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Ed Zitron

Ed Zitron

The Insufferable Terror of Economy Air Travel, Featuring Delta Airlines

Posted: 06/24/10 10:41 AM ET

Update: After publishing this post, Delta offered me a $150 voucher. I was not able to check in online on my return trip, and regardless of logging on at 24 hours on the dot, there were no exit row seats available.

Worryingly still, I just received a call from a cabin steward who said, and I quote, that she felt "...so bad for you people [referring to economy class passengers] and how you're treated..." - good to know that the internal understanding of the company is there.

A fun fact for you all: Over the last few years I've done approaching 100,000 miles of air travel, internationally in both the US and the UK. While this doesn't win me a plaque on the side of a plane, it does give me the authority to make a sweeping statement:

Economy travelers pay to be treated at best like idiots, and at worse like prisoners, and it's only getting worse.

I recently was unfortunate enough to take Delta 003 from JFK's Terminal 3 to London Heathrow. It was the cheapest flight available at short notice - two weeks before, at $1,300. By the same time the next day, an identical flight (and still the cheapest) at 6:25PM on Sunday June 21st was now $1,500. Why? Who knows. Naturally, I also got a middle seat, and was unable to check in online - and on arriving at the airport, they told me the only way to get anything else was to check in online. Which didn't work.

On the plane, my headrests were both broken. On asking if there were any other seats, I waited 15 minutes before seeing both people I'd asked walk past me. On asking them what was up, 'Sylvio' and 'Carmen' both treated me with the disdain and condescension one would expect if I'd asked "excuse me, can you clear out the people from the rest of this row? I feel like stretching out."

I'd love to say that this was an aberration - a mere bump in the road in an otherwise rosy time in the economy sector. Fact of the matter is, this is about the standard for a flight that costs at minimum $600. Torn, broken seats, with the comfort of rocks. Rude staff. No airconditioning in the terminal. Overpriced amenities. No space. Stuffy air. Shoulder-to-shoulder travel. All from an airline that's boasting profits are up.

In fact, let's be honest: every airline does this. Every single one. Every one is content to create a hostile pricing structure that deliberately and mercilessly changes prices based on demand. Wherever the massive profits from these seats go, they certainly don't go into innovating in the economy sector.

While I lack the sheer eloquence of The Cranky Flier, Brett Snyder, who can and will probably out-do me on this subject, I felt it necessary to at least put this to paper (web...paper?).

I single out Delta as they always, without fail, exemplify everything wrong with air-travel. Every trip a new litany of mistakes, every flight a new experience in discomfort and annoyance. Occasionally I'll enjoy an economy flight with Virgin or United - though that's not to say they're good value for money - but Delta is a word I've come to associate with dread, or Neighbours.

Worse-still, their inadequate Twitter-force - @deltaassist and @delta told me to contact them in private about when I'd emailed all of this information through. I re-sent it, and then contacted them. Their response?

"I'm here to assist you. It normally takes 3 to 5 business days for a response. You can also call Customer Care @ 1-404-715-1450, 8AM-7PM ^JH" - this is not how Twitter customer support works, guys. You're meant to help, not pass the buck.

I wish I could just take a boat for 6 hours and get where I wanted to be, and maybe not pay through the nose for pure, unfettered displeasure.

 

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