More on flying the friendly skies

by Eszter Hargittai on October 19, 2004

I couldn’t (but why oh why?) let Kieran be the only one with interesting flight experiences. The other day I was on a flight that taught me why you don’t want to take the last flight out.. and why giving flight attendants the power to throw people off planes may not be such a good idea.

We were sitting in the waiting area quietly waiting for the plane to board. Twenty minutes before boarding we were told that the flight crew’s plane was getting in late so we would be boarding late. The person telling us had a nice sense of humor and everyone seemed pretty low-key about the issue. Eventually the crew arrived and we boarded the plane. Some people didn’t seem so calm anymore. There was some bitterness going around about fitting luggage into various compartments. One of the flight attendants was among the most annoyed people. And sure, passengers can be very annoying, but her reactions seemed a bit excessive.

At this point we were only about fifteen minutes behind schedule. But nothing happened. And still nothing happened. Eventually we were told that we would not be taking off for another half an hour as we were the last flight out and so we had to wait for one more plane that had passengers connecting to our flight. Take note: go for earlier flight next time.

A man in the row in front of mine noticed that there was a cart of luggage still sitting next to our plane. He mentioned it to above referenced bitter flight attendant. She clearly had no idea what was going on and dismissed his comment as none of our business. So he asked again. Next, the following exchange took place:

Flight Attendant: You want to go to Chicago?
Passenger: I am going to Chicago.
Flight Attendant: I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Ouch. At that point the passenger stopped pursuing the question. Twenty minutes later the remaining passengers arrived. Then nothing happened. And we waited. Finally we were told that 1. There was a crate of luggage next to our plane that still had to be loaded, but no appropriate personnel could be found; and 2. We needed to be pushed out, but no appropriate personnel could be found. Eventually, after a two-hour delay, we took off for our less than two-hour flight.

Added annoyance: the bitter flight attendant was not wearing an ID. The ID badges of the other two attendants were put on backwards.

{ 29 comments }

1

jon 10.19.04 at 3:05 am

Shouldn’t a name tag be a Federal rule? I would like to think that there could never be a case of anyone actually infiltrating a flight crew and doing something untoward to the flying public and our great esteem for the industry and all it’s practices. But I’m not too sure.

These jackasses, like policemen, are the exceptions to the usual rule about asking questions. “The worst thing that can happen is they can say No” just doesn’t apply.

2

Keith M Ellis 10.19.04 at 3:05 am

I’d be interested in knowing what airline this was.

3

koreyel 10.19.04 at 3:29 am

That’s an interesting story.

Have you every heard people carp about how they wish their government was run as efficiently as a business?

If one started a library of stories about the negligence, rudeness, and ineptness of American businesses one might finally put an end to that bias.

I say might because the folks that do that sort of carping are biased to the point of being warped like a cheap 2X4 from Home Depot. Which is to say: you’ve got a better chance of straightening the 2X4 than you do of changing the mind of a government hater. And that’s okay. Crooked dimensional lumber has some use. Kindling for example.

But… in the meanwhile, thanks for the chuckle.

But you should know: I put American-based airlines on my “DO NOT FLY” list a long time ago.

Partly because they are genrally rude and incompetent… And partly because the government is generally rude and incompetent… But mostly because I won’t allow the corporagovernmental airline industry to sit in judgement over my suitable or non-suitability to fly or not fly.

Ever notice when you flip the bird it looks sort of like an airplane?

4

eszter 10.19.04 at 3:45 am

Jon, I was very curious about the missing ID, but frankly, after experiencing how that woman handled questions from other passengers, I wasn’t about to raise the issue.

Keith, it was U.S. Airways. I never fly them, but they had the latest flight out that day, which I preferred for various reasons. Ss I say in my note, I may reconsider that decision the next time I am in such a situation.

Koreley, not flying US-based airlines isn’t really an option for me with the amount of traveling I do for work and leisure across the country. And given the sorry state of the railway industry in the US there aren’t too many other options for getting around.

5

Kieran Healy 10.19.04 at 4:09 am

it was U.S. Airways.

