Monday, October 25, 2010

Reaction to my airline rant. They hate me more than when I blasted Katherine Heigl

Usually I don’t respond to comments. It’s your forum and I’m the hockey referee. I just drop the puck, get out of the way, and let you guys go at it. But my Sunday post on airline treatment has sparked such a heated and bizarre debate that I just had to chime in.

So to some of my dear commenters, and I say this with the greatest respect, are you fucking nuts?! You’re DEFENDING the airlines? Really?

And with such vitriol! Wow! You’d think I said nice things about Patty Heaton again. I once got a death threat for doing that. When the personal attacks start coming then I know I’m really on to something.

Usually they’re the standard “I’m a fucking idiot”, “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about”, “I’m not funny”, “I’m a hundred years old”, “I’m a Democrat”, “I can’t spell”. But then when they want to bring out the big guns – really get to me – they go to this card:

I’m a rich pampered entitled Hollywood writer.

One particularly pissed commenter, Huggy said “catch a ride with Matt Damon or one of your Hollywood pals.” Um, how do I arrange that? Because that would be really cool! Does anybody have Matt’s number or know if he’s planning to go to New York the week of Thanksgiving? And does he have room for seven?

No, I’m afraid I fly commercial just like the rest of you little people.

In fairness, I did receive a number of thoughtful and informed arguments from former or current airline employees offering their side. And it’s no picnic believe me. One pilot said they even lost his luggage. Another vigorously supported the on-time record of his airline. But later admitted he was stuck in Dallas because of some delay.

A number of commenters contend that this shoddy service we’re receiving is a trade-off for the lower fares we’re willing to pay. First of all, the fares vary wildly. Yes, there are times you can fly from LA to New York for $200. Other times it’s $700. Try to book on a website. Prices will vary from literally minute-to-minute. And those lower fares are usually for the worst seats. An upgrade now means the first 40 rows.

And why should the amount we pay determine whether it’s okay to lie to us or over-charge us for other things? The cashiers at Costco are all nice to me. Maybe the airlines should issue “Platinum” cards for those customers who pay more for their seats. Gate employees can take them aside and discreetly say, “Look, I’m telling everyone else the new departure time is 3:50 but we really just reassigned that plane to Matt Damon who’s taking a TV writer he’s never met and his family to New York so until we can find another plane – and again, I’ll be honest – there are no other planes. We keep failing safety tests and have to take them off line. But until we find another one I’m going to just keep moving the departure time back. You might want to get on another flight. And again, this is just between us.”

Here’s the only thing about the comments that concern me. Why should the airlines not treat us like shit when there are lemmings that accept and even defend their bad behavior? It’s hard to demand respect when the passenger next to you is the “Gimp” from PULP FICTION.

Okay, so let the debate continue. And for the record, I don’t turn a hundred until next February.


John Pearley Huffman said...

If price doesn't matter (and it seems a lot of people blame the misery of flying on the ability of the hoi polloi to price shop), then here's the solution:

I'm sending my family to Tennessee for a wedding this weekend. Back in the regulated Seventies, this would have been a $3,000 trip for the wife and two kids. As it is, it's $1,000 total for the three of them. Of course I price shopped and I'm proud of it.

And I wish I could have afforded to send them by Net Jets too.

escalante blogger said...

what's the connection with this John?

Andy Rickards said...

Glad you had a crappy time on the airline - and lets hope you have many more :) I view it as the start of some karma for your Heigl vitriol. Which was way over the top in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with you here, Ken. Airlines have gotten themselves into a fix due to fuel costs: historically they've been about 10-15% of the ticket price, but in 2008 they climbed to 35% and higher, and I doubt they're dropping now.

The problem (as I see it) is that airlines didn't start raising prices directly immediately: instead they started cutting service. Charging for things that used to be free, decreasing the space between seats to get an extra row in (and I'm beginning to suspect narrowing seats to a point where planes that used to be five seats per row are now six--no, it is *not* just me getting fat), and so on. So the "defenders of the airlines" are correct to that degree: we want (comparatively) cheap flights and are willing to suffer to get them.

The problem, though, is two-fold. First off, it isn't as if the flying public has been given a choice between price or service. Nobody has been saying "Go with no-frills Airline A, or pay $75 more for Airline B and assume that includes one checked bag, complimentary snacks and drinks." Everybody has been finding ways to ratchet up the charges, and have been trying to fly flights as close to 100% capacity as possible -- clearly better for their bottom line but sharply decreasing passenger comfort level. (A full flight takes longer to load and unload, is more likely to have overstuffed cabin bins, and of course is crowded and noisier.)

