BusinessWeek reports on something that, well, isn’t really news:
Long lines, late flights, near collisions — everyone is unhappy with the state of the U.S. air travel system. Unfortunately, no one, expecially not the FAA, seems able to do anything about it.
I had always been skeptical about complaints about air travel. Although I fly many times per year, I had never lost luggage or been significantly delayed. So I had presumed that this unhappiness stemmed from an innately human desire to complain about and exaggerate, well, everything.
My most recent trip to Israel, however, changed everything. I’ve already told the first part of the story, but I had never told the rest. So now seems as good a time as any. I’ll start from the beginning again.
I was supposed to fly from Boston to New York on American Airlines, and then switch to El Al for the remaining travel to Israel. Well, the flight to New York was two hours late because, for some reason, American Airlines was short one pilot. A co-pilot had to be flown in from New York in order to, well, fly back to New York. Go figure. I finally arrived in Terminal 4 just as El Al shut the aircraft door.
Of course, I had been smart enough to book the last flight of the evening (departure was at 11:50 p.m.), so I had to wait until the next morning. I had phoned El Al, and at least they had booked me on the next flight just in case I missed the evening flight. Still, I stayed at JFK airport — where cockroaches and other unwelcome visitors crawl on the floor in front of you — and occasionally slept from midnight until 7 a.m. I left for Israel at around 11 a.m. in the morning.
Fast forward three weeks. I had been packing to return to the United States the following morning. El Al called to say that my flight had been delayed until that evening because “there was a problem with the plane.” (Whatever that meant.) I was worried because I had a connecting flight on, yes, American Airlines from New York to St. Louis via Chicago. It was Thursday, and I was going to a friend’s wedding on Saturday before returning to Boston. I did not want to miss my friend’s special day.
El Al was unable to arrange a new connecting flight on American Airlines — or any other airline, for that matter — because I had booked the flight on two separate reservations. (Stupid me!) I called American Airlines to schedule a new connecting flight to St. Louis, and the only available one was for Friday afternoon. I had to take it — for a $150 change fee plus $165 in additional airfare, of course. By the time delayed El Al arrived in New York, it was one o’clock in the morning. I tried to stay in the airport, but I couldn’t do that again after my journey to Tel Aviv. So I paid $200 — plus a $14 buffet breakfast! — for one night in the Ramada Plaza hotel near JFK Airport.
It doesn’t end there. My American Airlines flight from New York was delayed, again, for an hour and a half. I arrived in St. Louis at 7 p.m. on Friday, more than nineteen hours after I was originally supposed to be there. Needless to say, I was not the most coherent groomsman at the wedding on Saturday afternoon. (I think I spoke some Hebrew deliriously while falling asleep at home the prior night.)
On Sunday afternoon, I was supposed to fly from St. Louis through Chicago to Boston. American Airlines, to their credit, told me that they were expecting severe weather in Chicago, and that many flights would most likely be delayed or canceled. They offered to put me on a direct flight from St. Louis to Boston for free, and I accepted. (Following my harrowing experience to get from Boston to Tel Aviv, and then Tel Aviv to St. Louis, I would have appreciated a first-class upgrade, but I guess beggers can’t be choosers.) However, the new flight would not leave for an additional three hours, so I spent this final delay commiserating with other travelers in an airport bar.
All in all, here is what I had to pay for airline incompetence in addition to the prior money I had spent on the vacation:
- Money: $530 for an airline change fee, hotel room, and breakfast
- Time: Roughly 25 hours
- Physical stress and mental anguish: Priceless
Apparently I’m not the only one who is noticing that something is amiss. In addition to BusinessWeek, the Economist recently detailed the problems with the airline industry and the hell that is Heathrow Airport as well. (Why do passengers who are connecting through London need to go through security again? And why do we need to take our shoes off in American airports when it is not necessary at Ben-Gurion Airport, one of the most secure facilities in the world?)
The Economist’s solution is here, and it seems reasonable. I just hope El Al and American Airlines will reimburse me in the meantime.
Addendum: It may only get worse.