The Rant

Up in the Air

The people who run the airlines deserve to be in jail — where the accommodations are a lot better than the kind we're forced to fly in

The first human voice I heard when we arrived at the airport was haunting. It belonged to an elderly woman confined to a wheelchair. She was pleading — unsuccessfully, thanks to a couple of United Airlines representatives she'd had the bad luck of running into that morning — for mercy.

“I’m all alone,” the woman said, calmly addressing a much younger woman who worked the ticket counter. “I understand that I’ll have to wait for another flight, but I’m not able to drag these bags around the airport for four hours. Can’t you please just check them for me or something? I’ll pay whatever extra fees you want.”

No dice. For reasons unimaginable to living creatures who possess a warm and beating heart, United's shameful minions simply wheeled the disabled woman and her two bags away from the ticket counter and deposited them next to a revolving glass door at the entrance to the airport. In an area where there are no services, not even a public toilet.

When my wife approached her to ask if there was anything we could do to help, the woman was crying and unable to speak. After collecting herself, she spoke words that anyone who travels by air today can surely understand.

“Get them to give a shit,” she said, a moist paisley hankie in her quivering hand. “Make them care.”

I have a better idea for the creeps and swindlers and cold-hearted bastards who run this nation’s loathsome airlines: Find yourselves a deep, dark, musty hole in the ground, one occupied by poisonous snakes, and jump the hell in! With any luck, you’ll be organic compost in a short while.

And the world will be a much better place after you’re all gone.

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I don’t know what became of the woman in the wheelchair. However, judging from my own experience with United Airlines during this recent trip, I assume it couldn't have been good. It took the world’s largest air carrier 43 hours to transport my wife and me 2,400 miles across the country. In glorious weather, at both ends of the trip and everywhere in between.

If I could tell you why it took so long, I would. Gladly. But I don’t know why, because not once did we get a straight answer out of anybody representing the allegedly “friendly skies.”

At one point, after first being informed that yet another of our flights from Maine to Chicago had been cancelled, my wife discovered that the plane we were supposed to be on had in fact taxied away from the gate. It was nearly empty. Only a handful of people were aboard. More than twice that many ticketed passengers — us included — were left behind and being lied to.

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“What?” I yelled to the ticket agent who had earlier refused to help the elderly woman with her baggage. “You told us the flight was cancelled. It says so right up there on the board.”

Presumably she had been out late the prior evening, screaming at an NBA or possibly an NHL playoff game, because the poor woman’s voice was so compromised that she was unable to answer. Her colleagues, I should mention, were likely also big sports fans; they couldn’t manage to get a word out of their mouths either.

I could document several other examples of United's unfathomably incompetent “service” on this last trip of ours (Did I mention the very nice lady in India I spoke with by telephone who forced us to pay for an upgrade on the way home or risk missing the flight we’d booked months in advance?), but what would be the point? Air travel today sucks.

The people who run the airlines deserve to be in jail — where, ironically, accommodations are a lot better than the kind suckers like us are forced to fly in. Last time I checked, prisons still provided food and beverages. Seating is wider than 17 inches in the slammer, too. And you’re no more a prisoner than you are when you fly United or its ilk.

Speaking of which, guess how much the airline scumbags stole from our wallets in checked luggage and ticket-change fees last year. Try $6 billion. Or, about half of the airline industry’s total 2013 operating profit! My wife and I contributed mightily to the industry’s hefty bottom line last year. At one point, we handed over $500 in ticket-change fees for a single trip. This was for a change we made two months before the scheduled departure date. I learned that planning to care for a family member through their dying days is not enough reason for the airline weasels to consider dabbling in the dangerous art of granting a customer a bit of mercy. Not even one who gives them a 60-day heads-up so they can rebook the seats.

“Flyers are nickeled-and-dimed for everything — seat assignments, checked bags, in-flight food, beverage and, on some carriers, overhead storage space,” says Joe Brancatelli, who runs the respected business travel website JoeSentMe.com. “The ‘fare’ you pay today isn't an accurate reflection of your true cost of flying either. The airline industry doesn't even care about fares when making financial judgments. Airline executives rely instead on PRASM — passenger revenue per available seat — a statistical measure that more completely represents the total amount you now pay to fly.”

Or, in our case, not fly.

Which is what my wife and I choose to do most times these days, no matter how much we’d like to travel and see new places.

If we’re lucky, the snakes will eventually kill off the weasels. Then maybe we can all get back to enjoying ourselves.

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