Secondly, anyone who's been watching airline fares over the last year can tell you that now airlines are raising prices anyway. A flight that cost me $350 last year cost me $500 this year. (I checked prices near-daily for two months before giving up and buying.) And for that extra $150 am I going to be on a less-crowded plane? Am I going to be able to check a bag without paying for it? Is the flying experience going to be any less miserable? Of course not.

I don't really see this cycle ending until some entrepreneur decides to test the theory that enough people will, in fact, pay $50 more per leg for service like Midwest used to provide (and, of course, figure out how to stay in business, which Midwest didn't--although I suspect "avoid a bruising takeover fight with Airtran that drains all your capital" is a good start).

Pamela Atherton said...

I had to fly Continental to New York this spring (I am a Southwest fan through and through). I'm almost 6 feet tall and the seats were incredibly uncomfortable. On the way back, I had to pay $78 EXTRA dollars to sit in an exit row seat.

What? Now they're prejudiced against tall people?

And while I'm on the subject of Continental, my friend's mother just came to visit. They lost her luggage. At the counter, they told her it happened all the time. When the guy finally delivered it, he told her it happened all the time.

So, because losing luggage happens all the time with Continental, my thought is that they need to spend some of their advertising money in preventing that, AND IN TRAINING THEIR PEOPLE NOT TO TELL EVERYBODY IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.

Just one woman's opinion...

Ms. Heels said...

Hi Ken,
I wrote a blog about Southwest airlines as well and I got a lot of crap for writing it as well. So much so, I took it off. I put it back on!! HAHA. Here it is:

ttv said...

Well, that's cool huh! I like that.

toetag said...


I agree with you completely and American Airlines if you're reading this. I hate your company for that 14 hour layover I had to get home from the middle east the first time and for the 11 hour layover I had to get to the middle east the second time.

Rebecca said...

I'm still pissed about the baggage fees. Though, of course, Southwest doesn't have them. I'm a huge Southwest fan.

Still, being a fairly frequent flyer, I've agreed for years that airlines and airports provided the most horrible service. So it came as a big surprise to me a couple of weeks ago, as I shepherded two elderly relatives cross country on one leg and half that far on the second, how friendly and helpful everyone on Southwest and U.S. Airways were. Plus everyone in the Las Vegas, Charlotte and New Orleans airports kept offering to go an extra mile for us with big smiles.

It wasn't just the wheelchairs, either. My mother's been using one for years and we've had to deal with some very ugly customers. Plus, I was offered assistance in the Charlotte airport when I was nowhere near the two wheelchairs.

It was almost surreal. I actually had to ask on Twitter, when did flying become such a pleasant experience? No one had an answer, so I guess it must have been gradually happening.

Considering how huge LAX is, though, it may take longer for everyone there to catch up. But it was truly amazing how a trip I was expecting to be excruciatingly difficult turned out to be just fine.

Maybe the competition is finally getting fierce enough to make a difference. But, yeah, I'd have to actually defend these two airlines and those three airports for the service I received on my last trip.

Anonymous said...

For what's it's worth: there are approx. 30,000 commercial airline flights every day. Almost all of them are completed w/out any major event. Unless you're on-board.

I've been flying since the advent of the jet age, tho I did not advent it. I have never had a particularly bad experience w/any airline employees, and w/the exception of being diverted to different airports due to weather - of course! - I can't find anything worth complaining about. I imagine Ken has had many more flights than I have and obviously, has encountered many more difficulties. I've just been lucky. Well, except for that one crash. But that was weather related.

Tom Quigley said...

In going back and reading your original post, Ken, it's amazing that of all the vitriolic responses you received, so few of them seemed to grasp that you focused less on what the cost of flying was and more on how poorly you were treated by the employees (and I could cite several experiences myself, including one time when I had to fly home for my father's funeral), and price has little to do with common courtesy and honesty. Attitudes like that in any service industry I've ever worked in would be grounds for termination.

Anonymous said...

Like Tom & Ken, the customer service is what galls me.

Last year I had to fly to Houston due an emergency (my Dad being in the ICU) and once I got home and things had settled down weeks later I called Continental (yes, I'm calling them out) to see about figuring out what to do about a ticket I had previously purchased to Houston.

I didn't need the ticket anymore because due to the emergency I was already home, in Houston. Are you with me?

After going through this with the ticket agent (which included why I was already there and crying when explaining it, etc.) I was not only NOT helped but at the end of the call she honestly said to me "will you be needing a rental car when you arrive in Houston?" as if from a script.

I'm not ashamed to say that I cursed. Strongly. And I will never fly Continental again.

bevo said...

I absolutely, positively hate American Airlines. I wish little ill on anyone but I sincerely wish and hope that everyone who has served in a senior management position or on the board of directors at AA gets brutally sodomized daily for the next five years.