Whose employees are seeing their pension fund disappear down the toilet, have negotiated (I think) a 21 percent paycut to keep the company viable and whose management today announced that they’d be adding 200 flights to their schedule by means of reducing the gate turnaround time from an hour to 45 minutes. I have to say I can see why she might have been a little, um, angry at the world.

6

Nabakov 10.19.04 at 4:09 am

Following up koyerel’s point, it’s interesting to note that many of the airlines generally rated highest by passengers are State owned/controlled like Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Thai Airways, etc.

7

chun the unavoidable 10.19.04 at 4:09 am

I’d bet that the flight attendants also either hadn’t googled you or were journalism majors. Perhaps both.

8

Nabakov 10.19.04 at 4:10 am

Following up koyerel’s point, it’s interesting to note that many of the airlines generally rated highest by passengers are State owned/controlled like Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Thai Airways, etc.

9

Keith M Ellis 10.19.04 at 4:13 am

Doesn’t US Airways have a really bad track record in almost all categories? But to koreyel’s comment, for the most part, my own (not a frequent flyer) experiences with US airlines have been pretty good. And the best, most consistent service I’ve gotten has been from Southwest, which is as, um, “conservative” (private enterprise=good, labor unions=bad) oriented as any of them.

10

Matt 10.19.04 at 4:25 am

In the last few years I’ve flown on United, US Air, Delta, Air France, Aeroflot, and Luftansa. I must say that all the US airlines come in _much_ lower than any of the foreign airlines in terms of service. Kieran’s explination at least partly explains this, but then, they were always worse than either air france or Luftansa. Now, however, they are even significantly worse than Aeroflot. If you are to fly NY city-Moscow, and have to chose between the Delta or the Aeroflot flight, definitly take Aerofot- it will be cheaper, the service will be better, and they will even still give you a glass of wine.

11

laura 10.19.04 at 4:35 am

Actually, despite recent labor issues at Southwest, they’ve historically had one of the higher unionization rates among US airlines.

I recommend Midwest Airlines highly. They don’t fly a lot of places, and you’re going to be stopping in Milwaukee (where the airport has nothing to eat but a large used bookstore), but in every other way they’re the best.

I wish I could remember the airline I was on that made a woman on crutches take her original assigned seat all the way at the back of the plane (not easy going through the aisle on crutches) before they found her a front bulkhead seat.

12

Dan Simon 10.19.04 at 7:43 am

I recommend Midwest Airlines highly. They don’t fly a lot of places, and you’re going to be stopping in Milwaukee (where the airport has nothing to eat but a large used bookstore), but in every other way they’re the best.

Hmm…I’ve never eaten a large used bookstore before. How does it taste?

13

Mary 10.19.04 at 9:12 am

(nabakov: Qantas has not been state-owned since the 1990s. I don’t know what you think of as “state controlled” though.)

Preparing for a 14 hour SYD to SFO United flight in August, I saw my flight attendant lose it during boarding and start screaming randomly at some children who had been cut off from their parents by the crush. I think she told them just to sit down and be quiet, so these kids (about 7), were taken under the wing of some random passenger and sat down in an emergency row.

This was the first day of the low season, so of course, shortly afterwards the passengers assigned to those seats showed up and wanted to know what was happening, and then the flight attendant was at a loss and just started yelling for everyone to take their seats and get out of the aisle. People ended up crowded into the space in front of the seats for about three rows quietly comparing boarding passes until the kids’ parents came up and took them to their seats.

She was fairly calm for the rest of the flight actually.

wikitravel.org tells me the only thing to do is complain after landing.

14

bad Jim 10.19.04 at 10:34 am

Not sure about eating a used bookstore, but half the people I know (my family) would prefer it with cilantro.

Used record stores are typically considered licorice and consumed or avoided as a matter of taste.

In my limited experience, Air France has the best fresh rolls for any transatlantic flight, but Air Tahiti Nui holds its own in the wine department.

