Monday, May 8

Airline Rage: Probably Not a Passing Thing

United. American. Delta. Each airline has been in the news for the wrong reason. The New Age of Airline Rage asks if such incidents are actually more common. The answer appears to be "no."

In my frequent flying travels, I've never seen such an incident though I have seen lots and lots of unhappy passengers for a range of reasons. No, I can't quantify it more than that, but the weeks I'm on a plane three to five times in one week, I can assure that there is some incident with TSA, at the gate, or about the flight for most of the flights.

Let's set aside the anxiety just getting to the airport. So often that depends on time of day and the airport, but a stressful trip to the airport sets a tone.

The Transportation Security Administration is often a target for traveler angst and anger. Often with good reason. I was leaving a city with a TSA known for its inconsistency and we were told that we had to remove all food from our bags to go through security--"anything that can go in your mouth." One of the TSA agents apologized for the short notice and explained they had just received the bulletin the day before. Okay, I can live with that explanation but the requirement seemed odd. Just in case, however, I was prepared at my next airport to remove all of my snacks--apples, fig bars, grapes, and gum. Nothing. Not even a mention. Okay, that was a bigger airport and it was only the day after the prior airport so maybe all of the TSA agents hadn't been notified. That seemed unlikely, but hey, it could happen. My next airport the next day was also a bigger airport and no mention of food. Then I find myself back in the airport that required the food removal and, on departure, huh, no request to remove any food. Yea, that stuff makes us crazy.

I had gone through the security check at an medium-sized airport when the woman behind me asked if the TSA agent needed to wand the boot cast she was wearing on her left foot. "Oh. Yea. I guess I should do that," said the TSA agent. The woman sat in the chair and rolled her eyes. "I tell more TSA agents about this part of their jobs than I should, but I don't want to be the one to pay the price for an agent's ignorance and laziness."

Gate agents and the airlines
Spend more money, get more perks. Travel a lot on one airline, get more perks. Which may or may not matter.

People who don't travel often or who travel for leisure are often less concerned about some perks. Those who are boarding in groups 4 or higher tend to expect not to get to store their roll-aboards, though that doesn't prevent many from trying and clogging up the aisles and sometimes delaying departure.

As a business traveler, I want my luggage with me. I want to know it will be with me when I land and that I can go directly to get my rental car and be on my way. I don't want to wait at the baggage claim for the 10 to 20 to 30 minutes it may take for my suitcase to arrive. I check luggage if and only if I'm carrying too much and have no choice. As a leisure traveler, I try to get by with a carry-on, but will check my luggage if needed because I know I'll be in (slightly) less of a rush at my destination.

Luggage is a hot button issue but so are delays. Fortunately airlines pad their departure and arrival times as well as the actual travel times of any flight. They know there will be delays; they know early arrivals mean sitting on the tarmac in a holding area until a gate clears. Though experienced travelers get anxious about missing connections, they are less likely to panic because they know the drill. But it doesn't help if the gate agent and/or the pilot doesn't keep people informed as well as they possibly can.

Airfares can fluctuate like crazy. As a small business owner, I'm looking for the least expensive fare with the best possible connections. I try to fly one of two airlines all the time because, yes, I want the perks. I want to board earlier so I can stow my carry-on! I want to be able to pick my seat. I avoid the bulkhead (no under-seat storage because there is no seat in front) and try to get the exit row because of extra leg room, not that I really need it. But I do want to be comfortable if my flight is 2+ hours, and I do need a bit more room if I'm going to try to work on the flight.

Leg room is going to become an increasing rage-triggering issue. Airlines are doing their best to cram more people onto a plane. Which means there will be more people trying to hoist their carry-ons on the plane. And that also means that more leisure or infrequent travelers will try to cram stuff in the overhead bins that take up space for other travelers. There is very much a "look out for yourself" mentality on many flights, though I have noticed that people are helpful to transfer luggage like a mosh pit once we've landed.

Now the seating changes are mostly in economy class though why airlines believe people who pay less for a ticket or travel infrequently want to be uncomfortable. I can't help but wonder if there are health risks in being crammed into smaller and closer airlines seats. I also can't help but wonder about the additional discomfort if a traveler is sitting next to someone who challenges the boundaries of new, slimmer seats.

I recognize that the airlines are a business. I acknowledge that they have shareholders to appease. I fear that shareholders and avoiding going viral are much more important to airlines than the care and comfort of their paying customers.

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