Stop Complaining About Your Last “Horrible” Flight

In defense of U.S. airlines, pilots and flight attendants.

A client was very upset with me. We had sold him software a few weeks ago, and he called because he needed help. When I explained to him that all of our services are offered at an hourly rate, he was shocked. “You mean I have to pay you to help me with this lousy software?” he yelled. “I’ve never heard of such a thing before! This is outrageous!” I get this infrequently from “shocked” clients who’ve “never heard of this thing before.”

And each time this happens I know exactly how the airline industry feels.

This week, the airlines are coming under more attack. A recent survey found that Americans are still dissatisfied with the customer service. Christopher Moraff, in a great piece on this site, shares his own airline story concluding that “ … flying has become a necessary evil, a special circle in Hell where penitents are forced to pay for the privilege of enduring austere regulations, humiliating security procedures, cramped seats, high fees and the loss of amenities—such as hot meals, cocktails and in-flight entertainment—that were once de rigueur on even the shortest flights.”

So let me get this straight: These airlines, which are managing tens of thousand of flights each day and getting you and me to our destinations safely and with better on-time rates than ever, are receiving complaints because they charge for a beer and don’t provide a movie? And to think that those living just a mere 150 years before had to travel five days in a horse-drawn carriage, eat stale bread and share a dirty bed together just to get from Philly to Boston. Oh, the horror! Our lives are terrible!

Please. Stop.

Infrequent Fliers Have Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes customers, particularly those customers with little experience using a product, expect more than reality. My customer “thought” that when he bought his software from me all training and services would be part of the price. Putting aside that he signed a contract that clearly outlined the charges for our services (people don’t read these things, do they?), anyone who frequently buys technology knows this is not the norm.

It’s the same with traveling. Infrequent travelers, brainwashed by too many commercials and celebrity reality shows, expect to be treated like royalty the minute they check in. But business travelers like me know the truth.

The truth is this: Since January 1, 2013, I’ve flown 22 times, making trips to Denver, Los Angeles, Orlando, Boston, London, New Orleans and other cities. I am a US Airways frequent flier too. And you know what? The airlines are good. The airline industry is good. US Airways is good. People, stop complaining.

Plane Travel Isn’t Perfect, But It’s Still Pretty Damn Amazing

I’m not saying things are perfect. Yes, the seats could be wider. Sometimes mistakes are made. Occasionally you’ll get a surly flight attendant. The food isn’t great. The fight for baggage space is exhausting. The entire process of flying is exhausting.

But the truth is that each of my 22 flights got me to my destinations and back to Philadelphia safely and pretty much on time. It’s amazing that with all the flights going on at the moment that I’m writing this, there are still a remote number of accidents. The airlines have gotten this down to a science. One of my flights was canceled (after we boarded) because of a mechanical problem. Good! I was late. But I wasn’t falling out of the sky mid-flight either. The maintenance people on the ground and in in-flight operations at these airlines are competent.

Thank Your Next Pilot

Even as a frequent flier, I’m still amazed by flying. I am still comforted each time by an experienced pilot who explains the details of the flight and who somehow manages to find smooth air almost all the time. They have landed my planes in high winds, fog, rain and sleet. I have taken off in six inches of snow in Salt Lake City. I get nervous when I drive someone else’s kids in the back of our minivan after a soccer game. These guys move 300 people a thousand miles at 36,000 feet like it’s nothing. It’s not nothing. It’s impressive. The next time you fly try to make it a point to say thank you to one of them on the way out.

Flight Attendants Have Sucky Jobs

Flight attendants have their bad days, I’ll admit. But ugh, what a job. They are stuck in these metallic tubes for hours enduring the worst of mother nature and human nature. They stay mostly in hotels, away from their families. They endure pay cuts and are forced to apply advanced geometric concepts to help passengers figure out ways to stuff their oversized bags into the overhead baggage space that seems to run out of room within minutes of boarding.

Passengers Are the Problem, Not the Airlines

I admit that when I fly US Airways, I’m treated pretty close to royalty (and I know that the treatment could be better on other airlines too, but I’m fine). I’m TSA pre-certified so I avoid all the security lines at the airport. I frequently get upgraded to first class. I have priority boarding so I never have to worry where my carry-on will go. If I have to change a flight at the airport because I’m early or there’s a delay, I’m allowed to do so with no questions asked. I get on the plane first and off the plane first.

