ATLANTA — My plane to Salt Lake City was minutes away from boarding. Everything looked as though it would go according to plan. The plane was parked at the gate, and Delta Air Lines personnel were prepping the gate for boarding.
Suddenly, seemingly everyone milling about the gate area reached for their phones. It was an alert from Delta: The flight was now departing from a gate in the F terminal, the next terminal over from E.
No big deal, except in Salt Lake City I was connecting to Palm Springs, Calif. Figuring the agents at the gate might have some idea of what was happening, I decided to inquire.
That was a terrible mistake. They didn’t even know there was a gate change, much less if I had any hope of making my connection.
In fact, no Delta agent I spoke with had any idea what was happening or why there was an equipment change. It didn’t matter; the flight to Salt Lake City was delayed, and it was obvious there was no way I would make my connection.
Dismissive gate agents refused to help me book a flight to an alternate destination so I could make it to my meeting in Palm Springs on time. With little choice, I made my way over to a booking desk, where after much discussion I booked a flight to Los Angeles.
On my dime (the company that was paying for the trip, in reality), I would be forced to rent a car and drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. You do what you have to do, but perhaps the airline with the issue could pretend to care.
When you live in a city like Atlanta, you have little to no choice, but to fly an airline like Delta. And, the airline knows it and treats customers accordingly.
This is just one experience, but illustrative of a problem. Much of the time, the actual traveling portion is the worst part of a trip.
Now, I wasn’t dragged off of the plane in a bloody mess, and no one died. That is more than many people can say, but traveling today is often the worst part of any trip.
This isn’t a restaurant
I know airlines are not restaurants. But, think about they both treat customers.
If you’re on the 9 p.m. flight, and you arrive early and ask to take an earlier flight, chances are if will cost you. That is true even if there are 50 empty seats on the plane. The airline would rather charge you $50 and fly a half-empty plane than offer some semblance of customer service.
Think about it like this. If you have a 7 p.m. reservation at your favorite restaurant and you arrive at 6:30 p.m. to find the restaurant half-empty and the host or hostess with no hope of filling the empty tables, they’re not likely to charge you a $50 change fee. The host or hostess will likely seat you early and with a smile, to boot.
Why? Because there is no harm in letting someone take a seat early.
But airlines do not care about treating their customers with respect — even those with status. They would rather find a way to tack on another fee.
I know this is a business. Airlines are in this to make money, not ensure an enjoyable experience. That is obvious. They are within their rights to charge whatever they would like, but I am within my right to not like it.
Not just the airlines
While airlines make the traveling experience a sometimes dreadful part of any trip, they are just one part of the problem. Today, it seems, there is little enjoyable about the travel experience.
It begins with the TSA checkpoint. Agents are often rude, and they don’t consistently enforce the rules.
At one airport, they yell at you to do something one way. At another airport, they’re yelling at you to do it in a totally different way.
Once you navigate this debacle, it’s on to the gate, where airline agents take a similarly haphazard approach to enforcing the rules they write. As one example: Sometimes a roller-board bag is fine for the overhead bin; other times a gate agent intoxicated on the ability to thwart a carry on bad forbids it from ever seeing the inside of an overhead bin.
It’s insane an agent would argue that a bag that is routinely carried on and properly placed in the overhead bin with room to spare would argue a bag is not allowed. But, again, rather than offer a pleasant traveling experience, airline agents would rather tell the flying public how they are wrong and the airline is right.
Next time, consider driving.