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Airlines' Answering Services Worsen Travel Woes
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Airlines' Answering Services Worsen Travel Woes


Airlines' Answering Services Worsen Travel Woes
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is a summer of misery in the skies. The Department of Transportation says U.S. airlines are canceling and delaying more flights, losing more luggage and bumping more passengers than ever.

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

My luggage was lost when my family and I came back from China this summer. The story got some publicity so I won't belabor the details, except to say, I'm sure that our problem received more attention than millions more ever do.

Years ago, American reporters - including me - would fly Aeroflot, the old Soviet state airline, and do stories about protracted, unexplained delays, poultry-stale food, and brutish airline personnel who behave like prison guards. We suggested that Aeroflot's lies and instability said something about the corruption and unaccountability of Soviet communism.

Now, U.S. airlines are not like Aeroflot and one important way, they take off and land safely. But the four U.S. airlines, that's declared bankruptcy and so walked away from much of their debt, may have concluded they can operate almost any old way and not have to worry about going out of business.

When I contended with our airline problem this summer someone reminded me. This is the same airline that once asked me to record their telephone announcements. They said they wanted someone warm and caring. I couldn't do it.

But this summer, I wonder if I can manage something?

(Soundbite of recording)

SIMON: Hi. Welcome to our airline, you poor fool. I'm going to ask you a series of question 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.

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 we can distract 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.

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

(Soundbite of song, "Straighten Up and Fly")

Mr. NAT KING COLE (Singer): (Singing) Straighten up and fly right. Straighten up and stay right. Straighten up and fly right. Cool down, papa, don't you blow your top. Fly right.

SIMON: The King on NPR News.

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