Top 10 Ways Airlines Piss Off Their Passengers

A few weeks ago we posted an article highlighting  The 15 Most Annoying Things People Do On Planes , so now it’s the turn of the airlines themselves. Technology and fierce competition have improved the experience somewhat in recent years, mainly by putting the worst offenders out of business. Even so, few people manage to fly without encountering at least one of the following problems.

Lost Baggage

Mishandled baggage ranks amongst the top passenger complaints every time, and rightly so. The airlines will quote statistics showing only a tiny percentage of bags are affected, but in real terms that amounts to millions each year. Whilst most end up on the next flight, some take so long to arrive that they must have to travel through space and time. Far too many are simply lost in the system forever.

Hidden Fees

Hidden fees have mushroomed since the advent of low cost airlines. Passengers are lured by cheap fares and then fleeced by additional costs buried in the small print. One European airline’s basic checked bag allowance is  only 15kg, for example, instead of the usual 20kg (which is available at additional cost, of course). Those who haven’t noticed and pack accordingly are hit with extortionate excess fees in the region of US$25 per kilo. Not printing your boarding pass in advance can also prove a costly omission, to the tune of US$80 for each bit of paper.

Remote Airports

Many of the low cost airlines use airports far from the city they allegedly serve in order to keep fares down. Unfortunately, passengers still have to get to their intended destination, so any fare savings are just transferred elsewhere. Frankfurt’s Hahn airport in Germany, for example, is a jaw-dropping 75 miles from the city centre and only served by a shuttle bus that costs US$20 each way.

Delays

For frequent travellers, delays due to weather, unserviceable aircraft, unrealistic schedules and under-staffing are both commonplace and unavoidable. Normally, it’s just a matter of finding somewhere to waste a couple of hours, but if the delay occurs once the jetway has been removed then all bets are off. Getting everyone onto an airplane at the right time is like herding cats, and operators are loathe to let people off once the doors are shut. Even if the flight crew want to let passengers disembark, lack of ground services might make that impossible. In extreme examples, there’s always the chance that passengers will go feral and turn the aircraft into something resembling World War Z.

Overbooking

During the economic crisis, this problem went away as most aircraft were half-empty. The biggest worry was whether the airline would still be in business at check-in. However, these days people have a little more money in their pocket and passenger numbers are on the increase. Cost-cutting and mergers have also reduced relative seat capacity, which means overbooking is back with a vengeance. US$200 and a hotel isn’t too bad if your trip is a fortnight long, but if you’re trying to make it to the cruise port that afternoon…

Cramped Seating

It’s no secret that people are getting taller and wider, yet aircraft seats in economy class aren’t. Even if you happen to be of ‘normal’ size, the guy next to you probably isn’t. What little space you have left is going to be filled like Jell-O fills a mould. While this is mainly a Western problem, obesity is now on the rise in Asia. JAL, the Japanese national carrier, squeezes 546 bodies into their domestic 747’s, mainly because they can. Imagine that if 50% of the passengers resemble the average Disneyland visitor!

Rude Flight Attendants

Most flight attendants are both friendly and helpful, but a significant number make you question the airline’s recruitment criteria. True, it is a physically demanding job, and years of dealing with drunk and obnoxious passengers will knock the joy and enthusiasm out of most people. If that just leaves contempt, though, perhaps it’s time for a change of career. Passengers don’t want the crew to be on happy pills – it’s just nice to be served a drink by someone who doesn’t appear to resent your very existence.

Lack Of Check-In Staff

Ground staff numbers were universally reduced with the introduction of online check-in, yet someone still has to take your bag. Each longhaul flight has hundreds of passengers and the vast majority are going to check their luggage. Until Paris’ system of dropping a self-tagged suitcase onto an automatic belt is adopted by all, lengthy check-in delays are here to stay.

Too Many Cabin Announcements

Picture the scene: you are two hours into a surprisingly good in-flight movie and the suspense is unbearable. The leading lady is mere seconds away from death, having apparently sacrificed herself for the man she loves. As her life ebbs away, she turns to him and says, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THIS AIRLINE IS PROUD TO BE PARTNERS WITH RANDOM RENT-A-CAR…”

No One Answers The Phone

A guaranteed way to raise blood pressure is to listen to several options, select a number, then repeat for the next ten minutes before being told to perform your desired task on the airline’s website. Which you can’t. Worse still are those systems that call back when an agent is available, only to cut you off as soon as you answer. All goodwill towards the airline evaporates and you have to start the whole process again – from the back of the queue.

Do you have a story that highlights any of the above? Or is there something else the airlines do that really drives you mad? Just let your righteous anger flow into the comments section below!

Jack Leonard

Jack Leonard is a 747 captain with over 20 years of airline experience. Living in France, based in the UK and operating around the world, he has seen his fair share of airports as both flight crew and passenger. He's not sure which is worse.

5 comments

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  • While I was at the Philadelphia airport, I lost a cell phone. I received a voicemail message at home saying the phone was at lost and found. The caller also gave the phone number for lost and found. I called for days – never getting an answer. I even asked the local airport to call the Philadelphia lost and found; they never got an answer. When I was next at the airport, I went to lost and found. The “main” lost and found would not let anyone in until someone left. You stood outside the door until someone came out. The agent brought out a box of phone – mine was not in it. I then went to the “Express” lost and found (the gates for those little “local” flights). No phone. I was told TSA also had a lost and found. Again, no phone. To this day, I have no idea which lost and found called me or where my phone went!

  • Airlines that don’t provide free food or drink only make me appreciate more those airlines that still do. Its almost a nice surprise when I see a food cart coming down the aisle without the flight attendants shouting out prices. 🙂

    • Airlines that don’t provide free food or drink only make me BRING or buy the most smelly food I can get and eat it after take off…LOL. (anything with a lot of Onions, some types of curry and if I am lucky enough a can of sardines or anchovies…. 🙂 ) May be if we all do the same the airlines will start again offering free food and drinks to a void all the smells….. May Be…..

    • Totally agree with you i flew easyjet and Thompson last year 4pounds cup of tea etc. What an unbelievable difference when i flew Air france then Klm on trips to paris and Amsterdam, A smile, cup of coffee and croissants handed out with no outrageous charge made all the difference in the world,costs minimal gesture massive

  • A rather negative blog. Hidden fees – read your paperwork and you’ll have no problems. I had never an issue. Remote airports – I think it is very clever from the low cost carriers to serve region rather than a city as such. Frankfurt Hahn by the way is the name of the airport and not an invention of Ryanair…etc…and yes, it is not Frankfurt. No one answers the phone – gonline and it’s sorted! Rude staff- you get that in all industries – unfortunately! Looking forward to my next flight! Cheers

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