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MIT student blogger Kim D. '09

I am home. Small thanks to the Airlines. by Kim D. '09

In a surprising turn of events, Christmas travel is Not Much Fun.

My first reaction to the ridiculously ridiculous airline adventure I just had was to write something along these lines and send it to the CEO of my airline, or as high up as possible.

My Good Sir,

Have you ever ridden on an airplane? During the Holiday Season? Without your Super-Sparkly-Platinum member’s benefits? Incognito, so that your employees don’t know that they need to behave around you? Might I make a small suggestion? DO. Then go back to your interviews and repeat, “We need to take excellent care of our customer,” and MEAN it this time.

I could tell you a story about a traveler who arrived at the wrong airport after a trip four times longer than the one purchased. Or they could. To paraphrase: “We’ll arrive in time for your delayed connection.” “Though you sprinted through the airport and made the connection, we decided to give your seat away… Oops, I miscounted, you could have been on that one.” “You definitely have a seat on the next flight.” “The next flight has been canceled. Since before you spoke with the last agent. There is no hope for you.” “Oh, you can standby on another airline. Let me transfer that ticket.” “What? They say we haven’t transferred the ticket? Well, that’s because we aren’t allowed to. No, it’s not possible. I don’t care if they say it needs to be done. I don’t care if the other employee told you she did it. You have issues with communication.” “Huh. Yeah, sometimes transferring tickets gets messed up when they do it at the airport. Let me put you on a flight to another city.” “We’re leaving at 8. 9. 9:40. 10. 10:30. 10:50. 11:30. We’ll get you out sometime, we swear. Unless the pilots’ hours roll over before they get here. Then they need to rest.”

Have you noticed that this ALWAYS happens? At least seen it in the movies? Random guess: This will happen to masses of people next year, too.

I’m sick of airlines who tell me I am not communicating correctly when they won’t share gate information with the the next terminal. When each employee I speak to contradicts the previous one.

I’m sick of being offered a limited-offer discounted hotel room when this whole mess is your fault. (And don’t blame the weather. You chose your hub. An idiot could have told you it has lousy weather EVERY year exactly when everyone wants to get home.)

I’m sick of limited blanket and cot supplies and nearly nonexistent power outlets.

I’m walking home next year.

Yours sincerely,

Kimberly F. Dietz

Except it was originally going to be longer and angrier. And delivered by a hit man. A hit man who smelling like rotting fish, adding that extra epsilon of unpleasantness to the situation. But of course I calmed down eventually, and I do realize the futility of this approach. So I started trying to think constructively.

Ideas For Improved Holiday Travel On Airlines

  • I was delayed for several hours because the crew assigned to my plane was stranded elsewhere, and there was no one to fly it, though it sat at the gate gathering ice. I see that your retired pilots’ club has over 900 dues-paying members. While many of them have surely let their pilots’ licenses lapse, I can’t believe they all have, if only because some must have retired recently. Hire them on again for the holidays! Pay them handsomely to be “on call” at busy airports.
  • Or just teach your customers to fly while they’re sitting there bored for hours on end, year after year. (Kidding.)
  • You know how you have those little oxygen masks that pop down from the ceiling in case of an emergency? And have maybe been used once? Something less life-threatening but faaaar more common than losing cabin pressure is having a flight delayed indefinitely. Even in the rare event that the airline is giving out blankets, many people don’t dare go seek them out, lest they miss their flight if/when it comes. I suggest adapting the existing technology to this situation. Imagine the commercial featuring the announcement!

    It begins with a shot of passengers sitting at the gate. “In the event of a change in boarding time, the comfort compartment above your seat will open automatically.” Ceiling panels slide back and blankets, pillows, snacks and games pop down on the ends of bungee cords, bouncing around as they dangle just above the passengers’ heads. “Assist others in need of assistance before getting too comfortable yourself.” Cut to a shot of a parent carefully helping a kid open the plastic wrap on their new coloring book, then grabbing a pillow, blanket, and novel from the dangling cords, snuggling into their seat, and reading. “Name of Airline: Handling Every Emergency.”


