Is This Why Some People Hate Travel?

While I only travel about half as much as Ben, my ~250k miles a year is still on the high side for people in this hobby, much less the average person. So when I’m chatting with “normal people” I try to keep the conversation far away from travel topics.

When it does come up, the response is near-universal:

“I don’t understand how you can travel so much. I find it so exhausting.”

Which is tough, because I don’t find it exhausting. I probably go to the airport as often as they go to Costco, and it’s infinitely less stressful for me to navigate a foreign metro system than it is to spend even five minutes in a mall parking lot.

And let’s be honest — part of what makes my experience so stress-free is that I rarely have to interact with many airline or airport employees:

  • I use mobile boarding passes whenever possible
  • I don’t check a bag
  • I know which of my shoes (and bras — sorry guys, but it’s a thing) can be worn through TSA without sounding the alarm, so PreCheck is a breeze
  • I go directly to the lounge, avoiding most terminal unpleasantness
  • I know the rules, and can make most changes myself, or by making specific requests of lounge and phone agents
  • I don’t typically need anything from gate agents, and spend a limited amount of time in the boarding area

Flight attendants are generally decently nice people once you smile at them and convey some understanding of their life, and while they can certainly make an experience, bad service onboard doesn’t really ruin your travel day in the same way failures at the other touch points can.

So I generally have a pretty easy time of it, and I’m aware of it, but I still haven’t really understood why some people find the idea of flying as much as I do so revolting.

Well. My experiences flying American to and from Las Vegas this weekend cleared that right up.

Checking bags in San Diego

On my outbound flight from San Diego the priority desk was completely unstaffed, while the number of people waiting to use the kiosks stretched all the way outside and onto the skybridge.

Airport-Queue

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this in San Diego, and it’s generally not a problem for me, but this time I was checking a bag (I’d brought a suitcase full of amenity kits to give away during my sessions at Frequent Traveler University).

I had my husband in tow, and he likes to get to the airport yesterday, so we had plenty of time, but the process of queuing for the kiosk, working through the prompts (no, I don’t want to buy miles, no, I don’t want to change my seat, no I’m not traveling with an infant, for the love just let me give you my bag!!!), queuing again to drop off the bag, and having an agent check my ID took nearly 20 minutes.

Rolling Delays

As we entered the PreCheck line, my phone buzzed to let me know our flight was delayed 30 minutes. Not a problem for me — I had a long connection, and a lounge to work from — though it meant my husband would be dealing with more LA traffic than anticipated. And the San Diego airport doesn’t have amazing retail (though they’re trying), so an extra 30 minutes isn’t ideal for your average traveler.

Once we got to the Airspace Lounge though, I did a bit more research, and this is where I could see it starting to get ugly for those who aren’t “in the know.”

You see, when I checked the status of our inbound aircraft, it hadn’t left Los Angeles yet. It’s a short flight, and they can turn those E-175s pretty fast, but if the plane is still in LA, it’s probably not leaving San Diego in 55 minutes.

These little American Eagle flights often shuttle up and down the coast, so I then checked just to make sure the aircraft was actually in Los Angeles.

It wasn’t.

Supposedly we were leaving in 55 minutes, but our plane and crew were still in San Francisco, and had to stop in LA. It was going to be at least two hours.

And that’s what irks me on behalf of the less-frequent traveler. By 2PM I could tell that we wouldn’t be leaving until after 4PM (we eventually pushed back at 4:39PM), but American never posted more than 30 minutes of a delay at a time.

There’s a big difference between being 30 minutes and 90 minutes late — you could get actual food rather than something fast in the terminal, you could look at options to avoid misconnecting, etc. — but most people don’t know to check the location of the inbound aircraft, and I felt badly for the people who were relying upon American for information, and then had to sort out their missed flights upon arrival in Los Angeles.

My connection in LA was fine, the flight to Vegas was fine, but we waited nearly 45 minutes for our bags. Even then, the bags were delivered to the wrong carousel without an announcement being made or the indicator boards being changed.

Not a big deal for me, but things like that add up when you don’t travel much, you know?

Checking bags in Las Vegas

Ben has already told you about the obtusely unhelpful check-in staff in Vegas, which sets the stage nicely, though I think he was maybe too generous in his retelling. In addition to getting him added to the standby list, I again needed to check my bag, so we queued in the priority line for a few minutes before abandoning that for the kiosks.

Unlike in San Diego, the very slow kiosk process didn’t even result in a bag tag, so I had to interrupt the three American agents chatting behind the counter.

“Hi! I just need to drop my bag off please.”

“You have to use the kiosk.”

“Umm, I did — it didn’t have the option to print a tag?”

“Well, did you pay?”

Which, I may have been outrageously tired after our D-licious hotel experience, but I kept it together and did not say any of the things running through my head (like, “seriously? Not only am I an Executive Platinum, I have a half-dozen credit cards that give me free checked bags, and even if I didn’t, would it be so hard to just ask for my boarding pass or ID and look up the answer to that yourself?”).

I just smiled (always smile).

With more eye-rolling and huffing than is generally found in a room full of teenagers being asked to put their phones down and do chores, my bag was tagged through to San Diego (this will be important later).

Now a ground stop!

When air traffic control declares a ground stop for a particular airport, there isn’t much the airlines can do about it. So we sat on the tarmac in the penalty box while we waited for LAX to allow us to take off.

I had a great seat in 12F, my phone can be a hotspot, and the crew was friendly, so the ~50 minutes went quickly.

Not American’s fault, and these things do happen — frequent flyers are all too familiar with this stuff, but the people around me in economy were definitely getting antsy.

My connection in LA was only about an hour this time, and while I was anxious to get home, I also knew I’d booked the last flight of the night, so started preparing to spend the night in LA.

