When did we become a country of “It could be worse”?


I just flew from Washington, DC, to Chicago and connected onwards to Calgary, Canada, on United Airlines and a code-share partner. The mainline flight was dark and dingy. The code-share (more than three hours) was tight and cramped on a regional jet.

Passengers around me on both flights bemoaned the “good old days.” But, they said, it could be worse.

When I asked them why they were on that particular flight and flying on United after hearing an earful of complaints, they each to a person said, “Frequent flier miles.” More on that later.

I recently flew on American Airlines and the earphone jack on each of the seats in my row did not work for inflight entertainment. One tray table kept falling down, reading light didn’t work and the middle seat would not stay in the upright position.

After admonishing the poor passengers in the faulty seat, the flight attendant said, “It could be worse. The seat could be stuck in the upright position.”

Our president seems to be running his entire re-election campaign on the theme that, “It could be worse, stick with me.”

After negotiations with American Airlines, Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, said, “While any jobs cuts at the Tulsa maintenance base will be difficult, it’s important to remember that, with the current plan, thousands of jobs that are vital to our community will continue to be preserved.”

In other words, “It could be worse.”

Friends of mine who fly with various airlines either as executives, pilots or flight attendants, all live by the same mantra, “It could be worse.” This is as they find themselves stripped of retirement programs, hours added to their base pay calculations and see their flight privileges reduced.

Their attitudes: It could be worse.

All of these examples are emblematic of people, from passengers to workers to presidents, falling back on passive, let-life-happen-to-me attitudes.

Maybe the president has a secret plan ready to be announced after the election about how he will make the country better, but we haven’t heard it yet.

We passengers all complain to each other, but that won’t change much. With airline capacity about as tight as it can get and the airlines cutting service rather than expanding, passengers can be assured that they will find more of the same kind of service.

Ex-pilots and ex-flight attendants all are hoping that retirement, even reduced retirement, will still be there after they allow themselves to be laid off then rehired. Other flight attendants just want some certainty back in their lives rather than continuing at the brink of unemployment. Yet, others have left the field and started new jobs where they have more control over their lives.

I realize that being stoic may be seen as a virtue of sorts, and one can live imagining worst-case scenarios. Then we may learn how to better appreciate what they already have. But that seems to me to be a hell of a way to live.

The president and airline workers may not have many alternatives, but passengers certainly do. We can shift airlines, fly from alternative airports, complain about mistreatment and learn our rights.

I’ve heard from far too many passengers who claim they are putting up with the bad airline service because of frequent flier miles. Are you kidding me? Business travelers who demand excellence from their employees allow airlines to provide less and less service, but accept it because they are being rewarded with more flights.

I can already imagine the airline response to a complaint letter (and believe me I have seen some just like this): “We are sorry for treating you poorly; we will provide you with airline scrip as an apology.” More of the same as a reward for bad service. The frequent flier addicts who chase frequent flier miles for more bad flights fall into this category.

If passengers don’t vote with their feet, service will continually get worse and worse. Eventually, passengers will revolt. Even frequent-flier-mile drugs won’t work.

I urge passengers, whenever they have the ability and wherewithal, to
fly on an alternative airline (forget the frequent flier miles) or depart from a nearby airport (drive a bit further) in order to encourage competition and change. When service is not good, send a complaint to the airlines and send it along to DOT as well.

The current DOT Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has done more for passenger protection than all previous holders of his position. Now it is our turn to make the system work for us and demand that airlines follow the rules and treat passengers as they should.

Change will only come from taking proactive actions rather than bemoaning that it could have been worse. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, we will deserve what we get.

  • Matthew in NYC

    It is easy to offer generous employee benefits when a company’s industry is regulated, but in a market competitive industry where labor is a significant cost, companies will try to pare down those benefits. Similarly with coach class travel, when a company is told by the FAA what price it can charge for tickets, a company has to distinguish itself on level of service. Now with no price controls, there is a race to the lowest sticker price on tickets and airlines scrimp on non-essential maintenance and services. If passengers want better service, they need to pay more and fly a premium airline or fly in a premium class. Most would prefer to save the money and put up with a little discomfort. After all, no seasoned traveller would rely on an airline for their inflight entertainment. – we all bring computers/tablets/smartphones/ebooks loaded with entertainment options.

  • Anonymous

    Mixing your political opinions about the president’s record over the last four years — at no fewer than 3 places in the article — reveals this as a pro-Romney political hack rather than a true article about trends in the travel industry.

    This is an inappropriate and unethical use of your pulpit.

    As you know from my long record of comments on your articles, Charlie, I’ve always done what you encourage in this article: I’ve held you to a high standard of competence and ethics. And you have always failed me. If I had the capability, I would fire you on the spot.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    I guess it is a good thing that I don’t work for you. Always failed you?

    The story is not political at all. It is dealing with our sociology. The President’s speech got me thinking that we have now reached the highest levels of government saying, “It could be worse.” Then, right on the heels of that speech, I hear it from a row full of travelers. Then I read it that very afternoon in the newspaper regarding union negotiations.