  • Keep your Arrival and Departure monitors up to date, for obvious reasons.
  • Make the process by which you update those monitors more transparent. Today a fellow passenger said to me, “You know, I’ve always wondered about what goes on in the little room [where someone must be predicting when the flight might leave].”
  • Use all those idle people waiting to board planes. For instance: let them update a (probably separate) board with information they know about delays and their reasons, weather in various areas of the country, etc. Give them a small percentage off of their next flight ticket if they contribute, with a promised punishment if the information they contribute turns out to be incorrect. I’d enroll in this program immediately.
  • Organize the inter-airline tug-of-war competition between terminals. Or a poetry jam. Or a chess tournament.
  • Make SURE your employees are competent. Don’t tolerate employees who goof off with each other while long lines wait, who give incorrect information, who don’t know how to transfer tickets.
  • Open lines of communication with other airlines. Arrange to share gate information. Arrange to trade off, covering for each other in areas where one has stronger coverage than the other. Remember Miracle on 34th Street ? Everyone loved Macy’s after they started keeping track of their competitors’ toys too and sending them to whatever store had what the customer really wanted. Emulate them.

Of course, this sort of suggestion list is also quite likely to go unnoticed. Then, I had one final idea.

So, last week a Facebook friend asked me to up-rate his suggestion on’s Ideas For Change In America Site. The idea is that every throws in their ideas, then they consider each other’s and vote on them, and the top 10 are given to the Obama team on Inauguration Day.

We could do something like this. If everyone else who had a bad travel experience puts in their ideas and also comments on which others they think are good, I’ll type up a few of them and forward them to airline CEOs (or whoever the correct contact person is.) And they likely still won’t listen. But here’s to trying with a spirit of Audacious Hope.

p.s. To those of you still out there: Good Luck!!

21 responses to “I am home. Small thanks to the Airlines.”

  1. I agree! says:;

    This is a very timely post. I read the editorial linked above in yesterday’s New York Times and was struck by how similar her comments and complaints are to yours. You’re making a cogent well argued point about an industry that’s clearly out of control. I hope you can come up with some means to fix this – aren’t you MIT kids supposed to change the world? Go get ’em Kim!

  2. Oasis '11 says:

    In Japan, train conductors deliver public apologies via the intercom for every delayed train if it’s THREE MINUTES late. Ten minutes, and you’re liable to qualify for a refund/discount.

    US airlines are stuck up, arrogant, and has complete disregard for its passengers, regardless of what they say on their TV advertisements.

    Once, at LAX, I arrived around 11:15 at the gate for my 11:30 PM flight, and even though the plane hasn’t taken off yet “because you’ve arrived too late for boarding” (wth?) they gave my seat to someone else on standby. I ended up sleeping in the airport until 9:30 the next morning without compensation (and had to go through Chicago too even though the original was a direct flight!) geez.

  3. Fouad says:

    Well Said!!! I mean someone has to stand up for the little guy! and I think you are the one!

    by the way, that CEO should be scared now, he has kim after him! woah!

  4. Niki says:

    Ick, LAX would NOT be a fun airport to sleep at. I got myself stranded there for 10 hours this summer. WITH all my luggage, so I couldn’t sleep even though I’d been (mostly) awake for the last 20 as well.
    It wasn’t the fault of any airline, as I had booked separate tickets to save about $500 and couldn’t afford to have a small window (if the other flight got delayed, I’d be paying full price to get myself home from LAX), but it would be really nice if the airlines could cooperate to provide customers with the best flights and connections.
    Here’s hoping!

  5. Dorothy says:

    same thing happened to my son: USAIR…delayed so much that he missed his connection, after being told he would likely make it, missed his connection by 2 MINUTES!!!!, because of slow interterminal shuttle, flight didn’t wait for him,my husband was on the phone with them while this was happening, begging them to call to gate and wait for him, which they refused to do. Later flight cancelled, which they knew about when they left without him. Put on flight to another city 90 miles away from us….Customer Service says “TOO BAD, it’s not our fault” along with other chump blather.
    this is rampant….we are looking into disputing payment through credit card co, has anyone ever succeeded with that?

  6. Dorothy says:

    oh, and last year, same story but worse…he got stranded overnight in airport-they ran out of hotel vouchers, food vouchers and anyway nothing was open…he had machines to feast from. OY!

  7. Ilyanep says:

    Worst experience I’ve ever had was being stranded in Houston’s airport for a few hours due to flooding. It was OK I guess.