15

Matt McGrattan 10.19.04 at 10:42 am

I’ve not had any particularly bad experiences while flying (unless you count the food on Czech Airlines) but I have had the over-bearing and hostile security check while going through Amsterdam.

I was singled out for a serious body search i.e. shoes taken off, lining of them taken out and examined, hand luggage picked over, lengthy body search etc. None of which I particularly minded about and I initially went through the thing with good humour. The good humour evaporated though as the Dutch security guy doing it was so incredibly rude that if it had been almost any other situation I’d have been prepared to take strenuous efforts to complain to his bosses.

If it had been any informal situation and he wasn’t armed he’d also have been pretty likely to get a smack in the mouth. I don’t say this lightly but when someone is man-handling you and talking to you like you are a piece of crap without even a minimal pretence at politeness the hackles raise.

As it was I didn’t fancy being dragged off to some Dutch holding cell and missing my flight so I meekly complied like a good little boy.

16

Matt 10.19.04 at 12:41 pm

I was on my way through Frankfurt, from Moscow to NY City, just a few days after the recent bombings of Russian Airliners. Everyone in transit had to go through a new, very annoying security screening again before getting on to any plane going to the US. It was easy to see that the German airport staff was annoyed about it as the passangers were. They’d put up a very large and easy to see sign noting that this additional delay was demanded by the US authorities and that they were doing it only for this reasons. It seemed to do a good job of deflecting everyone’s annoyance.

17

jet 10.19.04 at 1:02 pm

Flying across the ocean is tomfoolery best reserved for when you have time to be picky about your flight. Flying in the US is best done in a plane you’ve bought or built.

Buying a plane that appreciates at about the rate of inflation isn’t a bad deal if you fly a lot. Building a plane is a great way to make a good chunk of equity. Most kit planes double or triple (several quadruple) in value over the amount invested the day they are certified by the FAA.

I no longer “enjoy” the opportunity to complain about flying commercial. And life is good.

18

Doug 10.19.04 at 1:05 pm

Matt, I flew out of Nizhni Novgorod and Moscow that week, too. In Nizhni security was a joke, and it wasn’t much better at Sheremetyevo. According to media reports, it cost the bombers less than $50 in bribes to get on the planes at Domodedovo. That extra search in Frankfurt may have been annoying, but it may also have been a good idea.

19

Matt Weiner 10.19.04 at 2:03 pm

The first campus visit I did here (UW-Milwaukee), I think three people touted Midwest Airlines as a reason to live in the city. I’m glad to see that they fly to Pittsburgh now. But I’m very distressed that Dan Simon beat me to that joke.

20

Alex R 10.19.04 at 2:44 pm

Kieran hit the nail on the head. When I saw the “backwards name tags” detail, I though, “hmm, I’ll bet this was US Airways…”

US Airways employees are definitely *not* happy right now, and are already staging impromptu job actions, according to a story I heard on NPR yesterday. Oh, and that 21% pay cut was *not* negotiated — it was imposed unilaterally by the airline after the bankruptcy court judge gave them permission do so.

21

digamma 10.19.04 at 2:59 pm

Have you every heard people carp about how they wish their government was run as efficiently as a business? If one started a library of stories about the negligence, rudeness, and ineptness of American businesses one might finally put an end to that bias.

We’re talking about a business that would have gone bankrupt several times by now if it weren’t for government bailouts.

22

jif 10.19.04 at 3:39 pm

I lived for a number of years in a small town serviced only by US airways, and I can tell you that they are consistently terrible. They are also in chapter 11 for the second time in (I believe) a year, and their flgiht attendents are set to have their pay cut back to 1982 levels. I had to fly them recently back to the small town for a visit and was trapped in the cabin of the tiny airplane for an hour while the flight attendent gave an impassioned and memorized political speech to the front row, telling them (and due to the size of the craft, all of us) that if Kerry wins the election she’ll lose her job, and that Bush winning the election was the only thing that could save her job. The question of how exactly the first president to have a net job loss since Herbert Hoover was going to save her job (and whether or not a job that pays 1982 wages is worth saving) was not raised. Combined with the lateness of departure on the two flights I had to take that day it did little to raise my esteem for US Airways.

