The Friendly Skies

A certain airline company made news last week when they announced that they were pulling all their more than ninety model 757 airplanes from flight duty for repair. The initial report over the radio stated that it was a minor safety issue concerning the on-board computer that needed to be addressed and nothing to do with actual pieces of the plane. The newscaster stated that it would wreak havoc on the flights scheduled by the airline for the day as each plane needed to be out of commission for about ninety minutes. They also said that they were asked why it all had to be done at one time as it would affect travelers who already booked and paid for those flights as well as put a strain on other airlines trying to help stranded passengers by putting them into any available seats on their flights. The alleged answer by the airline’s spokesperson was that it had to be done and it was better getting it all done at once and out of the way regardless if it inconvenienced anyone.

Well you-know-what must have hit the fan at that airline’s corporate headquarters. They must have received hundreds of calls from passengers complaining about the cavalier attitude of the airline let alone being inconvenienced. The very next morning- the day of the quickly scheduled maintenance debacle, a new version of the story was reported on the same radio station. This time the airline put the blame squarely on the wide shoulders of the Federal Aviation Authority. They said that it was the FAA that made them pull the planes immediately for repair even though that it was not safety-threatening. It was not a whim of the airline.

Back in the 1980’s, I decided to make a second visit to Los Angeles during the winter to get away from snow and the blahs in Chicago. There was two feet of icy snow on the ground in and around Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I gladly rushed to get ready to get out and get some relief. However, it was all for naught. Planes were being delayed from getting to O’hare and the one I was supposed to get on was included. I waited four hours at the gate but was grateful to finally takeoff. It was my first experience in understanding that airlines do not keep a couple of extra planes in hangars as backups in case of emergency. They rely on a tight schedule of a plane coming in, being cleaned up and readied for its next destination. One would think that a few spares would be well worth the investment in good will and positive customer relations. But, airlines don’t think that way.

Shortly after the debacle of the Twin Tower destruction, I visited my sister in Hartford, Connecticut. On my return trip to Chicago, upon entering the local airport, I went through the hassle of taking off my shoes to prove I was not planning on using them as a weapon. Putting them back on, I heaved a deep breath and tried to put myself into a relaxing state as there was less than an hour before boarding time. Another plane was using the scheduled departure gate. I expected that once it took off, another would land shortly and go through required preparations to allow for boarding. However, no plane came down to take its place. Finally, a spokesperson for the airline came on the loudspeakers after getting annoyed with fellow passengers asking what was up. She announced that our plane was late coming to Hartford but would soon show up.

Oh, it did but after a reasonable time there was no effort to tell us that they were ready for us to get on and buckle up. Again, after being pestered by irksome fellow travelers, the spokesperson announced that we were being delayed because of bad weather near Chicago. She didn’t say “in” Chicago but “around” it. Why couldn’t we take off in Connecticut where the weather was nice and fly in a pattern to avoid the bad weather and then land in Chicago? No- that made sense. That would have cost the airline more money in fuel- forget about screwing up the schedule for other late flights. So, I waited two and a half hours before finally taking off.

I don’t visit Connecticut much anymore. My sister can come here anytime she wishes and she does. The airlines can keep blaming the FAA and I’ll spend my money otherwise.

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