I also DM’d the American crew on Twitter, asked them to protect me on a flight the following day, and told them I was going to run. They wished me luck, and said they’d send a message to the gate.

We arrived at the gate 25 minutes before the departure of my next flight, so I ninja-d my way off the plane, around the corner, down the escalator, and directly onto the shuttle for the remote terminal. Thankfully I’ve made this connection a few hundred times, because there wasn’t any extra time to familiarize oneself with the terminal, or lookup departure gate info.

The bus driver radioed ahead that both I and another passenger (to Denver) were on his bus, and that we’d be arriving within three minutes.

A quick dash off the bus and through the tiny terminal, and I was at the gate 18 minutes prior to departure. The door was open, and boarding was even still in process. Success!!

But we’re not done yet!

Any frequent flier will tell you that if your upgrade has already cleared, no good comes from additional beeps at the boarding door. And the staff at the American Eagle terminal….well, they’re not the best in the system.

I slid my phone under the scanner, [at T-17], and was met with a “MRPP” noise and a red error message that filled me with dread.

“Are you going to San Diego?”

“Yes m’am!”

“What seat?”

“2F”

::lazy typing::

“Do you have ID?”

I fished my license out of my bag, and she typed some more.

“You’re not on this flight.”

Now, at this point I know what has happened — someone at American assumed I wouldn’t make my connection, and booked me elsewhere (without telling me). But I can see her screen, which shows three empty seats in First and six in Economy, and boarding wasn’t over yet, and she didn’t seem to know what was going on, so there was still a chance to fix it.

“I was booked on this flight, I have a boarding pass, and my bags are checked through. Can you please put me back on it?”

::glowering stare::

“Who gave you that boarding pass?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where did you get that boarding pass, because you’re not on this flight!”

“Umm, American’s mobile app? Like I always do as an Executive Platinum?”

(I know, I played that card, don’t judge me).

“That’s not how it works.”

“Huh?”

“This shows you’re booked on United. If you buy a ticket on United you don’t get to just decide to take an American flight. That’s not how it works.”

Let me tell you, I have never in my life been so grateful for the thousands of hours spent on the phone with incompetent agents, my retail background, and generally being raised properly. Without that, y’all would have seen me on YouTube, I’m sure.

[deep breath] [T-16] [deep breath and digging nails into palms]

“I agree, that shouldn’t be how it works. Similarly, if I buy a ticket on American, as I did in this case, and check my bags through to my final destination on American, as I did in this case, you should not just decide I’m flying another airline if I arrive at the gate and present my boarding pass more than 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure, as I did in this case.”

“You’re booked on United.”

“M’am, there is clearly some confusion here. I know you want to get your flight out on time, and I would like to be on it. Can you please call a supervisor to look at the ticket?”

She reluctantly called someone, ranted at them about how “some woman who was booked on United wants on this flight” and reminded them that she had one minute to close the flight out.

On the other end of the line, a voice agreed I was booked on United.

“I know, I see that, but she’s saying she’s an Executive Platinum and that’s not what she booked.”

More conversation ensued, punctuated with things like “So she has to buy a ticket?” and “That doesn’t make any sense.”

[T-15]

Eventually the increasingly flustered gate agent stomped over to her printer, ripped a boarding pass from the machine, and sputtered “Fine. You’re in 12C.”

And because I was tired, and cranky, and my hair smelled like an ashtray after two nights in Downtown Las Vegas without having hot water in my room, I rebutted.

“I have boarding passes for 2F?”

“I don’t know how you got those. You’re in 12C.”

I decided to sit in 2F anyway.

To punctuate the trip, upon arrival in San Diego my bag came out on the wrong carousel once again, more than 30 minutes after arrival. Sigh.

Nothing horrible, but nothing great

Ultimately, the final count for my “easy” trip was as follows:

  • Two delayed flights (totaling 2.5 hours of delays)
  • One incompetent gate agent
  • Four agents with horrible attitudes
  • Two rounds of mis-labeled luggage (and 75 minutes of waiting for it)

I’m not really complaining, and none of this really impacted my life, but it did provide a new perspective on what most people experience when flying these days.

I can totally see how if this was your one trip of the year, the delays, poor communication, and other shenanigans would have been a complete hassle, and probably soured you on air travel, even though this was still pretty tame compared to what can happen.

If this is what normal travel is like, no wonder people hate it.

What do you think? Is this better or worse than you’d expect for air travel in the U.S.?

Comments

  1. I love flying. I hate dealing with airports, which is why I’m more likely to drive for a distance of under 1,000 miles. (which probably explains why I don’t have status!)

  2. How did you track your incoming plane from LAX was running way behind? Which website or app?

  3. I fly with a minimum expectation. On the positive note, you were not stranded in a foreign country at airport closing hours and no American airline employees in sight.

  4. Nailed it. This is probably…no definitely…the best non-review post of the year here!

  5. Nice write up Tiffany, I guess you were being loyal to AA or using miles to fly them, but next time why not just take the non-stop Southwest flight from SAN-LAS , they have about 12 non-stops a day, this would have avoided all the stress.

    I love the fact that you ended up sitting in First on the return flight anyhow, though you did have the boarding pass for it, stupid airport agents.

  6. Your experience in LAX on the return is one reason why I always spend the ~45 seconds at a kiosk printing paper boarding passes….

  7. These are the types of events that can definitely make someone hate flying. These types of things happen, especially if you fly a lot.

