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.