If there ever was an industry that needed to be disrupted, it's got to be the airline industry.
As much as I love traveling, I can now firmly assert that I detest the flying process associated with said travel. After 20+ years of both business & leisure travel, I've collected many unpleasant flying experiences along the way.
Here's a recent example from a business trip, which only served to reinforce my disgust. I must warn you that this post quickly turned into a rant…
A Great Start
I was booked on a flight from Dallas to Singapore, with a layover in Hong Kong. This kind of flight is known as an ultra long-haul flight. This means it exceeds 12 hours on any particular leg.
My flight was actually 16 hours on the first leg, followed by another 4 hour flight before reaching the final destination. Let's not forget the 3 hour layover. Total travel time is theoretically 23 hours each way, with 20 hours of flying.
It's a brutal flight…
Imagine a typical 8-hour workday. Now imagine spending that workday on an airplane in a space of ~3.7 ft2, for almost 3 workdays back-to-back. If you're like me and can't sleep upright, you're in for a very long day.
The last time I took this trip, I swore I would never do it again in economy/coach. I had a week's worth of meetings where I was doing most of the presenting, and the week was absolutely miserable.
Lucky for me, I landed a business class seat for this most recent trip! I felt like a kid who had won the best prize ever!
The plane featured the lie-flat business seat arrangement, which meant I could actually get some rest. At ~11.7 ft2, it felt like upgrading to a mansion with 3X the space. Here's a partial view of my seat.
Not only did I have access to that wonderful seat, but also any of the business lounges at the various airports. I made sure to take advantage of that perk at the start of my trip, and what a great start it was…
Unfortunately my euphoric feelings were short lived…
A Parade of Incompetence
What started as a promising flying experience, quickly devolved into a sequence of incompetence.
The Maintenance Issue / +2 Hours
I knew things were going south when the first delay announcement was made. It began with a maintenance issue which apparently had to do with the brakes on the plane.
No one wants to fly on a plane with potential safety issues, so it's hard to gripe too much about the delay. I headed back to the business lounge for another Bloody Mary, and told myself an hour wouldn't be that big of a deal.
While I sat there, my curiosity led me to discover that the plane had been sitting at the gate since the prior day. Despite this, the maintenance check was performed about an hour before our boarding time. Why not do a maintenance check on the plane when it lands, and avoid all the last minute gymnastics ?!
As I sat there watching the mechanic fiddle with the brakes for the next 2 hours, I started to grow more irritated. Meanwhile my connection time was getting awfully tight.
About 2 hours in, an announcement is made that we were finally allowed to board. At this point I still have a small sliver of hope that I will make my connection time.
The Illegal Flight Crew / +6 Hours
Unfortunately after sitting around in the plane for the next 45 minutes and seeing the crew walk back and forth from the cockpit, I knew my hopes would be dashed. And of course they were.
The crew went illegal within 45 minutes of us boarding. What that means is that they exceeded the maximum number of hours allowed by the FAA. Since this flight is close to 16 hours it doesn't take much of a delay to cause this to happen.
The crew has also wasted 6 hours waiting around, but since they weren't technically “working”, my understanding is that they don't get compensated for that time.
All passengers were then asked to exit the plane, and wait for further instructions. In the meantime, the airline was scrambling to pull together a fresh/new crew at the last minute. This took another 2 hours, which gave me yet another opportunity for a Bloody Mary at the lounge.
About 6 hours in, we're finally called to board the plane yet again. The plane had to be cleansed and stocked due to the boarding and de-boarding, and I noticed that some of the amenities were missing from the seat. The crew was now made up of very junior attendants, and I found out this was the first international flight for some, which explained the lack of service.
The Fumbled Connection / +8 Hours
Since I was concerned about my connection and making my meetings on time, I asked one of the attendants how the process worked. They told me that I would have a rebooked boarding pass as soon as I got off the plane, and hotel arrangements would be made since I would now be arriving around midnight in Hong Kong.
I focused on enjoying the new business class experience for the next 16 hours and hoped things would work out.
It's not a Lagavulin 16, but it'll do 😉
Upon landing and exiting the plane, there were a couple of local attendants who were passing out new boarding passes for those passengers that missed their flights. I was one of the unlucky passengers to not have one ready for me.
The attendants were not prepared, and mass chaos ensued. Passengers were frustrated, anxious, and impatient. The attendants were confused, overwhelmed, and had difficulty communicating.
