The airlines would have Congress and regulators believe that the tarmac-delay rule has forced them to cancel thousands of flights this winter. The truth is, they cancel flights for their own good. And, for their passengers' good.
Today, thousands and thousands of flights have been cancelled. Once upon a time, that would be expected news and the end of the story. However, cancellations themselves are not the biggest problem, getting flights rescheduled and fighting airlines fees for flight changes and dealing with canceled non-refundable reservations at hotels and with other travel providers is becoming a burden.
Besides the billions in income, airlines benefit from travel agents when things go wrong during travels. Airlines have been cutting staff, which means less customer service. So having travel agents dealing with many customer service and flight rerouting problems is a bonus for the airlines.
In a post last week I wrote about a problem with United Airlines' automatic rebooking system, which when travelers were about to miss a connection, rebooked them 30 hours later. In the end, with human intervention, I got them on a same day connection and all was well. Until it wasn't — They were flying on a mileage ticket and the return was fouled up.
Instead of calling or lining up or even going online to have an agent rebook a flight where there has been some kind of travel disruption, travelers now get messages about possible or probable missed connections, along with a new alternate flight. The rebooking systems are good but, by no means, perfect.
All the special attention in the world for this very frequent flier wouldn't have averted a near disaster on her return when her flight from Europe was accidentally canceled.
Sometimes the best laid plans of computers, especially when it comes to automated rebookings, don't work out. A story that unscores the need for humans in the rebooking chain.
While skipping a long line to talk to an agent may sound appealing, here are four times it's not worth it. It's not that the automatic program can never find an alternative, but it never hurts to double check when possible and be more pro-active.
The family had planned a late summer getaway to Turks and Caicos before school started after Labor Day. They were flying from Washington, D.C., and they were careful enough to book flights with plenty of connecting time in Miami in case of weather issues. Tropical storm Isaac still caused problems.
Anyone who flies regularly and/or works in the travel industry has had plenty of head-scratching moments about the airlines. Greed — the desire to maximize revenue — is understandable. Incompetence can be accepted as well, although with today's unemployment rate one wonders, how do some of these people have jobs. But some self-inflicted airline actions leave many of us speechless.