Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United and the Airline Torture Process

From the blog's title, you can probably infer that I don't like flying.  You would be right.  I'm privileged to be old enough now that I no longer have to fly for work.  I will drive two days on the highways each way rather than try to save a couple of days of my time by flying.  Here's why...

We'll start with the usually unoffensive overbooking process the airlines use.  They claim to assume a certain percentage of passengers with reservations won't show, so they overbook 'seats.'  Most of the time, this impacts other people.  The airlines offer hundreds of dollars in vouchers to get people to volunteer to not fly the overbooked flight.  I've always seen those vouchers accepted by someone.  On the other hand, I used to fly on government booked seats.  Sometimes they wouldn't give you a reserved seat.  You always hoped that you got there before the last seat was assigned to someone else.

But United took the overbooking to stupid levels.  First, years back, people not showing up for reservations might have made sense.  Pay at the counter when you arrive.  Today most people use credit cards and purchase ahead of time and get a reserved seat.  Who's not going to show?  If they don't the airline can still charge the fare.  If they reserved last minute, but didn't pay, and they get to the counter with no seats left, then don't give them a boarding pass.

But in the United case, they weren't actually overbooked.  They just needed to seat four United stand-by flight crew that didn't have reservations.  So, when no vouchers were accepted, United randomly picked four seated fliers to eject from the plane.  This wasn't happening in the lounge before boarding like it normally does.  One of the fliers refused to leave, and was dragged off the plan, being injured by Airport security in the process.  A very stupid situation, and a stupid set of actions by United.  Do it before you board.  Up the offer until you get people to accept.  It's a cost of doing business.  Don't let greed drive you to stupid forcible ejections from a plane.

So, will that ever happen to you?  Probably not.  But it does happen to people, not infrequently.  Now lets get to the more usual and frequent torturous processes involved in flying.

First, just getting to the airport.  Parking is not a load of fun, but it's not torturous.  However, my wife doesn't like wasting money and letting a car be dinged in airport parking.  So trying to get approval to park is torturous, for me.  So usually, I get my wife to drop me off at the airport.  But the drop off (or pick up) lanes are packed like a southern California freeway in rush hour.  Trying to get to the curb is a high risk effort at avoiding a fender bender, not to mention the frustration of moving along at a snail's pace due to people stopping their cars in the middle of the road to load or unload (slowly) people and bags.

Assuming you get through the terror of airport traffic, you now get to go to a ticket line or kiosk.  The kiosks are actually nice.  But waiting in the luggage drop off line still has to occur.  If you get there when a flight has been cancelled (and people are rebooking) or when the Air Force drops off hundreds of new recruits just out of basic, you can stand in a line forever, hoping you get your ticket before your plane takes off.  And you still have the security line to delay you.  Granted, buying and printing your ticket online nowadays reduces that risk somewhat.

Now you get to the security line.  It wraps around forever, and you are starting to seriously worry about getting to your gate on time.  This is just an irritating waiting game.  But then you get to the actual screening machines and screeners.  Back after 9/11, I flew in my hiking outfits a few times.  I always got special attention.  More recently, they added the body scanners.  After my prostate was removed, I've used male pads to handle incontinence.  The likelihood of being humiliated in public due to those machines made them a terror to me.  This factor alone is enough to stop me from flying.

Now you make it to the gate, waiting on your plane to get there.  If there is bad weather, its going to be delayed.  If it's later in the day, it will be delayed from accumulating route delays.  Sometimes, there are mechanical problems.  I would say 30 to 40 percent of the time, I've encountered seriously delayed flights.  Maybe that's an exaggeration due to its impact on my psyche.  But its been a significant portion of my flights.  If the delay is the last leg of a trip, its acceptable.  But too often it's the first leg, putting you at risk of not making your connection. The stress buildup gets bad waiting on a plane, and then as the plane arrives at the next airport for your next flight.

And have you ever seen a plane that's predicted to get there 10 minutes late, actual arrive 10 minutes late?  No.  10 minutes before that, they change it to 15 or 20 minutes late, then 30 to 35 minutes late.  An hour and a half late(r), the plane may actually get there.  If I tried to give info to my boss that was that poor, I would be fired.

Another irritant is the baggage racks above the seats.  I always check anything bigger than a laptop bag to minimize the chance of not finding overhead space.  Lots of people are cheap, and carry their luggage on board with them.  Unless you are short, you do not want to put any carry-on under the seat in front of you; you will get leg cramps trying to avoid the item.  It's bad enough with most people leaning their seat back to 4" in front of your face.  Your legs get cramps.  If the person next to you isn't overweight and covering the arm rests, you get an offensive seat mate that claims the arm rests for themselves.  And while I may have incontinence normally, on a plane I cannot go no matter what I've drunk.  My bladder can be near to bursting, but I'm unable to relieve myself in the small bathrooms.  So I dehydrate myself before and during flights.  You just want the flight to be over.

Then there's the delayed last leg of a trip that happens to be the last flight out that night.  I used to come back to San Antonio on a Friday evening by going through Dallas.  And Dallas is subject to storms.  They just shut down everything if there is lightning within 5 miles; and there always seems to be lightning within five miles.  Several times, they just cancelled the last flight in stormy weather.  You had the option of flying back late Saturday, or getting back on your own.  Several times I got a rental car at 11:00 pm and drove four and a half hours through storms to get home to San Antonio.

But suppose you actually get back to your home airport after 10 to 14 hours of airline travel.  You've kept your wife up to date on delays (or not) by email/text.  You call her as soon as you land to let her know.  Instead of being in the cell phone waiting lot, she's at Walmart.  Now you wait for your bag to show, and hope that it does.  Sometimes it doesn't and you get an extra hour at the airline lost baggage counter.  Assume you get it.  More often that not, its the last bag to come out.  You call your wife again to let her know you've got your bag and will be heading to the curb.  She says she's almost done.

You get to the curb and wait another 35 minutes for your wife to pull up.  It's been a long, stressful day, and she's just added to it.  You are thinking very un-Christian thoughts.  If you are lucky, you make it home.

Now think back to United, making those calls for $400 and $800 vouchers.  Who would want to go through the airline process the next day, again?  You've got on the plane and are sitting in your seat for the last leg home.  Most of the stress is over.  But they want you to do it again?  Just for a chance at a reduced-cost flight another time?  No one took them up on it, and I'm all with them.  Three grudgingly got off the plane when asked, but one refused.  I'm not surprised.

Is any of that worth it?  Not to me.  I had to fly when I was working; they wouldn't give you the extra time to drive.  Now I don't have to, and the airlines won't see another dollar from me unless I'm faced with a time-based emergency.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog. An excellent read. I'll certainly be back. turkish airlines open tickets