Friday, May 07, 2010

On becoming a less frequent flyer

The United-Continental merger is not good news to me

In fact, I hate United -- and I don't much like Continental. Why would I want them to get bigger and have more market clout?

By accident of geography, I've been a United frequent flyer for some years: San Francisco has been a major maintenance hub for UAL and they go places I go a lot: Denver, Boston, New York. When I used to go other places more often, I frequented other airlines. But flying United is not pleasant or friendly.

This charging for bags business (and changing the rules every few months) is infuriating. The consequence is that everyone drags their stuff onto the plane and tries to force it into the bins, screwing up the loading process. This silly dodge to raise fares without "raising fares" is enough in itself to make me look at other carriers like Jet Blue and Southwest which don't assume you can travel without clothes. United wants me to ship my stuff in advance by Fed-Ex for (currently) a $79 minimum. Such a deal; does the luggage travel on the same plane, with United getting a cut? After all, gouging for luggage seems intended to increase United's freight capacity.

Then there's the discrimination in loading between the rich and non-rich, the phony red carpet. Airline class distinction are just a way to try to force more people to buy more expensive tickets in order to avoid the worst of the cattle car treatment meted out in the back where we now fly without legroom or even peanuts! Just raise the damn fares across the board and treat customers like people, not packages.

United employees usually look awfully harried these day -- exceeded in this only by the folks at Delta. I suppose they have to worry about being economized out of a job in the name of efficiency. I don't blame them for worrying and mostly they don't take it out on passengers. However I suppose passengers take their disgust with how the airline treats them out on the workers.

According to Salon's airline pilot guy, U.S. airlines are in the middle of the pack internationally in customer service ratings. Asian and European airlines do better. By some measures the new United-Continental will be the largest in the world, but probably not one of the nicest.

This summer, I'm putting my money where my mouth is and driving to Colorado rather than fly. Flying has become so damned annoying that I have become more and more willing to do the driving myself. Last year I drove to Los Angeles and back rather than fly for the same reason.

Various sites return various answers, but there are some that suggest that long distance driving and flying have about equal negative environmental impacts. I'm afraid I'm not yet ready to stay home unless I have too -- am I just an entitled American?

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