Lifestyle

Airlines are now the bane of leisure travel

There once was a time when people would look forward to an airline flight as a fun and exciting adventure.

Those days are definitely gone for most people. Instead, the airlines have become the bane of leisure travel. We regularly deal with vacationers who have had their much anticipated vacation disrupted by canceled, delayed or significantly overbooked flights, rude flight attendants and ticket counter personnel, lost luggage and a host of other problems.

To be certain, some of the problems can be attributed to weather and the influence of some of the dubious security measures that have been put into place. However, the majority of the problems are a direct result of what I believe are the most poorly led, poorly managed and unresponsive corporations in America — the airlines. Air travel has become such a critical part of our society that the airlines can get away with consistently providing poor customer service because customers don’t have a lot of choices for long trips in a short time period and are forced to fly.

While I am confident that there is still a large number of hard working, dedicated, service-oriented airline employees out there, it seems they are harder and harder to find.

Last week’s cancellation of 1,000 flights followed by this week’s cancellation of 700 flights by Northwest Airlines negatively impacted thousands of passengers. Each week there is a new excuse Northwest offers up for its poor performance.

Northwest on-time arrival rate is only 58.7 percent. I refuse to fly Northwest anymore because of poor service and the fact that if I want an aisle seat or an exit row, I have to pay a $15 premium seat charge. When passengers refuse to accept those terms, maybe something will change. I am totally confident that if any airline decides to install pay toilets on its planes, it will be Northwest.

Many people attribute the problems the airlines face to the events of 9/11. I disagree. The airline industry was in deep trouble before 9/11 ever occurred and 9/11 just magnified and complicated the airlines’ problems.

Which are the worst airlines in the US? Answer: Most of them. Government reports on flight delays and lost luggage prove the problems continue to escalate. Complaints to the Department of Transportation regarding airline service have shot up 76.7 percent from last year. The overall performance of airlines has declined for the third year in a row as measured by DOT complaints. This amounts to nothing less than a customer service debacle.

• Over 25 percent of flights arrived late last year. The number of flights canceled in the first 15 days of June jumped 91 percent compared with the same period last year. The number of flights delayed jumped 61 percent. According to the FAA, over 44,000 flights were delayed in July alone.

• The industry’s rate of involuntary denied boarding worsened with more people being bumped than ever before. I was recently bumped three times on a flight from Las Vegas to Seattle because every flight had been seriously overbooked.

• The industry lost over a million bags last year, according to the Department of Transportation. A record 32.3 percent increase in lost baggage reports were filed last year.

Here are a few tips for minimizing flight delays:

• Fly early in the day since storms often ruin afternoons and delays build up as a day wears on.

• Avoid tight connections because schedules are so undependable.

• Give yourself an extra day to fly if you can and don’t cut it close for weddings or cruises.

• Carry food onboard with you, since delays could be longer than expected.

• Use technology to get alerts from the airlines.

• Be aware of Rule 240.

What does an airline owe you if you’re delayed? The short answer: Nothing. However, if you do luck into a reservation elsewhere, ask your original carrier to endorse your ticket to your new airline at the same fare. If necessary, you may remind the agent of Rule 240. This regulation, dating from the days when the federal government controlled the airlines, required that carriers put you on the next flight out — on a competitor and in an upgraded class, if necessary — in the event of a canceled flight or a prolonged delay.

It has now been integrated, in various ways, into carriers’ contracts of carriage. So while airlines typically prefer not to lose the revenue from your ticket to a competitor, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

If you’re traveling on an e-ticket, you will usually have to get a paper ticket from your original airline before you can go to another carrier and ask to be rerouted. Not as easy as it used to be now that the airlines charge an extra fee to issue paper tickets.

Rule 240 applies only to delays and cancellations that result from mechanical problems or other situations that are entirely within the airline’s control, not those caused by weather, labor disputes, international crises or the like.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way. E-mail jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.

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