Over the past year I've clocked several thousand miles of air travel across several different airlines. Southwest, United, US Airways, American Airlines, TAM Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian.

Lots of variety, in aircraft, service, and experience. Ironically, the one constant between all of them is the sense of pained, confused frustration that comes with air travel.


For the life of me, I cannot understand the purpose of airport security. In a hurry, I accidentally forgot to empty my pockets, remove my computer, or separate my "clear plastic bag of < 3oz liquid containers" from my bag. The world didn't end. No one said anything; I grabbed my bags on the other side of the rays-of-death machine and caught my flight.

My wife, on the other hand, had her bags searched and got a complimentary feel down from the TSA. Why? Because she was frustrated we were going to miss our connection.

Security theater, anyone? Still feel that the long lines and surly security agents are worth it?

Customer Service

Just about every trip I've taken has had hiccups. Delayed flights, missing planes, missing crew. I can't fault the airline for their inability to control things like weather, but every trip? If scheduling were a task for which I were responsible, I'd build in a little buffer. This would help settle things like a takeoff delayed because flight control hasn't cleared a runway. Or a taxi to the other end of the airport to deplane and board a bus because the airport forgot to schedule a gate for your arrival.

When I flew home from Russia, I was bumped from a confirmed ticket to standby and almost refused entry to the plane at all.[ref]When I did board, I discovered the plane was half empty. Being told it was a "full flight" and my standby ticket - remember, I had a confirmed seat weeks before - didn't guarantee me a ride was infuriating![/ref] I complained loudly on Twitter and, thankfully, someone at Delta heard me and resolved issues with the gate agents. This was after I was threatened with security when I asked if I could upgrade my ticket. Unacceptable, and as a result of almost being stranded in Moscow by customer reps who refused to help, I will never fly Delta again.

This week I took my first trip ever to Romania. I booked my flights through Lufthansa because of their stellar reputation for service. Unfortunately, the first two legs of my flight were serviced by Air Canada.

Leg 1 was delayed on paper by a half hour. In reality, we left an hour late (making the hour and a half layover in Alberta seems pitiful). I was guaranteed by the gate agent, the flight attendants, and the pilot that we'd make up time and not have any problem getting back on schedule. I was also promised we wouldn't have to clear customs in Canada and could just hop on our next leg.


We also landed an hour late. And had to grab our checked bags to clear customs. When I asked the Air Canada rep at the gate what he could do to help, he shrugged and said "wish you luck?" We made it through customs, then had to run the length of the airport to make it back through security so we could get on the plane. We barely made it (with 5 minutes to spare thanks to another passenger holding things up because their party was late).

Once on board, though, the plane didn't take off. Someone in flight control forgot about us in a taxi lane for a half hour. Even when we finally did take off, we lost time in our trans-Atlantic flight. I asked another flight attendant if they had any info and if there was any way we could make our connection in Frankfurt. Again, no help. "Run really fast once you get off the plane?"

Turns out, Lufthansa rebooked us on a later flight so we didn't have to run. Unfortunately that means we missed our ride in Budapest by 4 hours - a minor inconvenience to some, but the capstone to an incredibly frustrating day for us.

Air Canada, with their utter inability to tell the truth about scheduling, deal with delays caused by their own incompetence, or offer any sort of meaningful support to a plane full of rebooked and re-routed passengers has joined Delta on my list of airlines I will never fly again.

Why is Air Travel So Painful?

Why do we consistently pay so much to be harassed by security officers, stand in long lines, sit in scheduling limbo, and put up with apathetic customer support? We live in a world where trans-continental video conferences are trivial to set up. Where products flow relatively unencumbered across borders and the world at large. We live in a world 50 years past the date we put men on the moon but we can't figure out supply chain management as it applies to air travel.

When will we collectively say "enough is enough" and fix a system that's bad for morale, bad for actually accomplishing any sort of travel, and ultimately bad for business?[ref]All it would take is one, maybe two quality airlines that plan out schedules and routes such that delays are a rarity for the rest of the system to come crumbling down.[/ref]