    My most ridiculous experience was on a flight I had from PIT-ATL-GCM on Delta. My 8AM PIT-ATL flight was delayed because Delta forgot to schedule flight attendants for the flight. Delta rebooked me on US Airways and I rushed over to their gate. Upon arrival, I was told that they wont honor my ticket since it was booked 30 prior to departure. When I asked the US Airways agent to look at my ticket, she told me to go back to the Delta counter and that she “couldn’t see” because of the light shining into the terminal. (What a great excuse not to help someone)

    I ended back up on the PIT-ATL flight, missing my ATL-GCM flight because the delay. Upon arriving in Atlanta, I was rebooked ATL-MIA-GCM on American. When I checked in with the American gate agent, she said that I was not rebooked on the flight correctly by Delta.

    I finally boarded the flight from ATL-MIA. After waiting on board for an hour, the flight from ATL-MIA was cancelled due to mechanical problems.

    Needless to say, I spent the night in Atlanta and was pretty upset how I was treated by the US Airways/American employees in Pittsburgh and in Atlanta.

  8. I gotta say I love reading Tiffany`s story. Just love.

    And Tiffany, honey, that`s exactly why so many people hate flying around. Can you imagine how you would`ve delt with all this without having so many “privileged” information?

    It`s a mess out there!

  9. It is interesting, I get the same comments from family. Everyone hates travel, but if you work to make things flow smoothly through the airport, it’s fairly easy. Lounges make a world of difference, and knowing how to look up where a plane is in the air has even taken back some lounge employees in the past. I look forward to being in the air, though I can understand peoples frustrations.

  10. Question on the initial delay…. I fly UA often (platinum), and a good portion of that is on the regionals out of Ewr. At least once a month my incoming equipment is changed when there is some sort of delay. Maybe it’s a hub thing, but the crews will tell me that they were originally on a different flight… So while I can mostly anticipate the latest longer delay than I’m being told, I think the airline is sometimes guarding against the possibility they can swap out…

  11. One word: Southwest

    No way I would connect on AA (esp thru LAX) when the WN non-stop is available. Even as an EXP.

  12. Great write up.
    You live in San Diego and went SAN-LAX-LAS? Does SW not fly a short hop SAN-LAS?
    Alternatively, wouldn’t driving be faster or a bit easier even with traffic?
    Even with super duper status making this kind of trip(4 segments involving three very busy airports) without some sort of issue seems cumbersome.
    Oh well, glad you made it home and had the patience to tell such an interesting tale.

  13. I think this is spot on. You’re right on a few levels:

    1. The frequent traveler has many more points of reference than the infrequent one, and can more easily tell what is typical and what is not.

    2. Frequent travelers are better at managing their circumstances. When it begins to look like I’m in danger of misconnecting, I start looking at alternate flights, routes, availability because I think that I’m more likely to arrive at a solution if I do some of the legwork and present an alternate option from the get-go, rather than relying on someone else to work it out for me.

    I also second MG’s point above – I always print out a paper boarding pass, even when I plan on using mobile. I know this basically defeats the point, but it’s come in handy in more situations than one.

  14. In some ways traveling can be exhausting & your post explains exactly why. It’s the technical aspect of things that sometimes tend to be extremely overwhelming when some airline employees aren’t willing to do their job like they should. While we have the luxury of lounge access, first class seat & the benefits of being an Exceutive platinum, there’s no doubt that the “little things” like checking a bag, dealing with a delay & much more can add up to be a long exhausting travel day. While its part of the journey, sometimes I can’t wait to be in the air sipping on a glass of wine to ease those wounds 🙂

  15. Excellent story, nicely written, and a perfect metaphor for the grim possibilities on almost all “American” Airlines on any given day (that it was on THE American Airlines is just head shaking, predictable gravy in this case). On the sad gate agents we all recognize — we’re reaching a point where too many airline personnel have about as much credibility as convenience store clerks, and I get no pleasure from saying that.

  16. That is some loyalty to American to go through a connection at LAX in favor of the 1hr15min n/s on Southwest.

  17. This, so much. Great read, Tiffany. More articles like this, please!

    I have heard it all from family and friends – most of whom typically tell me that I’m crazy and just a travel snob. 🙂 I’ve been through enough airports on enough flights with enough delays in the world to know how valuable an airline lounge can be. I typically enjoy flying (like, I suspect, most folks reading the blog). But shenannigans like you describe are exactly why some folks who dont fly often really dont like doing it.

  18. Yes, always print a paper ticket. It’s very annoying when people try to open their app and others are waiting. (People are expressing annoyance with the new chip technology with new credit cards inserts at check-outs….. well, traveling is much worse than being at the grocery….. so, it is nice when people breeze through the gate.)
    I do like reading Tiffany posts. Please keep them coming.

  19. Great post. You’re absolutely right that most people just loathe flying, for all the reasons you identify – and more. They feel like they’re being harassed every time they fly, what with the long lines, lack of personnel to help, TSA nonsense, etc etc etc. So the airline industry comes up with all these ways for you to spend money to minimally reduce the degree of harassment (buy priority boarding! buy 3 more inches of legroom! buy a seat at the front of the plane!) and even though airlines are making tons of money off these harassment-reducers, people deeply resent them. Why should one be forced to pay to receive the bare minimum standard of decent treatment?

    So airlines are giving people the choice of extreme annoyance, or somewhat less annoyance plus a lighter wallet. Is it any wonder that people loathe the whole experience, and increasingly choose just to drive whenever they can?

  20. Always spend the extra 30 seconds to get a paper boarding pass just in case something happens that changes the data in the app. Stash it in your bag and hope you never need to pull it out, but that likely would’ve made the LAX-SAN issue much easier to rectify.

  21. My main challenge with flying as much as I would like is the trip to the airport. We are at least two hours out of ATL when you factor in parking and low to moderate traffic. Did I mention that I’m also in another state and time zone? So if my flight boards at 4pm, factor in that I automatically lose an hour, need two hours to drive there and take the parking lot shuttle, and one hour for security and getting my way to the gate (with pre check), I need to leave the house no later than noon or 12:30 at the latest. Especially if I need to check a bag for some reason. And that’s for a domestic flight. With no status except for SW companion pass, it is not an overall pleasant experience. And if I had status – would I really want to leave earlier just to sit in the lounge? Probably not.