If you ask any business traveler like me about flying, most will answer the same way: I hate to fly, but it’s more because of the other passengers than the airlines. I see this all time: People who bring smelly food on the plane, fuss with their too-many bags and hold everyone else up, throw back the seat into my lap without at least asking first, or blast music through their headphones so loud it’s heard three rows behind me. I see people drinking scotch at 8 a.m. and snoring like a leaf-blowing machine on a fall day. I look at the mess we leave when we depart the plane. I once read a book about flying written by a former flight attendant who claimed that the farty, pungent, human smell that comes out of the just-opened doors of a transatlantic flight is second to none. I believe that.

How to Have the Best Flight

Do you want to have a good flight? Here’s my advice: Join a frequent flier program. Book well in advance so you get the seat (and maybe even the price) you want. Check in the night before and have all your paperwork ready to go. Get to the airport three hours in advance (yes, three; bring a book or an iPad) so you’ve got plenty of time to get through security, eat, chill out and not arrive at the gate sweaty from running. Don’t bring food on board. Be nice to the people at the gate. Be nice to the flight attendants on board and be nice to your fellow passengers. Don’t try to stuff a piano in the overhead compartment. Get out of peoples’ way and do your business quickly. Now sit in your seat and shut the hell up. Let the airline people do their job. Oh, and by the way, please lose a few pounds.

Will you feel like a movie star? No. Because you’re not a movie star. Read the contract. You’re a customer paying an agreed-upon fee for an agreed-upon service, which is to get you to your destination safely and with reasonable comfort. If you want more, then pay more or fly more. But please don’t be like my recently frustrated client who expected the world after buying his software from us. Any experienced person will tell you that’s not the way it works.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • dtbklyn

    You lost me at “flight attendant’s have a sucky job”. That’s YOUR interpretation Gene, and a very uneducated one if you’re making from the customer perspective. I’d say 85 to 90% of passengers are quite normal to nice, the 10 to 15% who make up the bottom feeders, get way too much air time.

    Yes we spend our nights in hotels, away from home..but there is NO job on earth that allows you the flexibility to drop, swap, and pick up to your hearts desire….did you know a flight attendant (depending on the airline) can drop to as little as 40 hours a month and still keep their full time status (this is equivalent to about 6 to 7 working days a month).

    There is a variety of trips; from transatlantic to transcontinental available to fly. I generally fly about 55 to 65 hours a month and enjoy about 14 days off every month. Here’s a question…if the job were so “sucky” why would people spend DECADES on this job?

    It’s not for everyone, and that’s why even with hundred’s of thousands applying for the few positions that open infrequently, only about 3% will be given this opportunity.

    I liked this story a lot, but to address the flight attendant position the way you did, indicates you don’t really know much about us, nor have you taken the time to talk to us as to how we deal with the ups and downs of our vocation.

  • teddy215

    Just when I think your articles cannot get any more clueless…I sincerely hope you lose your status or status privledges (maybe when, oh, US Air & American merge and now you are competing with a FF base that just tripled in size?), and then the next year have to continue to travel just as much as you have in the past (again, not sure what that reason would be for you; for me it was having a child – something that I believe you told us all in a previous article I either should not have done, should have gone back to work immediately after or should receive no special treatment for – what a crazy employer to have hired me AND continued to LET me work for them!). Then I hope someone forces you to read this article over and over and over again. Maybe at that point you will FINALLY realize how clueless you are about normal/average/working class American life.

