We all know that air travel can be a frustrating process. Any combination of factors can turn your trip into a nightmare faster than you can say "Ginger ale, please." Many assume that airlines don't care about their customers, and will do anything to get out of doing the right thing, which almost always not the case.
Friday night, I read a Huffington Post U.K. piece called The Top 5 Worst Airline Excuses — and How You Can Beat Them. As someone with over a decade of airline experience, it immediately set me off.
The whole premise of the piece is that you should expect to be locked in some sort of perpetual showdown with the airline and only by outsmarting them can you have a decent flight. At best it's overly cynical, at worst it just sounds like he's making stuff up.
One excuse passengers should expect to hear from airlines, according to the author Jakub Kotan, is "unexpected flight safety shortcomings." I've never heard this phrase used in all my years of flying and perhaps it's a Britihism, but even if it is his explanation isn't particularly illuminating.
"Unexpected flight safety shortcomings that airlines excuse themselves from delays and cancellations could mean almost anything from a pilot turning up to work inebriated to God having a bad day."
I think it's best to just take an airline at their word when they say there's a safety issue. A drunk pilot is easily replaced (after he or she is arrested on site) by a reserve pilot, and who knows what "God having a bad day" is supposed to mean? Nobody wants to fly when it's unsafe and if the airline has proof that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't want a particular plane to fly, perhaps it's best not to fly.
Next, the post brings up the bad weather excuse. We've all been at an airport and suffered through a weather delay while watching other planes take off. The post completely failed to mention that weather in route and weather at the destination city can also cause your flight to be delayed. The FAA imposes Ground Delay Programs when arrival cities have to reduce the number of flights they can accept, due to weather. It happens almost daily, and some cities are notorious for it. It's not a big conspiracy.
Crew shortage is something that can cause delays and cancellations on occasion. Airlines do a pretty good job of juggling their thousands of pilots and flight attendants between hundreds of cities, but sometimes unforeseen circumstances pop up. The post said in these circumstances, the airline is probably telling you the truth. I agree on this one. In January of this year, the FAA updated its regulations covering pilot work and rest hours, giving them more rest time and lowered the maximum work hours. You can read more about that here, if you're interested.
European passengers are entitled to compensation for disrupted flights, and are allowed to make their claims up to 9 years after the fact. Procrastinate much? In the U.K. that time limit is only 6 years. Here in the U.S., airlines only have to compensate you if you're "bumped" — involuntarily denied boarding. You can usually prevent this by showing up to the airport early as recommended. If your flight is oversold and you get there too late for an assigned seat that definitely sucks, but early check-in and arrival almost always prevents this.
The piece concluded by talking about how lost or delayed baggage is always the airline's fault. Which is true in the sense that once you hand over custody of your bag to an airline it's their responsibility, but those machines and scanners mentioned in this piece DO make mistakes. I've worked down in the airport dungeon commonly referred to as the "T Point," where luggage is fed after you check it in. It's not uncommon for bags from other airlines to come down to the wrong carousel. There isn't a representative of the airline there randomly kicking bags off the machine.
It's common courtesy for airlines to exchange any bags they accidentally receive, a Golden Rule application. That being said, I don't check my bag unless I absolutely have to. This isn't out of concern for how it will be handled, but because I like to just land and leave rather than stand around and wait with 150 other people.
Airlines do make mistakes, but they aren't on a mission to screw you over. They're businesses, with a goal of making money. They answer to shareholders, regulators and lawmakers, as well as customers.
Every business makes mistakes. When evaluating an airline it's not that helpful to focus on factors largely out of their control — like an angry deity or bad weather — and instead on how they react to them.
It doesn't benefit the airline to intentionally delay or hassle you. They know that they can lose your business just as easily as your Samsonite roller bag.