  22. Yes, a great piece. I think you have it down pat: go with the flow but ,when push comes to shove, read the rules back at them and stand your ground ( what’s the worst thing that could happen? A night in jail for being deemed a security threat?)
    I’m amused to see some of the reality tv shows based in airports: somehow the staff come off looking like saints and the passengers like complete jerks. Judicious editing perhaps.

  23. Great post Tiffany and I like the points you make. One more point that several commenters brought up is why not do WN nonstop. I fee like this is the dirty little secret/downside of having EXP or other status, which OMAAT and other blogs conveniently avoid covering. You are forced into doing crazy things like this to maintain status when the alternative flight option is clearly superior. I’m Mosaic but only take 1-2 flights a year out of my way/less convenient because of Mosaic’s free change/cancellation benefit. Otherwise, I’m a free agent based purely on routing, timing and price.

  24. Thanks for the write up. I agree with the reasons people hate to fly. Add to all of this no lounge access, sitting like a pretzel, long line for the 2 bathrooms (and there are a lot stricter about you not getting up if the seat belt light is on), paying luggage fees, and I would hate flying too.
    Lately, I have had more interactions with unhelpful staff at the check-in counters and more unhelpful flight attendants (even when I smile a lot). I do not know why.
    An exception was the last counter staff person who spent 30 minutes patiently rebooking me when I missed my flight; she was a breath of fresh air.

  25. Great article. Been there. American Eagle is a a real joy. Have those rolling delays ( which often lead to cancellations) at JFK all the time. I enjoy traveling so much and it sometimes feels like there is an airline, airport, tsa conspiracy to suck all the fun out of it.

  26. Instead of saying: “Nothing horrible, but nothing great”…didn’t you mean “Bottom Line”?

  27. 1) I get that you’re exp on AA, but I’d never take a connection through LAX from SAN to get to LAS when there are a million WN nonstop that can get you from SAN to LAS in an hour. Just not worth it.
    2) Regardless of 1), in dealing with the agent at LAX, yo ushould have showed her your bag claim check from LAS to prove that you were on AA to SAN. And since you had checked bags anyway, you should have taken the printed boarding passes in LAS (yes, hindsight is 20/20), but she couldn’t have argued with that.

  28. QUIT CALLING IT A HOBBY!!!! makes you sound like an idiot and a, well, douche. collecting the miles/points may be the equivalent of a 2nd job (NOT a hobby), the travel isn’t a hobby. the travel is travel.

    nobody who seriously does this, and does it for any period of time, diminishes it by calling it a hobby. only a clueless blogger riding Ben’s amazing technicolour dreamcoat is lame enough to call it a hobby. and, yeah, i fly >300m miles/year and not on someone else’s dime.

    as for your article… never read it- i stopped at ‘hobby’

  29. Did the people commenting about the WN non-stops miss the fact that she traveled with her husband on the 1st segment & non of the other ones?

  30. I don’t know about not horrible. That agent in LAX would have sent me over the edge. The determined desire not to use her brain no matter what would have made it really hard for me to not be bitchy in return. And as bad as all of this is, you still used PreCheck, so avoided the entire TSA shitshow – which is a huge factor in my not enjoying air travel as much as I used to. Even now that I have PreCheck, I still don’t really enjoy the airport experience. I enjoy flight itself and traveling, but I don’t like the million crappy attitudes I have to deal with to get anywhere. And yes, mostly this is in the US, but I’ve had some “fun” border agents and airline staff in other countries too.

  31. I can relate to both, frequent flyer and “the hassle”. I am a wheelchair user (base in Europe) myself and the thing I hate the most is airline/airport stuff trying me to teach how things work and that I need a medical clearance form. I just can’t walk. Happens to me about 50 % of the time (especially on ME carriers)

    I would love to have no contact to human beings on airports but the opposite is true as a wheelchair user. Yes you cut the lines at immigration and often even at security because you have someone bringing you from point a to point b but that’s not worth the hassle I have booking flights in the first place. Often the reseat you without any reason and even lie you in the face about laws and regulations.

  32. Also love your posts Tiffany! Southwest is not a piece of cake, and I don’t have status with American, but I would always take the nonstop. But I don’t do the type of travel work you do, so realize your considerations are somewhat different from mine.

  33. Great read…did the Twitter group proactively rebook you or just someone at AA?

    Also where do you check where your plane is actually at?

    I can not remember the last time I had an American Eagle flight leave on time haha.

  34. I love to travel, but find the whole journey to get wherever to be very draining if it involves flying. I try to fly nonstop as much as possible, though, because I’ve found it minimizes a lot of the things that can go wrong on a trip (lost luggage, missed connections). Of course, that’s not always possible, but I’ve found some of my most stressful trips involved connections.

  35. Loving it. It’s posts like this that really reveal the problems so deeply rooted in this system.
    What’s funny is that on one hand there’s Silicon Valley in the background doing their top of the world techy things, and then you have these stupid systems, lack of training and absolutely no sense of hospitality. You’d wonder if some Stanford grads would’ve come up with an app that sorts out the system and trains the employees?

  36. This is why my 6 years old tells me all the time:”Dad, one day I will invent a teleport.” Me:”Tele what?” My son:”Dad, that thing that you can get on, you close your eyes and in a matter of seconds you arrive in a new place.” 🙂

  37. Just as Taylor Swift really captures the struggles of being a beautiful multi-millionaire in her mid-20s, you have truly echoed the frustration of many travelers. I don’t think I would have been as patient as you with some of these things, especially the American Eagle folks.

