The Final Frontier

Years ago, when reading P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat The Rich, I came across his description of train travel in Siberia, where the train seemed to have been built to maximize discomfort and lack of hygiene. He compared this to travel in the US and I realized suddenly that Portugal, while not as bad as Siberian trains in the USSR was about halfway there: i.e. Portuguese trains had a restroom, maybe. And the way the employees treated you was with the kind of unconcern reserved for serfs.

Yesterday, on the leg back from a hellish journey, I realized that US airlines are now halfway between Portuguese railways of old and the old USSR. And it makes me wonder: what is going on here?

Air travel became a nightmare around 2002.  I thought it was because the airline industry was recovering from a severe blow and restructuring, and it would get better.

I was wrong. I was actually seeing the airline at the best it would be in the next ten years. And every year after it gets worse.

Even “what can we get away with” on the part of employees doesn’t explain, say, my last trip.

The latest flights were from Denver Atlanta with a rented car to attend a convention in Chattanooga. We chose Frontier because their Denver hub makes it cheap and convenient. Or so we thought. And because they were the one airline we hadn’t had an hellish experience with.

No, the problem wasn’t hail damage to their planes. Such disasters happen. It’s why they have insurance. It’s what came AFTER that.

Since they cancelled over a dozen planes – at 10:30 am for damage incurred at 2 am – and they have our phone/email to notify us, with perhaps a little more time to react.

BUT not only did they not cancel it till the last minute. Oh, no. They ALSO accepted checked luggage. First the plane was delayed, then finally cancelled.

Then we were told that the luggage would go on to its destination by next available plane UNLESS we asked to have it removed. Since we changed flights to Nashville, we wanted our luggage. Only, of course, it took three hours to request to have it removed. And by the time we did so, it was already in Atlanta.

There followed two days, while I was at a convention with no clothes or makeup, of LYING to us and saying they had FedEx-ed the luggage to the hotel. Eventually someone confessed it was still in Atlanta and the grand plan was to have us pick it up on the return trip. An hour and a half later they did what they should have done two days before and put it on a plane to Chattanooga.

On Monday on the shuttle to Atlanta we joked about the returning leg being cancelled. Then we got there. It had been cancelled. First they told us it was because of another storm in Denver. When a fellow passenger with a cell phone proved them wrong, then said it was still because of the same hail storm. AND THEN they claimed the problem was weather and they would not help us with hotel and/or food. We managed to get hotel after much argument, but when you add the shuttle to and from two airports, the dinner in Atlanta and dealing with luggage loss we’re out $500 again.

I will not fly Frontier again if I can help it, and I will never fly anywhere I can drive. Is this the effect airlines intend to have on their customers? Why? How do they think they’ll survive?

(More complete and possibly less coherent account here)