In the late 1980s, I refused to fly on Southwest because the service was so bare bones. In the next 30 years, I have watched those same airlines simply forgot why people fly.

I blame the entire airline industry and the airports along with their enablers, municipal bond holders, for the lack of credible high speed rail service in this country. When I lived in the northeast, I took passenger or commuter rail service all over the place. Never once did I consider giving the thieving SOBs from the airlines a dollar of my money.

Now that I live in the upper midwest, I either drive or fly Southwest, whose service has not improved that much since the 1980s. The other airlines have gotten that much worse.

Indeed, this December, I will spend two days driving out to the Southwest to see friends and family and two days driving back from the Southwest. Yup, I will drive that far to avoid flying on any airline other than Southwest.

Congratulations, you millionaire CEOs and the rest of you overcompensated and utterly worthless senior executives. You have ruined your industry and destroyed the pension promises of your employees while driving (literally) your customers away.

What a bunch of incompetent fucks. Enjoy your sodomy. You have earned it.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

Timing of the rant could have been better.

I flew from San Francisco to St Louis through Dallas-Fort Worth a week ago. A nice family visit. Took American Airlines.

Would have taken Southwest out of Oakland, but OAK has outgrown their terminals and the security backup spills out onto the sidewalks. SFO knows how to handle the masses.

The four flights were fine. They left on time, and when two of them didn't, the pilots made the time up in the air. I would have liked a meal, but I brought food on board and enjoyed it more. The time went by fast, I listened to my iPod Touch. Never had a baggage problem, I packed so that everything fit up in the overhead and under the seat ahead of me.

The rant makes sense sometimes, especially around the holidays, but my recent experience was satisfactory. No complaints.

Mister Charlie said...

Right on. I can't believe anyone castigated you for very common and real complaints!

Sally creeping down the alley said...

All I know is that if I can ship my luggage UPS for cheaper than taking it with me on my flight and it gets to my destination without taking a side trip to Kansas City for a couple of days when I'm flying to Miami, then there's something seriously wrong with the airline biz.

And anyone who defends the airlines and their lousy customer service is a moron.

John said...

My favorite "Jeez, what are they thinking?" airline story was flying out of D-FW to LaGuardia on American. Flight left at 12:30 ... the same time as an American flight to Newark, and 10 minutes before the D-FW flight by American to JFK. You knew even before the plane took off that the luggage was bound for one of the other two destinations, and sure enough, in New York there was the dread standing-at-the-luggage-carousel-and-praying-there-are-still-a-couple-of-more-bags-coming-out-even-though-everyone-else-on-the-plane-is-on-the-taxi-line-or-the-shuttle-bus-to-Grand-Central.

Southwest I can deal with more, because as I said in the other thread, they're not offering multiple service levels and run just about the same 737s on every flight, so you know going in what you're getting. That doesn't mean if they have an early morning T-storm delay in Dallas it doesn't bollocks up a chain of flights and connections out of various airports for the rest of the day, but they're not trying to be anything more than a bare bones service.

Tim W. said...

"I’m a rich pampered entitled Hollywood writer."

Isn't everyone entitled to Pampers is they need them?

And I agree with Huggy. Customers have absolutely no right to complain unless they've actually worked in the industry. So in the future, unless you actually have run for office, please don't criticize any politicians.

By the way, I'll email you Matt Damon's number later. RIght now his pilot asked me to shut off all mobile devices so we can land his private jet on his own tropical island.

A_Homer said...

Ha. Come on Ken, this is like working a blog sweeps week, you MUST be fishing for comment numbers. Surely you recall Dear Abby and the amount of heated letters she would report getting on certain incredibly banal topics. People would fight to the death over which direction toilet paper should roll from its dispenser, over the top or from behind.
Commentary on airplane service is going to get you the kneejerks. A few years ago the same would be true for stating something about American autos.

Just don't start writing about the production of American autos with toilet paper dispensers that roll over the top, filled with expensive Hollywood airplane tickets, and you should be safe from here out.

Anonymous said...

Ken, It's weird, but I think honestly...airlines employ enough folk,and that actively HATE the customer, that they go online and defend the bastard airlines with every breath they have.'s sick. Airline travel sucks now worse than ever. Ryanair is the equivalent of a nearby country's slave labor forcing everyones wages down. They really stink, and "force" airlines to stop all the good things they used to do. Also they overbook...and cut the legs out from under their own customers with no hesitation and no real apologies even. Since there is NO way (other than paying 3 times the price fro business class) of being sure the airline will honor your ticket, even if you purchase WAY in advance, they open themselves up for criticism. Also adopting Ryanairs "fleece the customer" policies do not endear them to us. Having to buy food is inefficient and makes the process take longer, plus it is just plain stupid...baggage restrictions add stress, you never are 100% sure you will not get some fee tacked on. They all act as if we all have weeks to read through their rules and regulations, are math majors for calculating area, and lawyers able to read the fine print.
They screw us...daily. And then get pissed of when we mention it.

