My Airline Broke Up With Me: The Importance of Airlines Flying The Friendly Skies

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:

“Dear _____,

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.

Looking out for airline kindness

 

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.

Frustrated with the airlines? Me too.

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?

Comments

  1. says

    Ugh, that’s the worst! So far I’ve been pretty lucky when flying. No cancellations, no horrible flight attendants. Cross my fingers it stays like that!

  2. says

    Where is our demonstration of airlines like the ones on Wall Street? I am not saying I support what is going on with Wall Street but if there is something we could all rally around, it is the complete crap that is airlines. They charge too much, rape us with fees and extra charges, pack us in like sardines, and costs more than our vacations themselves while we have to deal with poor customer service.

    I just wish there was something we could do. The fact of the matter is airlines have a virtual monopoly on transportation here in the US and it’s difficult to fight all these things working against us with the airlines. It’s just a necessary evil we have to deal with.

    Yes, I’ve had a bad experience when the gate announcement was intentionally not made about a flight leaving when I was sitting at the gate because they were overbooked. Then they blamed us for not paying attention. That’s the worst experience I had. But I made sure they paid us for the inconvenience.

    • says

      I couldn’t agree more Jeremy. There are so many problems with the airlines that really put a damper on the entire travel experience. The cost alone can be ridiculous. But as you say, what can be do, especially in the US? Airlines can mark up flights way beyond the real cost and we have to pay them. It is a gamble if the service we receive will match the cost. Perhaps we need to go by bus more? ha

  3. says

    I was on a flight a year ago from Tokyo back to the US and the ENTIRE flight crew was rude, in a bad mood, and generally ticked off at the entire plane. I was on the aisle seat of one of the middle sections and everyone next to me was non-English speaking and it was downright embarrassing to see how they were treated.

    On the flip side, I was a passenger on a small flight from Amakusa to Fukkuoka, Japan and was the only Westerner on the plane. The flight attendant went out of her way to make sure I knew she spoke english if she had any questions or needed anything.

    Unfortunately, I am getting ready to fly the same airline from the first story over to Europe. Only this time, I am prepared to tweet my disappointment if anything happens. :)

  4. Susan says

    Wow, those are horrible experiences, both for your sister and for the foreign gentleman on the flight. I can’t IMAGINE how upsetting those situations must have been for each of them.

    It does seem that one runs into people doing jobs that they either have no aptitude for or that they hate or both. I just want to take them aside and say to them, “please, do yourself and everyone else a big favour and quit. This job is making you miserable – find something you love.” Can you imagine a world in which everyone was either doing work that they liked or (given that there would be some jobs that no one would really WANT to do) that they at least felt appreciated and valued for their work? But the point is no matter how bad your day has been or how much you hate your job, don’t take it out on innocent bystanders. It solves nothing and, unless you’re a sociopath, will make you feel worse.

    On the flip side, I flew back from London on British Airways, the first day of their strike. I was really lucky that my flight wasn’t cancelled ’cause the flights on either side of mine were. The food was delicious and the service was great and mid-flight, I thanked the flight attendant for something and said, “All of you are doing a great job under what must be difficult circumstances. Strike action is never easy for anyone.” She turned and really looked at me, and said, “Thank you. It is very difficult – I really appreciate you saying that.” And that made ME feel better, like I had actually connected with another person along the way.

  5. says

    I work for an airline. It’s one of the ‘big’ airlines and is known for being quite luxurious and a little rock & roll. It’s so awful to have to speak to passengers whose flight has been cancelled because 9/10 times, we don’t get an explanation either. You feel so useless saying to people, “It could be a number of things: Overbooking at the airport; Weather problems; Problems with the aircraft.” I hate not knowing what to say. :S

    That flight attendant sounded so rude. I can’t tolerate people like that. If you’re going to work in a customer based environment, you have to put whatever personal issues you have aside and put on a friendly face no matter what. I totally agree that it can really ruin a person’s perception of the place/airline/company.

    Hope your sister and you have better travels to come.

  6. says

    Sometimes, no explanation is better than an explanation. My V Australia flight was delayed in LA and they announced over the intercom: “We’re sorry to announce that this flight has been delayed, as the plane was just struck by lightning on the way over from Australia. We’re checking the plane over for damage, and hope to be boarding in an hour.” Which meant that we’d been automatically upgraded to … crash test dummies! Yay!

    Needless to say, I spent the first few hours of that flight gripping the armrest.

    I’ve found that many US domestic flight attendants have a different attitude than elsewhere. One time, I was on a plane in NY and take-off was delayed by boarding complications. One of the flight attendants got on the loud speaker and, with a vile attitude, she said, “Sorry for the delay, but the person in seat 24C is taking up TWO SEATS. I repeat, she is taking up TWO SEATS. We are struggling to find a seat for the person who was supposed to be sitting beside her.” Everyone simultaneously turned around and looked at 24C to see a terribly humiliated obese woman. WTF? Shocking!

