I surrender. With just one roundtrip flight, American Airlines has successfully sucked the life out of my passion for travel. I don’t know if that was American’s intention but it sure seemed that way last weekend.
When the man at the check-in counter in Denver barked at me to tag and load my own suitcase onto the conveyor belt, I thought that maybe he was just having a bad day. He looked like his feet hurt. Maybe his shoes were too tight? It probably would have helped if there had been more than just two people working frantically that morning at the American Airlines counter to help with the self check-in kiosks, check photo ID, tag the checked bags and sort out any problems for the steady stream of passengers.
When our departure from Denver was delayed by 3 hours, parceled out in 20 minute increments, I thought that American Airlines must not have had any other choice that day but to use the oldest plane in their fleet. Certainly they couldn’t have enjoyed having to reroute 180 missed connections while they tinkered with their aging plane on the runway. And I’m sure that the flight attendants wanted to offer some sort of goodwill gesture, such as free peanuts or drink coupons, to those of us whose entire day would now be spent trying to get to our final destination. But most likely their concern for the size of their CEO’s Christmas bonus caused them to keep those precious perks locked securely away for those in first class.
I almost felt sorry for the flight attendant who interrupted the drink service to share her tale of woe about her diminished salary and retirement benefits. She assured the man squeezed into the seat next to me that she would not still be working at her advanced age unless she had to. I didn’t doubt for a minute her sincerity or how much she hated her job. It showed.
But when the woman at the check-in counter in Raleigh couldn’t interrupt her chit chat with her fellow American Airlines slacker long enough to ask if I needed help, I realized that it really was a conspiracy aimed directly at me for being silly enough to still enjoy traveling. It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon, with not a single person waiting at the nearly deserted check-in counter. A handful of people were fumbling with the self check-in kiosks but, since I needed to check a bag, I decided to be bold and go right to the source. I waited patiently for the chit chat about recipes to end. Like most people checking in for a flight, I had all the time in the world.
When Slacker #2 paused to take a breath, I saw my opportunity and grabbed it.
“Excuse me,” I said ever so politely. “I need to check in and I have one bag to check.”
Slacker #1 looked startled, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she had heard.
“Have you tried the self check-in kiosk?” she asked.
I looked pointedly along her empty counter.
“No,” I replied.
She looked at me.
I looked at her.
I considered sharing with her my observation that work days pass more quickly when you actually do some work, but I did have that bag to check and wanted it to arrive in Denver, not Denpasar. So I held my tongue and just smiled.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Slacker #2 slowly back away.
Sighing loudly, she demanded to see my photo ID. With a few swift clicks on her keyboard, I was checked in with luggage tagged and seats assigned. Sadly for her, other passengers had seen what I had done and were now leaving the self check-in kiosks, approaching both Slacker #1 and Slacker #2. It was like a scene from the Night of the Living Dead. A quiet revolt had begun.
I’m not saying that American Airlines is the only airline sucking the joy out of travel. Frontier and Spirit nickel and dime their passengers, charging for seat assignments, drinks, and even for carry-on bags. Most airlines have reconfigured their seating to pack as many bodies into as little space as possible. Flight attendants are cranky and overworked. Passengers are cranky and tired. Air travel is more expensive and less enjoyable every year.
But I won’t give up. There may not be any joy left in traveling but the thrill of exploring a new destination or spending time with far flung family and friends outweighs the pain and suffering inflicted by the airlines. Life may be a journey but, these days, travel is all about the destination.