My sister was set to leave for England. Being a brand new doctor, it was her only time off for some 200 days. It was a trip she was anticipating with each passing day, until she received this email from the airline:
We regret to inform you that a cancellation has affected the following flights:
(Flight numbers listed)
We apologize for this disruption and any inconvenience this might cause you.
Thank you for choosing (Insert airline of your choice here).”
The message included no explanation, no phone number to call to figure out if she had been rebooked. As she put it, it was like a bad rejection letter, leaving no sign to get in contact. You weren’t selected to be important today. She received this email in the middle of the night, hours before her plane was intended to take off. In the chaos of leaving for the airport at 5 AM, she didn’t notice the airline had made this decision for no reason until reaching the check-in desk. Out of some miracle to the travel gods, the man behind the counter rebooked her, amidst a frenzy of other passengers curious as to why this could happen.
I realize other travelers have been treated poorly by the airlines, perhaps even more so than this. There should be an explanation on the email or at the very least a phone number to call to address the problem. In the process of these canceled flight rejection letters, a little bit of our love for travel dies. I always arrive to the airport incredibly early for fear of a problem, something outside my control that will impede my ability to travel. I know there are bound to be problems in any area involving massive amounts of people and big companies. Travel however is something you plan months for, you budget years for in some cases and is so dependent on certain times and certain places. If anything in that thread gets pulled, our travels can fall apart.
I witnessed another lapse in airline kindness, perhaps on a different scale. While the canceled flight rejection letter no doubt disillusioned my sister and myself on an airline and way of business, I was disillusioned yet again on a recent flight back to New York City. There was a flight attendant with a Judy Dench haircut and colored-rimmed glasses. If she had a smile, I never saw it.
My mom and I boarded easily with no need for the overhead bins for we had checked our bags. A foreign man seated next to us had all the room he needed. When Ms. colored-rimmed glasses came around to close the bins, she began forcing his bin shut. She slammed it multiple times and then yelled, “Whose bag is this?! It doesn’t fit!”. The man got up silently and turned the bag as she continued to yell at him that it wouldn’t close. I don’t think he even understood exactly what she was saying. He finally turned his bag to allow the bin to close. Then, she took action again. She grabbed his smaller bag and asked him to put it under his seat. There was no lack of room in the compartment, especially since my mom and I didn’t have bags. She was just doing it to make him uncomfortable. It wasn’t necessary, just something to show power and to humiliate.
Her unkindness towards a foreigner made me cringe. If I was treated in such a way by another person in a country not my own, I couldn’t help but be soured on that country and that experience, at least for a time. This is the reason stereotypes are formed about cultures. One person in transit is unkind and conclusions are drawn in an instant.
The flight attendant wasn’t finished being unkind. She came around asking what we wanted to drink. I said, ‘Water with ice”. She quickly retorted back, “Ice or no ice?!?”. I said “Ice.”. Again she said out of further frustration, “ICE OR NO ICE?”. I nearly shouted, “ICE!” and I think it finally registered with her. She couldn’t hear me, so it was my fault. I half expected to have ice throw in my face. There is no doubt a person out there who could fill her shoes and benefit the airline, someone who loves flying and what they do.
This was clearly a case of a woman who hated what she did. She had a giant chip on her shoulder. Maybe she had had some bad experiences with passengers before that scarred her, but that is no reason to treat well-behaved passengers with indignity. Just like the “My airline broke up with me letter”, the airlines need to consider just how important their kindness can travel. The foreign man could return home with a different view of a country. The glamour and integrity of airline travel is dying. The only remaining glimmers of hope are those souls at the check-in desk, able to make miracles out of airline company fiascoes.
Have you experienced unkindness with the airlines?