Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Lies Behind the Ever-Worsening Treatment Passengers Get at the Hands of Airlines?

This Fox News report is one of the most ludicrous things I have read in recent times. Four hours into its flight across the Pacific Ocean, an L.A.-to-Tokyo plane is "forced" (sic) to turn around and fly back to California. Why? What warranted this? Technical failure? A drunk passenger getting loud and threatening? A group of terrorists?

No. Mid-flight, personnel found a… stowaway aboard. An unexpected person who does not seem to have been displaying any kind of particularly peculiar or unwelcome behavior beyond the fact that he or she wasn't supposed to be on board, no more, no less.

Why on earth not continue the flight and, upon landing (wait for this astoundingly bright solution to the problem), turn the person over to local (to Japanese) authorities?! Have him (or her) detained, perhaps, while making sure to have the stowaway fly back to the point of origin on the very next available flight?! (Alternatively, the stowaway might pay the airline for a ticket and, insofar as the person's papers are in order, be allowed into the Land of the Rising Sun…)

It seems to me that that — that that simple, straight-forward solution — would be the first reaction of any pilot with a brain, any flight attendant with a brain, any air company CEO with a brain, any airport director (whether at the point of departure or arrival) with a brain. Does no one in the flight industry have common sense anymore?
Supermodel Chrissy Teigen live-tweeted her disastrous experience aboard a Japan-bound jet that made a U-turn about four hours into the flight due to an unauthorized person on board. 

Teigen, 32, who was on the flight with her husband, crooner John Legend, reported her Tokyo-bound All Nippon Airways jet turned around halfway into the flight because “we have a passenger who isn’t supposed to be on this plane.”

"A flying first for me: 4 hours into an 11-hour flight and we are turning around because we have a passenger who isn't supposed to be on this plane. Why...why do we all gotta go back, I do not know," Teigen said in a tweet.  
Certainly, this is far worse than my own recent experience — trying to board an airliner with two pets — but doesn't it show the general direction (away from the friendly skies) that the airplane service industry is going?

The following complaint is very long, filling two fully typed pages, and if you ask me why you should care, I agree — there is not much of a reason why you should (and, who knows, you might even come down in favor of the airport authorities) — but at the midpoint of the letter (see where I inserted a bullet point), I head away from my experience into a more general discussion of what seems to have been screwing up airlines in the past decade or two.

As you read this (or part of it, if you want to skip to the bullet point), recall the words of Lao-Tzu from 2,600 years ago
“The more laws and restrictions there are, The poorer people become. ...
The more rules and regulations you create,
The more thieves and robbers [the more criminals] you create as well.”
Here, with no further ado, is the (slightly redacted) complaint in question:
Air France

December 18, 2017

Dear Sirs,

    I wish to issue a complaint about the treatment I received at Air France's Aviator desk in Copenhagen on December 1, when I was denied access to flight AF1051 due to the presence of two cats traveling with me.

    On the other hand — needless to say — I am grateful to Air France that I was allowed to board the same flight 24 hours later (along with both felines and this time one hard box), even more so due to the non-refundable status of the first ticket being changed with no charge.

    Still, when I arrived with the cats on December 1, I was carrying a bag for each cat.  They were two soft bags, authorized specifically by Air France, as can be confirmed by your recordings of my conversations with Air France staff not only on Monday November 27 but also on Thursday November 30.  During the latter, the representative was so insistent on getting her facts right that she asked me to hang up from our (long) conversation while she went to check with her supervisor before calling back …/… with "good news" (her words).  I asked her to make sure to put the authorization of the two soft bags in "writing" in a note on the [computer] reservation.

    On December 1, therefore, I duly went through all the steps of getting registered at Kastrup airport, getting as far as having my boarding pass issued (seat 21A).  Then it was over to a special desk to get my cat tickets paid for (a hefty price of 1150 Danish Crowns).

    Here we started bumping into obstacles — mainly, a(n incomprehensible) rule that allows no more than one cat per passenger in the cabin, while other cats must go into the hold.  It seems like it's a rule which theoretically would allow 100 pets on board a given plane, barking, meowing, whimpering in the hypothetical situation where each passenger showed up with one pet.  That was not the case on December 1 (nor on December 2).

    For 30 minutes to an hour, Aviator staff called back and forth, ringing one supervisor after another to give them permission to either 1) allow two cats in the cabin — as the Air France note specifically directed staff to do! — or 2) put one of the two cats in the cabin and the other in the hold in a hard box instead of a soft bag (admittedly, I was far from keen with regards to the second alternative).

    Time was running out, which could have been used to fetch a hard box in the airport's basement (your airport personnel were the ones who mentioned this possibility!), to lend me or to sell to me (I am not sure which).

    All the while, I was treated to one catastrophic scare scenario after another explaining the rules (what if a passenger brought five kittens?! what if an animal was crushed in the hold?! what if you brought a lawsuit against us?!) — some of which admittedly made a modicum a sense — with no one capable of making a simple decision to slightly bend the rules.