    Sorry, but I am not writing a political piece. This is a piece about a pervasive attitude that surrounds us from the top of society to the bottom. I don’t think it is healthy. It may be seen as a way of coping, but ultimately it creates a society of victims. And, that is not good.

  • James

    Joel: I fully agree with your comment. Charlie’s political bias has been evident in many of his articles but this is the most blatant and egregious display yet.

  • dcta

    What’s kind of funny here is that Charlie’s been crying here for a few years for the very sorts of regulations on the airline industry that the current president’s opponents would most likely try to undo!

  • MPD

    Kinda indignant and defensive, Joe?

  • DougInTheRealWorld

    Mixing your political opinions about Charlie’s record — at no fewer than 3 places in the comment — reveals you as a pro-“Eh, let’s see how worse it can get” political hack rather than a true comment about the substance of the article.

    This is an inappropriate and unethical use of your internet connection.

    As you know from my long record of rolling my eyes when I see your comments, JoeInAtlanta, I’ve always done what you encourage and laughed at the joke you must be making as it’s obvious you couldn’t be serious. If you had a job that mattered to me, I would fire you on the spot.

    I’m not a huge Charlie Leocha fan, but c’mon.

  • Anonymous

    It could be MUCH worse. You could be in Miami.

    This morning’s Miami Herald features a “Daily Question” poll:

    Is Miami lacking in loveability?
    Yes: 85%.
    No: 15%.

    This is reflected in so many anecdotes about cash register clerks, wait staff and other service personnel just walking away from a customer. No communications. They just walk, leaving the customer, and the vendors do nothing about it.

  • Anonymous

    Customers, who have been abandoned in Miami stores, should accumulate a mess of stuff, put it on the counter, wait until it is rung up, then just walk away. Maybe that would send a message. Maybe not.

  • Phil

    And which President appointed Mr. LaHood who ” has done more for passenger protection than all previous holders of his position?” Apparently this President hasn’t done everything wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.smith.7906 Charles Smith

    I am surprised at the comment about the broken seat in the middle. If the seat would not stay up in the upright position, I believe that the seat MUST be taken out of service and the passenger assigned to that seat should be reaccomodated. And I think that having someone in that seat AFTER notifying the Flight Crew may even be a violation of FAA regulations where the airline could be fined.

  • Scott Larson

    I stopped reading once you made the article political. I found it as relevant to the article as discussing what table cloth to use on my dining room table.

  • Kim K

    This article express my sentiments with or without the politics. We as consumers put up with poor customer service without demanding the best. We should speak louder or not frequent the establishment/airline/etc.

  • Kim K

    This article express my sentiments with or without the politics. We as consumers put up with poor customer service without demanding the best. We should speak louder or not frequent the establishment/airline/etc.

  • DCTA

    Our president seems to be running his entire re-election campaign on the theme that, “It could be worse, stick with me.”

    I’m sorry – I just don’t get how you took a flight experience and somehow found a way to turn it into a political campaign? US Presidential politics, no less.

  • DaveS

    I fly many times a year, and I’d have to say that 90% of the time everything goes fine, including the customer service. Recently I wrote a letter to US Airways to commend the wonderful service of a counter agent who literally saved my trip with her service beyond the call of duty. I’m not sure where the line falls between being appropriately assertive or simply whiny and bitter. Do we really need to complain to the federal government every time there’s a minor inconvenience or mishap? And lamenting the good old days is not terribly convincing to me. In those “good old days” the cost of a flight was about four times what it is now after accounting for inflation and personal income, and you got smoke blown in your face throughout. I am sorry Charlie always has bad flights, bad customer service, and bad experiences. I guess he’s a very unlucky man.

  • Em Hooper

    Quite some time ago, I boarded a plane that had been re-painted with the name of the acquiring airline. Piedmont, it might have been that was acquired, was never to be seen in the skies again. Great little dependable airline, I always thought. The aquiring airline will remain nameless, but when I entered the cabin, I looked around and thought something like,”If the mechanics do as bad a job as the cleaning crew, then this plane will be lucky to reach its destination in one piece.” (btw, this was before I knew that aircraft maintenance was ‘outsourced’ to foreign shops. Which might or might not be a good thing for passenger confidence).
    The plane made a safe landing and I decided that dirty was the new black, so to speak, and not to worry about it. These days, the planes look cleaner than they did, but mostly it’s because proper meals are not served, maybe? And the newspapers we used to be given onboard are not there anymore, so no more black smudges on the light colored plastics. Clean? Meals? Newspapers? Yes indeedy, it could be worse. Now the planes creak and squeak like to fall apart before touching down. That, my friends, doesn’t make me want to bother with frequent flier miles. It’s got to be just a matter of time before a harder landing than I want to pay money for.

  • Karen C.

    Here’s a video to go with your story, Charlie — it could be that employees no longer have pride in their work & jobs as they’ve been marginalized by the current big businesses–profit at all cost, something I think the Republican candidate espouses.