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Old 06-21-2010, 04:47 AM   #1 (permalink)
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WTF is wrong with the U.S. air travel system?

I'd describe myself as a seasoned traveler. I've been flying for a good 12-15 years, and at one point was traveling once every couple of weeks. In the past 3-5 years I've seen things get downright terrible. In all the time before that, I had never had to deal with a canceled flight or lost luggage (I know I was probably the exception - just beating the odds) but in the last couple of years especially it seems like every damn time I fly it's always something. Delays, cancellations, shoddy or nonexistent customer service. So WTF gives? I understand that sometimes delays and cancellations are just inevitable - this last time, it was a major storm at O'Hare that grounded everything for several hours. It's hard to bounce back from something like that. But even in cases where there are minor glitches it seems to have significant effects.

I have a theory: The system has been pared down to its bare "just-in-time" essentials, which makes it incredibly fragile. If one plane is late it ripples - the aircraft isn't there to take the next flight; the crew is now late for its next trip, or over their allotted operating time, so they can't fly; the gate assignments are all fucked up. In the case of cancellations, it can take days to get all the passengers home flying standby on full or overbooked flights.

How much of this is just inevitable? Is it like this in Europe, Asia, etc? Do we Americans need to just quit our whining and realize that sometimes there are things beyond anyone's control, or is our system broken and we need to demand changes?
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Old 06-21-2010, 04:55 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I feel your pain, lurkette, but this is the first thing I thought of.


EDIT: I put this video up, then took it down in a moment of empathy. However, once I saw that The_Jazz was involved, I put it back up again.
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Old 06-21-2010, 05:06 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I fly 60,000+ miles/year on average. Weather happens. You can't deplane down a metal jetway in a thunderstorm with lightening strikes nearby. You have to expect snow and rain to make things run a little slower. It's pure safety and there are piles of wreckage to exhibit why those are important lessons.

But everyone who pays a fare is entitled to good customer service. I get it because of my loyalty, but I know full well that the folks in the back of the plane deserve the same, especially when they need help when weather strands them. That's the part of the system that needs to be fixed.
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Old 06-21-2010, 05:06 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lurkette View Post
I have a theory: The system has been pared down to its bare "just-in-time" essentials, which makes it incredibly fragile. If one plane is late it ripples - the aircraft isn't there to take the next flight; the crew is now late for its next trip, or over their allotted operating time, so they can't fly; the gate assignments are all fucked up. In the case of cancellations, it can take days to get all the passengers home flying standby on full or overbooked flights.
Yes, your theory is sound. I can recall flying several times when the plane would be no more than half full. Not any longer. The airline industry is experiencing some of its highest load factors ever. There's less unused capacity on flights to absorb passengers from other cancelled or delayed flights. And that's not about to change, soon or anytime at all. There's no way a flight can be profitable when there are significant number of empty seats. I can recall hearing shortly after 9-11 when the airlines were all heading into bankruptcy that the industry had a cumulative operating loss since its inception. Not just one airline, the entire industry! I think they have finally wised up a little and started running it like a business. I hope as my son is a commercial pilot.
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Old 06-21-2010, 05:13 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I don't think it's just the U.S.

The one thing to realize about the entire airline industry: Since its inception, it has operated at a net loss. I can't think of another industry like that off the top of my head.

So what you have is an entire industry where profits are a big question mark. Sure some airlines turn some nice profits, but then that could disappear a year later. It's one of the toughest industries out there.

The concept of "pushing tin" I think is an essential one. You need to be extremely efficient with moving planes around because it's so goddamn expensive to run the things. Could you imagine taxi, train, or bus services giving passengers the same treatment? No fucking way. But it's an unfair comparison when you account for all the operational factors. Operating "chairs in the sky!" is a completely different thing from most other forms of transpiration.

That said, I don't see any real and significant fixing anytime soon. I'd be happy just to have the industry remain a feasible travel option. That's what I expect and hope for. You can't expect hotel hospitality from this industry unless you have buckets of money. And by then, you might as well be flying privately.
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Old 06-21-2010, 08:21 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Have you been flying through Atlanta recently? I hate that airport.

