Ok, I don’t know what the problem is, but the service you get on US based airlines with budget economy tickets is flat out atrocious. The best way to describe these businesses is entitled. They act like you just have to take their BS and there’s nothing you can do about it. They are rude, the service is never on time, and the prices are inflated. The fact that they would behave this way in a free market economy makes no sense. My only conclusion is that they must be getting enough money from government subsidies that they really don’t care what their customers think. All of this flies in the face of the free market narrative that’s constantly pushed down our throats. If anyone is making millions of dollars working for a US based airline, they don’t deserve it.
Recently I flew from Chicago to Lima, Peru on Copa airlines. Copa is based out of Panama, and for that leg of the flight I knew I could relax. From the moment you go to the check in desk to the moment you exit the plane you are treated with respect and courtesy, and they left exactly at the scheduled time. They even serve you wine on the plane at no additional cost. I was traveling with my wife and my 4 and 6 year old daughters, and we were granted early boarding for both flights.
Our trip would have been absolutely great were it not for the one way flight I took from Minneapolis to Chicago the preceding day. My first mistake was booking United airlines. My thinking was that they would be on their best behavior because of the recent video of them beating the heck out of one of their passengers. But I picked their Budget Economy ticket which turned into something of a disaster.
Like any reasonable person, I always look for the lowest airfare possible. Well, United is freaking out because other US based airlines like Spirit (also terrible) are offering these $40 flights. So in an effort to “compete,” United has also created a Budget ticket, but their business plan seems to be to shame passengers into not wanting to pay so little for a ticket. The strategy is absolutely bizarre.
I booked our 4 tickets for Budget Economy from MSP to ORD and 24 hours and 1 minute later received an email of the ticket restrictions. This is significant because one of the restrictions was that I could cancel the ticket within 24 hours. The restrictions were predictable…most of them anyway. With budget economy you are allowed a personal item but not a carry on, you have to pay $25 for any checked luggage, and…families are not seated together.
I was OK with everything else but the “families are not seated together” clause was infuriating. When I purchased the ticket I put in the ages of my two children in a drop down menu…so United was well aware I was bringing young children. THAT would have been a good time to flash a message that said, “you won’t be seated with your children, you don’t qualify for this ticket.” Honestly, in this day and age of litigation, how can an airline justify seating small children next to perfect strangers? My initial thought was to seat my 6 year old, and then tell her to start screaming, “Stop touching me! Stranger Danger!” the second I turned my back. I was also planning on wearing a Gopro camera throughout the duration of the flight so I could get this all on video and sue United for enough money to send my kids to school. Seriously this is the kind of stuff you have to consider when flying these days.
We were stressing out about this flight for a couple hours and I even considered just eating the ticket cost and not flying (which isn’t a good mental state to inflict on your customers). We were also kind of worried that the flight might get cancelled, or they might kick us off, or anything else. What happened to the days of a LEGAL CONTRACT, as in “I agree to pay you X amount of money, and you agree to perform a service.” These days getting a plane ticket is only about a 50/50 proposition that you’ll actually end up getting flown anywhere. I booked the ticket for a day in advance of when I needed to get to Chicago in case necessity required us to rent a car and drive in the end.
Eventually I figured I could resolve the seating situation with money, and called United with the intention of paying to get a seat assignment. Oh, by the way, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 has a provision that states children aged 13 or younger must be seated “adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13.” Either United is acting in defiance of this provision, or that provision hasn’t taken effect yet.
I called the number and promptly got a lecture about the limitations of the Budget Economy ticket, and then the lady gave me a “one time exemption due to the fact that I had small children” and gave us seat assignments. I’m grateful that they did this, especially without charging me anything, but the experience wasn’t good. What happened to the days of, “we appreciate your business and want you to be happy?” When did that get replaced with, “well…if you want to be treated fairly you shouldn’t purchase a budget ticket you cheapskate!”
So even with the assignments, I was still worried that they were going to flip out and arrest us when they saw our personal items…even after I went through and measured every bag we were carrying based on the restrictions of size and weight listed on their web page. All it takes is one lunatic at the gate to say, “Please taze this guy!” and your trip is ruined as you await your court date.
The second you go to the counter too, they start treating you like crap. Nobody smiles, they get angry if you ask a question, there’s no pre-boarding for families with small children, it’s just miserable. Also, when I scanned my credit card to get the boarding passes, I immediately got a message that said, “you can’t pre-assign seats with budget economy,” which gave me a scare (the assigned seats did go through however).
I had a United ticket last year as well and even though I had purchased four seats, I had to fight for one spot in an overhead bin because the plane was stuffed to capacity. Additionally, when I tried to put my bag in the overhead bin I got lectured by one of the stewardesses and I had to explain we had six bags and four seats so something had to go in the overhead (this was the last leg of 3 legs going from Lima to Minneapolis, so I was not happy and my children were absolutely exhausted…a little common courtesy would have been nice).
What it comes down to is that I’m done with United and I’m done with every other US based airline. If I go overseas it will be with LATAM or Copa or Avianca or any other airline that is not based in the US. International airlines are based on an economic model called “Capitalism” which means they actually have to provide competent service because they aren’t entirely subsidized by the government. Sadly, the US based airlines are “Communism Airlines” and they get their money whether or not they have passengers…so they don’t care what your experience is.
The conclusion here is that faced with flying or driving…drive. If you have to go overseas, drive to an airport with a non-US based airline where you’ll be subjected to basic standards of human decency. If everyone in the US stops flying US based airlines, you’d think some congressmen or senators would start feeling pressure to stop funneling them truckloads of taxpayer dollars…(probably not with our current combination of stupid voters and corrupt government). If you get a chance to vote for bullet trains…do so!