Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How can I fly the friendly skies if I can't get off the ground?

(Note: I wrote the bulk of this account yesterday but could not post it thanks to absence of functioning WiFi service at Newark International Airport.) 

United Airlines' customer-service queue at Newark was short by American corporate standards in this post-customer-service era, so it took just twenty-five minutes for me to get a new boarding pass, this one with my name on it rather than that of a mysterious Mr. Peterson, as on the first pass United had given me. I then got to the gate, only to find — naturally — that my 4:05 flight was now scheduled to depart at 5:20.  I was also surprised to see and hear a gate attendant take the microphone and page the flight crew, asking it to report to Gate 114. Could the crew not find its way to work otherwise?

My day at work was already shot, so I thought I'd log on to my computer and type the blog post you're reading now. It's a good thing no WiFi was available, because on my way back from the spot where a restaurant worker had told me I might find a connection (Yes, a restaurant worker. If Newark's airport has an information counter, it's invisible to passengers or available only to Gold Class Preferred Chairman's Club Plus members. Think I'm kidding? The counter where I waited to have a correct boarding pass printed had a priority-access line. That's right: Pay extra, and you can shove ahead and get United to remedy its fuck-ups before the coach-class saps who got there first do.)

But I digress. I had started to say it was good no WiFi was available because on my way back to the gate, I saw that my flight had not been delayed after all. And the crew apparently showed up because a boarding announcement has just been made.

Airy logic: Pay extra
to check your bag free
Some final thoughts: In Montreal, I sat down and linked to the Internet with the airport's free, efficient WiFi network. My fellow passengers wheeled their luggage on the airport's free luggage carts (which, by the way, always seemed to be lined up neatly at their stands when not in use).

Free luggage carts at a government-run facility? Free WiFi? Waste in government? I call it customer service.  Sure, you'll pay ten dollars for a five-dollar sandwich at Montreal's airport instead of the $8.75 you might pay in the U.S., but the tax dollars go for the exotic purpose of providing service. Maybe if we called it "enhancing the flying experience," someone in the U.S. would get interested.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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16 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

People who complain about American airports and airplanes--I was one of those until a swore off ever flying again--ought to try some of the European and Asian airports, which I did a few years ago--hence, I swore off ever flying again!

If I need an airport to get someplace, I do not go to that place. I guess that makes me insensitive to the plight of the modern traveler. But, hey, hang in there!

March 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your attitude is eminently sensible. I have said that when someone builds a rail bridge over the Atlantic or a tunnel under it, I will be one of the first passengers . I'm off to England for a crime-fiction event this spring, but I will fly into Bristol, site of the convention, in order to avoid Heathrow and Gatwick.

March 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Sensible (thank you!), yes, but eminently? Indeed! :)

March 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not enough of a world traveler to generalize about airports, but I've exerpienced both frustration at and surprisingly smooth passage through airports outside the U.S.

Still, commercial passenger air travel, especially since 9/11, has been aptly likened to transportation by prison ship, and I'll go by train or even bus instead at the drop of a hat, Unfortunately, I lack the time to take cruise ships and the money to rent a private jet for overseas travel, so I suffer the crowding, gouging, and discomfort of flying commercial.

If commercial airlines shove passengers into closet-size seats and feed them almost nothing, why don't they just stack them up and put them in suspended animation?

March 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Of course, they'd probably charge extra for the service.

March 13, 2013  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Free luggage carts at a government-run facility? Free WiFi? Waste in government? I call it customer service."

Amen! Peter, you know where I stand on the political spectrum and these services are among what government should make available. Now, let's have a chinwag sometime about what the US government does waste money on and why there are state-driven reasons why US airports do not offer these services...

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One commonplace that makes sense to me is that people wouldn't mind paying more for X, Y, or Z as long as they got good service or were satisfied that they were otherwise getting food value for their money.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Problems with service arise in places like airports because those places are nearly monopolies. After all, if you want to fly into Iceland, for example, you have no choice about which airport is your destination. On the other, for contrast, if you want to stay in a hotel in Iceland, for example, you have options. Therein lies the rub: the businesses and services that must compete for your $$$ tend to be more sensitive to your needs and desires; virtual monopolies, though, with government services and airports leading the list, do not particularly care about being sensitive. If only market forces were at work in government agencies (and airports), then life would be better for everyone. Of course, Marxists and their kindred spirits hate that notion. This ends my mini-rant for the day.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure that's the entire solution. Shouldn't service have improved, then, at least in the air, with the deregulation of U.S. airlines (by a Democratic president, yet)? And I don't know if British passenger rail service has improved since that monopoly was broken up.

I'm not sure public services are entirely compatible with a for-profit business model. I don't know the history of New York's subway system, for instance, but I'd be curious as to why the city took over the BMT, IND and IRT when they did. Could it be a matter of private companies having made what they could and then, when profits threatened to go down, getting out of the business?

Back when it became part of common discourse in America to say that governments should be run like a business, a commentator pointed out a flaw in that model (and I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this here before): companies can and arguably should eliminate unprofitable product lines and divisions. But a government that stopped spending money on unprofitable citizens would not be doing its job.

March 18, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unprofitable citizens" is an intriguing concept. I am reminded of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Spencer's solutions for the Irish "problem" when a concept like that comes up in discourse. However, without getting too carried away here, I could argue briefly that the government ought not be encumbered by "unprofitable citizens," but I do not know the appropriate solution. Yes, Swift and Spencer had some provocative ideas (Swift in satire, and Spencer in deadly earnest), but perhaps their solutions have germs of common sense within them. Yes, that sounds a bit like social Darwinism mixed in with some less pleasant attitudes, but I do get weary of the government being responsible for "unprofitable citizens." And, yes, I have already said too much on this combustible subject.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Combustible and unprofitable.

"Unprofitable citizens" was my attempt to capture the original commentator's ascerbic tone. Whereas a business may owe it to shareholders, say, to cut loose unprofitable operations, a government cannot operate on such principles. Hence, there is a limit to which government can and ought to act like a bueinss.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By the way, by "unprofitable citizens," I mean postal customers in Alaska, not welfare or entitlement programs. Perhaps a UPS or a FedEx might rightly charge me more to send a letter to Anchorage than to Manhattan, but I'm uneasy about the U.S. Postal Service doing so.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Then you like I have been spoiled by the USPS and their one price fits all business plan.

As for welfare folks being unprofitable, I believe I would be consumed by spontaneous combustion (like a character in Dickens' Bleak House) if I were to rant and rave about that issue. So, being cautious, I step away from that one, although the between-the-lines implications probably already damn me to oblivion in a heap of ashes.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Don't combust on my account; I have little or nothing to say on the subject. All I'll say in re one-price-fits-all is that I don't know where to draw the line between such a model on the one hand and a business-like model, under which every person and subdivision of the U.S. ought to pay its own share precisely equal to what it receives.

Should all states receive no more federal dollars than they spend, for example? Watch what hell breaks looks if anyone suggested that.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

You say, not offering it as a proposal, that "every person and subdivision of the U.S. ought to pay its own share precisely equal to what it receives."

You know, that is an intriguing model. I could work in a utopian society. Equity and load-sharing seem like wonderful ideals. Thomas More would be most pleased.

March 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not quite from each according to his own ability, to each according to his need, is it?

March 18, 2013  

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