The growing frustration with airlines is affecting air travel more than ever

For anyone who flies frequently, it’s fair to say that air travel is just not good. With long waits at security, lost bags, increased security fees, and wading through crowding, we Americans have developed a distaste for flying. I experienced all of these annoyances on my recent flight from Washington, D.C., to San Antonio: missed connections, abuse of the airline gate agent, and closed cabins. Here’s a look back at my frustrations:

* Security line waits stretch to an hour. The change from old-fashioned to magstripe uniforms was the result of a cost-cutting decision made by a revenue-producing checkpoint management system. That resulted in thousands of overweight bags being left behind by airlines and airports who have lost revenue by not paying their baggage handlers. Security lines in London have already surged to the maximum capacity of 90 minutes, with delays often running longer than that.

* “You’re not going to seat me anywhere close to the other guy. You’ve got to put me in an aisle seat, or else I’m going to kick the (expletive) out of you.” Somebody called me “a bam bam” and I was being told that, if I were sitting in the coach section, I would have to sit in an aisle seat. I ended up sitting in a three-seat row that, except for the inspector sitting behind me, were nearly shoulder to shoulder. That meant I was sandwiched between two extra people.

* The woman in front of me had already driven 40 minutes to the airport, had checked her bag into the gate, and had already deplaned. This was the scene every time I went through security, even though I had a 30-pound bag to check: I was stuck in an interminable security line with a line that was so long it took two minutes to walk back to my gate. How is this possible?

* People have to be told to fill out check-in lists—the airlines think they have power over the TSA, so they are stopping people at the security checkpoint to ask for their confirmation number. If a passenger has to fill out a list at the gate, he or she is then stopped again at the security checkpoint.

* When I had to go through “interiors” at security (basically, the outbound security line), the lane was so long I looked over my shoulder for a second to make sure no one was following me.

* The main aisle was overflowing with people. How did these people get in the beginning of the line? It’s impossible to keep track of where people are in the security line, but common sense tells us that everyone should be in the main aisle, rather than in the middle or in a tiny section of one of the two bathroom stalls.

* The woman at the front of my flight had missed the boarding pass. They were only printed on some airplanes and they used to be the only way that people with disabilities had to show their boarding passes to their gate agents. Now they are the first thing that someone has to show to any agent. The number of special passengers on planes has been tremendously increased in the last few years, so I suppose there was a convenient means of quickly printing a boarding pass on an airline with standard paper boarding passes.

* Cancellations have become common enough that the crews put notices up the day before flights to say that the airline would like your seat, but they’re not obligated to give it to you.

* The airline posted one of the old-fashioned I.D. charts in the captain’s galley, right by the toilet paper. I looked it up and it basically said, “We’re canceled and we will give you your money back.” We never got our money back, but we did get a $75 voucher toward another air ticket.

It’s not that you can’t always make it on time or get a free meal. We expect these sorts of things from our workplaces, where someone is always checking in all our documents. The airlines can always improve in the area of customer service, and better now than ever since air travel is getting more uncomfortable. Airlines just don’t know how to handle that.

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