Posts Tagged ‘delta’

If you’ve done any air travel in the last year or so, the airline you’re flying has probably asked you to solve a problem for them—for free. I know I’ve been asked, and I don’t like it.

Because the airline business is apparently a tough racket in which to turn a profit (fuel is expensive, etc.), many airlines now charge customers to check their bags as a way to drum up some more cash (or haven’t you noticed?).

The domino effect of charging for bags, of course, is that more people are carrying on smaller luggage avoid the checked baggage fees. This means that the once-sufficient overhead compartment space on planes is now full of bags that would have been checked (if checking was still free). The lack of overhead space is the problem they’re asking us to solve.

Airlines are now asking passengers with carry-on luggage to volunteer to check their bags (free of charge!) at the gate to cut down on delays when boarding; this was the case on my last few trips with Delta and Sun Country. The thinking is, if we all take our carry-ons onto the plane and there’s no room left in the overheads, some of us will have to check our no-longer-carry-on bags with the flight attendants anyway, which takes more time than if we’d done that up front.

As a Business Insider article points out, it’s unclear what the airlines’ incentive is for even bothering to ask passengers to gate-check Are airlines really concerned about these boarding delays, considering the whole industry constantly experiences customer-facing delays? Is there anyone among us who, when traveling by plane, doesn’t automatically assume their travel will take longer than it’s “supposed to”?

But the part that confuses me is the incentive of a customer to gate-check a carry-on bag for the greater good, i.e. the rest of the passengers on the aircraft, in the hopes of moving things along a bit more quickly.

I have, nor will I ever, volunteer to check my carry-on—which, incidentally, I packed specifically so that I wouldn’t have to check it, and thus wait at baggage claim. How much time does it even save? On my last flight I overheard the flight attendant say that 24 carry-on bags were checked at the gate, and yet there still wasn’t enough room for several of the unlucky last-boarding passengers’ bags in the overheads. (I was fortunate to find some overhead space a few rows behind my my seat, and after we landed another passenger was nice enough to pass my bag forward so I didn’t have to wait for the plane to empty to get it.)

Not to belabor the point, but seriously, why would anyone volunteer to check their bag? I saw a clergyman board my plane this weekend and even he carried his bag on and stuffed it into the remaining space in the overhead!

The aforementioned BI article suggests that the stick, i.e. penalizing non-checkers, is the best way to incentivize people to check a bag at the gate. (He recommends threatening them with no in-flight beverage service.) But I think the carrot would work better for someone like me. Currently, the “reward” for checking at the gate is nothing other than allowing the checkers to board the plane first (after first class, people with young children, disabled people, active duty military personnel, etc.). But in my view, the only benefit to boarding first is to make sure you get a spot for your bag in the overhead. Why do I care if I’m boarding first if I still have to wait at baggage claim when we land???

People like free stuff. Why not simply offer a $10 or $20 credit on the airline, good for future travel or an alcoholic drink or for-purchase food on the plane? Money towards cab fare or parking? A Best Buy gift card? Or literally anything else worth any value to a customer? (Think about it: what would it take for you to agree to gate-check your bag? Not much, but something, right?)

A New York Times columnist recently applied similar logic to the question of reclining one’s seat, which has drawn the attention of the air traveling public. Some planes have had emergency landings because of passengers fighting over leg room gained/lost by a reclined seat. The columnist suggested that if airlines want to avoid this, they should pay passengers not to recline. But I’m not sure the right to recline, knowing it will make the person behind you uncomfortable for the entire flight, is the same as the right to carry-on your carry-on.

I realize that it might not be worth it to the airline to save a few minutes while boarding if they have to pay people to do something (checking at the gate) they were previously asking them to do out of the goodness of their hearts. But if that’s the case, then I’d really like for Delta, Sun Country, or whomever I’m flying, to stop asking its customers—who have already paid for their seat with dollars—to now also donate the most precious currency they have, their time, without getting something in return.

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This morning I found myself in the unenviable position of buying a Metrocard (NYC’s public transportation currency) during the morning rush hour. But to my delight I found one short line of about four or five people waiting for the next available of the three (working) machines at the 77th st. 6-train station. (This, rather than the typical three lines, where one is very fast, one is very slow, and I’m forced to play Metrocard machine Russian Roulette, which I usually lose.)

But as I got to the second position on the line, a woman approached the front and said, “Why aren’t there three lines? This makes NO SENSE,” clearly laying the groundwork for an attempt to cut those of us ahead of her in line by starting another one behind the left or right machines.

I decided I had to defend the one-line system and so I spoke up. “Actually, it DOES make sense because whoever’s here first gets the next open machine.” She huffed and walked to the back of the line.

While misguided, this woman at least recognized the opportunity to expose what she perceived to be an inefficiency in the system to anyone within earshot. But for many of the complainers among us, this is as far as we’ll go when it comes to making our voices heard.

Also this morning, I came across this USA Today article, which suggests that not everyone feels that they necessarily want a say in how their public transportation provider or favorite restaurant or mechanic treats its customers. From the article:

Surely, it’s nice to be courted for input, at least sometimes. But some consumers say they’re fed up with giving time-consuming feedback for free, don’t like being drawn into a data web used to evaluate employees or feel companies don’t act on the advice they get. Others say they simply don’t have anything revelatory to impart about, say, ordering a shirt or buying a package of pens.

Anyone who’s read my blog before knows I’m incredibly sensitive to how I’m treated as a customer, both positively and negatively, and so I was surprised to learn that some people would rather forfeit their chance to share their opinion in exchange for just being left alone.

Sure, there are plenty of reasons why we might choose to take or not take a survey. For example, it’s more likely that you’ll fill out a survey or write a review if you’ve had a bad experience versus a good one. You’re also more likely to do it if you’re incentivized with a few bucks, a chance to win a sweepstakes, or some other prize or coupon. (Buffalo Wild Wings offers up free wings for completing a customer service survey.)

I flew Delta over the weekend and was delayed two hours on the way out and another hour on the way back when our arrival gate wasn’t ready and we were forced to deplane in some sort of temporary airplane parking space and take a “people mover” (i.e. a bus), then wait 20 minutes for our luggage.

Having dealt with airlines for many years and understanding how poor that industry is when it comes to customer service (I dare you to debate me on that) I knew my complaints would likely fall on deaf ears and I’d be cast as yet another cranky, disgruntled customer looking for a handout. So I put it behind me, chalking the experience up to a built-in hassle that comes with air travel.

But when I returned from my trip, I had an email from Delta waiting for me, asking me to rate my experience as it related to my delayed flight. They were reaching out to ask for my opinion, and about a negative issue no less.

Though the questions in the survey were mostly meaningless to me and not necessarily actionable for Delta (“Did airline staff alert you in a timely fashion about your delayed flight?”), they did include a comment box so I could elaborate on my issue, which I did.

I still have very little confidence that my complaints to Delta will do anything to reduce future delays in and out of JFK Airport, but at least I feel like they’re trying and I don’t take that for granted.

In the meantime, I’ll hold my breath and wait for the MTA to contact me about whether I prefer a one- or three-line system at the Metrocard machines.

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