I know it’s Saturday and Saturday is Blue View day, but David is busy installing new kitchen appliances. And yes, in case you’re wondering, a new fridge and a dishwasher take precedence over blogs. Sorry, but you’re stuck with me today … and I’m grumpy!
When did US domestic airlines stop being customer service oriented and start nickel and diming its passengers to death? I must have missed the transition. I used to fly for business regularly, like at least 2-3 times per month. I never minded flying and as a business flyer, I had access to certain upgrades and amenities (and an expense account) that I no longer have. Our airline miles and perks ran out years ago. We fly cattle class now and flying ain’t what it used to be, especially on US airlines.
Passengers pay for every little thing now. Some airlines quote great prices, but don’t include taxes, fuel surcharges, booking and airline fees, so the prices aren’t really a bargain. Baggage check is a separate charge and for some airlines, Spirit comes to mind, you pay for carry-on bags. Spirit even charges you to print your boarding pass! Then, of course, there’s a charge for seat selection. “No, I’ve decided to stand for the entire flight. Thanks for offering though.” These extras add up quickly and before you know it, you’re paying exorbitant rates for that ‘bargain’ flight … though I guess it beats walking… maybe.
Times have changed and so have the airlines. Perhaps Business class and First class still offer top shelf amenities (I wouldn’t know), but on the rare occasions I used to sit in Coach, I never felt it was that bad. Maybe no free booze or fancy meals, but it was tolerable and on long flights, you actually got a meal. Today, however, it’s less than satisfactory. I’ve flown on six domestic flights in the last three months, on three different airlines. Southwest was tolerable. United was somewhat adequate and American sucked. Here’s why.
Southwest has their ‘transfarency’ thing going for them. There are no frills, but neither are there many surprises. You know what you’re getting. Two bags checked free, reasonable legroom, ticket changes without penalty fees, peanuts and a drink in flight and upbeat flight attendants. Not bad if they go where you want and when you want. They are sometimes more expensive, but if we need to check bags, it’s usually a fair deal. I’m not crazy about the line-up for open seating, but if we check-in early enough, we usually get reasonable boarding slots and seats together. I flew Southwest back and forth to San Diego recently as well as to Boston around the holidays. All three were reasonably comfortable and the flight attendants were pleasant and even mildly entertaining.
The United flight back from Boston at Christmas time was crowded. We were able to avoid baggage fees by cramming everything into a single bag each. There was no room in the overhead when we boarded, so they checked our bags at the gate. We were able to choose our seats in advance, so we sat together. There were non-alcoholic beverages and peanuts served once during the 5-hour flight. The attendants weren’t rude, but they seemed oblivious to our presence. It’s a job, not a customer-service oriented career. I used to fly with United out of Chicago O’Hare a lot when I lived in Wisconsin. I could tell horror stories, but I’ll save you that rant for another time.
Let’s get to the most recent flights: four flights on American Airlines to get to Providence for my aunt’s funeral service. First of all, I booked on-line. It was last minute and I didn’t expect a deal, but I was a little miffed when I found out that I had to pay extra for the privilege of booking a seat in advance and getting to board in Group 5 … an extra $60. Okay, I proceeded and then the airplane seating chart popped up which showed only middle seats left unless I wanted to pay an additional fee for ‘premium’ seats’, i.e. aisle or window. Really? Not only an additional fee to choose a seat, but four additional fees, one for each of the four flights to get a non-middle seat? Nah, I ditched the current reservation and started all over again and opted for Basic Economy with a seat assignment at check-in.
Middle seat? Most definitely. I was assigned a cramped middle seat at the back of the plane for all four flights. I asked if anything else was available, but was told rather emphatically at the gate that no changes were available, even though they boarded several standby passengers after me. I also had the privilege of boarding in Group 9. If there had been Group 26, I would have boarded in that group. Interestingly, they announced no room in the overhead bins after Group 4, so I had to gate check my single bag to Providence and hope it would arrive with me. Wearing jeans to the funeral would have been so tacky.
I noticed on my first flight that there were some open seats behind me. Could I switch? “No, you need to stay in your assigned seat.” I simmered a bit over that one, but didn’t argue. There was also overhead space available, but my bag was already checked. We were reminded several times en route that we needed to stay in our assigned cabins and only use the restrooms designated for cattle class … the ones with the long lines. Grrrrr!
Usually I keep to myself on flights if I’m flying alone. It’s a good time to read or catch up on writing, but I had a chatty old fellow next to me and he was in a talkative mood. He was also evidently having gastric distress because a foul-smelling, brown fart cloud managed to waft my way several times during the 4-hour flight to Philadelphia. I really can’t blame that one on the airlines, but I really do want to. It just added to my overall dissatisfaction and grumpiness.
Water, soft drinks and coffee were the total offering on my flights to Providence. On the return flights, they added a single Biscoff cookie which I enjoyed immensely. In fact, I was so full when I left the plane after my 5-hour flight from Charlotte, I could barely mow down the cold chicken David had saved for me in the fridge.
On all flights, free entertainment was available only if you had previously downloaded the airline app and wanted to use your own device and headphones to view and hear the programming. Many folks did, so I’m the oddball on that one, I guess, since I didn’t know I had to prep for the flight.
I’m ranting, I know. I arrived in one piece as did my luggage...both on the same flight. I guess I’m just old fashioned. I used to enjoy flying. Though I used to complain about those yucky in-flight meals, I would have given an arm and a leg for one during the past four flights. I hate middle seats and the people sitting in the aisle and window seats hated me sitting in the middle. It’s cramped enough and Lord help you if the person in front of you decides to recline. You end up with a head on your lap.
There! I’ve got it out of my system…thanks for listening.
We’re heading to London and Rome soon. We purposely avoided US airlines and booked British Air, and insured that we were not on any of their US partnered flights. We want meals, booze, seats and service!