thoughts in my own, personal opinion
eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD
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Heard The One About….”
Have you heard the joke that
ends “mom is stuck up on the roof and we can’t get her down?” It’s an (only slightly) tasteless joke
about how people cope with bad news and death.
The set-up is that a guy needs to travel to a remote village for a month
and will have no access to technology, phones or the internet. He asks his brother to stay at his house and
take care of his very precious cat, Fluffy.
When the month is over, he calls his brother from the airport on the way
home – the first time he’s had access to a phone – and asks how Fluffy is doing. “Fluffy is dead” his brother states directly,
with no empathy or understanding.
“What?” his brother screams in shock and anger. After he hears the story about what happened,
how his brother tried to take the cat to the vet, nothing helped and how Fluffy
was cared for during the process he calms down a bit, but he still criticizes
his brothers approach. “You just can’t
blurt out that my beloved cat died. You
have to prepare me for it and break it to me slowly. Maybe on my first call to you you tell me
that Fluffy is stuck up on the roof and you can’t get her down. Then, when I call later, you tell me that she
fell-off and you’ve taken her to the vet.
This way I can begin to prepare myself for the worst. When I get home you can tell me that despite
all the heroic efforts she didn’t make it.
You have to go slowly with news like that.” After he calms down a bit he forgives his
brother and tries to move on to other conversation. “How’s Mom?” he asks. His brother replies “She’s stuck up on the roof and we can’t get her down.”
comes to mind often when I fly these days.
The airline industry seems to constantly be telling passengers that ‘mom is stuck up on the roof.’ For the latest example, I had a 10:00am
meeting I had to attend in person in Atlanta’s suburbs. Atlanta is a brief, under two hour flight
from Newark – which is a 15 minute drive from my home. To be extremely safe I picked a 6:10pm
departure the day before to get me in at 8:44 (United 1245.) (The difference between the two-ish hour flight and the scheduled time is the 30-40 minutes
of pad the airline throws into its schedule to compensate for delays in
boarding, taxiing, etc.) At 3:45 pm I
leave my house in a taxi for the airport.
Despite a very light rain the incoming aircraft has already arrived and
everything is showing on time. While in
the cab, my flight suddenly switches to showing a delay of about an hour and a
half, as the incoming aircraft has been switched to a different one (United
513) and it is running three hours late and hasn’t left for Newark yet. Why did United make the change? I suppose that’s not really knowable by the
lay-person. Perhaps there was a
mechanical problem with the first aircraft, perhaps they needed it on another
route. OK – the hour and a half won’t be
so bad. When the new plane finally does
leave for Newark, suddenly, United switches my assigned plane to a third
one. This one (United 711) – coming from
New Orleans – hasn’t even arrived at that
destination yet. Well, this clearly
wasn’t a switch due to an unsafe mechanical issue - as 513 is in flight on its
way here - so the reason has to be something else.
bottom line of that journey is that we arrived in Atlanta at 1:04am – four and
a half hours late. I got a more
exhausting than restful three hour nap before my business meeting. United blamed the weather, but blaming the
rain is stupid for two reasons. 1 – It’s
rain, not a blizzard. Airplanes used to
be able to fly in rain just fine. 2 - We
could have been on-time or close to on-time if United
hadn’t switched the aircraft – TWICE.
They can’t blame weather for their operational SNAFU.
was on-time, until suddenly I was 90 minutes late, then I was three hours late,
then I actually arrived four and a half hours late. If United had told me in a timely manner that
my flight wasn’t going to depart till 10:30pm (not 6:10pm) I’d have had a
completely different day. I’d have had
dinner with my family; maybe showered / freshened-up after a long workday;
maybe slept for a bit. Instead, I spent
over six hours at the airport (and I won’t get into the horrendous condition of
the clubs at Newark in this blog, short of saying paid members deserve at least
a partial refund for this year.) Are we
saying United operations is so messed up that they didn’t know they’d be
swapping to the late aircraft twice till the last minute, or are we saying they
knew all along but wanted to tell us ‘mom
was up on the roof?’ To help you
decide I’ll inform you that the United crew announced to all the passengers
that they should go to their “We Care” website to ask for compensation. When I did it offered me a $100 voucher for a
future flight. That brings up two points
again. 1- Airlines don’t offer
compensation for weather, so you can decide for yourself if that was really the
cause. And 2- $100 is an insult to
compensate me for six hours of my time and forcing me to not be at my best for
a critical client meeting the next day.
My professional time would be billed at about twenty times that, and the
value of me not at my best in front of clients is incalculable. Am I looking for United to compensate me for
all that? Of course not. I’m looking for them to understand what’s at
stake for me and every other passenger, and to give us the straight story
whatever it is – and that is something they clearly aren’t doing.
that’s a bad, one-off example. Instead,
let’s look at the trip home the next day.
I was scheduled to fly back on a flight leaving at 3:30. It was scheduled to land at 5:59, then 6:18,
6:32, 7:32, 7:57 and 8:08pm.
there was a light, off-and-on rain in the Newark area, so as much as a light
rain shouldn’t cause a delay, I understand that it does. As respected airline analyst Robert W. Mann told
me as it was happening, the “industry doesn't manage for on-time in DAY/VFR
conditions, so no surprise when it goes south in any more challenging
conditions. #SelfHelp and #ActiveFlowManagement
are not in the industry vernacular.” My
issue is with what has to be called airline lying. ‘Mom is
stuck on the roof’ again.
they know when the first 27 minute delay was announced that that it would be
way longer? I have to believe that the
airline operations team is either good enough at their job that they did and
were simply lying to break it to us slowly, or they didn’t (which is very
scary) and they should all be fired.
I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here and assume they knew full
well that the delay would be longer. In
these cases I don’t want to hear that ‘Mom
is stuck on the roof.’ I want to
hear the straight news so I can optimally manage my time. I want to spend more time at home, or at the
office or in an airport club tackling the tasks that I need to.
contempt toward its passengers that United reveals by lying and undervaluing
our time is obvious, but this is by no means just a United
problem. I’ve heard from American and
Delta passengers in the same boat. “Why
don’t you use another airline” some ask.
The answer is I’d have to move somewhere where the local airport is not
dominated by one carrier – and there are not a lot of those left around. “Delta is the only game in town” another
passenger said to me in an email just now.
The major US airlines all have no reason to better the passenger
experience as there is no competition on most routes. Until there is some industry re-regulation
(or by some miracle someone who appreciates operational excellence is put in
charge) passengers will just have to keep suffering.
bottom line here is I don’t want to hear my cat or mom is up on the roof. Just tell me they died and give me the
specific time of the funeral so I can plan my life accordingly.
This article was written by David Danto and
contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under
prevailing fair use statutes.