He flew with American Airlines, she with United. The unthinkable happened to both of them

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Not all flights are the same. Even now.

(A screenshot from a United video)

A screenshot of a United video.

Many Americans today think twice.

Do they have to fly somewhere? Or should they tolerate the high petrol price and drive somewhere and everywhere?

Currently, US airlines seem to enjoy all the efficiency and competence of, well, US politicians.

For example, Delta got so desperate that… it essentially begged passengers to fly on a different time than the weekend of July 4, by offering them free flight changes to a different time of the year.

But is it all that bad? Two surprising stories can offer a certain perspective on the madness.

Driven crazy.

First the story of Brian Driver. He flew on business. He was booked with American Airlines. He knew this was the Thursday before the Father’s Day long weekend.

He wanted to change his return flight. So, like the Wall Street Journal tells it, he first tried to use modern technology. You know, things like the American Airlines app and website. He couldn’t make the changes.

He resorted to more ancient technology – the telephone. A machine told him the wait was eight hours.

Back to more modern ways, he tried the chat option. Within a staggering ninety minutes, he spoke to an officer. But then he couldn’t get the chair he wanted. He tried to call again. Oh, the futility of a system when an airline just doesn’t have enough customer service personnel to operate it.

This distracted Driver. It drove him to drive forty-five minutes to Denver Airport. He marched to the till and finally got what he wanted: customer service.

The airline, of course, blamed a combination of factors for its slow customer service — air traffic control and weather, for example — but not, oddly enough, the possibility that it doesn’t have enough staff to handle significant disruptions.

It seems extreme that a customer would have to do something so extreme to finally receive what some would call basic customer service.

It also seems extreme that airlines are blaming operational problems, staff shortages, weather and air traffic control on what appears to be an insufficient number of actual employees hired prior to what would clearly become a massive surge in demand.

Please don’t. It drives you crazy.

So when my wife told me last week that she was flying to a conference in Orlando, I was a little concerned. (Okay, a lot.)

A cross-country flight to Orlando in June? This was asking for chaos.

It’s not just the weather that will always upset the Florida air in the summer. It’s flying now. The horror of it. Even pilots at Delta, Southwest and American declare that their bosses have no idea what they are doing

Pilots at United, a little less. This may have something to do with the fact that they have just reached an agreement with their bosses about a new contract – which the pilots of the other three airlines have not done.

My wife booked an early morning flight from San Francisco but had to book an evening flight from Orlando a few days later. Both flights were with United, as she believed a non-stop option offered the best hope.

The night before her flight, a colleague who went to the same conference texted her that she’d had a scorching time on Delta. She had been on the asphalt for two hours. Worse, those two hours were in Tampa.

I wished my wife good luck, closed my eyes and waited for the bad news.

After a few hours, she texted, “Guess what airport we landed at.”

“I give up,” I replied. “New Orleans?”

“Orlando.”

A tinge of disbelief ran through my soul. Was the flight on time? It landed in the right city? Could she attend the opening ceremony of her conference?

It seemed so. However, I was sure that her return flight would be an inconvenience. It had to be, right?

Finally, not on time.

Oh, the lines at the Orlando airport were long. But, my wife said, they kept moving. It only took her twelve minutes to get through security.

But the flight was delayed, you wonder? No. It was also not on time. It actually arrived early. Not even a crying baby could be heard, my wife said.

Just as Brian Driver’s experience was unimaginable, so was my wife’s. Two extremes in absurdly extreme times.

This is no time to suggest that American is any less competent than United — even though American’s own pilots believe that to be true

It’s more of a tribute to those airline employees who work as hard as they can, despite laughable mismanagement, to get as many people as possible to their destinations.

Many of them cannot work from home. They have to face the malcontents, the desperate and the wicked.

It is always the service workers – especially those who deal with customers every day – who suffer the most and are paid the least.

And, curiously, it’s always service workers who are fired — or encouraged to retire early — the first in a recession, even when airlines are taking billions of people’s money.

It doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

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