Why is airtravel so painful?

Raleigh Travel Blog

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It seems like American business is built on customer service.  Competition has forced businesses in the US to become efficient, inexpensive, and offer a certain level of customer service that is virtually unknown anywhere else.  You can order a pizza online and have it at your house in 30 minutes.  You can shop all kinds of specialty shops that carry every kind of item you ever dreamed of.  And if you change your mind after buying something, no self-respecting retail shop would deny you at least store credit.  Restaurants are heavily penalized if service is not uniformly good, and so, just about any decent restaurant will give you excellent service by world standards.

So, why is it that all this falls apart with airlines?  It's not just the airlines in America, but really, just about any airline in the world seems to offer the worst face of service that any business has ever offered.  Is it because they have not realized that even for those of us who travel extensively, there is a certain amount of stress involved in traveling across ten time zones?  Or is it the actual flying experience that creates most of this stress?  All I know is that most flights offer me mediocre service, and get me to my destination.  But when things go wrong, they go really wrong.  And then it seems like airlines just abscond their responsibility and leave you hanging. 

The best known tactic for ruining your holiday is to blame it on the weather.  For some reason, airlines expect you to understand that if the weather was bad, and flights got delayed of cancelled it was not their fault.  OK, we understand.  So, my response is "I paid hundreds of dollars for you to get me to where I need to go."  Weather is one of those things that happen every day.  It should be built into the airlines business plans so that if things go wrong, I don't just get abandoned in some random airport where I have no friends, or any idea of how to get around.  When I purchase a ticket and begin a trip, I am putting myself in the airline's hands for them to take care of me until I get there.  I expect to not have to battle to get customer service.  Instead, I expect them to anticipate my needs (it should be obvious that if it's time to eat I am hungry, if it is bed time I am sleepy, if I miss my flight I need to be rescheduled, etc).  Somehow this does not seem to compute with customer service reps.

I recently had a trip where my first leg was delayed 3 hours because of weather.  So, the next leg was missed.  In order to rebook me, Northwest Airlines charged me $100 USD for missing my connecting flight, despite being on a NW ticket all the way!  They charged my credit card without my authorization, and when I called to inquire, they told me that the flight delay was not NW airlines fault, so they did not have responsibility to book me without paying the penalty fee.  So, because the delay was weather related, I have to pay them extra money, so that I can show up where I was going 24 hours late!  Ok, I imagine this is not even the worst of the airline stories (they also lost all of my luggage). 

So, the first reaction, is to say, I will never fly NW Airlines again.  The only problem is: who DO I fly?  I already eliminated British Airways several years ago after similarly awful treatment.  But what makes me think that Delta, American, or any other airline is any different?  The fact of the matter is that just when I begin to hope that one airline's service is a level above the next, I come to the realization that really any of these airlines would do this in a similar situation, and that there really is no better option.  Oh, yes, I could fly First Class, and get great service, except that I can't afford it.

So, I am stuck with bad airline service.  If anyone ever figures out how to give the traveler a good airline experience at competitive prices, they will dominate the industry.  Until then, I am just hoping that my next flight is not as bad as my last flight.

free08 says:
That shouldn't have happened, charge you extra.
My son was traveling from Modesto-SFO-Charlotte-Raleigh/Durham.
His first delay was in Modesto, missed his connecting flight from San Francisco to Charlotte. Either way, he went over to US Air, even though he started with United, since that was how it was scheduled. Neither of them wanted to be responsible for his next segment of the flight. United said US Air is suppose to connect, US Air was saying it was United's fault my son missed the second flight. But then it was US Air delay that my son missed the the final leg of the trip.
After much dispute and more delays and complication, he ended up arriving in Raleigh in the morning connected through Philadelphia spending a night there in a hotel. Initially, neither of them wanted to put him in a hotel. Actually United representative hung up on me when asked if he were to spend a night somewhere. How rude! The most amazing part was the luggage was not lost.
Thank goodness! They really should not have charged the extra money for the change.
Posted on: Aug 20, 2011
mfmcp1982 says:
I know what you mean - budget airlines in the UK are useless, particularly EasyJet, and some of the big companies are bad too. I've found EMIRATES to be excellent whether you're flying from Glasgow to Shanghai and back coming home with 3 more pieces of luggage than when you left and not chargin excess baggage, or flying business class on your honeymoon. KLM-AirFrance are good and reliable, but for US airlines, I'm afraid I'm no help!
Posted on: Jun 14, 2008
rotorhead85 says:
The small 'feeder routes' are really bad. I quit flying out of upeer Michigan years ago - even if my company is paying for the ticket. I get a one-way rental car to Chicago and fly from there. The car saves money but, more importantly, lets me travel with dignity.
Posted on: Apr 14, 2008
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