Day 57 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked the end of our journey to Sydney, so was mostly spent in the air. Long flights are not fun, but I am always game for making the best of it because the reward of exploring new places is so great. It was nearly impossible to grin and bear it this time though.
When I was a little girl (in the 1970s) flying was glamorous. We always dressed up to fly and were positively pampered in flight. I always felt like a treasured guest of the airlines in those days. I saw flight attendants as exotic and worldly creatures who bestowed their many gifts upon us mid-flight. Back then, getting there was literally half the fun and you arrived to your destination feeling exhilarated and refreshed.
By contrast, today’s experience has me grossly filthy, completely exhausted and beyond angry. I’ve racked my brain in an effort to figure out how airplanes went from dens of delight to sewage cesspools, how flight attendants who once channeled Snow White now model their behavior after Medusa, and how the wonder and joy of flight became sheer and utter torture.
To my knowledge, airline loyalty programs became mainstream in the mid to late 1980s. One might assume that membership in such a program would make air travel a bit more rewarding. Unfortunately, I have not found this to be true, particularly with United Airlines. For instance, on our flight from Sydney to Houston I was informed by the gate agent that there were over 100 empty seats. I wanted to purchase upgrades to business class from economy plus, but was told that I was not permitted to do so as a Mileage Plus member (their loyalty program). I explained that I wasn’t interested in using points, but wanted to pay. Still no. I was told the same thing for my outgoing flight five days earlier. The seats sat empty. That doesn’t make business sense to me at all. They could have increased their profit by allowing me to buy the upgrades with no additional cost to them in regard to staff or equipment.
I wish it ended there. It didn’t. My personal item (the only thing I was traveling with) was snatched from me by a gate agent in Houston as I boarded my connection. I was told that it had to be checked. It was well within the size allowance and had already been cleared and tagged for cabin carry on by United on my previous flight that day. I was not allowed to retrieve medication nor was I given a claim ticket. I really believe that I was profiled and it does not sit well with me. I reached out to United about the incident and was initially told that they “were not there to assess bags”. What?!? Later, they sent me a link to file a claim. For what?!?
If human decency and profit aren’t king, what is? It certainly isn’t customer service as I regularly encounter many frazzled and a few aggressively rude and inappropriate staff members. Based on recent United news events, it isn’t the safety of the passengers either.
The good news is that I’m not scheduled for any long haul flights until August. In the meantime, I’ll try not to stew too much about today’s disappointments as I search for a new airline to frequent. The even better news is that our sparkling new RV will replace the filthy cramped seats of United as we roam through the United States and Canada for the next couple of months! 🚐 😍