?

ButIwannatellya’folks. What can I say, never fly AKA, Alan King Airlines. Guess I’m not a sophisticated traveler, but I actually like it when Cap’n Crunch gets on the horn and tells us what to look for out the portside window. Maybe I got no life, but I wish they’d install a little GPS system on the back of the seat in front of you. My only problem is that when the guy tells us we can see the Grand Canyon, I look outside and EVERYTHING looks like the Grand Canyon at the same time nothing looks like the Grand Canyon. In fact, flying west from Dallas, the final half of the whole friggin’ flight looks like the Grand Canyon, until you hit the Sierra Nevada. Actually, I find that whenever I get upset about air travel inconveniences and annoyances, I just try to picture that it really still is amazing people can fly, and also the mess there’d be if I were in charge.

The guy stuck behind the beverage cart on the way to the lav.
I’d comment more, but boy are my arms tired.

Alicia said...

Yea Ken, tell us how you really feel.

I agree that there is so much that could be done... but when all of the airlines fall in together... no one will take the leap, except to raise fares.

I am COMPLETELY dreading my flight to Salt Lake City (from Cleveland) this summer. Yea... dreading it...

Anonymous said...

AMEN! I was just on a flight back from Kansas, delayed in Memphis (although it was perfect weather everywhere in the country) superbly horrible turbulence (I was clutching my armrests for 30 minutes) and I had my headphones on, but everywhere in the Memphis airport they broadcast CNN out of huge speakers. Whatever happened to close captioning, for the people who actually want to see/hear what's going on. Of course, the breaking story was about Spitzer and the hookers. That was so much fun to listen to for two hours as we were delayed. Also, Northwest now only allows ONE carry on. The 2nd must be checked planeside. This takes at least 1/2 hour more to get the people on and off the plane, plus everyone has to wait in the little walkway once we get off the plane, and they lost my carry on. What fun.

Anonymous said...

Widen your horizons (and get lots of writing fodder for both comedy and tragedy). I follow a few of the air traffic controller blogs, and they will stand your hair on end. The best of the best include The Main Bang, written by John Carr, who is the former president of NATCA, the controllers union, and the other is the FAA Follies, a group blog featuring main author, Paul Cox, a controller at Seattle Center, who goes by the pseudonym of Blue Eyed Buddhist.

Seriously, they are just about broken, and many of the controllers who comment (and do they ever comment) won't fly anymore, themselves. Delays aren't all due to weather....

Just like the writers, they enjoy almost no public support and have no broad constituency. They write passionately and well, and their stories.... Yikes!

Give 'em a read and some love!

Mary Stella said...

Among the many reasons I like to fly Jet Blue ... When my flight from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale was going to be at least two hours late, they told me at the time I checked in. I strolled to the inairport spa and had a manicure. When I got to the gate, the staff had brought up a whole array of sodas, water and snacks. They updated us on the status of the plane we were awaiting every half an hour.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

You think it's bad NOW? HA. Wait until these guys begin to "MERGE" for the good of the employees and the good of the flying public and for the good of the investors and executives, wait a damned minute, scratch the first two off that list.

The LAST merger for the "Good of all concerned" is US Airways and America Worst. Many don't know it yet, but that is STILL, STILL two years later two completely separate airlines. The only thing those guys have in common is they now all have the same paint jobs. The pilots from both US Airways and the old America West hate each other and refuse to come to a deal on seniority and two years later (going on three) the (old) US Airways pilots fly US Airways planes on US Airways routes while the (old) America West pilots fly America West planes on America West routes wearing US Airways paint jobs and never do the two crossover, not even for a sandwich.

So, somebody please show me how this crap benefits me or you or the employees or anybody other than the greed-mongering investors that profit in the short term, then get as far away from that particular airline stock as possible? Please, I'm serious, I really want to know, the goddamn suspense has been killing me for two years, going on three.

Anonymous said...

Wow, after reading that I need a cigarette. And I don't even smoke.

Would you please take on the phone company next?

yoo hoo said...

Yeah, I wonder what kind of service they had on the wagon trains?
Customer service is non existent at many places, and if and when I do find it, I hang on to it like a long lost rich uncle.

Anonymous said...

ken, before i settle in to read your latest here - what happened to your "digg" thing? that was a pretty short love affair with whatever it was. i came back today ready to click on the "digg" icon and hello....everything has disappeared.

guess it wasn't a good idea?

now - onto to your airlines article....

Anonymous said... the "Bookmarks" icon at the end of the post. You can Digg (or any other aggregator) each post through that.

Go on...don't be afraid!

Anonymous said...

yo, ken's damn friend (hmmm, wonder who that is?), thanks. i see the digg it there. yesterday it was a separate icon and ken also posted a comment to click on it cause someone had talked him into putting digg it on the blog.

pretty cool. can you be my damn friend too?

Anonymous said...

Charity. I'd like that. But Ken's got me under contract. Sorry.

Richard Cooper said...

There definitely should be more peanut products distributed in flight. Not only are they crunchy and tasty, there's free entertainment when someone has an allergic reaction and the captain asks if there is doctor on the plane.

