Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Airline travel has become a nightmare

By GARRICK FELDMAN

Airplanes are completely full and late taking off this summer. So what else is new?

Airlines have eliminated about 20 percent of their flights over the last five years, which is why you seldom get on a plane with an empty seat.

Welcome to the glamorous world of airline travel, where airports are like war zones and many airline workers, facing layoffs and loss of their pensions, are in no mood to make you feel at ease.

They have plenty of problems of their own, so what if youíre going to miss the wedding if your flight is delayed three hours?
You know the industry is in trouble when the skycaps who take your luggage are the friendliest people at the airport. Of course, theyíre grateful for anything you give them.

If you tip them a couple of bucks when youíre at an airport heading home, theyíll look at your destination and say, ďYouíre going to Little Rock? People from Little Rock donít tip.Ē

You tell them you live in a small town outside Little Rock, and then they understand.
But first you have to get where youíre going. Thatís why the Chinese say every journey begins with a few small steps. They hadnít heard about jet travel.

After the first leg of your trip, you still have a connecting flight to catch, but the problem is the plane left the airport several hours late and you have 10 minutes to make your connection.

Good luck.

But then you realize thereís no problem. Thatís because the plane youíre trying to catch hasnít pulled up to the gate yet. Itís still in Detroit, and youíre in St. Louis, so itíll be about two hours before the plane gets in.

A trip thatís supposed to last five hours will take twice as long, and youíre so hungry that you find yourself involuntarily on the diet you abandoned a long time ago.

When youíre coming back and you must catch the last connecting flight of the evening, it happens almost every time: The last flight leaves on time ó the only flight youíve been on all week thatís been on time, and you wish it wasnít.

That means spending a night in a motel, along with hundreds of passengers who also missed their connecting flights.
This is one of the best-kept secrets in the airline industry: There are motels at major airports that make their living off stranded flyers. Tens of thousands of us miss our flights every night because planes are late, while others take off without waiting five minutes for us worn-out passengers.

One motel we stayed in outside Dallas has an entire floor set aside for people whose planes left without them. Who says there are no more opportunities in this country? Open a motel near an airport and give airlines cut-rate deals on rooms for stranded passengers.

You could make millions and stay at home and never fly again.
But if you do fly again, give the skycap a few bucks so they wonít say Arkies are lousy tippers.