    Have they watched Monty Python and The Holy Grail too many times, and do they think that kitty cats are like the movie's cute white bunny that can turn into the vicious killer rabbit of Caerbannog, leaping from neck to neck to bite off one knight's head after another?

    Finally, some supervisor said that because two cats would not be allowed in the cabin and because one cat would not be allowed in the hold in a soft bag, I would not be allowed to board at all — in spite of Air France's specific directions.  This anonymous pencil pusher refused to talk to me or even give me his name.

    I had no choice but to leave the airport, not knowing when and if I could get another flight and wondering whether my non-refundable ticket would be changed free of charge (thankfully, it was, and that for the following evening) while spending Saturday hunting for a hard box for the hold cat (no easy task, as it turned out — most boxes being for dogs of a larger size).

   • On a more general note:

    Aren't all the scandals of the past couple of years — the Kentucky doctor dragged off a plane in Chicago (David Dao), the young mother whose stroller was violently grabbed by a flight attendant (Olivia Morgan) — due to airline employees' inordinate focus on following rules — and on treating passengers like children who should remain quiet and obey — instead of being the smiling face of a service agency?

    Indeed:  isn't the very presence of a plethora of more rules — many of which did not exist in the "laissez-faire" era of only 10 to 20 years ago (which in itself would seem to prove that [contrary to common-sense bans about bringing handguns aboard, for example] the new edicts are relatively non-essential and unimportant, almost gratuitous) — a thing that causes, consciously or otherwise, employees to be more focused on the rules than on the passengers and on providing service?

    A number of these new directives are close to unfathomable:  regarding pets, besides the one-only-in-the-cabin, you have — all airlines have? — if I understand correctly, recently decided to ban every type of hard box for sale except for that of one single vendor; and apparently there is a decree that unless you declare a traveling pet 24 hours prior to boarding — i.e., if you show up with the pet unannounced at the airport counter — it will be denied admittance.

    Where do these rules come from, anyway?  Are lawyers with nothing to do dreaming them up, like Woody Allen in Bananas, to justify their salary?

    Then there are bans like the one on changing places to an empty seat with more legroom — unless you pull out your credit card — which make travelers think that we are to be treated more like a flock of sheep or, rather, a herd of milch-cows.

    In any case, the heads of your Copenhagen crew seem to be they have to act as policemen and/or as judge, and follow the rules religiously.

    However, in real life, aren't real police officers and real judges flexible at times?  In what country does a citizen not hear, at one time or another, "This time, I'm letting you off with a warning" or "Okay, we'll let it go this time — but don't do it again"?  In other words, the very sworn representatives of the state (!) and its rule of law (!) do not act like robots, and use (and are allowed to use) their discretion as well as their common sense, rendering a service to a citizen when and if the situation warrants it.

    In legal terms, today's citizens seem to suffer from an incapacity and a mental refusal to see the difference between malum in se (conduct inherently wrong by nature like theft and murder) and malum prohibitum (non-damaging statute-based rules), as well as to determine mens rea in one's fellow human being (to what degree was a fellow's misdeed intentional, if at all?).
    To return to the Air France/Aviator supervisor in Denmark, who is definitely part of the service industry, but who seems incapable of taking the initiative to overlook rules when and if the situation warrants it — a passenger stranded with two cats in the airport as an airliner readies to take off — in spite of specific directions by Air France on said passenger's computer reservation to do so.

    The Scandinavian peoples' love affair with rule-following allowed for no decision, no initiative, no capacity to improvise, no motivation to say, "Let's see if we can't find a solution and make this customer (and his furry friends) happy."

    As I said, there were several solutions available — including going around the rules and, in a cabin of some 100 people, allowing two cats (there may have been one or two more) for one passenger.

    Indeed, this was exactly which happened earlier this year, on my evening flight of January 9 when I traveled in the opposite direction.  Then, the ground crew at Charles de Gaulle airport brought the Air France captain out from his cockpit and the plane to the terminal (this does sound a bit extreme, you realize), where he told duly me he would accept two cats on his aircraft if I could find a passenger agreeing to take the second feline.  (Needless to say, chances are close to 100% that in a group of about 100, you will find a high number of people willing to take responsibility for a cute kitty-cat for less than two hours.)

    Now, a final word of praise:  while one cat went into the hold on December 2, the Aviator personnel who made my reservation was so kind to put me and the other animal in a row all by ourselves.  This is the kind of service and thoughtfulness that I fully appreciate.

    Joyeux Noël et bonne année
Related: This Is What We Would Like to Hear When a Flight Is Overbooked

Update: Airlines are running out of ways to charge customers more by Alessandra Malito:
The [airline] industry ranked seventh-to-last out of 43 industries in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2016. All aspects of air travel have been criticized, such as airfare, booking flights, getting onto the plane and even the flight itself.

Did Donald Trump Read Lao Tzu Early in His Life?

Lao Tzu does not seem to have been a leftist, a Democrat, or a communist…
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 57

Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
Become master of the universe without striving.
How do I know that this is so?
Because of this!

The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
     I take no action and people are reformed.
     I enjoy peace and people become honest.
     I do nothing and people become rich.
     I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.

(translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)