    • says

      Wow. Yeah I think I would rather not know than to know that the other plane got hit by lightening. I vaguely remember one time we were already seated for a flight then taken back off for a different plane, something to due to an engine part or the like which wasn’t functioning. At least they figured it out before takeoff but kind of left us wondering if they’d properly checked the 2nd plane if we were boarded before they figured out the issue.

      That’s really rude of them to point that out. I know the airlines do tend to have a rule about purchasing two seats for those who are overweight for just that reason. They really could have worked it out under the radar and, if they had to tell people anything, tell them the flight is slightly overbooked. If the person who was supposed to be in that seat couldn’t take a different flight, sometimes people volunteer to be transferred to a new flight if given an upgrade, etc. They really wouldn’t need to know that the overbook was due to someone’s weight.

  7. says

    I don’t think you can say one country is worse than another. I’ve always had great service in the US. Best flight ever Newark to Buffalo in an electrical storm where the steward kept us entertained in a manner worthy of a professional comedian and calmed all our nerves.

    I’m curious as to why you don’t name the airlines? I kind of think that travel bloggers should speak up on behalf of people who don’t/can’t? I just had a bad experience with an European low cost airline, and fully intend to blog it sometime soon, especially because subsequently in the 48 hours after I had first class service (within the expectations given) from two other low cost carriers, so price isn’t the issue!

    • says

      I’m not saying this is country specific. Nowhere in the post to do I say it is just in the US. I have had bad airline service all over the world. I didn’t name the airlines for I don’t think it really matters. The reason I said, “Insert airline of your choosing here” is because they all do things like this. They all lack simple basics of customer service. I don’t need to single one out because it really is a widespread problem.

  8. says

    That is horrible they canceled her trip in that fashion. Horrible customer service. I just got back from a flight on Spirit Airlines and was shocked they charge $3.00 for a tiny bottle of water. I know it is a recession, but for a $400.00 flight you would think you would at least get free water.

  9. anjelica says

    I discovered once on Singapore Airlines that economy class passengers were treated differently from business class. I travel business except when the company pays, and the purser on the flight was a high strung man with a gelled spiky ‘do. He was very rude to everyone, enjoying his role cowing the economy section which was made up of mostly overseas contract workers. They only make it possible for professionals in Singapore to work; i.e. care for their kids and older family members, clean the homes, etc. And really, insisting a tiny purse should be put under the seat is ridiculous, as it contained just a passport, a and a wallet…

  10. says

    At least your sister GOT an e-mail telling her her flight was cancelled!

    Last winter, I was set to go to Hawaii on Delta, leaving from Pittsburgh, connecting in Denver and Seattle, and then landing in Honolulu. The day before my flight (right after a large ice storm swept through the area), I decided to check on my flight and see if I could check in early. Imagine my surprise when I saw that my flight had been cancelled. Nice of them to let me know!!

    So I called Delta, and, maybe it was just because of all the madness going on because of the ice, but a very nice rep re-booked my flight, sending me through Atlanta and removing one of my connecting flights for no extra charge. Thanks to her, I have a *slightly* better attitude about Delta. But I still can’t believe they weren’t going to even bother to let me know that they cancelled my flight!

  11. says

    That’s really inexcusable, if your sister’s flight was canceled they should have at the VERY least provided a course of action she could take. I recently flew from Germany to Canada with my wedding dress and despite given the airline over a month’s notice, was told they couldn’t hang my wedding dress. It ended up getting stuffed into the overhead and then I ended up paying $80 to have it steamed. I also have a gluten allergy and always notify the airlines weeks ahead of time. Despite this, more often than not I end up without a gluten free meal. What’s with the airlines lack of service. You hear more complaints about airlines than any other industry.

  12. says

    Sorry to hear of your sister’s cancellation, but I’m glad someone at the airline helped her out. I would have been so angry if I were her if I had missed out on a trip due to something like that. The attendant on your airline sounds miserable. I hope she didn’t put that man off the entire country, but it is easy to get discouraged off going somewhere if one’s experience is bad.

    I haven’t flown in a couple of years, but when I did I was generally pretty lucky. Even one time that things were running slow enough that I missed the gate, I was promptly given a different flight even with an upgrade to first class. I wish I hadn’t been feeling so ill that day as my facial expression and lack of anything but necessary words probably didn’t convey how pleased I actually was that someone at the airline was looking out. Even better than the attendants are most passengers. While I’m 5′ 7″ I tend to struggle with getting my bag properly in the overhead bins. Usually a fellow flyer helps out before the attendant. I’m about to fly on my first ever international flight in a few weeks and hope for a good experience.

  13. says

    Great piece.

    I’ve been fortunate to not had any real problems with the airlines or their employees. Now fellow passengers, that’s another story. I can’t believe there was no explanation for your sister’s cancelled flight. What a crying shame. :-(

  14. says

    Flight attendants make a really low wage and I can understand how someone could get a chip on their shoulder after doing this sort of work for too long. That said, it’s no excuse to treat the customer like crap. There are many low-wage jobs — nursing home aides, garbage men, minimum wage jobs, etc. So many people are out of work and if you (not YOU Suzy, in general) don’t want to do your job well, someone else will. And they’ll be happy to have the job. That flight attendant needs to be booted!

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