It took another 2 hours before I finally received a new boarding pass for the first flight out the following morning. I was also told to head over to the airport hotel, and that a room would be available for the night.
What should have been a 16 hour leg up until this point, turned into an additional 8 hours of avoidable complications.
The Sleepless Night / +16 Hours
I spent the next hour waiting in a very long immigration line at Hong Kong airport so I could walk to the airport hotel.
After I finally made it to the hotel, I was told by the front desk that my name was not on the list of travelers cleared for a free room. Another communication fumble by the airline. I had no choice but to hand over my credit card, too exhausted to figure out where to take up the fight.
By now, I only had another 3 hours before I needed to be back in the airport to catch the morning flight. I took a long needed shower, and rested my eyes for fear of going catatonic and missing the flight.
I waited another 2 hours at the airport before boarding my second leg of the trip to Singapore.
All in, the total delay cost me 16 hours, on top of the 20 hours of total flying time.
Opportunity to Make Things Right
Shortly after the flight, I received an e-mail from the airline that I suppose was sent to all the passengers. Here's a snapshot of it with some of the irrelevant details removed…
The approximate value of the bonus miles they're referring to is $105, since this particular airline values their miles at 1.5 cents/mile.
Having paid over $6,000 for this ticket, $200 for an unnecessary hotel room, and lost 16 hours of my time, you can imagine I was not impressed with the letter. When I returned from my trip, I filed the following complaint using their system:
I am writing to convey my extreme disappointment and frustration with a recent flight on XX, which was supposed to leave on Saturday XX from DFW airport, a major hub as you know, headed to Singapore via Hong Kong, flight XX.
The flight was initially delayed for 2 hours due to maintenance issues. I understand that safety and proper maintenance is of utmost importance. What I don't understand is the “proactive” decision to only begin the maintenance process an hour before departure on an ultra long haul flight. Especially since the plane had been sitting at the gate overnight. This is terrible planning and a blatant disregard for customer service. If only this were the end of it…
After boarding the plane 3 hours after initially planned, we of course ran into a crew issue, which again should have been anticipated given the length of the flight, which is not a mystery. This forced everyone to deplane and wait until a new crew was scrambled together over the following 3 hours.
I of course had already missed my connection, and no arrangements were made to get me booked on the next flight through Cathay, even though there was >16 hours for your employees to get their stuff together. Once I finally landed in Hong Kong it was amateur hour at its best. No one provided me with a new boarding pass, which forced me to spend 2 hours waiting for assistance. Once I got it, I was assured arrangements would be made at the local hotel, they weren't. I ended up paying for a hotel room out of my pocket, and also paying for the night I missed at my destination.
I expect to be reimbursed for both nights as a minimum. I also expect that XX can do better than a token excuse of 7k miles credited to my account. Especially since my flight cost $6500 and I lost valuable time on an already exhausting flight. The entire process proved to me once again (this was the 2nd time on the same itinerary) that XX values its bottom line over its customers. Fix it
I had to end it abruptly because they limited the number of characters. They followed up with another canned letter, and bumped up the bonus miles to 15,000.
I might take another stab at them, but at this point I'm simply left with a general feeling of disgust with the airline itself and the entire process in general.
Did you catch the part of my letter that pointed out this was the second time this happened? The earlier flight I had flown in economy/coach a few months prior was delayed as well, and I ended up missing my connection then, due to a similar parade of incompetence.
Each of the breakdowns experienced could have been avoided with better planning, coordination and communication. When viewed from a customer experience standpoint, this is an unacceptable level of service. However, when viewed from a corporate airline standpoint, this was the best way to minimize damage to their bottom line.
Every company has a choice to make when it comes to putting customers ahead of their greed. This particular airline, along with many of its peers have clearly demonstrated their values.
Ever since the airline consolidations that happened after the financial crisis, competition for these big airlines has diminished, and their already terrible service has become worst.
They have no incentive to treat customers (or employees for that matter) well, and it shows.
By contrast, I've flown airlines from other countries, and the level of service they provide is far superior to their american counterparts.
What this industry needs is a huge shake up, and some serious disruption. At the very least, there should be an increase in competition from other airlines. I think this form of transportation is ripe for a major change, you can bet I'm ready for it!
Readers, do I just have bad luck with traveling, or have you had a similar travel experience? do you think the airline industry should be disrupted? how would have handled this situation? Share your thoughts and comments below!