    Airline travel without status on a major airline is one thousand times different than travel with status. If you are a platinum or chairman’s member with US Air, you aren’t allowed to tell other air travelers how it’s no big deal, get over it and they are the problem. Actually, I take it back – some passengers are a problem – passengers like YOU. Middle-aged white businessmen who huff & puff, blocking the entry to plane, looking around to make sure EVERYONE ELSE waiting in line knows that YOU are going to get on the place FIRST because YOU ARE SPECIAL. Who put their shiny-loafer feet in the aisle of first class, spread out their Wall Street Journal, and look over their wire-rims down their noses at people with 2 kids trying to visit family, or mobility issues, or are on their 3rd connection because they don’t live in a hub city (yeah, not everyone has the “good fortune” of living in a US Airways dominated airspace), try to squeeze past in aisles that are criminally small. Who come ready to fight if someone getting on late even GLANCES at the open overhead space above you. Who NEED to hang up their sport coat immediately – everyone else getting on the plane be damned. People are “smelly”?!? Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize that the special pilots-and-12-other-blessed-FFs-in-first bathroom is immune to smells. God help you if you have to “slum it” in the back with the bathrooms that are being used by the other 100+ of us. Don’t bring food?!?! Easy to say for someone who will be plied with meals on china plates and a basket full of choice snacks for the duration of the flight plus anything they choose to drink. Try getting a water refill in row 31 when the fasten seat belt sign has been on the entire flight. It’s much easier to satiate your hunger after the 45-minute tarmac delay when the flight attendant is only serving you and 11 others and will give you as many peanut packs as you command.
    No one is complaining about flight attendants or pilots. It’s the executives at the airline industry who create these conditions to continue to line their pockets, and they can do so because they have all of us hostage. The types of white…upper class…privledged businessmen who are “treated like royalty” when they fly. They can’t comprehend the situation they have created, and neither, obviously, can you – wonder why!

    • eaagle

      Teddy – I think you missed the intent of this article. Calling him clueless is a bit clueless on your part. Talk to your Doctor about adjusting your medication. Call him now.

    • Paul

      Can’t handle the truth, huh? Poor baby!

      • Paul

        The author is spot on!

  • charisma f.

    “flight attendants have a sucky job” is merely one aspect of the job as with any job and it does suck when you have to leave your child or family depending on your situation, working hours based on seniority, furloughs, working with the lazy who constantly complain, commuting to your base half way around the country. if you don’t get on the flight; sleeping at the airport or the expense of a hotel. stuck on the tarmac with passengers that are out of control and full of rage(pop that slide steve slater) and recirculation of human funkadoodles, etc. the list is endless; so yes, it has a sucky stackhouse element and then some. i’m approaching my decade with the airline and i do it because i love what i do and the flight benefits/flexibility it affords me and take no offense to his opinion or the job itself.

    it’s not just the “white middle aged business man”- i’ve seen many other races standing in the same preferred line. from not wanting to sit down in the boarding area or just being close to the agent working that flight with small talk or whatever cuz he/she flies that same flight every week. for the most part they are quiet and keep to themselves. yes there are those few who stand there to alert everyone what cabin they’re seated in or what status they have or jump into the agents work and conversation. can’t forget my favorite, “what time do you board” when clearly noted on your boarding pass and the monitor above shows “on time”. some airports are so crowded and dysfunctional that i know i would stand there too if i could. i don’t care what they do unless they are disruptive, then its time to sit their asses down. also working at the check in counter, i prefer to work the first class/pref side, than dealing with “the rest”. yes, i’d rather be dealing those who understand how the airline works, rather than educating first time flyers who complain and want the world….ooh honey child: headache! but i do it and move on. it’s all part of the job. yes those preferred/freq flyers can have an above all attitude and get nasty(amex centurion getting declined on a $200 charge, lol) just like those with no status and clueless or trying to pay for their checked bag with an ebt card(oh no she didn’t). this article imo is no different than someone writing about their non status flying experience. it’s all good and i see valid points including those in the comment section:-) if you’re unhappy with the airline, fly someone else, charter a private plane/boat or greyhound it(cuz you sure acting like you can afford all that) if you’re unhappy with the job, quit and move on finding a less stressful job. “step up to the kiosk and check yourself in….it’s all self service” – unless you’re first class/preferred. AND don’t let me find out you’re in the wrong line cuz i’ll just point in the direction you should be at:-) ps. families traveling with children, if it’s important for you to sit with your kids, find an airline that can accommodate you rather than booking the cheapest flight you find. seat selection is the step after selecting your flight segments. book it DIRECTLY with the airline to see what seats are available and not at a third party discounter where seating are on request bases until confirmed. Hollerations!

