For almost everyone, flying is the most dreadful part of the travel experience. It starts in the comfort of a living room or home office, sitting at a computer—ruing the extinction of the trusty travel agent—with a head spinning from the sheer number of possibilities. Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz—there’s no way to know if one really does offer better prices.
Still, determination wins and after considerable confusion, second guessing, and doubt, the cheapest ticket most appropriate ticket is eventually purchased. Then its time to negotiate for seats, don’t want to be by the toilets or crammed into the middle of a row alone, but somehow the choice seats are always already taken (it’s hard to imagine that every one else is booking their flights further than six months in advance, but the grey shaded seats don’t lie).
Now, six months down the line, it’s time to catch that flight. Arriving two hours in advance has become expected flying etiquette, but that always leaves too much down time during domestic flights so most flyers arrive one hour in advance instead. Since the cheapest ticket was for an economy airline, expectations are low, but the ticket was still pricy enough to engender a rush of indignation when the line at check in is longer than a Walmart line on Black Friday.
Because the only time anyone spends five hundred dollars on a single day’s activity and doesn’t expect to be treated like royalty, is when they’re flying.
Maybe the line moves faster than expected, and a cool patience has settled in a thin layer atop indignation, like a light dusting of snow. Once at the front of the line that dusting will be blown away again by the airline employee’s simple question: “Will you be checking any bags today?” The asking of which will remind even the most patient or sedated traveler that an extra fee will be assessed if this trip is going to provide any convenience beyond the most basic assurance of “rapid transit,” which flying still irrefutably is despite the many aggravating hours spent to the contrary sitting in airport lobbies during layovers.
Once the check-in process has finished, it’s finally time to find the terminal and gate (which hopefully hasn’t changed since check-in), but first the experience gets worse. First, each and every flyer will learn the true meaning of “chattel.” Once x-ray machines have violated all remaining constitutional rights, and every bottle of lotion has been thoroughly considered by TSA, each member of the herd is left to their own devices.
Of course, by this time there may be five to ten minutes remaining before boarding will commence (because the process is such a terribly devised one that it takes thirty minutes to complete) and everyone knows the airlines won’t feed you and will be loathe to water you, so finding rations quickly is essential. Obviously, everything purchased in the airport is excessively expensive, but that’s just par for the course. Once price tags, long lines, and unsettlingly scented bathrooms have been conquered and the line to board has formed, it’s time to face an entirely new set of problems.
Airlines were once focused on customer service. They provided a novel but modern experience, one that people were happy to spend hard earned money on because they were treated with refinement, as special guests on a unique trip. But now, with air travel having become so commonplace, there is no elegance or satisfaction to the experience. The flight attendants are curt and rude, like long suffering bartenders in a one-pub town, the pilots are non-communicative, the seats are often dirty or the seat pockets contain garbage left from a previous flyer, there is no free food service, minimal beverage service, and good luck finding a newspaper or a pillow.
The biggest problem is that airlines are enormous companies. And with companies so big that provide a service so many people consider necessary, it’s hard to find a way to express a complaint or dissatisfaction. In this way, the bar drops ever lower, without any concern for consumer satisfaction. The only solution is accountability.
In the same way that Yelp.com com empowers consumers to share both praise and complaints of a variety of service related businesses, from doctors to salons to restaurants, a new app, Flynrate.com allows people to rate their flying experience, share experiences with others, and hold airlines accountable for the service they provide. If there is only one way to ensure that the experience of flying improves, it might be rating websites like this one.