Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why it's hard to choose which airline to be mad(dest) at

I've been mad at airlines for a long time. It all started when they took the food away, even though I hated the food. This, I admit, was silly on my part. They was so much rampant madness to come.

Maybe ten years ago, I started getting mad at specific airlines. Delta came up first. In retrospect, its offense was fairly minor, but it galled me at the time: It rebooked a flight I'd booked through Atlanta, giving me a 20-minute connection time that, in Atlanta, is quite impossible. So, I knew I needed to rebook. In order to do that I had to sit on hold for three hours. I considered that unacceptable and swore: No more Delta. (The flight I ultimately took nearly landed on its wing at JFK, but given the high winds, I found that easy to forgive.)

After that -- I guess this might be five years ago -- American Airlines infuriated me for the way it handled massive cancellations of MD-80 flights for reinspections. Let's set aside the fact that it should have seen the FAA's directive for inspections coming and not be mad about that. Let's say AA couldn't help grounding its entire MD-80 fleet for reinspection. It was the way it was handled that made me exceedingly mad. I was in LA, having arrived on a nonstop from Austin: MD-80, the sole craft the airline flew out of/into Austin. Instead of announcing at the start of the day that no MD-80s would be flying that day, AA canceled them one my one, moment to moment, rebooking my flight five times within six hours and still leaving me stranded at LAX, at which point I paid $350 and flew home on Southwest. I considered the entire day needlessly deceptive and swore off AA.

My options at that point were narrowed to United, Southwest and newcomer JetBlue, which I quickly fell in love with, but we all know how love at first sight goes. Back to that later. My next enemy became United. Pretty much everyone fell out of love with United and Continental when they merged, but I didn't fly them that much anyway, so United didn't encounter my wrath until last summer, when I flew it through San Francisco to SEA-TAC. Now, I knew very well that planes would be late that day because SFO was a runway down because of a crash. But United chose not to acknowledge that.

We were two hours late out of Austin. Fine. Understandable. But once we got to SFO, the delays were acknowledged in only hourly increments and only on the boards, with various explanations posted: weather, inbound aircraft, etc. There was not one agent in all of Terminal 3 willing to give us any information on when, exactly, we might get to depart that terminal (and I know Terminal 3 is all lovely after a renovation, but I seriously never wanted to see it again). Again: It was not the delays that infuriated me. It was the total lack of communication and disregard for passengers. Finally, we did board, arriving in Seattle at 4 a.m. Ever try to rent a car at an airport at 4 a.m.? United went on my no-fly list.

So, wonderful JetBlue: Wonderful until airline consolidation again bit me in the posterior. JetBlue didn't merge, but AA and US Airways did, freeing up Reagan-Washington gates for JetBlue, which dumped AUS-SFO in order to add Reagan flights. OK. Understandable. But, once again, it's the way it was handled: I got a "flight time change" customary email about an already-booked JetBlue flight. I put off reading it, assuming it was the usual two-minute change. A day later, I did read it and learned that my August flight to SFO would be through Long Beach. Odd. I called and was informed that JetBlue was dropping the route. I'd have to go through Long Beach. Well, OK. But the email didn't mention the flight home. What's up with that? What's up with that, I learned, was that there was no flight home. Not even through Long Beach. And JetBlue wasn't going to tell me that until I bothered to call. Not cool. Not even with a full refund plus $50 of scrip I'll never use because I've amassed zillions of JetBlue miles figuring to use them for SFO, my favorite place. Guess I'll be flying to Boston a lot.

But I can't stay mad at JetBlue. I can't, because I'm running out of options. I can't fly Southwest to everywhere, especially because its tickets have become pretty much as expensive as everybody else's, with worse connections and no seat assignments (something that bothers my husband more than it does me). If it weren't for the free bag, I'm not sure I'd like Southwest as much as I do. I wish it would stop calling itself a low-cost carrier when it is not. I'm getting a little mad.

Meanwhile, an especially nice coach flight across the pond on a B777 made me sort of fall back in love with American, whose flight attendants were wonderful, even in the face of a fairly dreadful bunch of demanding passengers (yes, you, guy in front of me who ordered water nonstop and left your feet in the aisle to trip them). This, in spite of the fact that AA tried to reroute my JFK-LHR trip across the pond through, um, Raleigh. A phone call fixed that without any time on hold, thank you.

Anyway: It's hard to stay mad at any one airline when they're all so maddening. I've decided to just wipe the slate clean and book whoever will carry me for the least amount of money, except for Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier, which are just too hideously maddening to mention.