Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's our fault you missed your flight. Now pay us $2,600.

When airlines pull crap like this, it just pisses me off:
Fumiko Seguchi did everything by the book on her recent flight to Tokyo. She confirmed her departure 24 hours in advance. She secured a seat assignment. And she arrived more than two hours before departure.

But Seguchi, who was visiting a friend in Orlando, Florida, couldn't have anticipated the long check-in lines at the airport. "There were only a few ticket agents at the counter, so the line went on forever," says Fran Mingle, Seguchi's friend.

"She waited and waited. After getting concerned about missing her flight because of the inordinate delay, she asked if she could be accommodated next but the American Airlines personnel told her 'no'."

Seguchi missed her flight and was asked to pay an extra $2,600 for a ticket the next day. American had thrown the book in her face.

How classy.

I'm sorry, but if you arrive at the airport when the airline says you're supposed to arrive (generally speaking, one hour before domestic flights and two hours before international flights, although guidelines can differ for some airports), and you're waiting patiently in line, and the only reason the line is moving so slowly is because the airline was too incompetent to properly staff the ticket counter, then IT SHOULD BE THE AIRLINE'S FAULT if you miss your flight. End of story.

To be sure, this is the way it used to be. There was once a "flat tire rule" said that passengers who were delayed because of circumstances beyond their control could be re-booked on the next flight with no additional charges. However, that and other customer-friendly policies disappeared in the post-9/11 commercial aviation world.

Getting rid of the "flat tire" rule was an incredibly profitable mistake. Not only because it's unfair, but also because it formalizes a double standard. Passengers like Seguchi are expected to give airlines a break when there's bad weather, an air traffic control problem or a mechanical delay.

But when air travelers can't make their flight for reasons completely beyond their control, airlines often insist on sticking it to them for a full walk-up fare. That's what Northwest Airlines did when Jeremy Gaisin's car ran out of gas and he missed a flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam recently.

It charged an extra $1,400, but generously agreed to waive a $250 change fee. He tried to appeal to an executive, but "the agent was saying they would not speak to me," he says.

Other common-courtesy rules that seem to have gone by the wayside in recent years include a grace period for car rentals - car rental companies shouldn't penalize you if your flight is delayed and you are therefore late in picking up your car - and mandated services and accommodations for passengers whose flights have been canceled or delayed. Yet another example of big corporations screwing their customers.
It would be even better if travel companies would revive these rules on their own, for no other reason than that it's the right thing to do. The money earned from customers who couldn't make their flight, were caught in traffic on their way back to the car rental location or had the misfortune of being on a plane with an operational delay, is insignificant compared with the revenues companies will lose when their customers decide to stop doing business with them.

And that day will come soon.

Or at least we can hope.

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