It’s time to stop picking on United

My grandparents used to tell me that when televisions first started becoming popular the news stations had only one job: report the news. It was really simple: here is the story as we factually know it and presto…news! oh-how-the-media-likes-to-sensationalize-things-82123Once the networks realized that sensationalizing a story and essentially beating it into the ground was profitable, there was no stopping them. Everything now is breaking news and having the most up-to-date details, no matter how trivial, can equal millions in extra revenue. This of course means that networks have to continually provide new content and what better way to do so than to go back and further scrutinize a person, business or organization that you have already slammed before. At this point, it’s no longer called news…it’s called bullying…

The easiest way to describe the behaviors of news organizations is by comparing them to a middle school gym class playing dodgeball. The networks are the taller, stronger kids whose pubes have already started sprouting and have the cool parents who let the kids get drunk at their house because they say, “it’s safer under our own roof.” The target organization is the overweight, nearsighted sci-fi nerd who accidentally shit his pants in 4th grade and still hasn’t lived it down. dodgeballOver and over they pound him with red balls and insults, laughing at his cries for mercy and mocking his very existence until he finally cracks and (well, I’m not going to go there…do have some resemblance of a conscience). Celebrities, oil companies, fraternities and sororities, and political parties (varying depending on what channel you watch) are all easy targets that never make it off the bench before taking a round, rubber bullet to the side of their head sending their glasses screeching across the gymnasium. Airlines are in the same boat. Every now and then, one airline will screw up big which will put them in the media drawn crosshairs for at least a few years. Right now it’s United’s turn…and there seems to be no end in sight.

I’m sure United has gone through their share of issues but this particular onslaught seems to have started with one incident which I’m sure we’re all too familiar by now. Let me provide a recap: guy purchases a United ticket from Chicago to Louisville; while buying this ticket he also checks the little box which, paraphrasing, says something like, “I agree with the terms and conditions”; guy gets on United flight; guy is asked to de-plane because of overbooking (here is where those ‘conditions’ come into play); guy refuses (therefore, violating those ‘conditions’); 170410170634-united-airlines-mobile-cut-full-169guy gets dragged off by security allowing another passenger to become a momentary Twitter sensation. Remember that? Immediately following came a serious of unfortunate events including a rabbit dying, two girls not being let on a flight for wearing leggings (or tights…what’s the difference…), a musician fighting a flight attendant and a parent getting pissed for her snot-nosed little brat having to share her seat. All of these things seem to suggest incompetence amongst the airline. However, as bad as they are, this is just the nature of air travel…plain and simple.

Airlines exist for two reasons. To fly passengers and cargo from one point to another and to make a profit while doing it. 26_DrunkPlaneThat’s it…nothing else. And they have to do this while also facing constant public scrutiny, regulations from every government agency on the planet, tight schedules, exhausted employees, new technological breakthroughs, political correctness and the person in seat 30F throwing pretzels down the fuselage because the airport TGIFriday’s served him one to many. Oh and at the same time, do all of this on the cheap because, lord knows, people get pissy when an airline tries to send up a 200,000lb, gasoline filled Megabus across the United States for more than $300.

The one common denominator for all the issues faced by any airline including United are humans. Yes, I know, a rabbit is not human but it was a person who decided that the fucking Easter Bunny needed to fly economy that day. All being said, people are what causes the problems on flights. f129046538de1d7dc688a4e2377ed284People refuse to follow FAA regulations and crew member instructions, people bring their precious animals on board and let them shit all over the aisle, people book tickets way too late leaving them a crappy seat and people dress in provocative clothing and then get mad when it’s brought to their attention. Jerry Seinfeld said it the best, “people are the worst!” He wasn’t kidding.

I have no emotional or economic reason to be defending the airlines but I feel it is necessary to be a voice of reason when it comes to all the bad things we hear about one over another. I’ve had plenty of issues while traveling but never let it get to me. Don’t let the media be your deciding factor when choosing who to board. All airlines are going to have their problems from time to time but for the most part, you’re going to take off, land and live to enjoy your final destination. United we stand (no pun intended) with you through this time. It won’t we long until another carrier screws up enough and you’ll be off the hook for a while. Until then, I’ll see you at the airport!

-DPW

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P.S. Atlanta…I’m Really Starting to Like You!

Any frequent traveler will tell you that loyalty programs have great benefits and reward handsomely those who stick with one particular brand through thick and thin. It’s not always because the hotel, airline or rental car company gives you the best service (although, the hope is to at least like them) or even have the best options, it’s an opportunity for both the company and the consumer to mutually benefit from a long term relationship which is rewarded through consistent use and free stuff. dems vs repubsI mean let’s be honest here, the travel based companies aren’t exactly mom-and-pop style operations. They’re more like trying to compare Applebee’s to TGI Friday’s. They’re the exact same thing just packaged differently and each serve unhealthy portions of absolute crap (I guess the same goes for U.S political parties!). Therefore, it’s best to pick which crap you’d rather shovel down and stick with it. At least with the airlines and hotels, you’ll eventually be granted better access or free flights/rooms instead of a constant need for Imodium.

