I got a call from Delta Airlines the other day; they had decided to change my flights. My partner and I were now transiting through a different city on our way east, the agent informed me. Unfortunately it seemed the third member of our party was still on the original itinerary. When the representative asked if this would be a problem I decided to clarify the matter: "She's eight," I said.
This seemed to do the trick as the representative set about moving us back to our original flight. I waited patiently on the phone, watching the clock as the friends I was supposed to be biking with finished putting on their shoes and began standing around glancing somewhat impatiently at me. Eventually the representative got us all back on the same flights, it seems only one of us would have to sit in a separate row.
What truly amazed me though was that after all this rigmarole, the representative had the audacity to congratulate himself on being able to help me. I had to think about this for a minute or so, I was so stunned. Delta called to inform me they had changed my flight and I then had to sit on the phone for 40 minutes or so while they fixed the problem of having an eight year-old travel by herself across the country. They did not perform a service for me. After all I was perfectly content with my original flights. Not only were we all on the same flight, we were sitting in the same row as well. So it seemed odd they should be thanking themselves for being of service to me. I really didn't need their service. It cost me time out of my day.
It seems the airlines are beginning to hold us, the consumer, hostage. They can change my flight around anytime. Since I booked our flight originally, Delta has changed my flight at least three times. Travelers are being charged extra to sit in an emergency row, to check luggage, to make a reservation with an actual human; pretty soon we will be scanning our credit cards to use the lavatory. But at the same time, the airlines can strand me for days at an airport for any variety of reasons; they can delay my flight long enough that my original reason for flying is moot, or they change my flight at random and I don't even get credit for the $100 they would charge me to change a flight.
There is plenty of competition for each airline; they each are trying to hide as many costs as they can in order to look like the best deal. The problem is there is no competition for the airlines. Unless we choose to drive, what alternatives do we have? Where I live in the West, the options are limited unless one counts bicycles or horses. In the East one can sometimes travel by train and buses are an alternative in certain areas of the US. But most of these options are slow and pretty downscale. What we really need is a good comprehensive public transportation system that provides reliable service. High-speed trains, a tiered-system of buses that would provide different types of service, and transportation options such as comfortable long-distance buses providing non-stop service between large hubs and smaller shorter bus routes to get out to the smaller towns. The airlines will of course still be faster, and more expensive, but at least we'll have a choice when it comes to the type of service we want, instead of having to take whatever the airlines are offering.