Actually, I'm glad you started this thread, because I've been having similar problems. I thought it was just my own bad luck. I'm still inclined to think that some of my problems are due to luck (who has their purse w/passport stolen on the metro on their way to the airport?!), but every single time I've flown this year I have experienced some delay in flight. One of those times Delta decided to award me a few bonus frequent flier miles, but otherwise it's just been grumpy employees and grumpy stuck passengers shoved from one gate to the next as the flight is more and more delayed. 5 hour delay for a 2 hour flight? No problem, let's all just hang out and read a book. I've come to expect to spend all day en route, surrounded by smelly frustrated travelers, no matter how short the trip.

And one more thing:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
...Operating "chairs in the sky!" is a completely different thing from most other forms of transpiration.
I had to highlight this instance of incorrect usage. Normally I wouldn't, but considering that it was from an editor, it seems more exciting.
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Old 06-21-2010, 08:37 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I prefer to blame gremlins.

...

Seems like airlines and trains (in the US) have a lot in common: too expensive, shitty service, tons of delays, safety record like a block of Swiss cheese.

Only half of the above are issues stemming from the business philosophy of many American companies: profit over all else (including safety).

The rest is the nature of the transportation beast: how can we even get close to a profit? Fuel costs alone totally rape everybody.

The funny thing is that despite how much everybody bitches about air travel in the US, they all still do it. Weird. Nobody gives a shit but they still need it.

How can something so crucial to business activity and everyday peoples' personal lives be treated like a red-headed retard? Oh yeah, entitlement issues.

"But why do I have to pay $600 to fly?! I could drive for much cheaper." Just drive then. "What's up with these delays?" You can't pull a plane over.

...

"At least you get to land. I never get to land!"

Quote:
Originally Posted by genuinegirly View Post
I had to highlight this instance of incorrect usage.
Well, you're going to appear on the side of a milk carton in a few weeks.
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Last edited by Plan9; 06-21-2010 at 08:36 AM..
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:07 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Plan9 View Post
Well, you're going to appear on the side of a milk carton in a few weeks.
No...no, I don't mind. On TFP, the average number of language errors per post is about one or two, as a conservative guess. This is why I don't take the time to point them out. It would get embarrassing after a while.

That said, I have no idea how transpiration came out. It's not a word I'd normally use. Funny, that.
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:35 AM   #9 (permalink)
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not unless you are a plant guy!
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:53 AM   #10 (permalink)
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not unless you are a plant guy!
I should have just claimed that I was being witty: transportation + perspiration = transpiration!
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Old 06-21-2010, 10:09 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Old 06-21-2010, 11:17 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by The_Jazz View Post
I fly 60,000+ miles/year on average. Weather happens. You can't deplane down a metal jetway in a thunderstorm with lightening strikes nearby. You have to expect snow and rain to make things run a little slower. It's pure safety and there are piles of wreckage to exhibit why those are important lessons.

But everyone who pays a fare is entitled to good customer service. I get it because of my loyalty, but I know full well that the folks in the back of the plane deserve the same, especially when they need help when weather strands them. That's the part of the system that needs to be fixed.
Exactly. The weather that hit Chicago when I was there was severe - 60 mph winds, lightning, etc. I'm not saying the planes shouldn't have been delayed - there was no way anything was taking off and landing in that weather.

But here's what gets me: the complete and total lack of information released to the passengers. Gate changes without announcements, pushing back departure times 3 times before finally canceling the flight at midnight when it's too late to get a hotel or book another flight, giving people incorrect information about where to find information (gate vs. customer service desk vs. phone), having 2 customer service agents on hand to serve thousands of people when you KNOW the weather is likely to strand everyone, having airplanes without crews and and airplanes without gates and gates without planes and crews without planes and being unable to put the pieces together. It was my experience, sitting there in the airport listening to the flight crew talking to the gate agent talking to someone on the phone, that the left hand and right hand were not on the same body.