    As far as @abby goes, this is the closest thing I have to a hobby — I’m sorry you don’t approve. If I were in your shoes, I think I’d enjoy it even more, since the only craft I know of that can go more than 300 million miles in a year is the USS Enterprise and I’ve always wanted to try out those holodecks. 😉

  38. What’s the best/easiest way for us rubes who aren’t so in-the-know to check where our plane actually is during that kind of situation?

  39. I am only on my second year of AA status, and it is the little things status gives you that make all the difference. Even with Gold status, I get free bags, priority check-in, better seats, if not upgrades (which I have gotten over 50% of the time), etc. These little things add up to make flying really a whole different experience. If you’re EXP and have lounge access and more routine upgrades, you’re truly at a whole different level. Flying with zero status in the back of coach is miserable, even if you fly multiple times a year and are familiar with some of the tricks. Familiarity will only get you so far w/o status.

  40. @andrew one m is 1000, 2 mm is million. clearly not familiar with finance. only the uneducated, and united, use a ‘k’ to signify 1,000.

    but, yeah know, fine job showcasing your lack of intellect.

    as for Taylor Swift… wow, really grasping for an analogy, huh.

  41. Tiffany,

    Great post.

    I should know the answer to this, but sadly, I dont. What do you use to track your aircraft, Flightaware?

  42. Nice post, Tiffany. I agree with the other comment about paper – even though I like the convenience of the mobile check-in, I prefer to have a paper boarding pass and I also print out my flight itineraries, hotel/car reservations, etc. Why? When stuff happens, some people will give you the runaround with mobile device evidence – blaming stuff on the computer or whatever. Maybe it is due to the employee’s age or technophobia. I get less arguments when I can shove a piece of paper in someone’s face and they have tangible evidence that they can walk over to another employee, supervisor, etc. As a backup, I also print them to PDFs and store those on my phone. Yes, it takes a little bit more time to prepare, but if it saves me a little bit of stress/frustration when traveling, it is totally worth it.

  43. Related to the point about paper vs. mobile boarding passes — I recently went through security at LAS, and they turned me away from the precheck line, even though my mobile boarding pass clearly denoted precheck. They told me you must have a paper boarding pass to use precheck at LAS. FWIW, I have never experienced that before at LAS or elsewhere.

  44. @ B412 — AA.com will actually tell you the status of the inbound flight if you put in the flight number, it’s super convenient.

  45. @ Jason — I had all those things, it was a definite issue of “computer says no” versus not liking my mobile boarding pass.

  46. @ Mark — I don’t disagree, and I’ll happily fly WN when needed. On the outbound, my husband was going to LA, and I got to meet Ben there, so that made it fun. For the return, WN was 3x the price of AA, otherwise I probably would have done that.

  47. @ Christine — Totally relate to that. We actually moved to be closer to the airport because that was becoming such a factor.

  48. Great post Tiffany. Never had an experience as bad as that – fortunately. But have had my share of bad staff encounters. Having said that, I am usually impressed by airline staff’s ability to remain calm and collected in the face of badly behaved passengers.

  49. @ Geoff — Driving to Las Vegas isn’t bad from here, but driving back can be horrible with traffic. I’ve had it take 7+ hours. And driving is dead time for me, but I can still work on planes/in airports.

  50. @ Mark O — It wasn’t Twitter, they protected me on a flight for Monday. The AA website will show you the flight status of your incoming aircraft 🙂

  51. @ KCM — If you’re flying American, they’ll give you the incoming flight number for your aircraft. I just google it to see the status of that flight.

  52. Abby, actually yes & no on the K vs M thing.

    M is Roman for 1,000. K is a metric (Greek?) reference for 1,000. Both are generally accepted (except in finance/currency) and in addition to United using the k incorrectly, you could then also accuse the Olympics and every Track & Field governing body around the world of the same “mistake.” Certainly you’ve heard of a 10K race? The (mileage) usage you were mocking, is a perfectly acceptable use of K.

    Sorry, I’m done now.

  53. Yes. This is why most people hate travel. If you don’t have elite status it’s absolutely fucking inhumane.

  54. @ Steve — They did. They also think the problem was that I presented a mobile boarding pass though, so it’s okay. 🙂

  55. @abby:

    Just Google 1 m and see what comes up. First of all Google immediately changes your search term to 1 Million. If you then change it back to 1 M before you click on search, you get the following: million, meter, minute, and 1 to 1. No mention of thousand.

    You do, though, clearly know quite a lot about sounding “like an idiot and a, well, douche”. 😉

    Since you so obviously find both the posts and the comments here so distasteful, why not just move along to some other blog that more closely fits what you are looking for. If such a thing even exists….

  56. I have traveled allot, not as a major business traveler. I found that in the US the level of service and flight delays/cancellations are set at a standard I have not seen anywhere else in the world. My first lost baggage, canceled flight, comp. overnight stay (because of canceled flight) did not happen until I started working for HAL (Holland American Cruise Lines) and traveled extensively in the US. The hub and spoke concept is the major cause of the this disaster. Flown to Asia 7 times and Europe numerous times, never did I have a flight canceled, luggage lost, or had a major flight delay, nor did I have any nightmare tellers. That is why so many no US airlines are getting their business taken away from other airlines and why they are ranked so low. I for one would NEVER take a non direct flight into or through the US.

  57. Dude, next time just drive to Vegas 😉 5 hours flat, plus the obligatory In-N-Out stop in Barstow.

  58. Yep. This is why people hate flying. Sorry, Tiffany. Sounds like not a very pleasant experience!

  59. Can you imagine what people who have no travel skills go through when these events occur? I have 25 years of business travel experience and I get caught up in this stuff sometimes and it’s never easy to navigate. Tiffany, as a fellow San Diegan, your recent travel sounded like a nightmare I’d rather avoid, however, I did enjoy your writing. Thanks!

