This post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?
But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.
In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.
According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.
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When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:
“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”
Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”
O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.
In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.
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But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”
He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”
Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.
Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?
– written by Dori Saltzman
So many of us spend our lives connected via the Internet. We earn our wages and pay our bills online. With whatever money is left, we shop online. We stay connected to family and friends. We read our news, our books and magazines on electronic devices. We share photos, ideas and snarky comics via social media.
You’d think travel would be the one time we go off the grid, but it’s usually not possible. Travel is often work-related, requiring the posting of content and the reading of emails. We may leave family behind who we have to check in on while we’re away. And a few of us — not naming any names — are addicted to electronics. We panic when there’s no Wi-Fi available. And we don’t like to pay for it.
Yes, Virgin America offered free in-flight Wi-Fi last holiday season, and perhaps will again. And there have been a few promotions where Wi-Fi was offered free or discounted, but for the most part, we pay. When Internet service is provided by Gogo, as with AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, United and Virgin America, it costs $4.94 to $19.95 for mobile devices (smartphones, tables and e-readers) and $11 to $49 for computer devices (laptops and netbooks). JetBlue and Southwest each have their own Internet service. Southwest’s is not yet widely available, but its free portal contains content such as a flight tracker, shopping and games, all at no charge. Internet access beyond that is $5 all day, per device.
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Paying for Wi-Fi annoys us , even if it’s only $5. We have hotspot entitlement syndrome. And we’re not alone. When we asked on Facebook if you’d use Wi-Fi if it was offered in air for free, few of you would take a pass.
Hilary Huffman Sommer said, “I would definitely use it, especially when traveling for work or when work intrudes on my leisure travel.”
Gregory Ellis also would log on to work. “Nothing else to do while in those busses with wings,” he wrote.
“Absolutely,” wrote Michele Cherry. She admitted to the amount of time she can kill on Facebook and that she can’t sleep on airplanes. And she already pays for Wi-Fi on international flights or longer domestic ones.
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Ofelia Gutierrez and Marcia Cloutier also already pay for Wi-Fi, so getting it for free would be a bonus.
“Beats listening to my husband snore,” Vicki Hannah Gelfo explained.
Not everyone is leaping at that free bandwidth. Saadia Shafati Shamsie would prefer airlines not offer free Wi-Fi; she’d be too tempted.
And Deb Crosby won’t give up her sleep and reading time while flying.
One more naysayer to continued connectivity is Lavida Rei. “I would prefer if everyone stayed off the grid and off my nerves while in flight,” she wrote.
We’ll take that under advisement, Lavida, and we’ll tap lightly when answering that e-mail.
– written by Jodi Thompson
As soon as the 24-hour check-in window opened, I pounced on seat 10A, a $37 exit row upgrade with enough legroom to do calisthenics in.
There are 93 Airbus A319-100′s in the US Airways fleet, according to IndependentTraveler.com’s sister company Seat Guru. To make room for the left and right exits in row nine, the window seats (9A and F) were never slotted in. For the occupants of 10A and F, that bit of safety-inspired good fortune meant that our 2.5-hour flight from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, to Philadelphia offered 62 inches of seat pitch (the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind). That’s the kind of space you could comfortably tie your shoe in without fear of head injury — the kind of space you could disappear in. You can’t disappear in first class, where the pitch is a meager 38 inches.
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An hour in, I gifted my spot to my sleepy travel companion. She vanished, and reappeared looking refreshed when we touched down.
The one drawback is that the tray is in the armrest — so you can’t move the armrest up and expand the width by a centimeter, no small measure in a world defined by tiny bags of pretzels, coffin-sized bathrooms and implied demilitarized zones between strangers.
Certainly no flier is pleased with the so-called deconstruction of airfares, those added fees for a checked bag or a smile from the flight attendant. But this was $37 — waived for certain frequent flier achievers — well spent.
– written by Dan Askin
Maybe you’re having a disastrous day at the airport, trying unsuccessfully to get rebooked after a canceled flight. Or you’re sitting at home on hold with an airline’s customer service department, listening to hour two of Elevator Music’s Greatest Hits. In growing frustration, you may be tempted to take your complaint to social media — but when you pull up your airline’s Twitter page, you encounter something like this:
“@jetblue doesn’t respond to formal complaints on Twitter. For official customer concerns go to jetblue.com/speakup or call 1-800-jetblue.”