23

billyfrombelfast 10.19.04 at 4:11 pm

I had a similar experience (flight crew getting delayed from another location, ensuing bad tempered staff and passengers) flying on American a while back. It was also one of the latest flights that night. And wasn’t helped by the operations manager trying to get more flight crew from somewhere else, but screaming NO, NOT THEM – NOBODY ON OVERTIME down his walkie-talkie. I think we were delayed by 2 or so hours.

I have resolved never to fly within the States on any airline but Jet Blue. In my experience, they are consistently comfortable, friendly, efficient and have a can-do attitude. I don’t care if this means Long Beach instead of LAX and so forth.

24

Bernard Yomtov 10.19.04 at 4:17 pm

The business about holding the flight for connecting passengers always puzzles me. I don’t mind being delayed a little for people who are running late, generally through no fault of their own.

But this practice is not uniform, and of course I always end up on the short end – delayed to wait for others, but missing connections because a flight did not wait for me.

25

Matt McGrattan 10.19.04 at 5:03 pm

[Rambling anecdote alert]
One time I flew back from Prague a bit fell off the plane — at least I assume it did. You could see all these guys in overalls standing around the plane (which was right outside) poking a part that was lying in an oily heap under the wing.

So they had to fly in a part from some depot in Germany causing a 3hr delay.

At which point everyone with connecting flights, children, first class tickets, business class tickets, smart suits, just a vaguely business-like air about them, etc. were transferred to other flights/airlines.

It was pretty amusing to watch the naked transparency of the airline’s priorities. When the plane eventually left the only people on it were students and Czech girls on the way to London to work as au pairs

So, I suspect sometimes whether the connecting flight waits for you depends on who you are and how much you paid for your ticket.

26

Matt Weiner 10.19.04 at 5:31 pm

We’re talking about a business that would have gone bankrupt several times by now if it weren’t for government bailouts.

FWIW, aren’t we talking about a business that has gone bankrupt twice?

27

Matt 10.19.04 at 5:45 pm

Doug-
you’re right that security in Russian airports (or at least sheremtevo- the only one I can speak about personally) ranges from a joke to bad. But, the extra screaning in Germany was imposed on all passangers taking any flight to the US at that time, regardless of where they’d come from. I think it was that that was annoying everyone.

28

Cranky Observer 10.20.04 at 1:11 am

> The business about holding the
> flight for connecting passengers
> always puzzles me. I don’t mind
> being delayed a little for people
> who are running late, generally
> through no fault of their own.
>
> But this practice is not uniform,
> and of course I always end up on
> the short end

The dispatchers and schedulers run some fairly sophisticated algorithms to decide when to hold and when not. I suspect that two important factors are affect on profitability of a flight/station due to compensation that must be paid, and probability that holding one plane will cause a cascading effect that could continue into the next day.

> At which point everyone with
> connecting flights, children,
> first class tickets, business
> class tickets, smart suits, just
> a vaguely business-like air about
> them, etc. were transferred to
> other flights/airlines.

They don’t even try to hide that. Your chances of getting an upgrade or a standby requiring an upgrade are strongly affected by (besides the total miles in your frequent flyer account) your dress and demeanor. Talk to a gate agent for a while during a down time and they will give you some hints.

It can get unpleasant though – I was stuck in Detroit once due to snow; they gave me a hotel, meal, and cab voucher and then denied the single mother behind me any compensation. Luckily I was still there so I gave her my voucher, but I thought that more than a bit unfair.

Cranky

29

shinypenny 10.20.04 at 4:05 pm

I was on my way through Frankfurt, from Moscow to NY City, just a few days after the recent bombings of Russian Airliners…

Ah, that’s what that second security screening is there for. I just flew through Frankfurt and they’ve taken the sign down. Actually that didn’t really bother me as much as being met at the gate in Detroit by four armed Customs police and everyone having to show our passports before we could deplane. Shouldn’t they be getting the bad guys -before- they get on the plane instead of after?

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