Can Coach Flying Be Anything But...Hell.

Another flight, and another few minutes of pondering whether a coach airline experience will ever be anything but varying degrees of toxicity on the brand experience scale.

I resisted blogging on a truly hideous airline experience courtesy of Continental and United Express a few weeks ago, because in a fit of charity I chalked up some of my hateful experiences to being the exception rather than the rule. But following a different kind of hideous experience this week, all my charity is gone.

My Continental flight from Newark to Louisville a few weeks ago took off roughly ten hours after it was scheduled. Storms somewhere caused delays, I was told. Then the airline played the “how dumb are you? game.” That’s the game when they know they won’t be going for six more hours, but keep posting one-hour delays to keep you on their carrier. It was on the plane, off the pane, on the plane, off the plane. Sit on the plane on the runway. You know the drill. Naturally, it was one of those nasty little planes with two seats on one side and one on the other, with a bathroom usable only if a person bends one leg, wraps their elbow around their head and stoops.

The kicker was when I got to Louisville. My bag, which had been gate-checked, wasn’t there. It was 3am at this point. The hapless attendant said the gate-checked bags were never put on the plane. What!!!? They had hours and hours to perform that task. My frequent flyer friends, as well as other airline employees I quizzed said they had never heard of gate-checked bags not being put on the plane. Nobody was sorry enough. I didn’t see my bag from Wednesday night until Saturday morning.

Going through Chicago on the return, I went to my assigned gate only to find that the gate had been changed. I walked 35 minutes, dragging my recently replaced knee through O’Hare to the new gate, only to be told that it was switched back to the old gate. Nobody cared and the gate attendant for United blamed me for not knowing. I had only checked the screen. What was I supposed to do…call the pilot? I then caught one of those buses that drives across the tarmac, but not before dragging my knee down two flights of stairs on one end, and up two flights on the other. No elevators.

It was with great hope that I boarded a Northwest flight this week. It was a roomy plane that left more or less on time. Then, a woman sat down next to me. She even took the time to introduce herself and tell me what town she lived in. But ten minutes into the flight she began digging into her ear for what I don’t know, and then checking her chipped finger-nails for what came out and flicking the body salad onto the floor beneath her. This went on for 40 minutes!. I was so squeamish, I nearly barfed. I kept wondering at what point an airline passenger so dramatically crosses the line into disgusting behavior that I would have to break the social barrier that would normally keep me from commenting to a total stranger about their personal habits on public display.

In part, I was worried that if I confronted the lady, I’d be chucked off the flight or arrested for causing trouble…in this era of Osama Air. I know this isn’t Northwest’s fault. But I’m thinking that there should be a advisory on the backs of airline seats warning people that if they perform any disgusting personal hygiene acts, they risk being banned from flying for a year. Wait…that sounds pretty good to me. Banned from flying.

This was another nightmare in coach. I began thinking of the woman who some jerk of a flight attendant who recently kicked off an Express Jet flight recently because the toddler, who had been delayed for several hours with everyone else, was repeating the phrase, “Bye. Bye plane.” According to published accounts, the passengers weren’t complaining. But the short-fused waitress…oh, sorry….flight attendant, has the authority, God help us, to put the lady and her child off the plane. And she did. By the way… In a world of brand management gone mad, the lady had booked the flight on Continental, but the flight was operated by Express Jet. A Continental spokesman told me they had nothing to do with the incident and nothing to say, and referred reporter’s questions to Express Jet. There’s real brand management for ya. What is that? Out of the playbook of Hit Entertainment which, when confronted with a recall of Thomas the Tank Engine trains that had been painted with lead paint in China, referred media to the out-sourced manufacturer?

How can something so important as flying be so utterly devoid of positive experience unless you pay through the nose for a little extra service. Now, I’m pricing flights to London. The coach fare is around $500.00. I can get a bit more leg-room and civilization, but not for less than almost $2,000. What an awful business.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.