Around the bend: Airlines come up mediocre at best

<p>On a recent family trip to Oklahoma, I developed a whole new admiration for, and horror of, the airline industry. No other business I know of can provide so little for so much and still be in such high demand. (As a cell phone owner, I don’t say this lightly.)</p><p>Airline travel has become increasingly expensive, inconvenient and exhausting. It offers little incentive to keep customers coming back. Yet the airports are packed.</p><p>Given that jets can travel at 500 miles an hour, you’d think that flying would be fast. Not so. Add together security screenings, multiple flights, delays and the associated missed connections, plus travel time to and from the airport — in the time it took us to fly from Vermont to Oklahoma, seasons changed. We could have ridden on donkeys and gotten there sooner.</p><p>The airlines are always coming up with new ways to reduce customer satisfaction. There’s now a baggage fee, for instance. Most airlines charge $25, in addition to your ticket price, for each piece of luggage you check. This implies that you, the traveler, are somehow being unreasonable for carrying a suitcase on a 2,000-mile trip.</p><p>Amazingly, people pay up. And I wonder if other industries are taking note. Think how much hotels could make if they tacked on a fee for guests who insisted on having beds in their rooms.</p><p>But then, hotels are notoriously behind the times. They’re still wasting money providing amenities like free travel shampoos to their guests. Airlines don’t even give out complimentary cocktail peanuts anymore.</p><p>What of it? I didn’t hear any passengers shouting, “I paid $475 for this trip and if I don’t get my 12 to 14 honey-roasted peanuts I’m never flying again!” It proves that with the right approach, a business can skip customer service altogether with no serious repercussions.</p><p>People have pretty much given up expecting their flights to leave on schedule, too. These days, the likelihood of a flight departing on time ranges from “in the realm of possibility” to “yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”</p><p>Flights are so often late or cancelled that the carrier we used posted signs claiming it had the highest percentage of on-time flights of any airline. Rather than inspiring confidence, this only made me wonder why they felt the need to bring it up at all. I’m glad I didn’t see any signs reading “Fewest Passengers Killed in Fiery Crashes.”</p><p>I don’t know how the airlines have managed to convince their customers to expect the worst and accept mediocrity as stellar performance. But by the end of the week their tactics were even starting to work on us: We had lowered our expectations to the point that when our luggage arrived in Burlington at the same time we did, we hugged and high-fived each other like Family Feud contestants. </p><p>To be honest, I’m jealous: If I could figure out the airlines’ secret of not taking blame when things go wrong, and accepting praise for being adequate, I’d put it into practice in my own life. My coworkers would applaud me just for showing up; the garbage men would send me flowers for putting my trash out on the right day; and my family would kiss my feet every time clean underwear appeared in their dresser drawers.</p><p>And if I didn’t feel like cooking dinner, I’d just smile at my loved ones and say,&nbsp; “I’m sincerely sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you. I hope you’ll allow me to cook dinner for you some time in the future.”&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><p>While I admit to being impressed with airlines’ devious business strategies, they didn’t work on me as well as they seem to on others. Perhaps the brainwashing effect is cumulative, like arsenic poisoning, so those of us who rarely fly come away with little more than a bitter taste in our mouth.</p><p>This last trip was so demoralizing that my husband Mark and I agreed not to fly anymore. From now on, all our long-distance travel will be the old-fashioned way: on the ground.</p><p>It might be a little slower, but it has other benefits: It’s more dependable; it’s less stressful; and, hey, those frequent-donkey miles add up fast.</p>

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Addison County Independent

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