What bugs you most about flying these days?
Maybe it's the latest fee for something that used to be free. Or the black, mushy banana you find tucked in the seat cushion pocket in front of you. How about security lines that move like glaciers, late flights and air fares that rise as relentlessly as gas prices?
A survey of more than 19,000 passengers released Tuesday by J.D. Power and Associates had some predictable headlines. Customer satisfaction with airlines is at a three-year low. Travelers like JetBlue better than Delta and a lot better than perennial laggards United and Northwest.
What caught me by surprise was what fliers judged the fastest-slipping area of the flying experience: how they're treated by airline employees. It included "knowledge, courtesy and helpfulness of reservation and gate agents, check-in staff and flight crew." Ouch.
No question airline workers are under stress. Record fuel prices sent the business into a economic spiral that makes the post-9/11 era look like a day the beach. Airlines are grounding dozens of planes and jettisoning jobs by the thousands. Delta offered buyouts to 30,000 employees, hoping 2,000 would accept. Twice that many volunteered.
Workers still on the job likely took deep pay and benefit cuts in earlier bankruptcies of United, Delta, US Airways and Northwest. Some flight attendants work 25 percent more hours to earn as much as they did a few years ago.
None of this is an excuse for unprofessional behavior. But consider something else before blasting the reservations agent who won't change your ticket for free or the guy at the gate who said an hour ago that your flight would arrive in 30 minutes.
Frontline workers typically take the flak for decisions made thousands of miles away. Like the brainstorm at American, followed by United and US Airways, to charge $30 round trip to check a suitcase. These airlines are making plans to police an expected flood of new carry-on bags and separate them from their owners.
Just think how much that will improve your next flying experience.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.