^^^^ is not a business model issue, it's a customer service/information management issue. There have been times when my flight was delayed or canceled and I got such excellent customer service (Southwest airlines comes to mind) that I was not even moderately disgruntled. We all know shit happens, but sometimes just hearing a sincere apology makes all the difference. I know the gate agents are facing down hundreds of pissed off people and it makes it difficult to do their job cheerfully, but it does make a huge difference. It seems that if there was a better system for informing the workers and having them inform the passengers, everyone would be a lot happier.

So does anybody have inside information on why the information management and communication is so insanely horrible?
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Old 06-21-2010, 11:29 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I absolutely loath the airline industry with every fiber of my being, really if I have the time to do it I'd rather just drive.

Anyway I'm sure everyone here will appreciate this story. I was flying home from Nashville to Maine about two years ago, connector flight in Atlanta and then up the east coast to Portland, simple. Not really. The flight to Atlanta took off on time but when I arrived it turned out they had overbooked the flight and I had been bumped. The only option I had was to wait about 4 hours, fly to Cincinnati and go home that way, when I arrive in Ohio I almost immediately hear my name on the loudspeaker...great. I'm now informed, over much protest, that the flight was overbooked again, I'd been bumped and my only option was to fly back to Atlanta (complete with a 5 hour layover) and connect there. Yup I'd been flown to Cincinnati for no apparent reason what so ever. But it gets worse. We board the flight in Atlanta, and despite being a gorgeous summer afternoon, we just sat. An hour goes by, two until finally the pilot shows up, it turned out that nobody had been booked to actually fly the plane. They booked an entire flight, and forgot to actually find a pilot...amazing.

Needless to say when I do fly, I don't fly Delta anymore.
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Old 06-21-2010, 11:29 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lurkette View Post
So does anybody have inside information on why the information management and communication is so insanely horrible?
I think it might have to do with the sheer volume of information. I know in the case of Toronto-Pearson, they move on average more than 40 planes an hour. What you get is a relay of data from individual planes, to air traffic control, to terminal and back, and ultimately to passengers when things are confirmed. I imagine that with the back and forth and confirming of information that you get situations where things are announced last-minute.

I'm not an apologist for companies with lousy customer service, but I do understand if passengers aren't told their plane is going to be late—or gates switched, or whatever—until 5 or 10 minutes before the original boarding time. I get that.

My SO used to work for customs. With international flights, you get that added layer of communications between the captain and the authorities in the terminal. So add that to the mix in these cases.
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Old 06-21-2010, 01:16 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I've been delayed for 6+ hours in one sitting.

I still love to fly.

Honestly the intricacies and complications that arise would stun any flyer if they had the slightest clue on how everything hinges on going just right. When Mother Nature screws up plans everyone gets pissy at the airlines, when they're holding tight to ensure planes don't risk it and end up killing hundreds of people.

To me that's the same as yelling at the guy in front of you when traffic is going 10mph on the highway because it's a blizzard during rush hour. Yeah I still do it, but it's pointless.
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Old 06-21-2010, 02:34 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Transpiration!

I'm sorry, Baraka_Guru, we can't be friends anymore.

...

Air travel is the most complex form of transportation in existence. Even rail systems, with their to-the-minute scheduling are an order of magnitude simpler to operate. It's simpler to go to the moon than it is to take the red-eye to Dallas. The space shuttle never had to ask for taxi clearance.

A system as big and as complicated as the one behind your air travel is bound to have snags. Really the part that amazes me is that there aren't more problems than we see.

Frankie say relax.
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Old 06-21-2010, 02:39 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Jazz View Post
I fly 60,000+ miles/year on average. Weather happens. You can't deplane down a metal jetway in a thunderstorm with lightening strikes nearby. You have to expect snow and rain to make things run a little slower. It's pure safety and there are piles of wreckage to exhibit why those are important lessons.

But everyone who pays a fare is entitled to good customer service. I get it because of my loyalty, but I know full well that the folks in the back of the plane deserve the same, especially when they need help when weather strands them. That's the part of the system that needs to be fixed.
I'm mostly in agreement with The_Jazz on this. Delays and cancellations are most frequently an inevitable result of Mother Nature and the sheer logistical complexity of moving around the volume of flights that we have every day.

