David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
Stale Bread And Circuses
“Anyone who’s flown on a US commercial airline in coach recently knows flying nowadays sucks.” Service is bad, seats are tiny, planes are packed – I don’t have to list the complaints here again – people who regularly read my blogs (or who fly) already know what they are. What can one do? If moving out of the country or flying less are not options for you, it’s pretty much a case of needing to grin and bear it. That’s what I do – with the tiny exception of blogging and tweeting about the insanity I come across. This is in the hope that the exposure will embarrass the current greedy management of US airlines into doing something about the problems. So far, they’ve shown themselves to be un-embarrass-able, but there’s always hope. This is one of those blogs. A story of how passengers attempt to keep themselves occupied as they tolerate what passes for airline service. Yes, it’s another story about the state of in-fight-entertainment. Before I get into that however, let’s examine what a passenger’s experience is as they prepare to board their flight.
My flight this week began with the typical United lead-up. Unable to use a “confirmable” regional upgrade certificate on a coast to coast 777 flight that had an empty Business Class cabin when I booked it, watching all the seats be sold out from under me, ending-up as eighth on a waiting list that never clears, etc. I arrived at Newark airport over two hours before the flight – always leaving time for the worst experience, not praying for the best. I was very lucky to have had the extra time.
The TSA Pre-Check line was out of control. The line – which usually has an entrance at the C2 security area and wraps around between C2 and C1 – had so many people in it that it snaked all the way over to what used to be the C3 security area, and then wrapped around again four times.
There were no TSA or United people directing the mob. Some passengers tried to maintain an orderly serpentine, others just cut the line. It was an hour long wait to get to the security checkpoint for no reason I could detect – other than there not being enough Pre-check lanes. Once I was finally through, there was no club to use near my gate for reasons I have discussed before, so I had to decide if I wanted to schlep to the pop-up club or the overcrowded and dated club – both equally as far from my gate as was conceivably possible. I picked the pop-up, and was treated to a lovely breakfast of hospital orange juice, plastic-wrapped stale bagels and granola bars.
You may ask why I didn’t just buy a breakfast at a vendor near my gate. The answer is because I already paid to get it at the clubs – a service that is clearly not being delivered. I refuse to pay for it twice.
When I boarded the aircraft – a 777-200A (#2513) – I was astonished to see that the Business Class seats had the typical on-demand entertainment systems, but the coach seats had….wait for it….nothing. I understand (but don’t agree with) the smaller domestic planes being built without an IFE system, but a 777 – flying United’s premium service? Each seat had a spring-loaded mechanism for holding a personal device.
How an aircraft with this capacity and range can be purchased with an IFE system for Business but nothing in coach is beyond me. If they already put it in what is the point of saving the money on the seats? The United line is that they offer “personal device entertainment” where passengers can watch moves over their free WiFi system. Ok, I’ll get back to that.
The safety briefing was just surreal. The standard, hokey video was played, which everyone in business could see, but no one in coach could see, so the FAs just acted out the actions that attempted to parallel the actions on the videos.
I’ve never seen anything like that on a flight before. The FAs try to dance to the music, smile when the actors speak, pantomime the usual demonstrations. There’s a first for everything I supposed. Then, unbelievably, the FAs walked through the aisle offering United’s free earbud headphones to anyone who wanted them. Huh? They’re offering headphones to be used…..in the non-existent IFE system? I still don’t get that one. The only explanation could be for people to use with their personal devices if they didn’t bring their own headphones, but that’s really a stretch.
So after all that, in an attempt to forget about the security nightmare, the club insult, the un-cleared “confirmable” upgrade, the tiny slim-line seat, and the building aggravation of all of the poor treatment, I open up my tablet and connect to the WiFi system. The selection of “Personal Screening” movies is very poor – no new releases or things I would watch that I haven’t already seen. I make a selection, and…….nothing. The WiFi system on the plane is broken and can’t be reset – it’s just dead. (If the United aircraft were maintained as poorly as their WiFi systems the wings and engines would be falling-off multiple times a day.)
I carry a few movies with me on a flash disk, and have plenty of work to do, so I can keep myself entertained, but for many of the 300+ other coach passengers it was likely a long boring flight. The FA’s announced that all the passengers would be entitled to some form of compensation if they went to the United website. For me, I received a $150 travel certificate, but I’m sure the offer varied by elite level, and was received only if the passengers bothered to actually go to the website they were told about.
So the bread in this case was stale bagels and Kashi bars, and the circuses were dancing FAs and a non-existent IFE. I suspect none of that will hold back the eventual revolution.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
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