[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2023] ☺2023
Thank you, Southwest Airlines. You have convinced me to never travel by air again.
No, I wasn’t even flying during the Christmas holidays (fortunately). But merely watching the debacle unfolding inside Lindbergh Field and at the airport’s rental car counter was so stressful that I think I have PTSD by proxy.
I cannot even imagine the reality of actually being there. Especially for people traveling with infants and young kids.
I’ve been plagued with plantar fasciitis for some months now so the possibility of standing in those long lines would have been, well, an impossibility. But worse, my head would have just exploded with the stress of it all. As I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for chaos and ineptitude has dwindled to pretty much zero.
I couldn’t help but reflect while watching these poor people be held hostage by Southwest that if their captors were terrorists, there would at least be someone negotiating for their release. And there would be food.
The CEO of Southwest appeared on the evening news saying he was “sorry.” Sorry????
If it were up to me, the CEO of Southwest would be sentenced to …what? No, there really isn’t enough punishment to compensate for the level of misery – and expense - Southwest inflicted on thousands upon thousands of people. Awarding cancelled passengers 25,000 frequent flier points toward future travel doesn’t cut it – unless it’s for another airline.
My grandchildren will never know what it was like for airline travel to be fun. But we oldies do. Below is Auntie Inga’s unapologetically jaded review of How Airline Travel has Devolved into the Prisoner of War Model. This is how I remember it, anyway.
In the golden days before airline fare deregulation in 1978, airlines actually wanted to make you happy. If your airplane left late, the airline felt so bad about it that they insisted on serving free champagne for the entire flight. If your flight was late or cancelled, you could run over to a different airline and they were deliriously happy to take your ticket. No change fees, no hassle, and plenty of seats. In fact, you could often have an empty seat next to you.
When prices were set (and yes, they used to be), the way the airlines could compete was by providing service, like fluffy pillows, full meals, and actually being really nice to the passengers. But once prices were not set, the airlines competed only by fares.
I think everyone thought that deregulation would mean everything would be the same, only cheaper. Never has the phrase “there is no free lunch” been truer. Those fluffy pillows were now inflatables and cost $8, a “sandwich” consisting of two thick slices of stale bread and a thin sliver of turkey cost $10, and the airline personnel, who used to be so nice, had been replaced by graduates of the Evil Troll Travel School.
Airlines now think nothing of leaving passengers sitting on the tarmac for nine hours without food, water, or working bathrooms. It’s OK to drag people off airplanes by their feet or eject families who couldn’t make a two-year-old wear a mask.
In recent years, airlines seem to be cancelling lots of flights citing “weather.” Global warming aside, there suddenly appeared to be a lot more weather than there used to be. All the airplanes are flying full so that if your airplane gets cancelled due to “weather,” or its evil and often imaginary siblings “mechanical problems,” techno difficulties” or “air traffic control glitches” there are no seats for three days unless you camp at the airline gate with your bags and try (usually futilely) for standby. I think my business traveler husband Olof got Marriott Gold status on Houston strandings alone.
Of course, it would make sense to go non-stop so you wouldn’t have to spend three days in Houston but the airline people also implemented the “hub and spoke” model not coincidentally styled after a torture device popular in the Middle Ages.
Trying to reach an airline during the pandemic got you a recording like this: “You have reached Lying Weasel Airlines. No one works here at the moment, except Fred. He’s on his lunch break. Till tomorrow. Rather than remain on hold, you can leave your number for a callback by Fred. In 2024. Please be prepared for the fact that if you ever reach Fred to reschedule your flight, you can expect that it will be cancelled yet again. Which means you’ll have to call back and start this process all over. The next available agent has 450 people ahead of you.”
Now, when friends return from a trip, the first question is not about their destination but how their flights went. Awe is expressed if they actually went without a hitch.
You’ve convinced me, Southwest. I’m too old and too decrepit. And too nostalgic for the era – there actually used to be one – when your call really was important to a business and airlines actually had the slightest concern for the passengers.