Lost/damaged baggage, though, is silly. I personally have been lucky in this regard, but anecdotally I hear bad news about this all the time (though perhaps simply because everyone flies more than they used to). Ditto with service - you get what you pay for, but it seems this is likely an area for a lot of improvement.

To directly answer the OP about the 'just-in-time', no-slack character of the industry today, I think there's a degree of truth here, but air travel is also far more affordable than at any time in our history. Sure, we could ask the airlines to run half-empty flights and bring back all the little conveniences, but to do so would be to return air travel from a middle-class commodity to an upper-crust luxury.
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Old 06-21-2010, 02:51 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Transpiration!

I'm sorry, Baraka_Guru, we can't be friends anymore.
Wow....do you guys also criticize teachers when they cuss in the privacy of their own homes? "But you work with children!"

Did you know that pilots are allowed to drink off the job?

Well, this editor is rather quasi-literate when he's off the job.
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Old 06-21-2010, 03:01 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Wow....do you guys also criticize teachers when they cuss in the privacy of their own homes? "But you work with children!"
Yes. And I yell at police offers for jaywalking and parking illegally.

I am a bitter, angry human being.
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Old 06-21-2010, 03:53 PM   #20 (permalink)
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It just doesn't happen this way in Asia. Here, even the budget airlines are clean, new, efficient and low-cost.

The complaints I hear about from the US and Canadian domestic flights, just don't seem to be an issue here.
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Old 06-21-2010, 04:32 PM   #21 (permalink)
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It just doesn't happen this way in Asia. Here, even the budget airlines are clean, new, efficient and low-cost.

The complaints I hear about from the US and Canadian domestic flights, just don't seem to be an issue here.
I agree with that. Heck prefer AeroMexico over most US carriers.

Jazz is right about loyalty and weather. However for the most part the airlines have zip customer service anymore. I over heard a guy asked the 1st class attendant "are the sandwiches fresh?" Her response... "I don't know, I didn't freaking make them." Oh and God help you if you're stuck at gate trying to get some help. You might as well hit yourself in the head with a hammer. It'd be less painful and over quicker. The only time you can find service anymore is in a club lounge, no club pass=no service. Self services kiosks or lines with 50 people in them, what a choice.

Another thing I've noticed is the airlines have taken to giving you 30mins to get from one gate to another with no concern where you're inbound from. Most airports are a min. of 1 hr. to get through customs, recheck bags and make a flight. I've purposely booked flights so I'd have 4-5 hrs rather then 30mins to make a connection only to find the day of or the day before the airlines changed my flight to the earlier one. Getting it changed back is always a nightmare.. or impossible.

Bottom line is, IMO, first class and the "sky lounges" are what coach used to be and coach is... well coach just sucks.

I have to fly to SFO in a little over a week. Flying Jet Blue. First time with them, no idea what to expect. Hopefully I get there and get back with my one piece of carry-on.
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Old 06-21-2010, 06:14 PM   #22 (permalink)
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I have to say, I think I am a pretty easygoing and understanding person. But air travel pisses me off. Look, if planes are delayed, or if there's weather, or if the shit just hits the fan, I can understand that. Sometimes things happen, and nobody is at fault.

But what I can't get past is the unbelievably awful quality of customer service. Airlines are just the worst to deal with, and they are heartless. This past summer, the wife and I were going to go to Europe, and it happened to be right toward the end of the period when the Icelandic volcano was erupting. Planes were back in the air, but my wife and I both have some lung-related health issues, and our doctors advised us not to go until the dust cleared more. We called our international airline to tell them we had to cancel, and wished to reschedule the trip at another time, due to the above reasons. Mrs. L. and I both have enough experience with airlines to know that a cash refund was as likely as them sending us flowers and a free blowjob, so we were frank with them that all we were seeking was a credit for future travel. It took us until a week ago to finally wrangle it out of them, after our lawyer threatened them with legal action. And that kind of thing is all too typical.

