Monday, 4 August 2008

There's No Place Like Home

It seems quite obvious to me that more and more, the airline industry is doing everything it can to commit Hare Kare!! I mean, this is a business that is totally reliant on the whims and habits of an increasingly fickle populous. If the economy is good, then people travel. If the economy is tanking, then so are the airlines. Every blip in the public consciousness has an effect on the habits of the flying citizenry! So, at a time when gas prices are at record highs, people are suffering the ill effects of sluggish markets, and public dissatisfaction with big business is at it's apex, what does the airline industry do? They make flying and travel even more challenging, more frustrating and more expensive than ever before.

Anybody who has traveled via air recently can quote chapter and verse the restrictive new fees and regulations that have been imposed. Passengers are being "nickel and dimed" into submission. Extras, that used to be inclusive are the norm. It is now commonplace to pay service fees for a first checked bag, let alone a second. Beverage service is now on the pay menu. Inflight movies, newscasts and audio casts now ask for a credit card number. Baggage is weighed to the exact 1/10 of a pound and heaven forbid that your suitcase is .01 pound over the limit else you are subjected to a $50.00 fee. The third bag (OMG!!!! A THIRD BAG????) is anywhere between $75.00-$150.00! This includes musical instruments and on occasion, depending on the airline, sporting equipment like golf clubs and skis!! We are told that these "extras" are needed in order to offset the high price of fuel and believe me, I might buy into that logic if only they were providing at least a modicum of customer service to go along with the increase in costs. Try talking to a flesh and blood person at an airline these days. (At Air Canada it costs $30.00 just to speak with a real person!) If you manage to make it through all of the various menus, touch tones and mind-numbing muzak, the tired, overworked schnook on the other end can barely be bothered to tell you if the flight that you are inquiring about is on time. God forbid you should be asking about you misplaced luggage. Last week, there was a nightmare of a snafu at New York's Kennedy International involving American Airlines computerized baggage service. Luggage that was to be flown to destinations all over the world, was grounded for two days in the Big Apple!! My parental units, who were on their way to Turkey had to wait three days in Ankara for their luggage to find them. It is bad enough to be crammed in like sardines with barely enough to eat on a TransAtlantic flight to satisfy a gnat, but to be stuck in 35 degree celsius heat in the Turkish heat wearing the same underwear for three days is inhumane!! And, then there are my XY offspring!!

My progeny were due home from their summer employment at 2:00 pm on this very afternoon. This is a trip that both of them have made many times before, and it is never without excitement. It is true that the Toronto to Indianapolis and back route is not one of the more heavily traversed in the aviation world. As a direct result of this light travel, it has become commonplace for the direct flights to be cancelled without notice. Several years ago, Older Son found himself stuck at the Indy airport for upwards of 12 hours waiting for a secondary flight after his original was dumped!! They refused to allow him to check in more than four hours in advance, so there he was, camped out alone in front of the desk with two large duffle bags and a backpack. He couldn't leave his luggage unattended to grab a sandwich or even for a potty break. When he finally dragged himself off of the plane 15 hours late, he was tired, hungry, dirty and miserable. Since that time, we have always booked the boys on connecting flights through the WIndy CIty. The logic being that at least there are numerous flights a day from O'Hare to TO!! Boy, was I wrong! God must have been pissed today. Weather fronts bringing thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes socked in Chicago all morning. Their flight from Indy to ChiTown was delayed for over three hours. At one point, they actually taxied away from the gate, only to be turned back by the weather. Knowing that their connection was in jeopardy, the husband and I got online to check out the options. Well, lo and behold we discovered that their flight to Toronto was not merely delayed, but cancelled outright!! The husband immediately got on the phone to American and after traversing thorough the various menus, touch tones and mind-numbing muzak, finally got to speak to an overworked and very tired schnook!! It seems that for reasons other than just weather, known only to the high-minded thinkers at American, many of the afternoon flights were cancelled. The progeny were rebooked on a flight for Tuesday morning. Would American put them up for the night? Of course not, but there is a hotel in the airport for the low low price of $400.00 a night. The boys chose to take their chances with standby and had hopes of talking their way onto one of the three remaining Toronto bound flights. It is a good thing that they are experienced travelers and at the very least, know how to handle themselves in situations like this one. Younger son, always the more tightly wound of the two, handled it like a pro--he whined!! Older son, handled his younger brother with all of the tact and grace of a cactus!! I have nothing but compassion for both of them. I know that I would be whining and screaming with a healthy dose of tears for good measure. And what is the airline doing about all of this mess? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!! Their only obligation is to get them on a flight within 24 hours and that is what they have done. The rest is up to the passengers. No wonder less and less people are flying and more and more people are staying home.

The progeny are definitely spending the night in Chicago!! The husband was able to rebook a hotel room in the airport. That is the good news. The bad--it is costing an extra $60.00 from the price quoted this afternoon. With meals and lodging, the boys are spending a good percentage of what they earned this summer. It is a good thing that their parents love and miss them a great deal! Our reunion is put off for about 12 hours!! Until then.

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