Flying Is No Longer Fun

United PlaneI took my first flight when I was 6 months old.

My grandmother lived in Israel and my mom was determined to have me and my sister see her at least once a year. Over the past 35+ years, I’d estimate that I’ve flown several hundred roundtrips. It’s possible that I could be sensationalizing my experience, but I could have sworn that flying used to be fun.

That’s not the case any more. Unfortunately, flying is no longer fun.

For those that know me, you’d likely agree (I hope) that I’m generally a very positive person. I like to have fun and don’t take myself too seriously. I mean, my 4 favorite words are dude, awesome, love and pumped.

But I’ve had enough with the airlines.

I’m actually typing this blog post at 35,000 feet, aboard my United flight from Chicago (ORD) to Salt Lake City (SLC). Maybe I’m a bit grumpy considering I left SLC on the 7:20AM flight and returned 11 hours later. 45 minutes of driving, an hour & a half riding the train, 6 hours of flying, as well as a few hours of waiting … all for a 90-minute meeting (I’m hoping it was worth it!). However, I’m really just fed up with flying.

With the exception of Southwest Airlines, who I love, the airlines just don’t make flying fun anymore. I don’t even need to have fun on a flight, I just don’t want to hate it. I blogged about my terrible experience with Delta last year. A few weeks ago, I had yet another poor customer service interaction on a Delta flight. To my surprise, they emailed me a survey (see email survey) on April 10th. It turns out that the survey was an apology for the flight being delayed. I took the opportunity to submit some feedback. I figured that it could not hurt. They asked, right? Below is the text of the response I submitted:

I was not even aware that the flight was delayed. The reason I rated my experience as poor was due to the exchange I had with the flight attendants. While on the jetway, just about to board my flight, I was told that I had to check my bag as all of the overhead space was taken. 30 seconds later, when I arrived at my seat, I noticed that there was room for at least a dozen more bags. I rushed back to the front of the plane to retrieve my bag. The fight attendants were not only rude, but also did not care whatsoever that my bag was already gone. They did not make any effort to retrieve it. It was their error. No apologies. Nothing. So, even though I carried my (small) bag on, I had to check it. Mind you, not GATE check, but check it through to baggage. This extended my trip (on a flight that was already delayed) by an additional 20 minutes.

I complained via Twitter (@djwaldow) to both @delta & @deltaassist. To their credit, they replied and even apologized. We continued chatting via DM (private message). They offered me a choice of $25 or 500 miles in my account. I politely refused. I find this offer insulting. Buying me off does not fix the problem. I suggested that they use the $25 to train staff on how to be empathic to passengers or better yet, fix the system that is broken. We all know that since airlines (like Delta) have started to charge for bags, passengers bring on as much as they can to avoid the fees. This results in overheads being full, flight attendants having to gate check bags, and passengers being unhappy (like …. me!). There has to be another solution. I’d be happy to speak with someone about this directly. I can be reached via email – [email protected] – or cell – XXX.XXX.XXXX.

While I’m not surprised, I will say that I’m disappointed that nobody has contacted me in the 2 weeks since I sent this email.

My Recent (Negative) Experience With United

Fast forward to my most recent experience with an airline. United. Yesterday.

My meeting ended early in Chicago yesterday, so I tried to call United to see about flying standby on an earlier flight. Below is a recap of my experience.

  • Step 1: Went to on my iPad. 3 clicks later, I found their contact number. (Why is their number hidden? Hmmm. That’s an issue).
  • Step 2: I called the contact number, used a combination of numbers and voice replies until the system finally transferred me to an agent (2 minutes, 14 seconds later). I was “greeted” with a busy signal. Frustration starting to grow.
  • Step 3: I dialed the customer service number again. Learning from my mistake, I hit zero a bunch of times and listened as the automated system informed me they’d connect me with an agent (I still had to confirm with a “yes” that this is what I wanted to do). Again, busy signal. Frustration building.
  • Step 4: In order to rule out user error, I repeated step 3 … with the same result. Now I’m annoyed.
  • Step 5: I complained via Twitter. I mean, that’s what Twitter is for, right? (kidding, sort of). My expectations were quite low as I noticed that the last tweet from @unitedairlines was 2 days ago. Also, most of their tweets were in response to positive posts. Based on their low frequency, and the fact that I know people complain about airlines via Twitter all the time, I deduced that @unitedairlines was not all that active/responsive on Twitter.
  • Step 6: I went back to to find another number.
  • Step 7: I called the Mileage Plus number and was able to speak with a human (after hitting zero at least 17 times).
  • Step 8: I explained to the support rep that I was hoping to fly standby on an earlier flight. He told me to go to O’Hare and put my name on the standby list. He was not able to do this over the phone. Odd, right? I then asked if he could tell me if there was any open seats on the early flight. He could not tell me.
  • Step 9: I began to explain my frustrations with the busy signal, the fact that I’d been on the phone for 15+ minutes, and my general disdain for the (broken) process. I asked to how to file a formal complaint. I was told to go to I asked to speak with his supervisor. After being on hold for 7 minutes, 7 seconds, I hung up.

The story ends with me going to O’Hare and eventually securing a ticket for the earlier flight. But, not after a brief “fight” with the prompts on the kiosk and talking with yet another agent on the phone.

The bottom line is that the process of flying is broken.

Worse, it’s a broken process that does not seem to be getting any better. I’d argue that it’s getting worse. I originally planned on walking through each of the steps above and detailing what was wrong and how the process could improve. However, I don’t think that’s necessary. If you’ve made it this far in this post, you get it. You understand that the process is broken. You can clearly see what’s wrong and I bet you have a few ideas about how it can be fixed.

I realize what many of you are thinking right now. Great. Thanks for the rant, DJ. Nothing new. Now how do you fix it? Totally fair question. I have another blog post teed up that offers 3 suggestions for how the airlines can fix some of their broken processes.

However, before posting, I’d like to crowdsource the answer a bit. If you have thoughts or suggestions on how to fix the process to make flying fun again, please share them in the comments below. Be sure to include your full name & a link to your blog or a site you’d like to pimp as I’ll include those details in my next post.


Photo: Flickr – chicagokoz

DJ Waldow