  60. Excellent post, Tiffany – the rolling delays is the bit I hate most. Recent AA experience JFK to LHR – delayed from 10pm to 11pm, to change plane, to 1am, 3am, 7am, finally left at 8.40am – total lack of information, useless JFK AA management and a lot of extremely angry passengers. It all could have be handled so differently if they’d just been upfront at the start.

  61. I appreciated your post! That said, can you imagine what your situation would’ve been like had you *NOT* been an Executive Platinum with AA–that is, just a regular traveler? I think acknowledging your privilege as an EXP is important because you have agents who are relatively more likely to work with you because of your status.

  62. Tiffany, I applaud your patience. I would have lost it at the eye roll as I have no problem confronting arrogant, incompetent airline employee behavior.

    Please allow me to share my experience from this past Monday. I was on my weekly run from LIT to DCA on Delta via ATL. Got into ATL with no problem. Got onto Delta flight 1838 bound for DCA. Got to the runway. Then came the dreaded “Ahhh…ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. I have some bad news…” There was a ground stop in DCA due to bad weather and we had to return to the gate. Stuck in ATL for six hours. The ground staff and flight crew were exemplary in how they handled this very stressful delay. They kept us informed, joked around with us, brought out a cart of drinks and snacks. One of the flight attendants shared photos of her Australian cattle dog. This is why I stick with Delta for all my domestic travel.

  63. This is a great post! I’ve had similar experiences. The Employees working at the airlines are so hit or miss nowadays. Some are nice and helpful while others make me really mad and frustrated. And complaining to the airline doesn’t seem to do anything. The airlines just respond with a form letter and throw some miles your way. Enjoyed reading this…it makes me feel better knowing that I am not alone in these experiences. I just wish the airlines would figure out ways to make the unfortunately circumstances more tolerable. I really hope some of their Management read this and then brainstorm on how to make things better.

  64. Tiffany, great post!!!

    I can TOTALLY relate to much of this. AA SUCKS at delays. They love to do that rolling 30 min delay and it’s a nightmare when you have half a brain and see your inbound aircraft hasn’t left but they refuse to announce or extend a delay.

    Also, I think the staff at LAS for AA just sucks. They don’t properly staff lines, and TSA is a nightmare (thank God for PreCheck).

    No problem with you pulling the ExPlat card. It was desperation time and I would have done the same thing! hard to deal with things when you have someone looking at you like you’re a complete idiot!

  65. It’s those 30-minute increment announced delays that are really infuriating. If you can get on your phone and see your plane isn’t leaving, let alone getting here, for another 2 hours, why is it the airline insists on giving out those blatantly false incremental 30-minute delay announcements? Do airlines have some sort of study showing it’s better for the customer to slowly, and painfully, remove a band-aid rather than just ripping it off all at once? (Well, I would beg to differ if so.) You’d think under-promising and over-delivering would be much better than the opposite. But we’re talking the airline industry here so all bets are off.

  66. Tiffany, this post is pure awesomeness, without a doubt the best post on here in a while (maybe the last great one was also done by you–the hotels in London one).

    As an AA flyer, I completely relate and have had pretty much every single thing you mentioned happen to me (although I don’t think I could write about them as humorously as you have).

    AA really needs to work on their communication and recovery during IRROPs. Simply inexcusable, particularly when compared to their competitors.

  67. @ abby and others,

    M does mean thousand, particularly in the business world and accounting. MM is million.

    However, calling people uneducated because they read M as million just shows how out of touch you are. I hope you don’t speak to your clients that way. And for the record, I also call the miles/points game a hobby and have the inkling that you and I (perhaps unfortunately) may work in similar industries.

  68. @Andrew: (Nice name, by the way.) I agree that M can mean thousand in some contexts (though I think “k” or “K” are far more common). However, I’ve never seen “m” mean thousand when it’s in lowercase. Perhaps that’s because I’m uneducated. 😉

    As for people being amazingly rude in comments, it seems to be a very common phenomenon across the internet. I know that if I read the comments on any news article, especially one about politics, it usually diminishes my faith in humanity and ruins my day. Thankfully it’s rarer for folks to be so vile in person, since it’s less anonymous and easier to punch people in the face. 🙂

  69. As per usual on your blog posts, this one is pure gold. I wish you had time to post every day! It could have been worse; one of your legs could have been on an AA MD80 – which is right up there with Air Wisconsin on reliability. I’m not so sure about your conclusion that flying is even more miserable for the average passenger, though. I’m blessed that my partner is Platinum for Life so I know all the “tricks” you mentioned but knowing everything that can go wrong seems to make the stress level worse for me. So many “average” flyers seem blissfully ignorant. I remember one time in Palm Springs when the crew marched off the aircraft (a f**king MD80 again) and headed to Starbucks five minutes before departure time. I sprung into action while almost everyone around me in the boarding area just sat there until the gate agent eventually made an announcement. Again, fantastic post – no wonder it’s gotten so many comments.

  70. @Andrew B. I always enjoy reading your comments (and of course, still remember your memes ;)). I agree that K or k is much more commonly used and usually use those myself. I also am saddened by how vile people appear to be online. I’m glad there are still many gracious commenters, though, including yourself. Maybe our paths will cross in-person one day.

    And, although others may not approve, I approve of your musical analogies, if not your taste. 🙂 But you know…haters gonna hate. Classy, on the other hand, never goes out of style.

  71. To the people who have said “can you imagine what it would have been like were you not an elite?”

    Yes.

    She would have flown nonstop.

  72. @STVR, Tiffany has already said the cost on AA was 1/3 the cost for a non-stop on WN. I’m pretty sure most non-elites would have taken the connection.

