A few weeks ago, I traveled to Atlanta to speak before their local Customs brokers and freight forwarder’s association. The trip was very productive, as I used it to close one piece of business and am currently pursuing two more.
The flight down with United was uneventful. The return trip was pure, unmitigated hell; a reminder of why I don’t fly the friendly skies so much anymore.
About five or six years ago, an annual trip to Asia was all I needed to hit the most basic level of Premier for them and then, of course, the mileage bonuses pile on. At the height of my traveling prowess, I reached Premier Executive, which meant that between actual butt-in-seat miles and bonuses, I topped 50,000 miles. Nowadays, 50K gets you treated like chattel, not that I was feted by any stretch of the imagination when I was turning in consistent 25,000+ mile years with them. Let’s face it; when you’re in the middle of the country, it’s tough as nails to get those big, transcontinental trips that help you rack up mileage as a domestic flier.
Because of late arriving aircraft and NOT having signed up for their text messages (but trusting, rather, the UA app and Apple’s Passport), even after the flight was supposed to have departed and I was still waiting for an additional hour and a half, my phone proudly proclaimed that my flight left at 5:10. Sadly, it couldn’t have been anymore wrong. Had I known how tardy things were running, I’d have spent a little more time with my local friends rather than making a sprint for the airport.
When it finally came time to leave, perhaps my anger at the whole electronic non-briefing that had taken place gave me an added edge. United (and American) now have essentially two “lanes” for boarding an airplane. For their VIP’s (global service members, military in uniform, etc.), you can walk over a rug signifying your status while everyone else mills around, eying you warily wondering where you’re sitting and whether when you’re done if there will be any overhead space left for them (well, us, since I’m now part of that crowd).1
When they’re done with these Vee-Eye-Of-Pea’s, they pull the extension band closed so us commoners cannot walk over the precious Premier rug. But while we’re now having to approach from an angle that places us five to six feet further to the left, we STILL have to step in front of that rug to either hand off our smartphones with the bar codes or hand over printed boarding passes.
OH NOES!!! WE CANNOT TREAD ON THE VALUED PREMIER RUGS!!!!
The rug is strike one. The closing off of the lane is strike two, and the fact that we still have to step on to or in front of the rug to get our boarding passes processed really is strike three.
I recognize that these people are warriors who are abused and maltreated likely more frequently given their status as unfortunately frequent fliers. If I was doing that much traveling and the plane was hours late and the crew sassy or running out of hours and the luggage interminable in arriving at the carousel, I’d want some sort of status recognition of being a more frequently abused person. But then find a way to reward these people that highlights their status without making the rest of us feel even worse.
And for the record, the reward for arriving an hour and a half late was spending another hour and twenty minutes in the penalty box waiting for a gate, during which the pilots expressed their apologies and embarrassment and I spent it tweeting the whole thing with no response whatsoever from United’s social media service until we started moving towards the gate.2
1 When I flew Delta back and forth for a ton of years between Atlanta and Chicago, after all the Medallions were boarded, there was nothing left. Even when I spent most flights in the last row window seat losing my hearing to the rear-mounted engine of an MD-80.
2 I want the miles back for the second half my trip and just haven’t figured out how to go about shaming them into giving them back yet. It’s the primary reason that I fly LUV now.