What’s the best way to get your airline’s attention?

Write a letter? Call? Send an e-mail?

No, believe it or not, there’s one effective way to gripe: the in-flight survey. Everything else is just hot air.

What you don’t know about these polls might surprise you.

How many times have you been handed a survey on a flight? You’re usually offered some bribe for filling it out like being entered in a drawing for a free roundtrip ticket. OK, your chances are better for winning the lottery, but the point is that airlines actually listen to those comments.

Many decisions are made based on the results, including everything from route choices, staffing levels, seat comfort, and flying priorities.

When choosing an airline, most people consider schedules, fare prices, and frequent flyer programs. Here’s a shocker: out of all the important in-flight concerns, which do you think the public has deemed the most important? One would hope for safety, but that was a distant fourth. Seat comfort? Not even close.

The number one priority for the average traveler is on-time arrivals. This is why they cram you into the plane so quickly and shut the door.

Cabin service ranked dead last on your in-flight priority list so you can be sure that no airline will be investing in more than minimal staffing or amenities. Do you want more comfortable seats or better perks? Do you want your airline to take a hint? Say it best with the survey, as it truly sets the tone for your flying future.

There are many types of airline polls, found in consumer magazines, on Web sites, and from the flying organizations themselves.

Have you ever read the results of a popularity poll? How can a US airline be named most and least favorite at the same time? It happens all the time; for every happy flier, there are at least two unhappy passengers.

Why don’t US airlines ever win the Overall Favorite Airline of the Year award? One reason is that they are unable to compete with foreign hiring practices and work rules, such as short-term hiring and pay structures.

You get off the worst flight you have ever been on and see a billboard for the same carrier voted best airline of the year. By whom, you wonder? In the fine print you might find it is by the Elk Lodge of Missoula, but few people notice the source of this unbelievable accolade.

Some of you take great care in filling out the comment section at the end. You find it important to vent your anger, frustration or even pay a compliment. I am sorry to inform you that this is merely a waste of time. The results are tallied by computer and that space is for your benefit of expression only as nobody in management reads it.

Occasionally, one of the flight crew reads it and will shoot you a scowl or a smile depending on the content. The following is a short list of my favorite responses that I have remembered over the years.

“My wife has left me and it is thanks to this airline’s constant lateness. No, I mean it, thanks a lot, I am much happier now.”

“Help, the passenger next to me has really bad gas and there is nowhere to move.”

(I would have upgraded her but I didn’t read it until after the flight.)

“The expression buh-bye should be banned from the cabin staff’s vocabulary along with the phony smile.”

One passenger wrote a couple of jokes.

“What does a pilot use for birth control on a layover? His personality.

What does he use for back-up? His layover clothes.”

“If you are reading this and you’re a flight attendant, please bring me a free drink from first class.”

(I brought him one soon afterwards.)

“I know you are watching me, so just stop it. Yes, I mean you!”

(I didn’t dare look him in the eye.)

“Where is this flight going to again? I think I am on the wrong plane.”

“There is somebody out on the wing!!! Just kidding, did you ever see that Twilight Zone episode?”

One man wrote a short story about dying of thirst so I quickly brought him some water.

My close friend once read a stranger’s comment, “My flight attendant is the loveliest woman I have ever seen.” They have been married for over five years now and have two boys. So maybe that section is not a total waste of time, but you know what I mean.

If you want your airline to listen, take the time and fill out the survey. While you’re at it, write something funny on the comment section.

Everyone needs a good laugh now and then.