Delays will be inevitable in a travel business. Fare increases, fuel surcharges, and fees for alteration of ticketing and rebooking may be perfectly justifiable. But if I'm gonna put up with that, then dammit, give me a comfortable seat, and don't make me feel even more like a sardine than I already do; don't charge me for crappy-ass airplane food if there even is any food; don't give me bullshit about how my Kindle or my iPod has to be turned off, as if my devices will somehow cause "The Return of the King" to appear on the flight scopes, and the radar to play Cheb i Sabbah, making the plane go down in a cataclysm of English literature and electronic music; don't harass me and give me the stinkeye because I'm a big guy; don't charge me just for having luggage; don't make me wait in ridiculously long lines and then not have decent seating at the gate; don't get in my face when I come to you with a customer service issue; and don't treat me like I'm just a pain in the ass waste of your time. I am your customer, and I am paying you a ridiculous amount of money to travel with you. Treat me well and I will give you loyalty. Treat me poorly, and I will seek out your competitors. And when the whole damn industry treats me poorly, I will consider travel alternatives, and vacation options that don't involve flying, whenever I can.

Fuck you, airlines. Remember your place.

/rant

heh, heh....
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Old 06-22-2010, 12:23 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by lurkette View Post
***snip***
...having 2 customer service agents on hand to serve thousands of people when you KNOW the weather is likely to strand everyone
***snip***
it's a customer service/information management issue.
***snip***
We all know shit happens, but sometimes just hearing a sincere apology makes all the difference.
I think that's what it boils down to for me; as the T-shirt and bumper sticker says... "shit happens." Hell, I expect shit to happen. When it doesn't, that's just a bonus. When someone is actually available, even if they pretend to be sincere about the situation, it makes things at least a little more tolerable.

The topic of entitlement has also come up. Well, if I buy a ticket for a plane ride from A to Z, I'm entitled to get from A to Z with all my belongings. If the plane is scheduled at a certian time, there IS an expectation of the airline to uphold that schedule.

Passengers have to jump through enough federally regulated hoops just to get to the fuggin' gate. Once I get that far, at lease try to treat me like a humab being.
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Old 06-23-2010, 03:46 PM   #24 (permalink)
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I don't understand why so many people feel that air travel owes them total comfort and stellar customer service. I mean, you don't have to fly. You can drive, take a train, take a bus, take a boat (in some cases). Or you can charter your own plane.

And what do you do when you travel to another country, and have to ride with 300 other people crammed onto one bus along with the chickens and the goats?
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Old 06-23-2010, 03:49 PM   #25 (permalink)
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i rode c-47s with chickens, goats, indigents, etc., all over vietnam...

worked for me...
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Old 06-23-2010, 05:24 PM   #26 (permalink)
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I find the difference in customer service and amenities between US and international flights to be quite staggering. Even though a transatlantic flight is sometimes not much longer than a coast-to-coast US flight, the experience (at least on a foreign airline) is very different.
Quite a bit has to do with the nickel-and-diming attitude here. I understand that costs are high and competition abounds, but as a pricing model it damages the experience quite a bit. I'd prefer slightly higher prices, with better service. But I feel that the airlines are stuck in this spiral, and intent on showing you the lowest "base price" while cutting away anything they can.

I recently flew to the US from France (Paris to the East Coast on AirFrance, and East Coast to Seattle on US Airways). The first flight had complimentary (and decent) food, beverages (including alcoholic beverages), pillows etc, friendly service, a multimedia system with lots of movies to view, along with music and games. It made the 8 hour flight go pretty quickly. And luggage was free (2 pieces).
On the 6 hour US Airways flight, you could buy some crappy food / drink, there were no TVs in all the cabin, you would have to buy a pillow or blanket if you needed any, and the general attitude was surly.