Anonymous said...

dammit, ken's damn friend. contracts can be renegotiated. let me know when you are up for renewal. until then, i know ken's in good hands.

Anonymous said...

From a writer who's unfortunate to have a day job that's 60% travel:

Testify, brother!

I'd add:

And don't tell us that you charge for snacks because it's too expensive. Bullshit. If JetBlue and Southwest can still give out good snacks for free with their small fleets and low fares, if Delta can do it (love those Biscoff cookies) and still afford to buy Northwest, so can bloody American.

Hell, Midwest airlines bakes chocolate chip cookies right on the fucking plane and serves them with cold milk. Two kinds of milk. For free.

And lastly, save the time, weight, effort and environment and just let me drink out of the damn can. I don't need a cup at all, much less a brand new one, every time I get a refill.

Jim said...

May 10th is National Train Day. Anyone remember trains?

Anonymous said...

I took Amtrak on vacation once. It was wonderfully relaxing and peaceful. It was BYOB and some guys with a cooler shared the beer, kick back in a barcolounger and watch the countryside roll by. Bring your own food or wander down to the dining car. If only there were time enough...

Anonymous said...

I took a train once. I'm still on it. Help!

Anonymous said...

Communication is the NUMBER ONE thing. Every year here in Oslo, Norway they do a survey, and every year get surprised as hell when people that use public transportation say "communication is THE most important thing" even over "on-time trains, subway, busses". It's true. Every year after the survey they promptly forget it.

I think of it like teenagers. If they only KNEW (or cared) what a small gesture (not the finger...a nice one)like thanking parents, or showing interest in them, or just doing a chore without being dragged, if they only KNEW how long they could coast on that, how little it really takes to make parents give them incredible return on the measly gesture...We'd give them a car for some dishes done, and a nice "gee, thanks for all the help, I love you!"

It's like that. Goes for ANY company really. But just like teens, I begin to think this is just...they WANT to irritate us. they do know how easy it is to satisfy us, with a small gesture or communication, but they must prefer seeing how far they can push us.

Cap'n Bob said...

Let's face it, the airline industry went to hell the day they allowed stewardesses to work after age 35. Instead of a coterie of hot new babes coming in every year we now have a pack of fat old broads in dusty uniforms who smell funny trying to hustle earphones and booze before every takeoff.

And how about that interrogation at the ticket counter? "Did you pack my own bags?" I wonder how many jihadists they busted with that third degree.

Flying sucks, but getting ready to fly sucks worse.

Anonymous said...

GIVE US THE AMENITIES WE WANT. For instance -- snacks
with our drinks. A little bag of peanuts. Those stale pretzel sticks. Is that too much to ask? You say you’re trying to save money? Shit can the goddamn Sky Mall magazine.

I was with you until this. I have absolutely no problem with the airlines charging people for food. (And they make money off Sky Mall.)

Dr.Dawg said...

I agree!! But security (in Canada, at least) presents its own raft of nonsense--untrained, contracted out grunts who make up their own rules on the spot:

And as for airline "service, here's my latest tale of woe:

Thanks for the link to The Main Bang, btw.

Nicki said...

Personally, I'd sacrifice a lot if they simply charged those whose lard overflows into the seat next to them for TWO DAMN SEATS! I can't tell you how many times my seat and my personal space has been invaded by some burger-chowing lardass who cannot fit into one damn seat, and whose bulk spills over into the neighboring seats, squashing their neighbor (generally me) into the wall of the plane so I look like one of those raccoons squashed by a semi in the middle of the road. It's not prejudice against fat people. It's simple: If you take up two seats, you should PAY for two seats.

Boy, I'm filled with bitter, bitter bile!

Anonymous said...

The link above to FAA Follies is broken. Here is the correct one.

Maddad said...

Actually I think every flight is delayed because of weather at O'Hare.

Sunny and clear is weather, right?

Anonymous said...

Here's why they're carrying fewer blankets and why the snacks are smaller:

(Sorry about having to break the URL for column width; cut and paste it to your browser.)

Airlines are literally shaving an ounce of weight here, an ounce there, to reduce fuel costs: less weight to carry, less fuel needed for a given route. Robert A. Heinlein predicted this in his Future History stories from the '40s and '50s, in which he depicted commercial spaceline pilots being selected for height and weight as well as ability, and pilot uniforms of T-shirts and shorts in order to reduce every ounce of non-paying cargo mass.

Donald said...

The airlines sell tickets for less than the cost of doing business. Having said that, the reasons for the chaos at the airport is obvious. The employees on duty are probably over worked and rarely see raises. Most airlines start at 9.00 an hour according to airline websites. That means, constant turnover adding to the mistakes. How much should an airline ticket cost? I don't know. We pay what they charge. How much is a loaf of bread? That's not for me to decide. The baker marks the price at cost of producing the product plus profit and we pay it.
Only a few airlines will ultimately survive and the prices will go back to where they should be. The rest will drive or take the bus or rail.
I'm looking forward to the day when we get the service that we pay for. Flying was never meant for the masses. Sorry if that doesn't sound compassionate.