“Have a complaint/compliment to share with us? Go to usairways.com/feedback so we can followup [sic] directly. We aren’t able to provide a proper response on Twitter.”
“Tweeting is short and sweet, but sometimes you need more than 140 characters to get an issue resolved. If you require a specific response: For post-travel issues related to travel [on] a United Airlines operated flight, please contact Customer Care at http://united.com/feedback.”
Why are the airlines on social media if they’re just going to shut down the conversation? Can they really do that?
Turns out that they can’t — and despite what their profiles say, they don’t even try. Even though JetBlue claims not to respond to complaints on Twitter, a quick scan of its Twitter page reveals responses to a delayed traveler (“We hear your frustration. What flight are you on so we can provide the most up to date information?”), a person having problems with the airline’s Web site (“You can either try using a different browser or give our Getaways department a call at 1-800-JETBLUE and they can help!”) and a passenger whose TV didn’t work in flight (“Sorry to hear – per our Customer Bill of Rights, you’re entitled to a $15 credit for the inconvenience”) — all within the past 13 hours.
Make Your Travel Complaint Count
US Airways, meanwhile, tweeted this morning that it would rebook a delayed passenger, and asked other travelers having problems to DM (direct message) their confirmation codes so that the carrier’s Twitter team could look into the problem. United Airlines answered traveler questions and offered the appropriate customer service phone numbers and Web sites to Twitter followers who needed more in-depth assistance.
It’s clear that despite the airlines’ efforts to discourage passengers from speaking out on Twitter, people are doing it anyway — and the airlines are responding, often within minutes. Really, it makes sense; a tweet that goes viral can turn into a public relations nightmare, so it’s in the airlines’ best interest to resolve issues on Twitter as quickly and effectively as possible.
So the next time you’re fed up with a flight, consider the power you have in those simple 140 characters.
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Follow IndependentTraveler.com on Twitter!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
A few weeks ago, problems with the hydraulic system forced a JetBlue flight into an emergency landing at Las Vegas‘ McCarran Airport. As the stricken plane careened into sharp turns and lurched from one side to the other, passengers became sickened and many began vomiting. This went on for several hours, as the plane had to burn off enough fuel to land safely.
Have you ever been on a plane that lurched or dipped or swerved? Have you ever thrown up on a plane?
I have. In fact, my strongest airplane memories involve bad experiences. Like when I was 13 and the plane I was on, flying from San Diego to New York, was hit by lightning. I saw the lightning strike the wing and I felt the plane lurch downwards. I started to cry because I thought the plane would catch on fire — I mean, that’s what happens in movies.
A nice older man a row in front of me turned around to calm me down. The planes are grounded, he said, so nothing bad can happen. (I found out later that this isn’t exactly the case; airplanes are protected from lightning because their exteriors are made of aluminum, which conducts the electricity out into the air, protecting what’s inside. But my fellow passenger’s words were comforting at the time!)
Fear of Flying
Another bad experience that stands out was flying in a puddle jumper from Punta Arenas in Chile to Isla Navarino, a small Chilean island located between Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. The flight passes over the Strait of Magellan and several channels including the Beagle Channel. For reasons I’m sure a meteorologist could explain, the wind currents in that area are pretty rough.
I won’t go into details, but let’s just say the hot dogs I’d eaten prior to the flight had to be washed off of my sweater later that afternoon. It was one of the most mortifying experiences of my life.
Airplane Horror Stories
But perhaps the worst flight experience I’ve ever had was also one of only two times in my life I actually thought I might die. It was a flight from Atlanta to New York’s JFK airport. Though the weather was clear when we took off, by the time we’d gotten to Maryland the New York area was experiencing heavy storms. At first they put us into a holding pattern, but then we began to run low on fuel.
Only one runway was open in the New York area and we were told it would take too long to change our approach to reach it. So we were diverted to Stewart Airport, a smaller airport in the Hudson Valley area of New York. Why that was deemed closer I don’t know, but to get there it felt as though we had to fly right through a doozy of a storm. That plane shook and rattled and bumped so violently I honestly thought it was going to crack apart. Overhead bins opened and bags fell out. Dozens of people threw up as the flight attendants passed handfuls of air sickness bags around the cabin. Landing that dark evening in an airport hours away from my original destination was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
What has been your scariest flying moment — or your most embarrassing?
