Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Joys of Flying: Paying More and Getting Less

It's muggy, grey, cloudy and humid out there. There's a strange mist hovering over the fields but it isn't over the water which is unusual. I drive by a cemetary every day and the mist was thicker there. Naturally, I find that fascinating and strangely magnetic; it's a natural creepiness that suits my dark sense of fiction.

It does make for a gloomy drive, one which is difficult when I am already wishing I didn't have to get up for work. Things feel more distant on days like this, as though I'm passing through a world that doesn't know I'm there.

But I am here now, earlier into the office than usual because there was less traffic than usual. Perhaps everyone else decided to stay home in bed.

However, I did not and here I sit, ready to start a new day of work. I also have another mission to accomplish while I work: I need to book a plane ticket.

The problem with the ticket is it's for next weekend. I'm usually much better organized than this when it comes to travel. However, I asked my boss last week in hopes I'd have permission to take a day off work and still haven't heard back. His lack of response has led to my procrastination.

Booking plane tickets these days is a complicated process. There are almost too many sites to on which to search. I usually start with my old standbys, Sidestep.com and Mobissimo.com, sites which scan multiple travel sites for me. I usually figure out from these sites which airlines are currently cheapest then go to the actually airline sites to book. Lately though, this has not been the best method. It seems as though flight prices jump up and down within minutes. One minute, I get ready to book a ticket and I'm told "The price for this ticket is no longer available." This has happened to me no less than five times now.

I actually hate airlines. I think I used to like flying when it was a novelty. I've complained about airlines before, once or twice. The thing is, they're becoming more hateable by the day.

I know it's a bad economy and the airlines are businesses that are struggling. Thus, the prices are higher than ever and the perks are less than ever. I hate that but I get it. However, it's the service I'm starting to have trouble with.

I was watching the news today and I heard about a flight from Houston that left passengers stuck on the plane for 16 hours. It was one of those horrible little small planes, the kind that you really only want to get on, fly and get off immediately. Apparently, the plane was diverted to Rochester, NY because of bad weather. Rather than let the passengers off the plane, Continental Airlines told them that because there was no security at the airport, they had to stay on the plane. They sat on that runway for six hours. According to the airport, it was actually Continental's choice to leave the passenger's there: They had security and the space for the passengers to wait.

I've been stuck on a plane. Usually, it's on a flight which comes before another that already has a tight connection. Thus, those minutes or even hours that you sit there, waiting to take off, not knowing if you're actually going to are already filled with the stress of wondering if you'll make that connection. Add in the crying babies, smell from the bathrooms and stale, germ-infested air and you've got some miserable passengers.

Ironically, I've found airlines to be some of the worst customer-service businesses I've ever encountered. When a problem occurs such as a missed flight because of a delay, while the personnel at the ticket desks try to help, they don't go above and beyond to remedy the situation. I know this is not their fault which is why I try to keep my temper with them. No, it's the airlines' policies that suck. Take, for example, my parents. They had a recent flight to the UK on Delta. They were flying from Indianapolis where they encountered a delay. They knew they weren't going to make thier connecting flight, so did the airline. However, rather than have my parents come back the next day, they told my parents to get on the plane. So they did. By the time they got to Atlanta, they had, of course, missed their connection. To make matters worse, there were no flights available until the next night. Thus, my parents were stranded for almost 24 hours. If Delta had listened, they would have been able to spend that time in the comfort of their home. The interesting thing was though Delta offered a discount for the hotel, they would not pay for my parent's stay overnight in Atlanta, even though it was really their fault my parents got stuck.

I know. Things happen. Yet lately, they seem to happen far more. Not only are air tickets expensive to begin with but there's those taxes and fees on top of it. So you might find a ticket from Cincinnati to Las Vegas for $280 but by the time the fees and taxes have been added, the ticket is $380. Thus....no longer a good price.

Then there's the fees incurred while travelling. American Airlines has now raised their baggage fees. It's now $20 to check the first bag, $30 for the second. This means, theoretically, you could pay $50 to be able to take enough stuff with you to go on a vacation. When you're already paying a lot more for the actual plane ticket than you'd like, those expenses just seem to be adding insult to injury. Let's not even talk about snacks on the plane. I recently flew American; they don't even take cash any more. You now have to give them a debit/credit card in order to be able to buy food or an alcoholic drink on a plane. This makes me worry about how much they're going to be charging in future. For me, using my debit/credit card is different from using cash. With cash, generally, it's been deducted in my mind from my bank account; I feel like it's ok to spend it. With my debit/credit card, I have to mentally calculate my bank balance and then decide if I want to spend the money, regardless of if I'm hungry and didn't get time to eat at the airport.

As I said, I know it's a bad economy and airlines need to make a profit. The crappy part is that we need to be able to fly. We don't have the luxury of time to drive to our destination and as I often regret, teleportation has yet to be invented. So, what do we do?

I'm not sure but I'm thinking that something has to change. Airlines need their profits but they're turning people off from flying because they're not raising their level of service to match the increasing prices. If they'd just treat passengers like people rather than cattle, that'd be a start. Also, do away with the class system. There's nothing more insulting than having a gate with a rope down the middle with a red carpet on one side for the 'elite' passengers. Ok, I get that businessmen who travel a lot get tired of us normal passengers being a little less efficient. I get that rich people pay more for their tickets to not be treated like cattle. But, really? Do we have to be quite so snobby as to have them walk on a red carpet? Really? It's not enough that we have to sit there patiently waiting to get on the plane knowing full well me might have to fight for overhead compartment space because we can't afford to pay $30 to check our bag? It's not enough that we know we Coach passengers are going to get stuck in the section with the crying babies and people who bring on really smelly food that pervades the air and makes us want to vomit?

Ironically, those businessmen and women who travel and get to walk on the red carpet are only getting to do so because they fly a lot. They rarely pay for their upgrades. Besides, they're travelling for business which means, chances are, they didn't even have to pay for their ticket. They can write off all their expenses so they can even check bags if they have to. Yes, I know I'm a little mean when I say this, but I often hope one of those business-suited men who stare at us 'cattle' with such disdain will trip on that red carpet and hold up the rest of the 'elite' line for a few moments.

So, who knows if I'll manage to book a ticket. I keep finding them at an affordable price only to see the exorbiant cost once fees and taxes have been added. Or, I find one that, even with the added charges, is still good only to see that it means a red-eye. I don't mind red-eyes sometimes but when it means I have to go to work as soon as I get off the plane, I prefer not to have to take one. Part of me likes the rabid search for the best price but when you're this close to the day you're going to fly, it's hard to find one. Wish me luck with that.

Of course, once I book my ticket, it means I get to go take my place with the rest of the cattle and experience the joys of flying coach.


Happy Tuesday.

1 comment:

Fe said...

Good luck on your search. :)