It would be really interesting if one could pick the moment when the airline business turned against their customers and generally made the flying experience into hell on wings. There are many such moments from which to choose. One could have been when the airlines realized that Southwest and other start-up, discount airlines were eating their lunch (so, they knocked off lunch and dinner for the passengers in revenge?). It could have been when Eastern Airlines, Braniff and PanAm went belly up and never came back (actually, there were several attempts to resuscitate Braniff and PanAm., but nothing worked). It could have been when the airlines decided to make their employees their enemies, cutting time-off, reducing pay and riding employees with over management, the scourge of American corporations generally.
My pick, in part, would be 9-11, 2001. When the security scare blanket settled across America, the airlines suddenly had their best weapon to start treating passengers like stray dogs. Before that, the idea was that the passenger was someone important and needed to be treated that way. When someone complained, even too loudly and not at all politely, they were listened to and words of reassurance were offered. After 9-11, no such deal. Suddenly, every passenger was a potential terrorist and the stories of “air rage” began to circulate in the national media. Airplanes were equipped with new gear to restrain an unruly passenger in the seat until police could come onboard at the next stop. When airline attendants, following their training and union preaching, started thinking that every encounter with a passenger could turn unpleasant, they made certain that is, in fact, what it was.
The airline attendants, ticket workers and gate attendants jumped at the post 9-11 security scare to do their own crackdown on passengers. Suddenly, any rule or deviation from the norm the passenger was treated to borderline rudeness and insults. It is clear that these workers are stressed in their jobs from every angle (pay, hours, mean supervisors) and, in turn, they take it out on the passengers. It is a bad deal for everyone.
So, I don’t bother to hate the airlines (except occasionally), but I have concluded that they hate me. When I board an aircraft in America these days, I am turned into a symbol of the idiot passenger. It doesn’t matter than I am approaching 1 million miles in the air, that I have had some pilot training (and, thus, know a little bit about flying and its risks), nor does it matter that I know how to behave in public places and have never caused any disturbance, even of the slightest nature, on board an aircraft. To Joe or Mary flight attendant, I am just another problem to be dealt with in their busy day and one, apparently, they wish was not there.
The unions are constantly agitating both management and their members about how difficult their jobs are. This propaganda sinks in with the membership, many of whom seem to come to work resenting the whole proposition. The attendants have also been taught something called “verbal judo”, which is a technique of saying something to a person that will shut them up and send them on their way (put them in their place, in other words). Armed with verbal judo, the attendants have turned from friendly helpers onboard to unfriendly antagonists. No wonder people flying sometimes get angry, because they are hemmed in not only by the physical space of the aircraft and overcrowding, but also by the attitude of everyone they encounter.
If I am flying on an economy price ticket, it appears the airline does want me on the aircraft either. They will take me somewhere, but they would rather not. Everything possible has been done to make the experience of flying unpleasant. What’s worse these days is the general attitude: who cares? It turns out I am not actually a paying customer, you see, I am one who costs the airline and doesn’t provide enough payback. So, we have to be charged for everything and the added fees never seem to stop.
It would be different if we knew what the upper limit of fees was going to be. Instead, the airlines are testing us to see what they can get away with barring an outright passenger revolt. The head of Delta Airlines even compared the new grab-whatever-you-can pricing to the historic rips at car rental companies and hotels, which was a very bad choice of examples, since both of these “service” companies have always taken travelers to the cleaners.
For me, the bottom line is that I don’t generally go places where I am not wanted. I don’t have to be loved nor showered with rose pedals, but if I am not welcome, I tend to stay away. This applies to social occasions and it applies to flying on airlines. Millions of people are doing the same thing: a quiet boycott of an unpleasant, or worse, experience. There is no end nor any change in sight, because the airlines appear to be writing off any but the highest paying customer. Chances are, it is going to get worse. And then worse after that.
Doug Terry, 1.7.12 (adding to a previous posting)