    But going through ORD is a pain. Every. Single. Time. Stranded or not, I’ve come to the conclusion that the security people at ORD are the meanest and pushiest out of any airport I’ve been at (and I’d been to Boston, LAX, and Baltimore all within two months of each other, flying out from ORD each time).

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve fortunately avoided some of the worst in airline travel stories, but I do hate all the times that you dutifully go through security, check the departures board, and arrive at your gate in a decent amount of time to discover that they just moved your plane to the other side of the airport. Cue 15 minutes of frenzied ramming people out of your way with a luggage cart. Hopefully, you make the flight…

  9. Bethan says:

    I don’t travel on airplanes a lot; but last year I went to a small country in Africa and the staff were pleasant, the plane left on time and we were treated wonderfully.

    If a country that used a dirt path as an airplane runway can look after its customers and provide decent serivce, then why can’t American airports?

  10. Suril says:

    As long as they don’t let the hijackers in, we’re okay.. Err, Nooo.. it’s worse! Anyone for building/inventing the teleportation system?

  11. Actually, that first, angry email might be surprisingly affective. Well, it might get them to refund you for your flight/get them to compensate you in some other way. You’d be surprised how effective angry emails can be, since pissed off customers tends to be bad for business. May not get them to change their ways very much, but can at least get you your money back.

  12. Lainers '12 says:

    The one that really bugged me coming home this winter was the airlines repeatedly lying to (or at best misinforming) both me and my parents. When the airline’s online check-in told me there were no seats available for me on the flight I had reserved in July, my mom called the airline for me and we were reassured that I had a seat, since I had a reservation, and that I would be assigned at check-in. At check-in I was told my seat would be assigned at the gate. At the gate I was told that I would get a seat if one opened up as they asked people to give up seats. That made me feel pretty bad – there were tons of people that needed to get on the plane much more than I did. But the customer service representative had lied to my mom! I asked what preferece was used to figure out who got on the plane when they had more people than seats, and was reassured that everything was done in the order reservations were made. Right. Mine were made in July – so an entire plane of people made their reservations before mine? I was in the sort of mood to be accomodating due to the weather and all the ensuing craziness, but if they were going to give me niceties rather than information, that was something different. I do intend to write an email to somebody or another eventually, but agree than other than accurate information I don’t know what can fairly be requested.
    To finish the story, I did burst into tears in a corner out of sheer frusteration, but through luck did wind up on the plane.

  13. Oasis '11 says:

    @ Shawn –

    That is, if the airlines actually have someone READING the emails at the other end of the line and not sending automatic emails about joining their mileage program or how to book online at their website (“without booking fees” but still like 500 dollars more expensive than through chinese travel agents).

    Seriously, in all my dealings with sending emails to large corporations, either they flat out don’t reply your email, or half the time they send you random things that doesn’t have to do with the intent of your mail. In very rare occasions do they actually “care” about you, and it was surprisingly the staff from They have amazing customer service (ok sidetracked. =p)

  14. Matt A. says:

    Yikes, I’m glad I don’t fly much, and definitely not around the holidays. I guess that’ll change next year because I’m not applying anywhere within close driving distance. I’m not even going to mention my worst experience because it pales in comparison to those mentioned.

  15. Anonymous says:

    A small thing that would be nice would be if Logan airport had flight monitors in the departure gate lounges. They delayed my flight and moved it to a different gate, and I had no idea until another passenger (not an intercom announcement or a desk worker!) mentioned it.
    The small things help a lot smile

  16. Mikey says:

    I feel your pain, Kim, I feel ya. I’ve flown between Boston and Detroit for the past 8 years (probably about 5-6 round trips a year), and only ONCE has my flight ever arrived on time. In eight years. Now when people pick me up at the airport they build in an extra hour of delay, just because they know the flight will be late for some reason (the most ridiculous one I’ve heard thus far: “someone left some equipment at the gate where we’re supposed to park…we are waiting for someone to come move it out of the way.” Seriously? Seriously?!?)

    Fortunately, my holiday trip this year was incredibly lucky (my delays only added up to about 1.5hrs) – nothing compared to your horrific experience. Eat lots, sleep well, and get some well-deserved REST… :D Happy holidays!

  17. Valeria says:

    schöne Weinachten!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, this is offtopic, but why does MIT not offer a degree in industrial engineering?

  19. Mel says:

    I’m guessing you flew Delta? They have a habit of screwing people over even in good weather.