Don't even mention the bailouts and what they did after getting the money.

Scooby Doofus said...

Even though I'm scratching my head over what kind of defensive reactions you apparently received, I'm not curious enough to actually read that kind of nuttiness. Your points were right on, things we've all experienced. Who thinks airline peanuts SHOULDN'T be free?

Mac said...

Just be glad Ryanair didn't make their threatened push into the US. They make Krazy-Klown airlines look like the golden age of aviation. De-regulation was supposed to improve the service for the customer through competition. Ryanair is like something flying out of Vladivostock in 1975.
The staff hate you. Before you even open your mouth they hate you. They might actually have overbooked and sold your seat to someone else as you were making your way to the airport, before inviting to upgrade, catch another flight, or go
fuck yourself.
A polite complaint to Ryanair's customer services will literally get you the response "that's your tough luck."
Really, if you hate the job and the customers that much, get another job. Al Qaeda are always recruiting and you get a free suicide vest.

carol said...

Ken, you might like this story. Well, not 'like' so much as go incoherent with rage, but nevertheless, it fits what you were ranting about.

In brief, a stewardess refused to help a disabled woman get her luggage into the overhead rack, and that was just the start of her problems with United Airlines. When she complained she was told

"I won't apologize for her actions and I'm not sorry for what happened to you. It's not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone. If that's what you need, then perhaps in the future, you should make other travel arrangements."

Anonymous said...

For Max Clarke, who complained about the security at the Southwest terminal at Oakland Airport, just what time of day are your flights? I've gone from Burbank to Oakland for two days every other week for the last two months and I've never had an issue with the security there. At worst I've seen the line stretch to the little coffee stand and even then I was through the scanners in ten minutes. I tend to arrive at the airport between 3pm and 5pm Wednesday through Friday.

When I leave for Oakland, usually arriving at Burbank Airport around 6:30pm or later, there is virtually no line for security at all. There are far more TSA employees standing around than there are travelers at that time.

Crackblind said...

Not trying to defend the airlines in any way, shape or form. I've had great and hellacious experiences (Once had a desk agent in Vegas pick up the phone and say "Security Please" when I asked her to call and try to locate my luggage).

That said, unfortunately they frequently have to deal with jackasses like those described in this post:

Michael Zand said...

The argument that flight is a miracle we should all be grateful for and not complain about is specious. If that were the case, we should all have been happy that train travel replaced the covered wagon and we never would have invented flight. Wanting things to be "better" is a positive trait that improves the human condition. Yes we used to pay more for flights but we were treated better. A modicum of courtesy and a few peanuts are not an unreasonable expectations even with cheap fares.

Tim W, you and Huggy both wear hats of ass.

Tim W. said...

Michael Zand,

Please reread my comment and explain to me how I could make it any clearer that I was being sarcastic. And please hurry up since I'm about to get back on Matt Damon's private plane to fly me back to my villa on Lake Como.

Michael Zand said...

Tim W,

you're right. I hurried through your post and didn't see you were being ironic.

My apologies.

Michael Zand

D. McEwan said...

" Andy Rickards said...
Glad you had a crappy time on the airline - and lets hope you have many more :) I view it as the start of some karma for your Heigl vitriol."

My definition of hell: stuck forever on a runway tarmac, with the in-flight movie Life as We Know It running on a continuous loop, and Katherine Heigl in the seat next to you, bitching about having to sit near a writer.

When an Emmy-winning TV writer can't hitch a ride with Matt Damon, the terrorists have won - or worse - the teabaggers have won.

Baylink said...

> so few of them seemed to grasp that you focused less on what the cost of flying was and more on how poorly you were treated by the employees

Well, amazingly enough, the only airline making money right now, to speak of, is SWA, and--amazingly--that's the one where the employees are generally quite nice to you.

Perhaps there's some correlation there; I dunno.

Maybe everyone should be flying Tedevisi.

Bilge said...

First of all, Matt Damon' s airline sucks and the food wasn't legitimately vegan (almond cheese had milk solids in it) even though it was tasty in a Emiril kind of way. and almost every commercial flight I've taken in the last fifteen years has had moments that have challenged my practice of Satyagraha. i ask you, where have all the flowers gone? I am not above being profane and privately relish the act whenever talking about Northwest, or United, or American etc. I am, at the moment, biting my tongue near to the point of violating my PETA membership in order to have civil discourse on this blog, but then, who reads this blog, so, FUCK THE AIRLINES!!