I used to have a fear of flying. Thoughts of my plane crashing would begin to seep into my mind the minute I booked my travel plans and remained there in the days leading up to and throughout my flight, constantly gnawing at me (and occasionally biting down hard during periods of turbulence) until my plane safely touched down on the runway. Experts would say that I had “control” issues, with my fears rooted squarely in the fact that I was not the one flying the plane. I imagine this theory is true. But after flying thousands of miles for work over the last decade I can confidently say that I am no longer fearful of flying.
I am terrified.
But I’m no longer scared of crashing. These days I am genuinely frightened of airline customer service because these people have power of immense proportions — over your life and happiness. And while with this power should come a greater sense of responsibility – it is often lost and you find yourself face-to-face with a zombie agent who doesn’t give a shit about how desperate you are.
Before every trip, I no longer wonder if THIS is the flight that is going down. Rather, I wonder if this is THE flight that is going to have me keel over from an apoplectic aneurysm as I jump up and down in front of a hardhearted ticketing agent who has no interest in fixing whatever problem the airline has bestowed upon me. To wit, I am writing this post from 35,000 feet on my way to Austin after having the following experience prior to taking off:
Me: (smile) Hi! I need to make a change to my itinerary. Can you help me with that? (A rhetorical question – or so I thought.)
United Agent: Uh, not likely. We just merged systems with Continental and we don’t know how to make any changes.
The agents proceeded for the next 20 minutes to try to cancel a single leg of my multi-legged trip this week, only to tell me that it would cost me money to take 3 flights with them rather than my scheduled 4. And my need to take an earlier flight later in the week would cost me $1000 so I will spending Wednesday morning at the Austin airport trying to get a standby flight back to Houston – for just $75 – but several thousand dollars worth of worry. I left the agents feeling as if I just downed a gigantic fear hoagie which remained in the pit of my stomach and then doubled in size when I reached the gate to see that weather had delayed my flight to Houston by an hour leaving me 2 minutes to make my connection to Austin. I try again.
Me (smile): Can you make sure I have a seat on the next connecting flight to Austin in case I don’t make this one Im scheduled on?
United Agent: Oh – there are “people” in Houston who can do that for you. They will meet you at the gate.
Translated: This is so not my problem. This is your problem. Maybe you will get to Austin tonight. Maybe you won’t.
The fact that these situations and ones far worse occur on a regular basis has created a legitimate fear of flying – because unlike plane crashes – the odds of experiencing a customer service crash when flying the friendly skies is reasonably high. So I still spend my entire flight worrying – about lost baggage, no room in the overhead, screwed up schedules, cancelled flights, missed connections, and agents not remotely equipped or inclined to fix any problems.
And as is the cause of most of my “issues,” in life, the control factor once again rears its ugly head. I’ve finally have come to terms with the reality that I am not flying the damn plane. Now if I need to be at peace with the fact that I don’t have access to the f—king computer system. That may take some time.
For now, I’m looking forward to running for my connection — missing it — and being able to look the ticket agent squarely in the eye and tell her, “Houston, we have a problem.”