– written by Dori Saltzman
USA Today ran an article yesterday about changes being made at Dallas’ Love Field airport to bring it closer to offering what the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calls “the checkpoint of the future.” The changes include the installation of 500 hi-def security cameras capable of tracking passenger movements from the parking garages to the gates and even onto the tarmac.
As part of the system, which is intended to allow passengers to move virtually non-stop from curb to gate, fliers would be identified by biometric measures (either iris or fingerprint scanning) and would pass through screening tunnels (a la the film “Total Recall”) where they’d undergo electronic scans capable of detecting metal objects, explosives, liquids and more.
The object of such a futuristic checkpoint is to be faster, less intrusive and easier to get through.
Now, I like the idea of getting through security faster. Taking off my shoes and taking my laptop out of its cover are annoying, especially when hundreds of people are doing the same.
According to the USA Today article, the FAA projects that the number of people flying in the U.S. will nearly double over the next 20 years to 1.2 billion. That’s a whole lotta time spent taking off shoes and belts, checking through pockets for change and finding out at the last minute that no, ma’am, you can’t bring that bottle of water through security with you.
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Here’s another telling statistic from the article — before September 11, 2011, 350 people passed through checkpoints each hour. A November 2012 survey of 142 airports found that on average only 149 people now make it through each hour.
But the question is: How much am I willing to give up to get through security faster?
Do I really want hundreds of Big Brother-style cameras tracking my every step from the moment I get out of my car? Do I want my fingerprints or iris pattern in a computer record? I’m not really sure I do.
What do you think?
– written by Dori Saltzman
When Delta first began charging for a second checked bag internationally about four years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never fly them again. My husband is European and every time we go over we bring loads of stuff with us. Eventually we simply got used to the $50 fee. But then it went up to $75 and that was it for us — no more second checked bag. And then it went up again!
Unfortunately, the airline is no longer alone in charging a truly hefty fee for that second bag. United just announced that it too is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $75 to $100 for international flights.
Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
I can’t help but wonder why the airlines are doing this. Do they really hope to make more money from folks who either don’t know how to trim their luggage down or are visiting relatives and therefore expected to lug over boatloads of gifts?
Or maybe they’re aiming for the point of no return at which most fliers will simply throw up their hands and say no more. Are too many second checked bags weighing the airlines down?
Some say this is what Spirit was aiming for when it recently began charging folks up to $100 for putting carry-on bags in the overhead bin. Cranky Flier, for one, said the airlines are penalizing passenger behavior they want to discourage. In Spirit’s case they’re hoping to cut down the number of people who wait until they’re at the gate to inform the airline they’ll be using overhead bin space.
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With fuel prices what they are and airlines trying to save every penny, perhaps it’s in their interest to cut down on the number of second checked bags. And for those who aren’t getting the message — or don’t care — I guess the $100 fee covers the extra fuel.
What do you think? Would you pay $100 for a second checked bag?
– written by Dori Saltzman
It can be tough to escape the drudgery of an airport layover, especially for seasoned travelers who’ve seen and done nearly everything imaginable. Sure, you can hop a train or take a taxi to the city center for a little sightseeing (time permitting, of course). But honestly, sometimes that’s just too much effort after an eight-hour flight. Do we really have to resign ourselves to spending hours in a rock-hard chair listening to the same songs on our iPods over and over again?
Virgin Atlantic doesn’t think so. The airline, which is known for its less than traditional approach to flight service, recently installed an industry-standard recording studio in its Clubhouse lounge (open to Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members) at London Heathrow. Musically inclined passengers can record, edit and mix a tune before e-mailing or uploading it to record companies, broadcasters, producers, etc., all while waiting for a flight.
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After hearing about this out-of-the-box service, we couldn’t help daydreaming about other swanky amenities that could make an hours-long layover more pleasurable than painful. As we noted in Best Airports for Layovers, there are already some pretty neat options out there.
