Monday, September 18, 2006

Airline Travel

Airline travel has changed a little bit since I last flew.  Granted, I don’t travel on business and fly maybe twice a year on average, so things could change without me taking notice.  Sure, we all know about taking liquids and gels on the plane is a big no-no now, but other changes abound as well.

First thing we noticed was there is a not-so-generous weight limit on baggage.  Our particular carrier had a 50 pound weight limit per checked bag, two bags per passenger.  Otherwise, they hit you with a $80 charge for “overweight” baggage.  We each packed one bag not wanting to lug our whole wardrobe to Hawaii.  No problem, we thought, until we stepped on the bathroom scale with the bags the day before we left.  One bag was OK at 46 pounds, but the bigger one weighed in at 58.  Problem was, the bag itself was 15 pounds (one of those super large 29” bags).  Valerie took out enough stuff to get it under 50 pounds, but that left the bag about 1/3 empty, which seemed like a waste.  Also, that gave us enough room to buy stuff and pack the bag again and go over the limit on the return trip. We made a mad dash to the store and purchased another 26” bag, stuffed all the stuff in and it tipped the scales at 48 pounds.  First hurdle passed.

We get to the gate to check in and there are kiosks instead of agents at the gate.  I’m no stranger to using the electronic check in when I only have carry on luggage.  But when you have bags to check how do they get on the plane?  Well, you wait.  You punch in all your information, put the bag on the scale and wait for an attendant to take you bag and put it on the belt.  Then the attendant goes to the next kiosk while you put your second bag on the scale and you wait again until he comes back around.  Sure, I understand they’re not paying someone to do that work, but now I have to wait longer.  And what about the 70ish woman ahead of me who had no clue as to what she needed to do?  She needed a ticket agent.  To me, that’s the sign of a company that uses automation to cut costs without regard to the customer’s time.

Anybody who knows me, knows I’m a big guy.  I get along in a normal seat, but it’s not the most comfortable experience for me.  Used to be that the exit row seats weren’t assigned until the gate agent saw you were capable to operate the emergency doors in an emergency.  I used to take advantage of that by getting to the airport two hours ahead of time and snagging an exit row seat about 80% of the time.  Got to the airport two hours early as usual, and requested exit row from the kiosk (see above).  “No problem”, the kiosk says, “I’ll just charge your credit card $41 per seat per leg of your trip.”  WTF?  Thanks, but no.  We board the plane and one seat out of 19 has a passenger who paid the extra $41.  Nice.  Luckily, we encountered one of the nicest flight attendants who saw I was “seat challenged” and “made” us change to an unoccupied exit row.  “I’ll get in trouble for this, but you’re going to die back there.” he said.  Nice to see a person who knows how they used to treat customers in a company that doesn’t care about the customer anymore.

Last, but not least, Airline food.  Does anybody really expect a decent meal on an airline?  Me neither.  In fact, I made conscious decision about 10 years ago that I’d rather have nothing than eat the half not-so-hot half ice-cold apple pancakes on a plane.   More and more airlines are going the way of Southwest in not even offering meals on their flights and opting instead for the obligatory snack of 6 pretzels.  Anyway, this airline has gone the same way and don’t provide meals for their economy passengers.  But you can purchase one onboard; for $5.  Personally, I’ve got no problems with this, but is it another way to extract $5 from the customer?  Perhaps.  Maybe when people pay for their food they will expect more quality.

1 comment:

OracleDoc said...

Being an X road warrior, I thought it was funny how you could always tell who flew alot and who didn't. The ones who walked around all confused or complained about trivial stuff were dead give aways.

Anyone who spends most of thier work week on a plane (ex: Tom Kyte) could testify. I'm sure as much time as he spends at airports he's on a first name basis with the majority of airline employees.