Saturday, October 26, 2013

Airlines Don't Care


On our flight home from San Francisco my husband and I encountered a two-hour delay. Generally I would not find this dreadful, but since we had chosen an overnight flight I was already tired and wanting to fall asleep. A delay from leaving at 11pm to leaving at 1am felt pretty painful. It was even more painful because it felt completely preventable. We were about 15 minutes late getting onto the runway. Unfortunately, the runway at that airport closed at 11pm. Which was apparently a huge surprise to our flight crew, although it really shouldn’t have been. It’s their business to know about details like when the runways close. So the 15 minute delay turned into a 2 hour delay.

In the end I have to admit that’s not really terrible. We still got home, we still travelled safely and it’s still amazing to be able to travel cross country and back in a weekend. I think what really bothers me though is that airlines just don’t care. You can hear it in the perfunctory apologies from the crew and the gate agents. Their “I’m sorry” has a ring of “Please shut up and don’t bother me, I don’t really care about your life and don’t want to waste time on you.” You can hear it in the form e-mail I received in response to my complaint that essentially said “You’ll hear from us if you decide you deserve some money back but otherwise don’t expect a response.”

I’m not naming airlines here because I’ve flown them all and the experience is about the same. I usually fly about 4 times a year, some years more (which I think is a lot for a non-b, and most airlines are happy to boast about their customer service and show you a video about how happy they are that you’re flying with them. But when it comes down to owning up to mistakes and even just honestly apologizing, forget about it. I think this is because the airlines know they are all about the same. You can say “I’ll never fly such and such airline again!” and maybe you won’t but if you fly anywhere, on any airline, you’re likely to have the same experience in the future.

I acknowledge that I keep this system going. I keep choosing to fly, because I love to travel. I love to get across the country and see friends. I have lots of good friends on the west coast, some of whom I didn’t even get a chance to see this time and many others who I’d like to see again. With the amount of vacation time I’m allowed, I can’t make it to the west coast by bus, train or car and back again with enough time left over to actually see my friends or even do anything fun along the way. It really is amazing that it only takes a day to go from Washington D.C. to San Francisco or Seattle and in the end I can’t resist. So I know I’ll keep choosing to fly and putting up with the inconveniences.
I suppose the only thing I can do is learn to stop fighting reality. I can expect and plan for delays by booking flights early in the day and well before I need to be where I want to go. I can acknowledge that airlines don’t have much incentive to change because they are the best alternative for most trips and so people aren’t going to stop flying – that lets me let go of the demand that airlines be something other than how they are. I can try to be more zen about the whole thing. It’s just hard to be zen at 1 in the morning.