Flying these days is not as fun as it used to be.
Growing up in the 1960s, there are certain advertising jingles burned into my memory. United Airlines’ “Fly the Friendly Skies” is one of them.
Ironic how that jingle can be used against them now. If, somehow, you missed this viral story, here’s one of many links you can find to read up on it.
We’ve been back from Italy for a week now. Two-and-a-half blissful, wonderful weeks in a foreign land. They only complaint I had about our trip was the air travel.
I wasn’t going to write anything negative about our trip, because I didn’t want to deter others from traveling. However, I feel air travel must be addressed now, especially for people who haven’t flown in a while. (Note: We did not fly on United.)
My husband and I only fly when it is absolutely impossible to drive. So, since we don’t have an Amphicar, flying to Italy was our only option. In the continental U.S., if our destination is west of the Mississippi, we’ll fly. All other trips, we drive.
We did the simple math one day, excluding the air travel:
- Drive to the airport: 30-60 minutes depending on traffic
- Time to get to airport before flight: 1-3 hours depending on destination
- Waiting on luggage: 15-30 minutes, if it doesn’t get lost
- Picking up rental car: 30-60 minutes, depending on the shuttle, lot location, etc.
So, not counting flight time, this simple scenario is already taking close to five hours of one’s travel day. Once you add the air travel time, driving makes sense, as we can stop and eat, walk around, get a coffee, etc.
When airlines overbook, they are trying to cut their financial losses. United’s actions proved how that line of bean-counting can fail. In a big way. When people plan their flights, they do it around their work schedules for the most part. There are only so many vacation days one can take. To ask people to give up all that planning may sound simple in theory, but it isn’t.
If my spouse and I had been asked to give up our seats on the way home, we would have entertained the thought after some serious negotiations: Accommodations, ride to the airport, flying first class and monetary compensation. We had a schedule to return home to, but it could have been modified.
However, if they had asked us on our way to Italy, it would have been a flat-out “no.” At that point, we were on a tight schedule for our rental car pick-up and hotel check-in. We could have lost deposit money, our reservations and most likely, our luggage. Unless, of course, the airline would have wanted to pony up the money we would have lost, contacted our hotel, our travel agent and the car rental facility, etc.
My angst during our air travel wasn’t our carrier. The flight attendants were pleasant and attentive. The air travel was very smooth, and take-off and landings were just fine. Where I got frustrated is with all the hoop-jumping of “hurry-up and wait” as people are herded like cattle to stand in line to board the plane; sitting for an hour or more by the gate, waiting to board; spending several hours in line with thousands of others for Customs; unpacking and re-packing my already scanned carry-on bag; and the demoralizing trips through security.
After spending exhausting amounts of time just to get to one’s gate, the last thing a paying customer wants to be told is that the plane is overbooked; that volunteers are needed to re-arrange their plans, their life, their schedules to accommodate some accountant’s brilliant idea of over-booking to make sure no plane ever leaves the ground with an empty seat.
So, if you are planning on flying anytime soon, here are a few tips to hopefully make your life easier:
- Pack your patience. Even a short trip will feel like a long day.
- Be mindful of your carry-on luggage. Don’t be the bonehead who exceeds or pushes the carry-on bag limit. Take what is necessary if your luggage gets lost: A toothbrush, small pack of wipes, clean shirt/underwear/socks; phone charger; laptop; medications. You may not have overhead bin space to use, thanks to people trying to bypass checking their luggage.
- Have your paperwork easily accessible, especially when in line: ID, boarding pass, passport.
- Don’t take cuts in line. Seriously, this happened to us. (Funny, though, the offender was in the wrong line, so he ended up waaaaay behind us! Ha!)
- Know your limits. I can get hangry, so I always keep a snack handy.
- When you are feeling overtired, overwhelmed and anxious, breathe and try to be patient. Smarting off can get you in trouble with the authorities and/or your travel companion(s).
As consumers, it’s time we demand better treatment from the airlines. Yes, we all know that security is an issue, and we have no choice in acquiescing to that part of flying. But the carriers need to reassess their policies, such as overbooking. By the time this latest fiasco is done and over, whatever money United gained from the archaic practice of overbooking will be spent compensating someone who was just trying to get home.
© Lynne Cobb – 2017
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