Six savvy tips from an air travel vet on how to avoid getting bumped and see trouble before it arrives
United Airlines chief executive officer Oscar Munoz, shown here at a June 2 appearance in New York, finally made a full apology for his airline’s recent despicable actions during a Wednesday appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.
I don’t fly nearly as much as some business professionals I know. But I do fly and have flown quite a bit more often than most folks in this country, primarily because of my job. Three decades of reporting, especially sportswriting, has logged me enough air time to eventually understand a few things.
I get frustrated, as I’m sure you all do, at the officious and dictatorial atmosphere that has pervaded airline travel. Anymore, we’re treated like cattle in a boxcar. The airport has become a nexus of anxiety and rancor. Incivility reigns. Customers are protesting in anger more than ever.
The United flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday in which a 69-year-old doctor refused to leave his seat and was dragged off the plane by airport security to free up a spot for an airline employee is only a symptom of the pressure airline personnel are feeling to satisfy their bosses and the bottom line. They’ve been whip-trained to follow strict protocol without common sense – or else.
Asian residents hold signs to protest near United’s counter at O’Hare International Airport Terminal 1 in Chicago on Tuesday. The rally was held in response to Sunday’s confrontation where David Dao, 69, of Elizabethtown, Ky., was removed from a United Airlines airplane by Chicago airport security personnel.
This all gets back to 9/11 in 2001, then the 2008 spike in jet fuel prices and concurrent economic collapse. All of these developments have turned “The Friendly Skies” into a business in which the remaining four major carriers don’t have enough competition to care much about customer service and the few minor budget carriers are looking to nickel-n-dime passengers any way they can.
So, any point of contact between the airline business and the consumer is not an atmosphere rich in goodwill these days. I think that’s why so many people are reveling in United’s ongoing public-relations disaster.
United Airlines and United Express planes prepare to take off at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston in 2015.
The airlines hold control over passengers. If they oversell flights and need to keep you from boarding, they will. If they need to “deplane” you to board employees, they’ll do that, too. And, by and large, federal deregulation has given them the upper hand to do what’s in their best economic interest. Because, not long ago, they were in danger of dissolution altogether.
I have been bumped and stranded for two extra days. I have also been removed from a flight I already boarded – with my then-7-year-old son, no less – through no fault of our own. I’ve pretty much been through it all.
So, over time, I’ve discovered ways you can avoid putting yourself at the mercy of airlines that clearly don’t really give a damn anymore and force their discouraged and harried employees to act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.
Here are six tips on how to sidestep the madness:
This is the single most important guideline I can provide to occasional travelers. Drive a hundred miles if you must. Pay the extra hundred bucks if it’s necessary. But, especially in today’s atmosphere, connections are bad news.
Anything from weather to mechanical failure to crew fatigue rules to the type of debacle inflicted by United on the customers in Chicago to can lead to you being stranded someplace you don’t want to be.
That potential risk and the hassle of attempting to wrangle with airline folks over a hotel and/or compensation, not to mention wasting a day (or more) is greater than the temporary reward of saving a few dollars or miles on your car.
I cannot stress this enough. Once you are in the air on a direct flight, chances are very good you will reach your destination. And if you don’t take off, you have the mobility of your car or a train to get back home. But if you’re 500 miles from friendly turf with no other form or transportation? You are at the mercy of the airlines. And they quite often have none.