My current brand loyalties are to Marriott, Avis and American Airlines. When I started flying, I was in and out of Philadelphia which consistently put me on U.S Airways. loyalty programsAfter they merged with American in 2015 my miles transferred over and I’ve been sticking it out ever since. The one problem with loyalty programs is of course the times when you have to go with another brand either out of convenience, price or just the general lack of options. This is the case when I fly to Atlanta because Delta has a lock on the area and the convenience of it over the other carriers far outweighs the perks associated with my home brand. I’ve never had an issue with Delta so losing one flight of miles is no big deal. Plus, it was a fairly new 737 with in-seat entertainment so kudos there.

Beyond the perks, loyalty programs feed on the psychological in-group/out-group dynamics that is prevalent in human behavior. Take a biteOnce you sign on to these programs, you’re not just choosing a brand for potential free rooms, flights or cars, you’re also joining a club of sorts that binds you with the others that have chosen those same companies. Even if we are treated poorly or have a bad experience, we are part of a club and will defend the decision to use their services again because of the fear of being abandoned into the abyss of lost travelers. I know, I’m getting a little deep here but for business travelers especially, this belonging can be a layer of comfort in an otherwise lonely experience. When I walk into a Marriott or step on an American flight, there is a little piece of me that feels at home…and that’s worth all the points in the world. (George gif your one of us you’ll take a bite)

On the flight down, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the poor bastard in front of me who was seated in a row of Outsider teens who had obviously never been on an airplane. Just the boarding process was input overload for these two as they picked, pushed and prodded at every little moveable (and removable) part of the seating area. I guess no one explained to them that the flight attendant call button was a neither a bell for their personal butler or (to their disappointment it seems) a self-destruct button. airsickGrandma must have given them a plate full of snicker doodles and a case of Red Bull pre-flight which would explain why they were so awake at 5:45am. To make things worse, the kid in the window seat bolted to the lavatory before we even hit 10,000 feet as we later learned he had severe motion sickness. During a 90-minute flight, this was repeated 3 times including us actually landing while he was still in the bathroom. I watched all this from the comfort of the aisle with an empty middle seat to my left. I guess I could’ve offered it up to help this situation…but come on…why would I do that!

Before this year, Atlanta was always just a pass through city and I never really had the chance to explore it much. I have to say, after just three visits I’m really starting to enjoy this place and can see why it has experienced a population explosion over the last few decades. Yes, I know, the traffic is a mess and the last time I was in town the interstate caught fire but that has not deterred the impressions that the rest of the city has made on me to date. Most of my time has been spent in Buckhead and Midtown but I’ve also been able to explore others areas like Decatur, Westside, the northern suburbs, Old Fourth Ward and finally downtown. Atlanta has a ton of stuff to offer for just about any area of personal interest and the amount of construction that can be seem throughout the skyline means that there is only more to come.

I think I should be given a medal on this trip because for the first time, I actually spent more time walking than driving.

Snapseed
Buckhead Station

Any chance not to put a 4,000 pound, gas-powered bullet on the Georgia highways should be met with celebration. This was possible because of MARTA and another opportunity for me to nerd out on a train system. MARTA is a small but efficient system consisting of just four different train lines running either north/south or east/west. It does provide a line directly to the airport which I think is a plus that every major city should consider at some point (I’m looking at you Indianapolis…).

As much as I enjoy the experience of the cities, every now and then I need to cut loose, get some fresh air and stretch my legs by finding a hiking spot that is both challenging and convenient. SnapseedI had several hours to kill before my flight home so I spent them at appropriately named Sweetwater Creek State Park located about 20 miles outside of Atlanta. The 2,500-acre park is divided in two by…you guessed it…the Sweetwater Creek and his home to the New Manchester Mills Ruins site, an old civil war era cotton mill that was set on fire after being captured by the Union Army. The red trail which runs along the creek and by the Mill site was amazing, especially after reaching the 1-mile point where most of the families turned around and went back to the trailhead. SnapseedThe trail continued past the creek rapids and eventually turned westward into the woods. The white trail which traversed the western perimeter was actually a little disappointing since it mostly consisted of an old access road and didn’t exactly provide much challenge. I can’t be too disappointed because I got my steps in for the day, burned some time and reconnected with mother nature (whatever that means).

Back at the airport, everything was pretty routine. Unhealthy food, people talking way to loudly on their phones for 9pm and the anticipation of heading home once again. I’m not sure why the nice but slightly geriatric gate agent decided to provide more details into the boarding process than was actually necessary. She was like one of those White House tour guides: “we’re walking, we’re walking, now we’re stopping.” Late night flights on Friday’s aren’t exactly for the first time travelers but no one seemed to mind. sheldon brain betterUsing the power of airline apps I once again scored an empty row in a fairly full flight. It’s all about timing and a little bit of luck.

Thank you again Atlanta…we’ll be in touch!

-DPW

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