Flying the user-unfriendly skies

By Neal Boortz

I’m a pilot. I fly airplanes and hot air balloons. I have also been known to jump out of perfectly good airplanes from time to time, though I’ve outgrown that propensity.

I guess we could say that aviation is my hobby. I also like to play golf, but if I flew like I putted, I would have been food for worms years ago. Remember, there are many more professional pilots than there are professional golfers. Flying is just easier.

Since I love aviation, I am dismayed by the present economic state of our airlines. I want them to stay in business – all of them – and I want them to thrive.

The airlines have to take some of the blame for the current situation. Let’s face it, they haven’t exactly been doing a lot to earn the undying love and gratitude of the American public.

May I be so presumptuous as to offer a few suggestions on how to turn things around?

Non-refundable, non-transferable tickets

Come on, now. In any other area of our economy, if a person purchases an item or a service and they find they can’t use it later on they can either (a) get their money back, (b) transfer the item or service to some other person or (c) set it aside to be used later without charge. But not with the airlines. Buy your ticket and find that you can’t use it and it’s “sorry, Charlie.” Make all airline tickets refundable up to 24 hours before departure – after that point, they’re exchangeable. Make them transferable, too.

Arrogance

Many airlines and airline officials have adopted a position of complete arrogance toward the flying public. When was the last time an airline employee actually went above and beyond the normal call of duty to satisfy a complaint or address a special request. Try to get a bulkhead or an exit-door seat? Sorry, they’re gone.

I don’t care if you make your reservations two years in advance, the bulkhead and exit-door seats are already gone. When you show up at the gate, you overhear one of the precious frequent fliers ask for that seat and get an immediate, “Yes sir! That’s available.” Give the bulkhead seats to the first person who asks for them. Ditto for exit-door seats, subject to an ability to actually open that door and the sense to know when.

Screaming babies

How about a separate section of the airplane – far in the back – for travelers with screaming babies. Don’t mix them with the rest of the passengers who have probably been working hard and need a break. Also – no children under 10 years of age in first class.

Carry-on luggage

Fine for the adults – within reason. But not for children. We don’t care how much a child whines about wanting his or her own Big Bird or Buzz Lightyear rolling carry-on bag, the answer is no. They should sit there and shut up until the flight is over.

Baggage claim

We know why airlines would want to be careful about what bags get on the airplanes. However, when you take that bag off at the end of the flight, it’s no longer your worry – it’s ours. Get the pilots and flight attendants to help you unload the airplane if you have to – but get the bags to baggage claim now! Not tomorrow. Forty-five minutes is too long to wait. If you want us to stop packing everything we own into carry-on bags, you need to find a way to reunite us with our luggage quickly.

Better snacks and food

Look, it doesn’t need to be that difficult. Just because we’re flying doesn’t mean we are gourmets. Just come down the aisle with a wagon full of Krystal cheeseburgers, a vat of chili and a keg and everything will be fine.

Fleshy fliers

We need an absolute ban on men wearing tank tops or shorts on commercial airliners. If an overweight, grotesquely hairy blubber-butt shows up in a tank top, he should be treated as a security risk and arrested. The airlines can solve this problem by having DuPont Tyvek ? overalls on hand for these people to wear. On the back of the overalls should be printed the words: “I came to the airport looking like a fat hairy pig and all I got was these cool overalls.”

That Saturday-night stay

Where the hell did this nonsense come from? Why do you care whether or not we stay over a Saturday night? Do you get a commission from the hotels? When we want to come home, let us come home. Don’t make us stay in a strange city away from our loved ones for an extra night if we don’t want to.

Wide-open stand-by

If I have a ticket to fly from Phoenix to Cincinnati, you should let me get on any airplane I want to so long as there is an empty seat and the aircraft isn’t over gross. Hey, I paid for the ticket – why should I have to sit six extra hours in the airport while a plane to my destination takes off with an empty seat just because my ticket is for a later flight. Either way, you get a butt in a seat and money for a ticket. Oh – and no charge for changing either.

Just be honest

Is my flight going to be on time? If I walk up to the gate and see a departure time of 8:30 on the sign, and it’s 8:15 and I can plainly see that there’s no plane at the gate, don’t tell me the flight is going to be on time. It isn’t going to be on time. It’s going to be late – and there are people I need to call to let them know. No more of these “eat dog waste and die a horrible death” looks from the gate agents and obnoxious “It says 8:30, doesn’t it?” responses when I ask how long the delay is going to be.

I don’t want to pull my seatback up yet

OK, I know why I have to put away my tray table and pull my seatback to its full upright and locked position on takeoff and landing. It’s so people can get out of the airplane in an emergency, right? It also keeps people from being hurt when Captain Kangaroo lands a little rough. Fine. I’ll go along with it. But don’t send the Gestapo down the aisle barking at me about my seat backs when we’re headed for Atlanta and the airplane is over Birmingham. Tell us to pull our seat backs up when the gear goes down. That ought to do it.

Non-reclining seats

There is no more uncomfortable space on any aircraft which is designed for occupancy by a human being than those seats on airliners that won’t recline. These are the seats with an exit row right behind them. Anyone riding in these seats should get a voucher for a free first-class upgrade on a space-available basis for their next flight.

Free headphones

Simple enough. Those people in the seats are paying taxes to bail your asses out of some pretty stupid financial decisions. Give them free headphones – and an audio channel for “The Best of Boortz.”

Cell phones

I’m still not convinced that cell phones screw with the navigation system. It certainly doesn’t happen in my airplane. Let the passengers use the cell phones. They used them on those hijacked flights and we didn’t see any navigation problems there, did we? Seems to me the navigation was rather good.

Class-warfare boarding

Now I understand why you like to board the airplane from the rear forward. Great. But the entire purpose of this exercise is defeated if you give your precious Super-Platinum-Diamond-Gold Medal fancy frequent-flying passengers a head start on everyone else. I don’t care how many frequent flier miles they have. I’m paying for my ticket (and for your bailout) and they are on expense accounts. Go look at the way Southwest boards their airplanes. Do it that way.

Attractive flight attendants

Two words. Singapore Air. Oh, and can we slim some of them down too? On a recent flight, I had an aisle seat. I got bruises from the flight attendant walking by. Look, if they have to go up and down the aisles sideways like a huge crab, they probably should be given a desk job somewhere – with a very sturdy chair.

Frequent-flier miles

All frequent-flier miles should be equal. Some grunt with just enough frequent-flier miles probably worked a lot harder to earn those miles than some Super-Gold-Titanium Frequent Flier did – and paid for the miles with his own money to boot. No black-out periods for just some of your customers. Treat them all the same.

Oh … and one more thing: Profile at those security stations. Show us you have some sense.