I always fly Delta because Detroit is a hub, and I accrue miles that I can use toward future flights. The Delta terminal is bigger, newer, with more flights and more direct flights, and so it has always been my preference.
On my recent trip to San Diego, I took Delta there, and US Airways home because flight times were better. On the flight from San Diego to Phoenix, I marveled at the spaciousness of the seats, the emptiness of the plane (Stretch my legs! Use the middle seat for my stuff! Oh joy, oh joy!)
The flight staff were friendly, jovial even, accommodating and welcoming. I boarded the plane and this nice male flight attendant said, “Welcome, young lady.” At 41, I love being called young lady. The whole experience was true customer service with class.
So when they came around with the US Airways Mastercard offer, and a gift of 40,000 miles just for signing up (and paying the annual fee), I decided to do it. Never mind that I have a Delta American Express for that exact reason. I have four children, and a family of six can’t fly anywhere on the cheap. We can use all the miles we can rack up.
I was almost giddy with excitement at finding a domestic airline that cares about its customers. And especially with US Air’s acquisition of American Airlines, making it the nation’s super-airline, I’m relieved to see that a customer-service focused entity is monopolizing the skies.
I felt like American commerce was being redeemed on US Air.
Until the second flight.
Don’t get me wrong – there was still kindness and spacious seats and a generosity of spirit. The doors shut and the lead flight attendant boomed over the speaker system, “Feel free to play musical chairs now.” Even the passengers seemed friendlier than on other airlines.
Human to human. Excellent when you are a captive audience late at night on your way home.
It was just the oddities that I found interesting.
During the beverage service, a squeaky-voiced flight attendant who couldn’t be younger than 35 blanked when the woman next to me asked for Vernors.
“I don’t know what that is,” she squeaked.
Really? Are we that mired in regionality? (Turns out, we are.)
“Ginger ale,” the woman explained.
“Oh,” Squeaky smiled. “Seagram’s?”
When I inquired about a blanket, she beamed her beatific smile at me and said, “We sell them. It’s a blanket – pillow – head rest all in one!”
“You have to buy a blanket?” I asked, stunned.
She nodded vigorously, her dark glossy hair never moving with the motion.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” I said.
“Really? With all these diseases going around?” she said.
Right. Because an airline sells its blankets simply to protect passengers from getting sick. (Let’s leave the topic of every little piecemeal bit of service on a flight coveting its own price for another blog.)
There was nothing wrong with the customer service per se, but her ignorance was a blast of cold air. (Yes, I was traveling back from sunny San Diego to 19-degree Detroit.) Surely she remembers a childhood of traveling with ease – no pat-downs or stern TSA stares. No shoes off, belts off, bins for your stuff, swiping of hands for whatever residue isn’t really there.
Back then, flying was an adventure in itself, one of the best parts of vacation.
We kids were invited into the cockpit and peered wide-eyed at all the controls and the beaming pilots. We were given flight wings on pins (they still give those to kids) and decks of branded playing cards and no one complained about peanut snacks and we were fed hot (albeit questionable) meals on domestic flights.
I made friends in adjacent seats, exchanging addresses but never quite becoming pen pals. I had some of the best conversations of my formative years on planes, with strangers. People were happy, comfortable, eager for adventure, open to the world.
And blankets were free. On Delta, the airline I’ve come to dislike, they still are – wrapped in plastic, completely clean and germ-less, Squeaky. We had germs and diseases back then but we didn’t get nearly as sick, we didn’t have food allergies, we weren’t so afraid.
Interesting times we live in, eh?
I was prepared to sing the praises of one airline over another, but I am realizing there is no perfect brand. The guy in the seat next to me concurred, a marine biologist on his way home from Portland, Oregon for his grandfather’s funeral. (93, a Holocaust survivor) I guess I do still meet interesting people on planes. (In between tales of his work on the Bering Sea, monitoring fisheries, he told me how until a year ago, his grandfather would get up on the roof of his own house to fix the gutters, he was that independent. A whole world, gone with his passing.)
There are brands-of-the-moment, excellent in certain classes of service, and distinguished in specific details. But no across-the-board excellent experience. At least not on American soil.
If I had my way, I’d fly Cathay Pacific all the time – and for that matter, I’d set my sights on distant destinations, forget about price and security. I’d take off over oceans and see where I could land.
I’d like to reclaim the travel-as-adventure M.O. and chuck the travel-as-inconvenience-as-stressful-suspicious-means-to-an-end. Put an end to bookending a fabulous trip with the gray stress of airport and sky-high drudgery.
Think it’s in the realm of possibility?