A New Experience for Me!

28 June 2012


Today I was supposed to begin my journey home, departing Lima for Mexico City, but I missed my flight. The LAN representative at the counter told me that they closed the flight two minutes before I arrived at the counter, so that because I arrived 58 minutes prior to departure instead of 60 minutes prior to departure, they refused me a seat on the plane. Of course I know that there is no excuse for being late. I could have started out earlier for the airport. Many things in the day might have made the difference that put me two minutes beyond the cut off time.

That being said, and accepting my full portion of blame without hesitation, I know the difference between people being helpful and people being unhelpful, and the LAN ground staff was about as unhelpful as anything I have ever encountered. There are other times that I have been late to an airport to catch an international flight, and the airline representatives made an honest and earnest effort to get me on the plane. And they succeeded — until now. The LAN representatives shrugged their shoulders and referred me to the sales counter, where the representative offered to get me a flight the next day for a mere $2,500 (or there abouts). At this point I pushed back a little harder, and they found me the same sequence of flights two days later for the same price as my original ticket.

It is entirely possible that if I had made a dramatic scene at the counter for the first LAN representative who refused to issue me a boarding pass for the flight, I might — certainly not certainly, but again I might — have gotten my seat on the plane. This is did not do. It was not my first reaction, and I am not good at making a scene. If I had tried to make a scene, it would have appeared forced and artificial. I know. I have done this in the past, and it doesn’t go over very well. When one goes this route one enters into an absurd game where you see how far you have to escalate the unpleasantness to pass the threshold of the representative who is all too familiar with dealing with angry customers. In other words, you need to be prepared to escalate to the limits of our ability, and this carries with it a risk, as illustrated in the airport scene in the film Meet the Parents.

For these reasons, I accepted their spectacularly bad service at its face value, which has only confirmed me in my hatred of flying. But flying is a necessary condition of travel unless one has the time and the resources to take a ship or drive the entire distance if the distance is drivable (and usually when I travel the distance is not drivable). So I fly in order to travel, but every flying experience confirms me in my low opinion of the airlines.

Some time ago I wrote a piece about when computers will become completely useless — since the “updates” that are forced upon us by the industry often reduce the functionality of our computers, it seemed to me a reasonable speculation that successive updates will eventually lower the functionality of computers to such a level that we are better off without them and people just give up trying to negotiate the impossible labyrinth jointly constructed by hardware manufacturers and software vendors.

I remembered this that I wrote about the devolution of computers when I had this experience of unhelpfulness with LAN, and I found myself asking the parallel question: will there ever come a point at which airline service becomes so bad, and the security lines so long, and the security procedures so invasive, and the plane ride itself so uncomfortable, that large numbers of people simply give up on the airlines as no longer worth the effort?

Perhaps you think I am being facetious. Perhaps you think that this is a “privileged people problem” (other posts I have written have been explicitly identified by others as such). Perhaps you are right, but, within certain constraints, a high speed rail service could largely replace intra-continental air travel and change both the practices and the expectations of the industry. The airlines can afford their attitude of impunity because they have no competition in terms of mode of transportation. The airlines compete with each other, but this seems to have been a race to the bottom in which they all offer the same awful service.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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