Lessons Learned While Trying to Fly

As a general rule, since 9/11 I drive.  It isn’t a fear of hijacking, terrorism, or crashing that keeps me in my car.  It is the fact that in most cases I’ve found that it is less time consuming and less hassle to drive.

Recently I needed to be in Washington DC for a business event.  Normally, I would drive from Raleigh to DC and stay overnight at the hotel where the event is being held or one close to my meeting destination.  Due to the short notice about the event, there just wasn’t room at the inn…or any inn for less than $600 a night (tax not included).  I contemplated getting up sufficiently early to still drive up, but decided to check ticket prices. When it turned out to be less than $200 for a round trip non-stop flight, I decided to fly.

I must at this point give the RDU airport points for a hassle-free departure…plenty of convenient parking, speedy, professional service through security (even with the changes to restrictions on carry-on liquids).  Arrival at Reagan National in DC was also hassle-free, straight from the gate to a taxi and a short trip by taxi to the meeting venue.  Now mind you, the flight left at 6 am so my flight was one of the first out, so if you are thinking there were few opportunities for issues that is true – but fortunately those few didn’t occur.

I spent the day in the oh so comfortable stacking instruments of torture now commonly referred to as “seats” at the very nice hotel.  The event was an opportunity to meet and greet, learn and lunch, catch up and network.  But after several days of 3 am wake-ups and full days, I decided to head out to the airport with hopes of an earlier flight.  My optimism abounded…just ahead of rush hour a smooth taxi ride, short line at checkin…lots of customer service people in place.  Simple to request a change in flight…I went to self-service only to learn that I can’t do self-service to change my flight.  (I have to admit that the airline customer service person told me this with a very nice smile.)

I was directed to a similarly short line where a customer service person would provide assistance in changing my flight.  I was number five in line with four service positions open…three open…phone call on one of them…another phone call…oh wait self-service positions need assistance they are backed up…two positions open…no three…no someone’s going home…two…one…no two…line moves up…I’m still fifth in line…How did that happen?…two positions complete transactions…good I should be third…no wait I’m fourth…no I’m fifth…wait no he’s going home…another phone call…more help needed in self-service…wait third in line…no the other passenger is coming back…I’m third…no I’m fourth…where did that person come from?…Self-service has two customer service personnel and no one in line…wait they can’t help non-self-service….ten people in line in non-self service…eleven…twelve…thirteen….twenty ….two positions open…one position open…I’m fourth, I’m next…oops just kidding they’re sending the other passenger back….33 minutes and counting in a line that had five people and four customer service positions to provide service…

Finally, my turn…Good afternoon…why did you come to this line???????  BECAUSE I NEEDED SERVICE!  Oh, you could have done this at the other line….Well I didn’t.   I was enjoying standing in line longer than it took me to travel across town…I also enjoyed watching the other passengers, guessing what the average waiting time would be, seeing how many times a passenger could walk up to a counter and get sent back to the line to wait some more.  I was also thinking what a great illustration of why I don’t fly when I can drive.  What would life be like if airplanes and airlines worked like taxi services…each airline stands in line with an empty plane waiting for travelers to request a plane.   Next plane in line gets the 100 passengers going to RDU or Chicago…what if competing meant being next in line and being available when the customer needed you..   Perhaps there would be a return to customer service instead of customer no service…unless of course you are waiting on yourself.

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