  73. This post is spot-on. In the past couple years, I’ve gone from a frequent traveler who didn’t know the tricks of the trade and had no status to a frequent traveler who does. And it really has made a world of difference. Especially if you’re a naturally anxious person, feeling like you’re more in control of the journey makes a world of difference.

    I think a lot of the reason people are afraid to fly is that the ground experience, before even stepping foot on the plane, is so stressful and anxiety-inducing. Gaining more control of the travel experience, doing research on how to react/who to call in given situations, etc., has completely reduced my anxiety over traveling. Now I genuinely look forward to the experience.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, Tiffany. You always do a great job, your writing is fantastic, and your perceptions about the travel industry are dead on. I’d also like to echo the Andrews above in the utility of maintaining civil discourse online, despite the liberties that anonymity provides to be asses to one another. Generally I find the comments on this website to be supportive and kind, but then sometimes comments reflect such a sense of entitlement and mean-spiritedness that one has to question the psychology of the posters. Deep breaths, everyone!

  74. Such a great post Tiffany. I had a similarly eye opening experience as to how being a frequent flyer makes the world of difference on a PHX-CUN flight that got delayed for 1.5 hrs due to a mechanical issue. All around me people were grumbling, worried their vacation was ruined – meanwhile I had DM’d AA on Twitter and had protection on the second daily PHX-CUN flight. Being knowledgeable was the difference between me panicking (like the rest of the plane full of leisure passengers) and sitting there sipping on a cocktail knowing I would make it to CUN before the end of the day.

  75. In some ways I wonder if having elite status almost works against you sometimes. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, I think we do have a slightly higher set of expectations, and that just compounds frustration. In addition, I’m guessing without your EXP status, they probably wouldn’t have someone proactively rebooking you on UA…

  76. 1. I feel sorry for the people that have to sit next to @Abby on her next flight.
    2. How did United even enter the picture? Both agents must have been looking at something that had a United reference.
    3. AA needs to start investing in it’s people if they even want to begin to turn their brand around. Marketing speak doesn’t match what many people are actually experiencing.

  77. So despite all this crap you guys have to endure flying American, you still rave about them on this blog like they’re some incredible airline?? At least, having read almost every post on this blog, it does seem like that

  78. @Dave, my guess is that there is a later UA departure after the last MQ/AA flight. I have had this happen, both with EP agents and AAngels offering to rebook on UA (esp since I fly to SF a lot).

  79. I think American Eagle needs to be declared unfit for human travel. Just one experience in recent history for me and it was an epic fail: A simple DFW-IAH run. Despite a one hour mech delay, pilots _forgot_ to fuel the plane and placed the order once everyone was boarded (maybe they discovered this during their checklist…?). When the order was placed, two fuel trucks were at the adjacent gate but quickly rolled off and one showed up at our plane 30 minutes later. I won’t fly them again.

  80. All these WN cheerleaders make me shake my head. WN is sooooooo expensive these days. Almost always 2x to 3x the price of other airlines, especially from the Chicago area.

    Why would someone be loyal to WN if they are paying out of their own pocket?

  81. @ Dave — Agreed all-around! United entered the picture because both UA and DL have later flights to SAN, but DL no longer accepts re-bookings from AA.

  82. This all sucked.
    My only question – why not use SkyCap and avoid the kiosk/bag drop fiasco? Does AA not offer those?

  83. People who are nitpicking over “you should have done this or printed that or taken this flight” are missing the point, there are always a million things anyone could have done better on a particular trip, the point here is that usually elites are shielded from most of the really unpleasant stuff, but “regular people” deal with this mess all the time and they don’t have a legion of blog commenters to tell them what to do.

  84. Entertaining though frustrating read.

    I find American is pretty bad at several things, and some of their on-the-ground people are…well, they just need improvement.

    Flew last month DCA-BOS-LAX, DCA-BOS flight was delayed and then delayed some more, and then delayed some more. In my experience AA just pushes out the time in increments of 30 minutes, on both their app. as well as at the gate. I find that the FlightBoard app. is much more accurate across all airlines – indeed in 2011 after an 8 hour delay on a DL flight out of Atlanta, FlightBoard showed it as being cancelled, and I was the one who actually told the Delta gate agent that we weren’t going anywhere. Anyway, just a tip to look into that app.

    When we got to LAX from BOS, we waited and waited and waited at the carousel for our bags to come out, and they never did. I called AA and they said that the bags were definitely scanned as arriving in LA with our flight. Finally I went over to the baggage office and found both suitcases sitting there. I have no idea how or why they got there, but a lady came by and started SCREAMING at the American baggage handlers that she had paid MONEY! for a first class ticket and NEVER! had she had service this horrible. We were on first class revenue tickets, too, but I didn’t tell anyone, or scream it at anyone either. I did ask one of the guys in the area “What has to happen so bags get routed over here?” and he said “I don’t know, I just got here…” And I said, “No, I’m not asking for specifics about any bags in particular, I’m just curious to know how bags end up here from flights that were on time,” and he repeated that he didn’t know, he just got there. Oh well. Oh, and the irony was that while we were in Australia American pushed out an update so we can “track your bags within the app!” Too late, American, too late.

    @abby: “[sic] and, yeah, I fly >300m miles/year and not on someone else’s dime.”

    No you don’t. You’re just a jealous anonymous internet liar troll.

  85. To clarify, we were flying DCA-BOS-LAX on AA, and then connecting LAX to Oz on a different carrier, which is why I referenced Australia. Because I know everyone cares.

    @abby: LIAR!

