Jeff Siger's post yesterday about flying pushed my buttons. If you're allergic to rants you might want to stop reading now.
No businesses in the world get away with treating their customers as badly as do American-owned airlines. They've engaged in a frenzy of profit-driven mergers until competition is more a memory than a market dynamic and they've piggybacked on all the TSA dreadfulness as an excuse to turn what used to be a relatively pleasant environment--an airplane in flight--into a jail cell at 37.000 feet.
The basic attitude seems to be that passengers are an inconvenience; if only, the airlines seem to say, we could fly all these planes back and forth empty. But since they can't they've decided that passengers can be herded, strapped in, jammed together with their knees beneath their chins, forbidden to move, fed slop that would cause a riot in most prisons, and ordered to turn off their electronic devices at whim despite the lack of a single study that says that such devices actually interfere with anything. Not one study. Not after years of trying. I personally think that the whole "electronic devices" thing is just the first glimpse they give us of the iron fist in the iron glove. It says, We can make you do anything and everything and don't you forget it.
Abandon free will, all ye who enter here.
The airline I most regret is United. Ten years ago, United was among the best U.S. lines. I liked it enough that I amassed, literally, a million miles on it. Today it puts into the sky one teensy authoritarian empire after another, all ruled by incompetents--people, I think, whose career as sexual dominants failed because they were too unattractive.
Last month I was in Austin, Texas, waiting for a flight back to Los Angeles. At 6 PM there were only two United flights left on the electronic status board: my eight o'clock and the 7:30 to San Francisco that preceded it. At about 6:45 they announced that the San Francisco flight was canceled, and at that moment, both flights winked off the board.
Those of us scheduled for LA wondered, understandably, which of two screw-ups had occurred: did they take the flight off the board by mistake, or did they fail to announce its cancellation by mistake? One way or another, a mistake had been made. There actually was a United employee in plain sight, the most unpleasant and officious woman I've ever encountered anywhere outside of a school bus, who spent fifty minutes diddling around with a clipboard, loudly announcing to anyone foolish enough to approach the podium that she was busy "closing out" the canceled flight. When several people formed a meek little line (the signal that a group of well-trained submissives is assembling) she snarled that it was no good lining up, she wasn't talking to anyone until she'd finished closing out the flight. And, in fact, we never did hear that the flight was going to take off until it was announced. For a completely different gate. See, they couldn't post the gate change because they'd taken the flight off the electronic board. So we all had to run for the plane.
And United's much-vaunted Mileage Plus program has turned into a bait-and-switch operation. Two months ago--toward the end of July--I called to see whether I could employ some of my 300,000 unused miles to buy a tourist seat to Bangkok and trade the miles for an upgrade to business. I said I could leave any day from October 9 to October 31.
Nothing was available. Three months in advance, twenty-two days to work with, nothing. On any flight. So I decided to use miles for my return and asked them to find an available upgrade seat any time between January 14 and January 31 of 2013.
Nothing. Six months in advance, nothing. When I asked about February, I was told they don't book upgrades that far in advance. I wound up buying business class on Asiana, and the thing that soothes my furious heart is that I know I'll have a great flight, much better than I would have had on United. With people who act like they're happy to see me on their plane.
The explanation for the behavior of United and the other American-owned airlines? This is Jonathan Turley, a lawyer and travel expert quoted in today's New York Times, and he's not kidding: “I get the feeling that the airline industry is really waiting for my generation to die,” he said. “We’re the cranky, loud ones because we have a higher expectation. Every day, fewer people remember what it used to be like.”
People, listen. When you have to go ANYWHERE, see whether the route is served by a non-U.S. carrier, and if it is, take that plane. Or, if Virgin America flies your route, take them. Unless it's completely unavoidable, DO NOT GIVE YOUR MONEY to American-owned airlines. And especially, do not take United.
There's only one way to improve them. Unless there's no way around it, don't give them your money. And don't worry about damaging the American economy. It's already screwed. At this point civility is more important than guaranteeing a paycheck and a fat pension for people who should actually be on their hands and knees, scrubbing freeway onramps at rush hour.