Personal Rant

Okay–I’m back from an academic conference in San Francisco. (Didn’t have my laptop, hence blogging suffered.) And if those of you who read this blog will indulge me, today’s post will be an exercise in pique as a result of my travel experiences. I know I’m old, but I remember when travel was an adventure–in a GOOD way.

The conference was at the lovely–albeit overpriced–St. Francis hotel on Union Square. I will never understand why pricey hotels nickle and dime guests. If Day’s Inn can offer free wi-fi with their cheapo rooms, why did I have to pay 44 dollars for three days of connectivity? I had taken my workout clothes, but decided not to pay 12/day for the privilege of using their facility. Food in the hotel was outrageously overpriced, and the constant drizzle, cold and wind made walking around to find something less expensive unappealing.

Those irritations, however, paled before the rotten flying experience.

I have very rarely flown United Airlines, and if I can manage it, I will avoid ever doing so in the future. Why?

  • when I checked in at 5:00 a.m.– an hour and a half before flight time– for my Continental flight (United recently purchased Continental, with which I had previously had no problems),¬† there was a huge line which was moving very slowly. Since I was not checking luggage, I wanted to use an automated check-in kiosk; however, those were placed at the counter, in a configuration that required that everyone stand in the same line–you couldn’t just go to the kiosk, get your boarding pass and proceed through security, as you can with most other carriers.
  • Once aboard, there were the usual indignities you experience flying on any carrier today–you have to buy your food (even “complimentary” beverages don’t come with those little bags of pretzels anymore) and as the stewardess told me when–freezing–I asked for a blanket, “We don’t provide those on domestic flights.”
  • On the return trip, the cabin was dirty, and the stewardesses obviously didn’t want to be there. In fact, for at least half the 4 and a half hour flight to Chicago, they were nowhere to be seen. When they were actually visible, they were also visibly uninterested in being helpful.
  • I had been worried about making my connection to Indianapolis from Chicago, since I only had 45 minutes. I shouldn’t have worried–the Indianapolis plane was scheduled to depart at 9:55, and was delayed until 12:30. Now, these things happen. But there was NO ONE there to respond to questions, offer information, or otherwise smooth over the delay. In fact, the entire¬† concourse was bare of United personnel–which made the electronic signs suggesting that passengers “ask your gate agent” pretty ironic, since there was no gate agent to be seen until five minutes before boarding. The gate area was filled with bewildered, tired people. When I turned to the woman sitting next to me and muttered that it would be nice if United provided some personnel to update us, she shrugged and said “They just don’t care, and they make that quite obvious.” She was right.

I finally crawled into my own bed at 3:00 a.m. this morning, angry and exhausted.

I’ve never been one of those people who looks back to “the old days” with nostalgia. Except when I travel.


  1. I too just flew back from Chicago to Indy on United, and let me tell you my experience. After our flight was delayed an hour and moved twice to difference gates, the second one in a different concourse, the gate attendent finally called for first class and premium customers to board. She directed them to the right side of the retractable-belt barriers. Then she called for passengers with children to proceed down the left side of the barrier. An Indian family with several children obviously didn’t understand and tried to walk on the right side of the barrier. After repeating herself several times, the attendant finally roped off the right side, forcing them to use the left side. At which point, I turned to the gentleman behind me and said, “Are you kidding me? What the hell difference does it make?” He laughed all the way to Indianapolis!

  2. In traveling this spring for a number of job interviews, I experienced many of the same problems you mention. This was especially true of the “late night flights.” It seems that some problem earlier in the day may have caused a delay. Delay after delay compounded the problem and there was no one there to help or explain what might be done.

    And I understand about the conference hotel fees, as well. Having just finished my Ph.D. traveling to conferences was often on my own dime and hotels seemed to expect you to have an expense account to draw from. I opted for exercising outside (it was nice enough where I was) and using the “free” hotel lobby internet.

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