Flying the Unfriendly
Due to substandard airline service,
I recently have found it very frustrating to fly, even though
I am only traveling around the Midwest.
During my last 11 or so flights on Northwest
Airlines, I have either experienced a significant delay, flight
cancellation, or lost luggage. My experience with lost luggage
was telling. First, I had great difficulty reaching a live Northwest
Airlines representative at either the headquarters in Minneapolis
or airport in Lansing, Michigan. Once I got through the recorded
telephone maze, the “helpful” Northwest customer
representative told me I should know better as a frequent flyer
than to check luggage. She said I should bring the luggage with
me as I board the plane and ignore airline announcements that
larger luggage should be checked. I was also advised by two
Northwest representatives that my delays or cancellations might
be due to “job actions” by disgruntled airline employees
in selected cities, and there is little or nothing Northwest
can do about this “inconvenience.”
I don’t appear to be alone in experiencing
flight delays. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)—the
federal agency responsible for investigating consumer complaints—publishes
a monthly report of airline timeliness. For the year ending
April 2003, United was the top-rated airline for ontime performance
with 85.1 percent of its flights arriving on time. United was
followed by American (84.3 percent), Southwest (83.3 percent),
US Airways (83.3 percent), Continental (82.7 percent), Northwest
(82.3 percent), and Delta (81.9 percent). The data demonstrate
airlines generally arrived late about 15–20 percent of
the time during the past year.
Many airlines now require passengers to arrive
at the gate at least 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure.
This is undoubtedly an airline response to the USDOT statistics.
Northwest is boarding passengers 30 minutes before scheduled
take-off, which sometimes leads to an early departure. However,
I have also sat on the aircraft for considerable time when the
plane was late in departing.
Why not switch to another airline? Well,
flight availability from regional airports such as Madison is
a significant problem since the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War.
Responding to decreased consumer demand, airlines are simply
scheduling fewer flights.
I want to hear your experiences with airlines
during the past year. Are you satisfied with your airline or
was your flight a nightmare? Please write to me at the address
on the magazine’s inside cover and I will include some
of the comments, if possible, in next month’s continuing
story on airlines. I will also review more USDOT airline complaint
statistics and let you know the best way to complain about substandard