    • nwa DEL

      Thank you for being such an honest passenger , we really appreciate that, people need to understand this .Ok to the flight attendant who first responded dtbklyn, Honey I’m also a flight attendant, and he IS BEING MORE THAN HONEST ABOUT OUR JOBS ! I don’t know what fantasy world your living in and you probably only fly 40 hours a month and have someone taking care of you , The reality is that most of us who are single individuals and or have families , fly anywhere from 90- 170 hours a month , YES IT IS A NICE JOB AND THE FLEXIBILITY IS WHAT KEEPS MOST OF US HERE . and of course the beautiful places we try to find time to visit on short layovers, however the chaos and drama that takes place on board day after day from infrequent flyers and the stress from the company to get the plane out on time is unreal and unfair . we only get paid from the time that the plane pushes back and the pay stops when we land as you know. but again it is a nice job and most of us are still here because we know that eventually it will get worse before it gets better , Things will change eventually FOR THE BETTER. Don’t you find it funny that 80% of Flight attendants are on anti depression medications and have severe drinking and sometimes drug problems , I know your all probably saying well if its that bad then just quit! truth is , we really do love our jobs , but want justice and to be treated fairly , thats why we go to the extremes that we do, for your comfort and your safety ,we respect our occupations, and thats why we get frustrated . Thats all!

      • fyi

        well said!

  • http://twitter.com/sassystewrants Sassy Stew

    I don’t think I could like this article any more, it is perfect. Thank you, Mr. Marks!

  • A proud USAirways employee

    THANK YOU!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/StacyDunnZ51 Stacy Dunn

    I used to be a frequent flyer. Not any more. Times have changed; TSA, tighter budgets, stressed passengers and employees all play a part in what many feel is a necessary albeit unpleasant part of life; like a breast or prostate exam. I’ve seen outstanding flight crews and others who have no business interacting with the public. Nevertheless, no mater how unreasonable one might seem, those “problem passengers” pay the bills and keep those airlines in the air. Since UPS and FedEx have little need for flight attendants, one would think this truth would not be lost on them. Glen is WAY OFF the Mark here! I suspect he flies first class and has contempt for the rest of us. Maybe our differences may be cultural (I’m a Cowboy’s fan…He probably likes the Eagles) but as much respect as I have for flight crews, like any service industry, the customers determine what is the acceptable level of customer service and if they are unhappy the should let evryone who will listen know about it.

  • Caroline

    I agree with the author and I am a flight attendant, love my job and would not want to go back to a corporate job. Its starting to become where passengers are always rude and feel entitled to everything on the plane. No matter how much I try to accommodate passengers or be pleasant and patient. They always complain about but never come prepared or see the big picture that safety is our number one focus, then comfort. Please know that while you are being demeaning to me, I haven’t had a chance to grab anything to eat because I have been so busy trying to make everyone have a enjoyable flight. The economy HAS changed and it’s not our fault that there are no pillows, hot meals, and other amenities in general seating. I don’t like when passengers complain about how expensive their ticket it $250.00 round trip to LAX from NYC. Really?

  • http://twitter.com/partyandcrafts cheryl

    Thank you for a great article.
    With sincere gratitude,
    A flight Attendant xoxo

  • readersrespite

    Nice article. And you are welcome. -One of those “guy” pilots who happens to be a gal.

    • laluna

      Yes. Exactly. Great article…from another gal pilot.

  • fyi

    welll I agree with most of this article, except FA’s have a great job, I’m a flight attendant. Although not for everyone, I’d rather be working on a plane than working in a cubicle 9-5, 40hrs a week. I work about 90 hrs a month, get nice layovers and stay at nice hotels. The down side is hurry up and wait, lol, delays and sometimes I work 12-14 hr days. If you come across a snarly FA, he/she might be ending a very long exhausting day after dealing with 600 or more passengers that day. The same goes for passengers- if I find a nasty passenger,( and it doesn’t happen that often) I realize his day may have been less than desirable. I do my best to smile and be nice anyway and that usually helps most people relax and enjoy the flight. Most flight attendants are caring saftey professionals. We are your last defense at 36,000 and are deligent responders to emergencies. Thanks for a nice article!.

