Back in the days when “customer service” wasn’t a contradiction in terms, those of us who needed to travel by air generally arrived at the airport confident that the airlines were going to do their best to take care of our concerns and get us where we needed to go in a comfortable, safe and timely manner.
There’s an old Chad and Jeremy song that just popped into my head.
“But that was yesterday / and yesterday’s gone”
These days, Delta may still be ready when you are, but apparently they think that you’re going to be ready when you damn well get around to it.
Personally, I don’t fly all that much.
First of all, I’m work in broadcasting and freelance writing, so I’m doing pretty well to keep gas in the car, let alone jet around the country or the world.
Second, I don’t like to fly.
It’s not your garden-variety fear, though. I’m perfectly fluent in the stats that say that flying is safer than riding in a car. Meaning, of course, that there’s a greater possibility you’ll be in a car crash than an air crash.
But the stats sort of gloss over the fact that the average car crash doesn’t come at the end of falling thirty thousand feet out of the sky.
And for me, it’s not even about crashing.
It’s about control.
I’m just not that jiggy with being strapped into a large tube hurtling at six hundred miles an hour, six miles high and having to live, inside my own fertile imagination, with the fact that if I start to get a little car(plane)sick or feel a little claustrophobic, that I cant just ask the driver to pull over and let me get a little air. (Pun intended or not, I’m ambivalent today, your call…)
I have traveled by sky for both business and personal reasons, though, and I imagine that at least once or twice more before I arrive at the real “terminal”, I’ll be standing in line at my local airport, ticket and ID in one hand, shoulder bag held with the other, suitcase laid open with my deodorant, toothpaste and exfoliate all visible in the little baggie, my shoes just to the left, while I shuffle forward, in my socky feet, trying my best to wear an expression on my face that isn’t terrorism so I can pass through the metal detectors, the x-ray scanner and the four people with those little hand held jobbers that look remarkably like those electric things we used to stick under the charcoal briquettes in the backyard barbecue pit to get them going.
But that will come after I have actually been through the ritual that gives new meaning to the term “gauntlet”.
The ticket check-in.
A long, long line of humanity, faces full of hope and expectation while unable to totally mask the world weariness that comes from knowing that, first, it’s going to take a long time to get to the head of the line and, second, once there, an enjoyable conclusion is, at best, a roll of the dice.
Like I said at the outset, think a day at Disney World and add carry on luggage.
I’m not sure when it was, exactly, that the balance of power shifted. I cant trace back historically to the exact day and time that passengers and airline employees swapped positions as the “most important” in the whole process of getting plane seats filled.
But, just as sure as Republicans cut taxes and Democrats spend, we traded places.
And although “they” still smile their Stepford smiles and say their lines with a skill and grace that would put master thespians to shame, we both know who’s calling the shots.
Personally, I think we can assign some of the blame to those wack jobs that flew the planes on 9/11.
Because, from that moment on, anybody trying to get on an airplane was no longer an automatically welcomed and cordially treated guest of the airline.
They were, potentially, the usual suspects.
Then, because commercial flying was no longer routine and required massive doses of procedure to offset any potential harm while the already typical issues of overbooking flights, short staffing behind the counters, et al continued to bog things down, the average flyer found him or herself slowly but surely conceding any feeling of control or power over whether they would, in fact, fly that particular day in a comfortable, safe and timely manner.
So, as if we suddenly find ourselves in an adjusted for aviation Seinfeld episode (“….sir, I KNOW what a reservation is…..no, I don’t think you DO….”), we also find ourselves at the mercy of whatever the airlines tell us they can or cant, will or wont do regarding the particular flight that is scheduled up on that big board for all to see and the ticket that we have purchased which is supposed to guarantee us a seat on said flight.
But, hark, revolutionists! Take heart, overthrowers of oppressive regimes.
You’ve got a friend looking out for you.
And ironically, the last person you would expect to be your advocate in this arena.
That’s right, kids.
The very agency that creates all those procedures and stands silently behind all those snarky ticket agents who stand between us and getting to Aunt Yvonne’s in time for the bris provides you a sure fire way to insure that you’re headed for the friendly skies on your terms.
Legal types would call it “loophole”.
The technical term for it is Rule 240.
…in the event of any flight delay or cancellation caused by anything other than weather, the airline would fly you on the next available flight — not their next available flight, which might not leave for another 24 hours.
Isn’t bureaucracy a wonderful thing when it bites them in the butt?
Read on….(courtesy of the nice folks at MSNBC.com)
Rule 240 was created by the old Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) way before the days of airline deregulation. And the rule clearly stated what an airline's responsibilities were to passengers in the event of a flight cancellation or delay. Rule 240 mandated that an airline facing a delayed or canceled flight had to transfer you to another carrier if 1) the second carrier could get you to your destination more quickly than the original line and 2) it had available seats. In pre-deregulation days, all the big U.S. airlines adhered to this practice.In the days of regulation, the U.S. government required all airlines to submit tariffs containing fares, fare conditions, baggage rules, and what this meant is that the airlines also had to submit details about what they would and would not do in a wide range of circumstances. Those tariffs, in effect, constituted the contract between airlines and travelers. And in an interesting semantic approach, the tariff paragraphs were described as "rules." In its day, paragraph 240 was perhaps the most pro-passenger rule ever enacted to protect air travelers. And then, when the CAB was deregulated out of existence in 1978, the rule survived the transition. Flight delayed or canceled? An airline counter or gate agent could easily invoke Rule 240 to endorse your ticket over to another carrier. In colloquial airline usage, the rule soon became a verb, as in ... "Hey, could you '240' me?" Airlines would ... and did just that.Of course, in today's deregulated environment, when airlines no longer have to post tariffs, the argument can be made that Rule 240 therefore no longer exists. Officially, that's true, but in practice a majority of airlines still honor the old rules, 240 among them. The newer carriers — those that do not have interline agreements with the major legacy airlines, like JetBlue, Southwest and Air Tran, never had Rule 240 to deal with, and thus don't, as a matter of company policy, endorse tickets over to other carriers (although JetBlue has been known to outright buy tickets on other carriers to accommodate some of its passengers).In the past few years, just about every cash-strapped airline has amended its "contract of carriage" to try to change the definition of Rule 240. Still, in practice, airlines continue to reluctantly use it — to our advantage — every day. They reluctantly use it because of financial realities — to endorse a ticket over to another carrier also means the airline loses that revenue.
On the official level, this is what airlines now say they will do in the event of a delay or cancellation:United Airlines changed its language to say that in the event of a delay or cancellation, it would still fly you on a competitor, but not necessarily in the same class of service as on your original United flight. Delta still has a Rule 240 in its contract of carriage, but conveniently omits the section in which it used to say it would fly you on another carrier in the event of a "flight irregularity." American only promises to get you out on one of its own flights. Alaska and Northwest airlines have stayed with most of the original paragraph 240 language.So, the real bottom line here is that while no one airline is legally mandated to follow Rule 240, many of them do — if they want to. And the real key is that you have to ask — not demand — and in many cases, you'll be accommodated.
The peak flying time that is the holiday season is, of course, just behind us. But, later this year, when chestnuts start roasting again, remember what I’ve shared with you here today.
And fly, Robin, fly!