The US airlines don't "owe" me better service.. But clearly better service does exist. When flying internationally I try to avoid US carriers as much as I can, but I can't do much about that for local flights.
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Old 06-23-2010, 10:37 PM   #27 (permalink)
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ANYBODY who works in customer service owes their customers the best possible service they can muster, the customer is putting bread on their tables and clothes on their backs. Yes flying can be a logistical nightmare and things do happen, most rational people aren't put off by that for the most part, but when they can't even be bothered to put any care in what they can control people start getting fed up and rightfully so considered the prices we are being asked to pay (and all the bailouts). Make sure staff is on hand and helpful, assure that flight attendants are treating people with common courtesy (don't sneer at me because I asked for a second $8 beer), don't let 2 hours go by without even bothering to update passengers on why we are just sitting on the runway...maybe, god forbid, make planes and terminals a little more comfortable, ect ect ect.

What ever happened to taking a little bit of pride in what you do?
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Old 06-24-2010, 10:42 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by warrrreagl View Post
I don't understand why so many people feel that air travel owes them total comfort and stellar customer service. ***snip***

Sorry warrrreagl, I couldn't disagree more about the customer service. As I mentioned before, whem the fuckup happens, I expect someone at least to pretend to care that I have been inconvenienced. That's the best way to earn my non-repeat business - poor customer service. When "making things right" is such a bother for the employee, then that's unacceptable to me. As Was said, customers pay their the salaries; when they piss off enough customers, they'll go under. (or get a bailout)
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Old 06-24-2010, 02:35 PM   #29 (permalink)
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I agree Coaster. I don't expect "Stellar" service or to fly in "total comfort." I do expect service. If there's been a delay or I miss my connection due to the airline being late I expect a person to help me. I don't want to be stuck at a self help kiosk re-entering my zip code repeatedly. I do want a seat that isn't ripped up or non-functioning and is clean. Seems half the time I fly anymore someones half eaten Burger King combo meal is stuffed in the seat back in front of me, nice real nice.
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Old 06-25-2010, 07:24 AM   #30 (permalink)
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what isnt wrong with it...fubar
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Old 06-26-2010, 03:23 PM   #31 (permalink)
still, wondering.
 
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Originally Posted by lurkette View Post
Americans need to just quit our whining

(with the necessary provisions we might need if reason doesn't work)

and realize that sometimes there are things beyond anyone's control
Equilibrium comes: The Industry is weighing dross in the measure. Treasuring your patrons was time-honored, but no longer.

Beyond scrabbling to remain attractive, there's nothing wrong with USAIR.
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Old 06-29-2010, 01:05 AM   #32 (permalink)
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So I started out on Interjet, a regional carrier, last night to catch a Flt to Cancun then a connection to SFO with a long lay over in Ft. Laud. Never left the airport, some problem with the plane. They offered to put me in a nice hotel in downtown Merida which would be kind of stupid since I live here. So now I have a early morning Flt and a mid day connection on Jet Blue. I thought the service was good with Interjet and they contacted Jet Blue and made the changes with my ticket at no cost to me.

Bottom line I spent last night in my own bed and I'll be in SFO at about the same time today. Everything should be good... as long as they fixed or repaired the plane over night.
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Old 07-01-2010, 09:11 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Ok, after several delays (storm related) I made it to SFO last night.

Was pretty happy with Jet Blue. Kind like what I remember Southwest being but they have a TV/entertainment system in the seat back in front of you. And all soft drinks, coffee and snacks are free.

I'd fly them again.
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Old 07-01-2010, 04:49 PM   #34 (permalink)
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I've known several friends and family members with flying and airport security horror stories. Luckily no bad airline stores for me to report - knock on wood. But then again i have not flow much over the last few years and when I do fly it tends to be direct.
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Old 07-02-2010, 04:56 AM   #35 (permalink)
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I will revisit this thread in August after I log roughly 15,000 during July.
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Old 07-02-2010, 06:05 AM   #36 (permalink)
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I must be pretty lucky. I travel once or twice a year and don't recall any problems with delays or cancellation. The one thing that is a bit annoying is that with the airline routes now I get flown quite a bit off the direct route. I just got back from a trip from Albany, NY to Portland, OR. The trip out went from Albany to Newark to Houston to Portland. The return trip was Portland to Houston to Cleveland to Albany. With an hour or two wait at each stop, that's 12 hours or so traveling. It's really not that bad though. It beats driving nonstop 4 days to cross country.
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