Airlines' Answering Services Worsen Travel Woes

This could be called the summer of misery in the skies.

The Department of Transportation says that U.S. airlines are canceling and delaying more flights, losing more luggage and bumping more passengers than ever before.

For millions of Americans, travel has become long lines served by just one sour, overworked person; inexplicable delays on runways, and long, worthless waits for people to answer their calls.

Years ago, American reporters would fly Aeroflot, the old Soviet state airline, and do stories about protracted, unexplained delays, paltry, stale food, and brutish airline personnel who behaved like prison guards. There were suggestions that Aeroflot's lies and incivilities said something about the corruption and unaccountability of Soviet communism.

U.S. airlines are not like Aeroflot in one important way: they take off and land safely.

But the four U.S. airlines that declared bankruptcy, and so walked away from much of their debt, may have concluded that they can operate almost any old way, and not have to worry about going out of business.

While contending with an airline problem this summer, someone reminded me that the airline was the same one that had once asked me to record its telephone announcements. The airline said it wanted someone warm and caring.

I couldn't do it. But this summer, I wonder if I can't manage something:

"Hi. Welcome to our airline you poor fool. I'm going to ask you a series of questions, just to keep you occupied, shouting into the phone. But I'm a recording. I can't understand a thing you say.

"After you've been on hold longer than the Russians have been in Chechnya, I'll turn you over to someone on the other side of the world who also won't understand you, and thinks that Pittsburgh is Plattsburgh.

"Talk loudly and repeat everything six times. We find that hilarious.

"Plan on getting to the airport four hours early, spending five hours on the runway, and landing seven hours late. If you don't like that, maybe you should try walking to your destination on your hands.

"If you miss your connection: tough.

"If you're calling because we lost your luggage, join the club. Give us a full description of the contents of your bag so that we can distract you while we let it rot unattended in Yuma, Arizona for a week.

"Give us your credit card information. We'll add on several fees, taxes, and penalties to drive up the cost.

"Don't I sound friendly? Actually, I'm hugely indifferent to everything you say."

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