There was a time when flying was rare. When flying customers were treated as valued guests. When getting through the airport was a breeze.
Today it is all about going after our last dollar, euro, or whatever currency prevails. Making us so uncomfortable that we will pay anything to have some peace and quiet. It is not about customer service. No one cares about our flying experience anymore.
Flying has become torture on wings.
The numbers have multiplied out of control. The numbers of airlines and aircraft, the numbers of airports, the numbers of passengers, the numbers of checkpoints that we have to pass to get to where we are going. Not to mention the numbers of delays and cancellations. Flying times may have become shorter, but waiting times have become longer.
Let´s run through the whole flying process to see where it all goes wrong. It starts with the attitude.
Take the airline sites and the way they sell tickets online. They treat their steady customers like fools: Hey, she came back, we can probably squeeze a little more money from her. Makes you feel truly valued.
Today your trans-atlantic Economy ticket may be priced at 600-700, tomorrow 900-1500. Euros or dollars. Then someone pushes a button, and it becomes 429. Your Business class ticket for the same trip can range from 3000-6000. Don´t you just love all those sold out categories they have invented to make a fool of you?
Instead of doing it online, you can choose to use a travel agency. They will make sure your ticket is expensive, your seat is wrong and your route is all but ideal.
So let´s stay online. Don’t forget all the lovely options. You can choose your seat – imagine that – for just an extra 25 or something. And you can even take some luggage, if you pay extra.
Business class flyers, who may pay ten times more for the same flight, are reminded that their seating and their first 2 bags are FREE. Really? That would not be my definition of free.
And then there are the new economy upgrades: Finnair Comfort, Lufthansa Premium Economy, to name a few. When the service first started you were promised less waiting in line and more comfort. Now the privileges are being stripped while the price goes up.
Not to mention the points, the miles and the upgrades. The upgrades used to make you feel valued, but not anymore. Especially not when your upgrade seat has unexpectedly been sold to someone, who paid the full price. Well, read the fine print, there are no guarantees. The same is true, if you participate in an auction for an upgrade.
Okay, so now we have our tickets despite all. We even managed to check-in online on our third try, when the airline computers were finally up and running again.
Not that it does us any good. We will still be standing in the baggage drop line for some time, because baggage drops aren’t what they used to be. They now double as the last resort for travellers, who managed to make a merry mess at the check-in kiosk.
Once we have dropped our bags, we are off to security control. But that’s a story for another day. Today we focus on airlines.
Airlines have finally managed to turn customer service on its head. The customer is always wrong, the customer can always be treated rudely, the plane doesn’t have to fly, flight attendants don’t have to attend to anyone. No helping with the lifting, however elderly your customer is. Just put the customers in their place and keep them there. Then you can make fun of them in the newspapers.
Like the flight attendant, who called out a traveller for reclining his seat. Not during food service, but in general. It was the customer’s fault, of course, that the airline provided a reclining seat with too little space to actually recline it.
Doesn’t it just make you feel special and happy about flying, when flight attendants give interviews listing their worst customers and the dirtiest aircraft spaces?
Let’s not forget the food. It keeps getting worse and worse. If it is served at all, that is. The article about the trays being the dirtiest place in an airplane didn’t help either.
To be fair – although why should I be, they never are – the airlines I have mentioned here are bad enough, but not the worst. They frustrate me the most because I actually end up using them often.
But back to the flying process. By now we have done the work, paid the price, stood in the baggage drop line patiently, boarded the plane once all the elbowers got past us, and even found space for our carry-on bag a few rows back. We have taken care not to recline our seat or ask for anything special. We brought our own food – and tray wipers naturally.
We accept that the plane is three hours late and feel lucky that it wasn’t cancelled. All we ask is that the plane lands where it is supposed to.
Dream on. Of course it doesn’t. The fuel is low, and the wait time for landing is too long, because the plane missed its landing slot. Instead of landing at JFK, you find yourself in Philadelphia for refuelling. Which is actually good news, considering that an airplane full of passengers just crashed because of inadequate refuelling.
When the plane finally lands – somewhere – we head for our baggage. By now nothing fazes us. If our checked-in bag actually arrives we feel like lottery winners. Needless to say, we packed enough stuff in our carry-on bag to tidy us over in case the bigger bag takes a few days to reach us.
If we missed our connecting flight, we need to rebook. You don’t want to get me started on rebooking.
You may have bought a Business class ticket, but they will try to stuff you in Economy with a 6 hours wait at Heathrow if they can, citing fully booked Business class. Or hop you around Germany before flying you to your end destination. If you are flying in the US, there is always a hub or two through which they can rebook you to make your life hell.
I know that there are wars and famine; that I am privileged to be able to travel at all. But that does not give these airlines the right to treat me like dirt under their dainty feet.
It is absolutely unacceptable. Who can I complain to?
Well that’s the thing. In practice they have me, metaphorically speaking, by the you-know-whats that I am missing. The ones that would have guaranteed me better pay according to statistics.
So the torture on wings continues….
UPDATE: Way to go United! Drag your paying customers out of the plane after they have boarded, to make room for your own people. You just took the torture to a higher level.