When Julianne McClosky, 27, heard the story of the man dragged off United Express Flight 3411 in Chicago — the video of which raised a thousand angry pitchforks from fed-up frequent flyers — it started bringing back memories of past indignities.
The baggage limits. The extra thirty bucks she’d once been charged because she didn’t book her carry-on bag online. But perhaps worst, the time she arrived at La Guardia Airport a tight but sufficient 45 minutes before fly-time. The security line was empty, and she expected to hustle in. But the security agent said she’d failed to check in the required 45 minutes ahead of time: “Your ticket doesn’t even exist anymore,” she was told.
She had to buy a whole new $250 flight for her vacation destination in Jamaica, and she missed a day of the trip.
“I’ll never not fly,” the Bronx resident said. “You have no other option.” But that doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.
The reality of “re-accommodation”
For those of us who have paid greatly for the privilege of enduring an airline’s services, who among us would fail to empathize with the video of the individual “involuntarily” removed, as the parlance goes, by security officials in Chicago?
Who among us who has stood in line for various hours mulling over promises of imminent rebooking wouldn’t recognize the surreal original language used by United’s CEO: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
Who has not been re-accommodated? And who has not re-accommodated themselves to the new realities continuously re-introduced by airlines around the country — bad food, pay for food, no food, and please leave your dignity at the airport rotating door.
On the type of balmy early spring day in NYC that is scientifically assured to make the borough-dweller remember what vacation feels like, I tugged such dreamers back to earth during their brief Manhattan lunch breaks to ask about their airline experiences.
There was William Brown, 27, who started at point guard when he attended Fisher College in Boston yet missed his team’s playoff game when his flight was overbooked and he lost his seat.
Emily Wood, 25, got to the Birmingham, Alabama airport at 10 a.m. one morning for a routine flight back to New York. Yet when that flight was canceled, she was stuck there for hours and only caught the last flight of the day to Charlotte, making it to Newark at 3 a.m. before searching for a way back to Brooklyn.
Aubrie Valois, 28, a clearly brainwashed traveler who admits her “laidback” approach to traveling might be due to her Southern upbringing, said she’d had flights canceled, baggage that didn’t make it to her final destination, days when she couldn’t get on a plane at all because it was being repaired. Yet she remained patient. “I’d rather it be repaired,” she said.
Valois’s point was that we might as well suffer without adding in anxiety, but can we do anything more? Airline shenanigans have led to a Sunday press conference from Sen. Chuck Schumer, who excoriated the baggage-charging games companies play. The current United fiasco warranted a mention from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, before he lost total control of his daily briefing with Holocaust revisionism. Other officials have piped up on the issue from time to time, yet politicians are understandably more concerned with security, plus limited regulation otherwise. Nationwide uproar prompted a second apology from the United CEO, but don’t hold your breath for that to make your next voyage more pleasant. The trend-line has long been down.
The good old flying days
For Don Chamberland, 59, an electrical engineer from Forest Hills, flying used to be fun when he first started doing it for work during the 1980s and 90s. Less security. They’d re-open the plane if you were running a little late. The food wasn’t something “I wouldn’t force on my worst enemy.” When laptops came into vogue, you could even get a little work done before tray tables shrank and space between seats grew slim.
But somewhere since then we’ve lost our coasting way, and air travel went from an almost holy, magical experience to just one more thing you struggle through.
“It’s like a rush hour subway,” Chamberland said, “the same annoyance factor.” Then he reconsidered. “Except maybe the subway’s a little less annoying because you don’t have to go through the TSA.”