    • Arkansas@Heart

      You are obviously level headed and
      enjoy your job. Me being a passenger who enjoys flying anywhere and everywhere
      but doesn’t have the “privileges” that people keep referencing with
      first class. I Believe that the Privileges are earned, they worked up from the
      same place that everyone else starts out at, the womb. If the other people
      might have made different life choices then they could be in the first class
      cabin as well. A lot of these guys are in first class for business, not
      normally pleasure. I work hard every week in my oilfield job and everyone has
      their issue with their jobs. I think that it takes a much bigger person to be
      able to deal with rude and irritated people (sometimes 600 a day, and 300 of those
      could be having a bad day; that’s a pretty significant percentage when you
      think about how many we might have at our day-to-day office jobs, what 5?) I
      have had great experiences with Flight Attendants and many of them have made my
      day better just because they have a smile on their face. Thank you for doing
      what you do for all of us traveling each day!

      • FYI

        Thank you for your kind comment. Fly safe and God bless!

  • expresslady

    from an FA (who does love her job), this article made my day. just because we like what we do doesn’t mean some things are very “sucky”. i thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

  • http://www.travelfreak.net/ Jeremy Foster

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a while. Well put.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DFSt.P Dan St.Peter

    I feel fortunate that it isn’t essential for me to take a plane unless I am going overseas. I can go slow ways. Flying, to me, used to be a treat. A fun part of the trip. It has been 13 years since I have been on an airplane and every time I have considered it, it seems to get more invasive, more cramped, less fun, at least as reported by friends and the news. I don’t blame the airlines or any single player in this. The fact that we ever tolerated the TSA existing is not the workers fault, or even the governments. We, the people, allowed this to happen to us.
    There will be no such thing as rights as long as we are motivated by fear. Fear easily motivates a huge animal to go up a ramp and to their death at a butchering plant. Yes, people have walked calmly and orderly to their death, because of fear more than inevitableness. I guess it is partially fear of losing personal space that will keep me off planes. I am fortunate to have the choice and sympathize with all the people who don’t or don’t see that they do. Damn, even airports the airports could be fun at one time.

    It used to be much more happy place for workers and customers at one time. I’m lucky to be able to have he choice.

  • Dick_Wolf

    To preface I would fall under experienced traveler with a minimum of 25 flights per year since 2002.I greet the flight attendants upon entering the plane and thank them when I leave. I bring one roller bag and a briefcase, which I am told is what I am supposed to bring. That being said, 90 percent of the time US Airways makes me feel like I am doing them a service by flying with them. This is how every other business person that I know in my class—i.e.one that can’t afford upgrades—feels.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tammy.nelson.129 Tammy Nelson

    Mr Marks… I really liked you post. I am

  • http://www.facebook.com/tammy.nelson.129 Tammy Nelson

    Mr Marks,I really enjoyed your article ! I am a 25 year flight attendant and I love my job.. I will admit that some flights are more challenging than others, but at the end of the day we are fine. Most of our flight attendants today have chosen to make a career of it,I mean where else can you work a 40 hour month like I do, eat breakfast in London and then have dinner in New York all in the same day? Yes, it can be hard at times, but it really is a fun job!

  • Dave Benjamin

    I’m a former airline pilot. I find your apologist article amusing at best, and misinforming at worst. I generally fly on airlines like Virgin America for domestic travel because they provide a decent travel experience and friendly service. There’s no reason for me to put up with the crap I’d encounter on legacy carriers. When faced with a choice between flying Virgin and renting a car for a 3 or 4 hour drive to my destination versus flying a legacy and getting stuck on an RJ for one or both legs, I’ll rent the car every time. If I’m flying international, I’ll book on a foreign carrier.

    The legacy carriers are poorly managed and treat their employees like crap. Instead of trying to improve, they’re relied on consolidation and bankruptcy proceedings.

  • JACK WILLIAMS

    You are a pompous idiot. How dare u show off about first class, etc.? I hate show offs. I have to scrimp and save to buy an economy ticket so my wife and I can see our family Every Year. Is it too much to ask to get some food with that ticket? Of course the pilots and all do a good job. My problem is with the corporation. You are just a showoff. Moron.

  • d. angkor

    Apparently somebody’s gotten himself on the airline industry payroll or, maybe just another Pollyanna. Either way, this article contributed nothing resembling illumination. I hope you enjoyed yourself.