We travel often. Once a flight was a luxury. Today it is a ride. Pack the transporter, ignore the passengers and blame any delays on the weather and everything else on security considerations beyond one's control. Be responsible for essentially – nothing. Pillows and blankets are extras, so are food and drinks. You want to take a carry on? Pay extra. Luggage – yet another surcharge. Pay to use the bathroom? This recent suggestion caused such an uproar, so it was quickly scrapped.
Try to find some common sense? Not at the check-in counter where the least trained personnel are to be found. One of two suitcases exceeds the ever-dwindling allotted weight, take out stuff, while everyone else behind you is watching, waiting and trying hard to refrain from commenting. Either push the six extra pounds into the other suitcase, else pay a hefty "fine." To the airline employee at the counter, "they," the other passengers in line, can wait while she shows you who is in charge. A great way to extract even more money to help the failing airlines was devised, and customer service was the brutal victim.
Lately the representatives who greet passengers at the counter, the first "friendly face of the airline" one sees, have all been replaced by machines. Now the machines require human supervision to ensure passengers understand what is required of them, so they are back.
Rather than putting the most senior, most experienced people at the front line, US carriers chose differently. Likewise, the most senior flight attendants received a trophy – serving in long haul flights in first class. We will spare the reader horror stories and ask instead: How is it that a young crew in first class in a domestic flight can serve a four course, hot meal and still be pleasant, efficient and welcoming? There are no fewer passengers, but many more flight attendants. They are carefully chosen, well paid, speak multiple languages and serve as the image of an airline. Here is an example of marketing – the mere memory of the flight was imprinted so well that it remains with me much like those experiences at the check-in counter. It happens in China, as every seasoned traveler will immediately realize this is not the United States of America.
Here at home, flight attendants are on the plane "for your safety." During an hour's flight, if one sees peanuts and a drink in a plastic cup, one should count oneself lucky. The flight attendants hardly have time to stand up from their seats before they have to sit down once again for landing.
Back in 2002, airlines rushed to the Government for help. No one was flying after the deadly attacks on the United States of America. Soon the airlines will stand in line to be "rescued" once again. Gasoline is down from its all time high, so what will the reason be now? Inefficiencies? Bad investments? How about: Everyone else is being "bailed out," why can we not enjoy the party as well?
The way out of any downturn is becoming more efficient, changing old habits, trimming down, looking for ways to become more productive, to incorporate new technologies. A loyal customer base and a dedicated employee base are wonderful safeguards against ups and downs, providing stability and profitability. Our airlines have long despised both, so do not expect our loyalty now. Let us learn from others – there is plenty to follow – then let America excel once again, setting the pace and serving as an example for the world to follow.