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The incredibly sorry state of our expectations around air travel in 2008

danyork-jadedtraveler.jpgTonight I'm in the process of traveling out to Chicago to speak at the ClueCon conference this week and, as is my habit when traveling, I'm posting random thoughts and updates to my Twitter stream. This is the part where I turn Twitter into my personal travelogue... venting area... etc.

Since I'm flying into Chicago's O'Hare airport... on a summer afternoon... right at the prime time for afternoon thunderstorms... I pretty much expected that the flight would be delayed. I somehow didn't think we'd be taking off at 5:12pm.

Sure enough, we're not. At the time I'm writing this they're currently saying that we'll be leaving around 8pm. Roughly three hours late. And yes, indeed, the US Weather Service has a severe thunderstorm alert out for the Chicago area.

Our problem is compounded by the fact that the plane taking us to Chicago is first coming to Manchester, NH (MHT) from Chicago. So they had to get out of Chicago first - with thunderstorms - and then get here and turn around to go back into Chicago and thunderstorms... not a recipe for an on-time departure. Now in theory our plane is currently in the air, which at least means we have a chance of leaving tonight.

Around 4:30pm I sent out this tweet about watching someone getting very agitated about the impending delay:


I had several interesting responses (two of them here and here) basically saying "are we being unreasonable to expect a plane to be there on time?"

No, it's not unreasonable to expect planes to be on time.

But I don't.


Perhaps I just travel too much and have watched the ongoing deterioration in services from the airlines as they combat competition, rising costs, etc. Whatever the case, I have to say that today in August 2008:

  • I expect whatever flight I'm on to be delayed.
  • I expect there to be mechanical problems with planes that will cause delays.
  • I expect there to be problems getting crews to flights and associated delays.
  • I expect flights to be fully booked or even over-booked with the accompanying challenges to the gate staff.
  • I expect that my luggage will be lost - so I therefore never check luggage and travel with carry-ons.
  • I expect that I will miss connections and have to stay overnight in interim places (hence another reason not to check luggage).
  • I expect that the airlines will charge for food or run out when they reach me - so I bring my own.
  • I expect there to be other problems that will generally cause delays and issues.

And in talking to many other frequent travelers, most all of them have similarly low expectations. We expect to have problems flying.

twitter-flightsearly.jpgI guess the good news is that with such incredibly low expectations when things do work out much better you can have those rare moments of jubilation (as shown on right).

Should we expect better? Sure. Should the flying experience be better? Absolutely.

Will it?

Let's be real... all the airlines are until severe financial pressure. All of them seem to be reducing the number of flights to increase capacity. All of them are complaining about the rising costs of fuel. All of them keep reducing or eliminating many of the food or services you used to get. Find me an airline that isn't charging you for your meal these days? (If they are even offering one.) American Airlines and others are charging for luggage. Today JetBlue said it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket.

Do we see any reason this will change anytime soon?

And what choice do we have, really? We need to get from Point A to Point B and flying is the fastest way to do that. What are we going to do except fly the airlines? Sure, we could say that we're going to go to an airline that offers better service... but at what cost? We want our airfares as low as possible. Ergo....

So what do we do? One option is to get agitated like the guy I watched today. But what good does it really do? Now this guy didn't take it out on the gate agent (which I've seen in other places), but what good does that do? They're just trying to do their job.

In reality, we enter into the airline's system and we become pawns in their game, subject to whatever they are doing with us until we reach our destination. You can get agitated and work up your blood pressure and pulse...

Or you can just go with the flow...

I always load up my iPod with podcasts to listen to. I make sure my laptop is charged up with plenty of things I could work on. I bring a book and magazines. I always travel carry-on so that I can easily divert to other flights or stay overnight. I make sure my cell phone is charged. I use services like FlightStats.com so that when I land I can get immediate info in my Blackberry's email about my next flight's status. I bring enough snacks to suffice for a meal or two.

And I always try to make sure that my travel plans can accommodate a delay of several hours or even overnight.

A sorry state of affairs? Indeed. And maybe I'm just way too jaded and cynical at this point, but whatever "glamour" there may have been in consumer air travel was left in the dustbin of history many years ago...

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