  86. In comparison, I took Japanese domestic flight recently from Osaka’s Itami airport and it was amazing, like going back in time to the 1970s. Security checkpoint was quick and easy, didn’t need to take anything out of my bag and kept my shoes on. The airport was pretty empty actually. Check-in experience was pleasant. I found finally see why people were enjoying airports, watching the planes, etc. Really nice.

  87. @Jess- Flying in Japan is a joy. People are polite, check-in and security are organized and efficient, and the Japanese know how to get on and off aircrafts. I still don’t quite know how they board/deplane a full 777 in under 15 min, but they do it.

  88. I think you’ve captured the essence of why so many people hate flying very nicely. I’d point out, though, that the IRROPS experience you encountered, while irritating, isn’t exactly “normal” for an infrequent flyer without status. Sadly, it’s usually WORSE. For starters, you probably don’t have Pre-Check, so you’re dealing with the porno-scanners and a grope after standing in line for 20 minutes to drop off a bag. You don’t have lounge access, and thanks to the wait at bag drop and security, there’s no place to sit, certainly not near a plug. You wouldn’t be sitting in an exit row or 2F, you’d be in a middle seat in the back. And you wouldn’t know how to respond to the recalcitrant gate agent at LAX, meaning you’d misconnect, and have to stay on hold or in line for an hour and a half to get rebooked, then be told by a rude agent that you aren’t entitled to any compensation because it’s weather-related. Of course, 80% of the time, it’s not like that – but if you fly once a year and draw the short straw with that disaster, yeah, I can understand why you’d hate flying!

  89. I’m pretty sure that “abby” = D. Trump.
    There cannot possibly be two such ugly, ignorant people in the English speaking world.
    (@abby, just FYI, a hobby is anything one does for pleasure for which one is not paid, and “k” is the widely accepted sign for “thousand.”)

  90. Great post. I really liked the comparison of the foreign metro system and the mall parking lot. I think as long as you don’t have to deal with ground staff at the airport its fine. Had a similar situation where the gate agent was fully convinced I wasn’t on the flight despite me presenting a valid boarding pass. The conversation we had was quite similar except that I didn’t stay as calm and polite

  91. Good article. I like it.

    I remember when travelling was fun but that was the time when the terminal at Lindbergh Field was off the Pacific Coast Highway across from the Port of San Diego building. (Odd, that building is the only thing that is still there.)

    Since I am an infrequent traveller, I will always take the I-15 from LA or San Diego, if I am going to Las Vegas. In fact, the six hours on the road are more relaxing after an 10-hour flight to LA than fighting to make a connection.

    Making connections is probably where the air transportation system needs improvement. Two weeks ago, I got bumped from a direct Paris-New York flight on Air France. Air France booked me on a substitute flight through Heathrow with a change from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3. A very stressful experience of pure torture that resulted in getting to the hotel in New York at midnight instead of 4PM.

    Travelling is now a business of moving “human packages” from point A to B. Before, there was a human element to air travel.

  92. Hmmmm… the flight attendants allowed u to remain in 2F?

    In their list, u shld be in 12C, so i supposed there is some discussion in mid air but u r allowed to keep ur seat?

  93. Great post and I agree with post of it, but why be confrontational with the gate agent at LAX? You knew the real story – that you’d been moved to UA by a AA agent to cover a presumed misconnect. Why not just calmly explain that to the agent, rather than go the “I’m EXP and I didn’t buy a UA ticket route.”

    The agent should have seen this in the record, but the fact is you weren’t on her manifest, so better to help her see the problem clearly. If there’s one thing that my 120K miles a year has taught it is that being confrontational with a surly gate agent doesn’t help.

  94. @ Jess, Andrew:

    Flying in Japan has been nothing but pleasant for me. The airport infrastructure is functional and well integrated with trains and other forms of transport; everything works the way it is supposed to; everybody knows what he has to do and delivers with constant high quality. And not just flying, using the train system is equally pleasant when it is not overrun by tourists from the mainland… When I return from Japan and then fight my way through our mess I cannot help but thinking about one of our contenders saying repeatedly “I hate incompetence”. Yes, I really fell you deeply on this one. Incompetence is sad but when protected top down by an administration it becomes a disgrace for a nation.

  95. @tiffany: I was also confused by United popping up. So, AA rebooked you on United and the q code on your mobile boarding pass linked to the new United booking? Even though it had initially been linked to your AA booking? That make me ever so slightly more sympathetic to the GA. I’ve no doubt that some air travelers do think that you can just get on whatever plane you want.

  96. Well played, Tiffany.
    Occurrences like this may be more common with airlines that are processing their merger. That’s why I try to avoid them for a few years until the dust settles.
    Question: In the event another pax got the seat assignment with a boarding pass for 2c (because you were issued 12f and moved), then the FA asked you to return to 12f, how could that be satisfactorily handled?

  97. Love this post. I really am sorry for those who have to travel on US airlines regularly. They really do their best to take the joy out of flying and why I try my best to avoid flying out to and from US airports on US carriers unless absolutely necessary.

  98. I’m also used to traveling so I know how to handle these things and it’s a good thing you had a boarding pass to show. I can’t imagine these things happening to someone not speaking English as at all

  99. This article talks around (but doesn’t call out) the #1 problem with air travel in the USA: The ground experience. Airlines, airports, and gov’t types are all focused on the flights, moving metal, and moving self-loading freight (pax), not what happens in-between. This is where just about any other country gets it right. Asia, Europe (minus FCO, CDG, LHR), etc. Simple things like outlets and places to sit go a long way. Trained, caring staff can cover a multitude of sins, but those cost $ and the airlines are focused on their shareholders, not pax.

    2 general rules for booking airfare in my office:
    1) Get off of USA metal as quickly as possible.
    2) If flying domestically, B6 or DL only. I’ve had plenty of IRROPs with both, but both usually do well when it does happen.

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