It is Thursday night. I am in San Francisco waiting for my flight to Dallas. This is the last leg of a series of trips that began on May 25. During that time I have spent 95 percent of my time away from my headquarters in Dallas, working on new projects, interviewing candidates and making presentations. I have met some interesting people and encountered more than my share of traveling frustrations.
Indignities of Public Transportation
Taxicabs – They are an essential part of a city’s transportation system, especially for travelers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are easy to get in and out of, some not so much. The Crown Victoria, the model frequently with the security partition between the back seat and the driver – a Chinese wall with Plexiglas – is one of the most difficult cabs to ingress and egress; especially if you are taller than five feet with a shoe size greater than three. This is all about the safety of the driver, not the comfort of 99,999.9999 percent of the passengers who just want to go to their hotel, to dinner or to get home.
If you are taller than six feet with a shoe size more than an eight, then you are facing a contortionist’s challenge to get out. You might have to lie down and have someone pull you out, feet first. At a busy New York intersection, in the rain… well, you are screwed.
You would think that a minivan would be ideal. While it does have more legroom, the displaced back seat puts someone who is 60 and 6 feet into an ingress no-man’s land. You cannot enter like a normal vehicle because you are stepping up, the seat is displaced to allow access to a rear seating area, and there is nothing to grab to help pull yourself in. While I am not the picture of perfect fitness, I do visit the gym two or three times a week, even when I am traveling, so I cannot imagine how a frail or overweight person overcomes this hurdle.
This morning, in a coat and tie with a computer bag, I thought about lunging, head first, and hoping for the best.
Paying the Hack — Credit cards are rapidly becoming the choice for cab riders to pay the fare. But because the cab companies charge their drivers up to a five percent processing fee on credit transactions, some drivers now are offering discounts off the metered fare if you will pay with cash. So if you witness a passenger slow to leave the cab, there is a good chance there is a discount negotiation underway.
The Sauna Does Not Cost Extra
Airlines – You know that an industry is service challenged when they rate below department stores, hospitals, or a metropolitan bus system. Congratulations airline executives, your race to the bottom is indeed impressive.
Virgin America, which has the best domestic service of any other airline, gets a pass and my loyalty for travel to the two destinations they serve from DFW International — San Francisco and Los Angeles. Sorry United. You need to improve your product, especially your regional jet service. I would rather have a root canal without Lidocaine than fly with a certain Utah-based commuter airline that operates flights for several several main-line carriers like the aforementioned United and Delta. They apparently think it is OK not to use ground A/C to cool the cabins as passengers are boarding, even on very hot, humid days.
On a recent trip, including destinations like Newark, Chicago, Cincinnati and my home base of Dallas, every flight I booked was on the cramped regional jets. There were not many options. Guess what? The fares you pay to fly in such glorious discomfort are as high as the mainline aircraft — Boeing and Airbus.
Let’s be honest, airlines have no incentive to do better. They have customers who are hopeless addicts – to their status and the frequent flyer miles that airlines dangle in front of us to secure our loyalty for being treated badly. When an airline treats a preferred customer like a necessary evil the chances are better than 90 percent that the aggrieved passenger will forgive and forget because they have status and they want more miles to earn a free trip, get an upgrade and to board ahead of the unwashed masses.
If you are flying first class on a domestic flight operated by a merger-crazed US airline that is really a discounter trying to masquerade as a full-service operation, and you wonder what happened to the flight attendant in the front cabin, I have a theory for you.
Once the first class cabin flight attendant has served you your first “free” drink, hanging around up front means he or she may have to serve you another. If he or she goes back to “help out their colleagues in coach,” the attendant, in effect, saves the airline money. OK, I know that sounds cynical, but just watch the next time you fly domestically from Philadelphia or Phoenix.
If the DOJ prevails in their lawsuit to bar the merger between American Airlines and U.S. Air, the thousands of American frequent flyers will have dodged a bullet, the deeply unhappy flight attendants and pilots notwithstanding.