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Monday, August 08, 2005


Michael Crosby

Delta wouldn't pay for your "lodging"? When the airlines pull one of these trips out of the air (so to speak) I come back full of resolve to complain and complain again. On two occasions I actually have, and at least got some response.

Usually, though, I get distracted and don't do it.

Maybe it will have the effect of promoting rail travel, though with the great expanse of this continent, and the current cost of rail travel, I suppose this isn't likely.

richard lo cicero

You know I had the same experience in the 80s coming back from London and have compared horror stories with friends and relatives returning from Europe and Asia. The USA is probably worse than the old Soviet Union in this regard. Imagine, you're an American citizen. How do you think they treat visitors? Oh well, we don't seem to care anymore what others think of us and I believe it will be mutual. I meant it when I said I'm telling anyone who asks the next time I'm abroad that I'm Canadian. I suspect the Great White North will show a population explosion.


Marc, I feel your pain. Several summers ago, my son and I were in the sorry clutches of Delta airlines for three full days in the course of making our yearly trip to Kalispell, Montana, that---under normal circumstances---takes about 5 hours. The morning after we finally arrived in a state of helpless fury, I happened to read this column by Ellen Goodman about an experience such as ours….and yours. As it happens, she too was flying to Montana. But I think the uber issues are the same. Now remember, this column was printed in 1998---pre-9/11 shoe removal security, and back when they still gave you pillows. I’m pasting it in its entirety as I got it from Lexis-Nexis and there’s no way of linking.


Ever since it was discovered that Russell Weston Jr., the man charged with the Capitol murders, had a cabin in Rimini, Mont., we have been subject to yet another round of stories titled, loosely: "There's something about Montana."

What is it about the "last best place" that breeds, attracts, or harbors the Freeman, the Kehoes, the Unabomber and the Westons? Psycho- and socio-babblers have all weighed in with theories about the isolation, the altitude, the power of myth.

But I have come up with a much simpler and more logical explanation. What is it about Montana that drives people over the edge? Northwest Airlines.

I have concluded from my own personal research that Northwest is largely responsible for the fact that anybody who actually makes it into Montana by the available air corridors will arrive in a state of paranoia and helpless rage, harboring violent fantasies toward unseen authority figures who control their lives from computer banks if not molars in their mouths.

Allow me to share my research. One sunny summer evening, I innocently set off for a long family weekend.

Phase One: After boarding, and with no warning, I am held prisoner on the runway long enough to make virtually certain that anyone Montana-bound will miss the last connection.

That, to paraphrase Dustin Hoffman in "Wag the Dog," was nothing.

Phase Two: After arriving at the Northwest holding station and purgatory located in Minneapolis, I race to the next gate and discover that - Hurrah! - my plane is still there. However, having been locked into one plane, I am now locked out of another.

That was nothing.

Phase Three: The beleaguered ticket agent says that I am rescheduled! Why, I am all set to leave Minneapolis late the next afternoon and go to Montana via Minsk - excuse me - Seattle. I reply in my best Ted Kaczynski tone that this is "unacceptable." She nervously discovers two morning flights on two other airlines that reach Montana via Denver.

That was nothing.

Phase Four: After a few sleepless hours in a voucher-paid hotel room previously occupied by a chain-smoker who broke the phone, I return to the airport to discover that, yes, I can get to Denver! The Northwest agent, however, neglected to mention that the seat out of Denver on an overbooked flight is unconfirmed. An itsy-bitsy piece of deception. I decide to chance it and book a backup flight via Minsk - excuse me - Seattle.

As luck would have it - and I do mean luck - I make the overbooked flight and reach Montana grasping the silver masking tape that holds my armrest together. I make the whole trip in slightly less time and worse shape than Lewis and Clark.

Take me to my cabin.

Now, I generally don't take out my grudges in print. Lord knows, as an all-too-frequent flier I would suffer in silence, but for the sake of national security and mental health. Of course, it is not just Montana. Nor is it just Northwest, although as of May, Northwest won the ribbon as worst-ranked carrier in the government's Air Travel Consumer Report. This is an airline that handles 9 percent of the fliers and gets 23 percent of the complaints. Yet for reasons that escape me, the pilots and not the customers are planning to strike.

But the true scandal of this vastly overbooked and screwed up summer of air-travel discontent is not a safety disaster but a civility disaster. With the system bulging at over 70 percent capacity, with the number of airline employees shrinking faster than the size of the seats, we have an epidemic of air rage.