At Hong Kong’s International Airport, for example, passengers can step outside to play a few rounds of golf at the USGA-approved nine-hole Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course. Travelers at Singapore’s Changi International Airport can also soak up some vitamin D before boarding as they stroll the airport’s five themed botanical gardens, which are home to a variety of flora as well as more than 1,000 live butterflies. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, travelers can brush up on Dutch culture at the Airport Library, which features about 1,250 books, including Dutch fiction that has been translated into 30 languages. And in Zurich, the airport rents bicycles, inline skates and Nordic walking poles so passengers can explore the surrounding areas while they wait.
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With airports like these setting a precedent for innovation, we can’t help but hope that one day they’ll all be the standard rather than the exception. And while they’re working on it, maybe they could think about featuring dine-in movie theaters, bowling alleys, cooking classes and or even roller coasters.
Which amenities would you add to our airport wish list?
– written by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson
Say it ain’t so, Virgin Atlantic.
Comes word this morning that Virgin Atlantic has become the first British airline to allow in-flight cell phone calls. The AeroMobile service — which debuted Tuesday on Virgin’s New York to London service — is available on the airline’s A330-300′s to fliers who get their phone service through O2, Vodaphone and T-Mobile.
According to ABC News, the airline said this likely annoyance is “intended for use in exceptional situations, when passengers need to send a [text], make a quick call or access an e-mail on a Blackberry.” Due to bandwidth issues, only six passengers can use their phones at one time, though it’s unclear who or what will regulate who the lucky six are.
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The airline isn’t charging extra for the service, though the Associated Press notes that callers will be subjected to the usual jaw-dropping roaming rates. Virgin joins a tiny minority of carriers that allow cell phone usage, including Dubai-based Emirates (the first carrier to break the barrier in 2008), Oman Air and Royal Jordanian. (The service is not yet available on any U.S. airlines, as the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow cell phones to be used in flight unless they’re in “airplane mode,” which allows fliers to play games but not make calls or send texts.)
I know what you’re thinking, so let’s let George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, say what’s on your mind. As he told ABC: “The airline cabin is the last refuge for those who wish to be out of earshot of someone yelling into a mobile phone, so I imagine that many passengers are not going to welcome this. I can just imagine sitting next to someone gabbing about nothing at the top of his or her lungs for hours on end. I predict a number of mobile phones will be snatched out of hands and stomped on. Just what we need, with all the other in-flight hostilities that passengers deal with.”
Amen, George. Using phones on takeoff and landing will remain off-limits (and we’ve all seen those who’ve flouted those rules — we’re talking about you, Alec Baldwin), but once you turn on those electronic devices … watch out. I’ve got a bad feeling that this won’t be the last airline to allow in-flight calls, so it’s not hard to imagine a blabby future where passengers from every angle are catching up with family and friends at 32,000 feet.
What do you think? Is allowing in-flight cell phone usage a godsend or an unimaginable evil?
– written by John Deiner
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.
The idea has been discussed for years by travelers who’ve spent one too many flights listening to wailing children or enduring the pitter patter of little feet slamming into their seatbacks — and now it’s going to become a reality. Malaysia Airlines will institute a child-free section on its flights between London and Kuala Lumpur, starting in July.
CNN reports that families with kids under 12 will automatically be assigned to the family-friendly lower deck of economy class aboard the airline’s A380 planes, while the 70-seat upper deck will remain kid-free (unless there are so many families that the lower deck fills up). The lower deck seats 350 passengers.
This move follows the airline’s decision last year to bar infants from first class on its 747-400 routes.
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Many parents will likely be upset by Malaysia Airlines’ policies, but I actually think the carrier has found a solid compromise. The double-decker planes allow families to have access to the larger main cabin, while those of us who’d rather travel with grown-ups only have a little nook of our own — a quiet car, if you will. (Of course, there’s no guarantee that adults on a flight will actually behave like grown-ups!)
Whether Malaysia Airlines will be copied by other carriers remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt that the idea will gain mainstream acceptance. As an Air Transport Association spokesman explains in The Hue and Cry Over Babies Onboard, “This is an industry that’s working very hard to return to profitability. No way is any airline going to discourage someone from taking one flight over another. I just can’t see that happening.”
– written by Sarah Schlichter