Air travelers’ patience runs thin
BY HANNAH SAMPSON AND INA PAIVA CORDLE
C.W. GRIFFIN / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
The stresses of air travel takes it’s toll on passengers in different ways. Joann Coleman, 53, and daughter Madeleine Coleman, 19, felt stress in trying to get directions to catch a connecting flight home to Los Angeles. They also complained about other passengers using their overhead space.
Frank Granati is fed up with air travel: the sometimes baffling security rules, the lack of amenities on board, the rude fellow passengers.
Granati, who stopped over at Miami International Airport on his way home to Long Island from Grenada Wednesday, isn’t alone.
Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who quit his job with a public speech, then grabbed a beer before he slid down the emergency chute, has emerged as a folk hero since Monday’s dramatic exit at a New York airport. More than 143,000 people have become fans of a Facebook page dedicated to him.
“He was pushed to the edge,” said Grenati, adding that he does not condone Slater breaking any Federal Aviation Administration rules. “There are a lot of obnoxious people, people who don’t follow instructions, don’t turn off their phones.”
Airline watchers say the skies have become far less friendly since the 9/11 terrorist attacks as intrusive security checks have become the norm and airlines have added fees, cut flights and reduced services.
“All of this leads to a little bit of resentment,” said Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor of Lonely Planet.
“People are saying, `Wait a minute, we used to get this and we don’t now.’ I think the tension has been building.”
A report from the Department of Transportation underscores the dissatisfaction: Between January and June, the department registered 5,757 complaints from consumers. That’s up from 4,355 complaints filed during the same period in 2009 — a 32 percent increase, though traffic increased less than 1 percent during that time.
Most complaints are about flight delays and cancellations, lost bags, problems with ticketing or reservations or customer service. One complaint — long waits on the tarmac — was addressed by a rule that took effect this year that says passengers on U.S.-based carriers can’t be forced to sit on the plane for more than three hours.
To add to travelers’ woes, airline fares have increased slightly since 2009, and flights have gotten a little fuller, up a point to 87 percent full. And more people are lugging their bags on board, thanks to increased fees for checked bags.
“People bring their overhead bags into the cabin and they fight over the space,” said George Hobica, president of travel website Airfarewatchdog.com . “The whole process is miserable, getting on the plane, getting off the plane, waiting, waiting, waiting.”
That’s reportedly what led to a squabble between two passengers on Monday’s JetBlue flight — which eventually led Slater to declare publicly that he’d had enough.
MANY HASSLES Whether travelers agreed with Slater’s actions or not, many say that air travel has indeed become a hassle-filled experience. “Flight delays, crowded flights, missed connections, lack of concern by airlines for passengers’ dilemmas and vice versa all contribute to making flying anything but pleasurable,” said Hollywood resident Barbara Van Diepen, a member of Miami’s Public Insight Network who flies several times a year. “Sometimes I feel like a mouse in a maze!” For Galvin Chance of Atlanta, the list of annoyances about air travel is long: waiting in lines, flight delays, going through security, the lack of food onboard and having to pay extra for baggage. “Flying is not the glamorous mode of travel it used to be,” said Chance, as he waited to check in for his flight home to Atlanta after a business trip in Miami. “Now it’s more of a hassle to get from Point A to Point B.” Longtime flight attendant Elliott Hester, who is based in Miami, said he feels for Slater but does not condone his actions. MORE WINE! Hester recalls a recent international flight where one man yelled at him for more wine after pouting that no more chicken meals were left in first class. The passenger at least had an option to eat something else, though: Hester, who is also a travel writer and author of books including Plane Insanity: A Flight Attendant’s Tales of Sex, Rage, and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet, said flight attendants have to settle for leftovers. “I can empathize to an extent, having hundreds of times tried to tell passengers: Wait until we get to the gate, it’s not safe,” he said. “Just trying to get people to turn off their cellphones is a chore. People can be really nasty.” Contributing to this report were members of the Public Insight Network, community members who share their thoughts and experiences with local journalists. To learn how you can participate, visit www.MiamiHer ald.com/insight.