Remember back in June when beleaguered flight attendants testified in Congress about scuffles in the skyways? Remember the stores of passengers jammed in spaces fit for 12-year-olds fighting for Lebensraum in the overhead bin? The bumped, the canceled, the overbooked, the under-oxygenated travelers living on a diet of pretzels and peanuts and false promises have finally snapped.

Air rage over mistreatment and deception has become so routine that this summer the American Society of Travel Agents compiled a "Consumers' Bill of Rights." It includes fantasies like the right to "timely, complete and truthful information regarding delays, cancellations, and equipment changes."

In fairness, Northwest has its good points. It has a charming tap-dancing video they play to the prisoners: "We'll feed you / Proceed you / Wherever life leads you / Northwest will take you there."

Right. Oh, did I tell you about the flight home? They canceled it.

Boo f-ing hoo. Well off first worlder is inconvenienced. Nobody to serve you that is up to your first world standards? All the servants are lazy? Get over it. Go visit one of your wealthy beach owning friends and kill a fish. You'll feel better.

jim hitchcock

Did the last commenter grin in fiendish delight as he posted his sparkling wit?

Randy Paul

Welcome back, Marc.

I guess the 5:34 p.m. commenter was someone who got bumped from the flight you eventually made . . .

I have stayed overnight in three different hotels near São Paulo's Cumbica airport because of American Airlines. My first trip to Brazil was for our wedding. Mércia was already there and I had flown to Miami on a Monday to get a flight to Belo Horizonte with a stop in São Paulo. Passing into Brazilian airspace we had an engine flameout and flew to Caracas where we got on a regularly scheduled flight back to Miami and were put up in a hotel for the day where we got back on a flight back to Brazil and 48 hours door-to-door arrived in Belo Horizonte.

Meanwhile, Mércia's family had been teasing her that "this gringo is not going to show up." Well I didn't when I was supposed to, but I sure wanted to!

Randy Paul


I meant to add that anyone who makes a point to visit Kalispell annually has unimpeachable good taste.

Marc Cooper

Rosedog, Randy,... thanks for the companion horror stories. One day we should collect them all, it would make terrific reading.

I have to admit I am a spoiled first worlder, indeed. But not to worry.. at this rate Delta, AA et al will soon be passing hairshirts for the lucky passengers!

All kidding aside, it is rather striking what dinosaurs the major airlines are. If not for gvt handouts they would already be history.

I can't wait.

Jim Rockford

Hey Marc -- glad you're back and hope you enjoyed Italy.

NEVER accept the blankets and pillows. EVER. They are loaded with bacteria and virii, airlines do not do a good job of cleaning them (if all). Use one of those personal air-inflated neck pillows, they work well (available in travel stores and Brookstone, etc). Seriously, KNBC-4 LA tested pillows and blankets, came back loaded with bacteria from all major airlines.

Stay away from water, even coffee, since the airline's water tanks in the airplane are usually not inspected and loaded with all sorts of beasties, even including insects in one case. Club soda or bottled water is a better bet. Club soda also doesn't stain in turbulence. Ear plugs, eyeshades, neck pillow and your own anorak or light parka work wonders for sleep on the red-eyes.

For across the country trips, try Jet Blue out of Long Beach. Easy parking, walk right across the road into the terminal. Get on the plane, it's all coach but tickets are cheap, direct flights no stupid changeovers in hubs, and your own Directv screen on the seatback in front of you. CNN, History, Discovery, ESPN, plus the nets, what more could you want? Long Beach is worth the drive versus the LAX nightmare, seriously. Not much in the terminal but the Art Deco building is pretty.

I used to fly a LOT, these tips got me through every time.

Jay Byrd

It seems that Jim Rockford has been taken over by Adrian Monk.

Abbas-Ali Abadani

Jay Bird: "It seems that Jim Rockford has been taken over by Adrian Monk."

Oh, perish the thought. Don't forget that Tony Shalhoub is one of "them."

bucky walters

THe easiest country to go through customs as a foreigner is China...totally laissez-faire. I guarantee if COoper went through that airport he'd be complaining about how he was hassled, followed, threatened...I could imagine the horror stories...

bucky walters

btw, that above comment should show unquestionably that I think China is the most freestest country the whole world over...

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