This was a summer of flying. My two children and I took a total of 10 flights in a matter of four weeks, and while I was prepared for the worst, the recent news hadn't prepared me for what would really happen with our flights. Here's what happened:
Fantastic and Customer Service
On our flight from Rochester, NY to Philadelphia, PA, we flew in a little tiny American Airlines plane. Because it was a tiny plane, all carry on suitcases had to be gate checked. The man in front of us had a large roller bag. The gate agent handed him a gate check tag, and the man said, "I'm sorry, I can't be separated from this bag. It contains medical equipment. I have a heart condition, and I could die if I can't access it."
That's the best argument I've heard for keeping your carry-on bag. It, however, didn't change the fact that the plane just isn't big enough to put a roller bag in the overhead bin and it certainly wouldn't fit under the seat.
The gate agent responded, "We'll figure something out. Worst comes to worst, we'll put you on a different flight that has a bigger plane, but we'll solve this." And he did. The flight wasn't full, so the man was moved next to an empty seat and his bag got its own seat. Problem solved.
An Overbooked Flight Situation Solved the Right Way
Our American Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Philadelphia was overbooked. Before boarding began, the gate agents asked for volunteers to take the next flight, which was leaving 12 hours later and would be a red-eye. In other words, not a very pleasant flight.
They eventually brought the total offered to $750. As we stood on the jetway, waiting to board, the man next to us and I were joking about how we were tempted to take the money. He said, "Yeah, I'm really thinking about it!" We boarded.
A flight attendant then addressed the plane, "We need one more volunteer to take the 11:00 pm flight. We're offering $1250." The man who had joked with me earlier volunteered. Everyone cheered and clapped. Problem solved. Everyone was happy.
Despite the fact that my family members fly frequently, we don't have status on British Air or American, the two airlines we flew this summer. Because we were flying from London to Las Vegas, I paid extra to ensure that the three of us were together and on the side with a window. (The plane had a 3, 4, 3 configuration.)
When we got to the gate, and the agent scanned my ticket he said, "Uh, your seats have been changed." I got ready to be defensive. I had PAID for the seats I wanted, and by golly, I was going to get them! Then he said, "You've been upgraded to World Traveller Plus." Woo-hoo! That's premium economy in British Airlines speak, so it's not fancy like business class, but bigger seats and more leg room. Always welcome in a long-haul flight.
I'm Not the Only One with Good Experiences
8 Million people fly daily. Can you imagine? That's a tremendously large number of people. So we hear about the one or two people per week that have something awful happen to them. When you think about a number of people who have bad customer service experiences in restaurants, grocery stores, and dentists offices, the number of bad incidents in flying really seems quite low.
And remember, people don't generally go grocery shopping when they've had only a couple of hours of sleep in an uncomfortable seat, but they do go get on the next plane. Flight attendants have to deal with a naturally more antagonistic group than other customer service oriented people do. And mostly they do a great job.
And About the TSA
Another common complaint is about airline security. A lot of our flights originated in Europe, so it wasn't TSA, but the local equivalents. The line in Las Vegas was super long, and I find it ridiculous that London Heathrow makes you go through security again when you're transferring planes. ("Ma'am that bottle of water that you received on a different airplane is now considered potentially explosive, so please put it on this table, next to all the other potentially explosive half drunk bottles of Dasani.") But, without fail, everyone was polite to us.
On our flight from Rochester, NY to Philadelphia, where we were connecting to Europe, the TSA agent did inquire as to why I had so many Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in my bag, but I'm 99.9 percent sure she just genuinely had never seen someone with a bag so full of candy. I explained that they were hard to come by in Switzerland, where we lived, and she was appropriately appalled.
Overall, I think we'll all be a lot better off if we note the number of times things go right, rather than the number of times things go wrong.