Complaining About Airline Complaints


Four days hiking the arches and canyon lands of Utah’s national parks is enough to set you right, as it did me. Until I got back to town and read the local newspaper. Everyone’s complaining about the airlines.

Even Utah’s Mormon-owned newspaper, The Deseret News, complains. (Good headline: Got an hour? Ask someone about their flight)

“Not that I have anything against airlines other than the food,” writes hard-hearted Deseret columnist Doug Robinson, “the grumpy airline employees, lost luggage, extra luggage costs, cramped space, the late arrivals, overbooking, cancellations, the frisk job at security, the expense, the long lines, the giving away of your tickets to another passenger while you are standing right there at the counter.”

And then columnist Robinson throws out this zinger:  “Recently, Delta Air Lines announced that it is going to make its bathrooms smaller so four seats can be added.” (Added to the cabin, Doug, not the bathroom.)

Now that I’ve hiked Utah wilderness and found my inner peace I’m suffering the hangover. I’m back and happy but even my homepage, FlyerTalk, seems a cruel world where everyone complains.

Over at The Lobby they complain about tipping and not tipping. At glass-always-half-empty The Hub, they complain about the people certain flights attract or Iceland’s lack of northern lights. What were you thinking looking for night sky when you had Reykjavik nightlife? (I know, I too am uncomfortable around those gorgeous Icelandic features.)

Complaining has become the art form when reporting on the airline industry. Go ahead, Google “airline news,” what do you get?

Imagine you’ve been hiking for four days in Utah desert country with no service on your iPhone. Nor is the linen crisp. Now Google “airline news.” Are they serious about complaining? Like they just flew halfway around the world while napping between snacks but had to sit beside a fat guy. How do you even train for that? (Eat peanuts in your child’s car seat a forearm away from the TV. Remember to keep your bathroom door locked – it’s part of the training.)

At The Gate we at least get the facts:  More than four passengers per 1,000 complained to United Airlines in 2012.

OK. So let’s look at complaints using The Deseret News as our checklist.

  1. Food:  Unless you’re buying a premium-class airline ticket, food is not part of the deal. Get over it. Pack your best takeout. (Surely that new Dreamliner will have a microwave in every seatback.)
  1. Grumpy Airline Employees:  Get any 10 people together and you’ll see the best and worst of styles. True, airline employees are not random, are on the clock and paid to provide service, but the best-and-worst rule still applies. Try mutual respect. (Sit near a gate agent and listen to what they deal with.)
  1. Lost Luggage: Here’s the data. In 2012, the worst of the lost-luggage carriers, American Eagle, “mishandled” nearly six bags for every 1,000 passengers, which is probably a shoplifting record for luggage. OK, that’s a legit complaint! But there are extending circumstances and anyone connecting between legacy airlines and commuter airlines knows the obstacles. On the good side, the best baggage handler, Virgin Atlantic, lost 0.87 bags for every 1,000 passengers. (Rejoice and have faith, oh Deseret News, you’ve still got .13 of your stuff.)
  1. Over-Booking Cancellations: I don’t have words for this.
  1. Late Arrivals:  Blame late departures.
  1. Late Departures: Blame late arrivals.
  1. Extra Luggage Costs:  Small is beautiful, remember? Nothing can ruin a trip day-in, day-out like excess luggage. Hike the Utah desert if you don’t believe that truism. Count the extra cost as a blessing. (You’d think the LDS-owned newspaper would have used the blessing word.)
  1. Cramped space:  The airlines are reminding you that your ideal weight was what you weighed in high school. (It’s true, they say.)
  1. Security:  Well (knock on wood), not since 9/11 …
  1. Expense: Use miles. That’s what we all do at FlyerTalk. Surely no one complains about the availability of award seats?

And as for Iceland’s lack of Northern Lights. You’re invited to my Canadian mother’s house for late-night tea and a light show. There’s nothing else to do there but pine for Reykjavik’s nightlife.


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Comments (Showing 4 of 4)

  • diburning at 9:33pm April 10, 2013

    It’s not the complaints that bother me. It’s the poor journalism as you have outlined in your article. It seems that any monkey with a typewriter can become a journalist these days.

    Those who report the news on TV are less intelligent than lab rats. The media doesn’t want people who know what they are talking about. They just want to put a pretty face on TV.

  • Brian Cohen at 11:58pm April 10, 2013

    “Sit near a gate agent and listen to what they deal with.”
    …or better yet, Gerry, you could have the opportunity to be a gate agent – even if only for a few hours:
    By the way, I hope that diburning is not including me in the assessment of poor journalism, as my face is not pretty enough for television, and I do not enjoy eating bananas…

  • TheMilesProfessor at 10:08pm April 11, 2013

    Lost Luggage: Non-issue. My rule is never check luggage unless going for at least a month. Carryon only.

    As far as cramped space, like you said, use miles! Lots more space in first and business class and, again, happy to weigh what I weighed in high school 10 years later 🙂

  • MyraA at 3:52am April 15, 2013

    Yes, we are happy to complain about award seats being unavailable, funnily enough. What is the point in mies otherwise?

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