Something is very different here.
LGA, TERMINAL ONE, NYC- “It doesn’t matter what airline you fly, it doesn’t matter what airport you leave from, it’s always the same,” spoke a disgruntled passenger after we found out that our flight was delayed due to a flight attendant suddenly getting “sick.”
(Perhaps she really was sick, but it’s also a sketchy move for flight attendants to pretend to be sick in cities they want an overnight in … and this flight touched down early Friday evening in NYC, so …).
But she didn’t only get sick after the plane landed in NYC … she got sick when half the flight had already boarded the aircraft. So roughly a hundred passengers got on the plane, stored their baggage, and buckled themselves up in their seats before they were told that they had to get up and get off the plane. I watched as the parade of disgruntled passengers exited the aircraft … the giddy excitement that we all felt about actually being on a flight that would leave on time completely gone — our illusions were lost; we were back to reality.
So because of this air hostess suddenly getting “sick” the airline would either need to cancel the flight or call in another one. This particular airline’s nearest base was Philadelphia, so that would mean a two hour call in time plus two hours of transport time … We were informed that the flight could leave in four hours … or it could not leave at all. Which one it would be we would find out about in … four hours.
“So we just have to wait?”
“So we could wait all that time and the flight could be cancelled?”
This wasn’t surprising to me: the entire air industry in the US is in shambles. When your flight actually leaves on time you’re like “what the fuck? did that really just happen?” When we go to the airport now we just expect delays, we expect cancelations, we expect to be treated rudely, we expect the airports to be dirty and mismanaged, we expect the food to be inedible and overpriced, we expect to be lied to, we expect to be scammed.
What was surprising to me was the degree to which the other passengers seemed to understand this. I didn’t hear anyone exclaim the standard “I’m never going to fly this airline again.” There were no Karens, just a hallway crammed full of defeated people who simply accepted the fact that they may not be getting to where they planned on going anytime soon. The guy across the hall who was traveling with his wife and kids sighed deeply, “I’m paying for a room tonight in Orlando and I’m not even going to be there.”
We all know that the choice is no longer between shitty airlines and good ones, but rather, do you want to fly or not. All airlines are about equally bad — they’ve all figured out that providing quality customer service or a quality product doesn’t do much to elevate their bottom lines. Quality is no longer a criteria over which they compete. The only thing that matters now is how cheaply they can get a flight from point A to point B, and if treating customers like humans means higher operating costs then they don’t treat them like humans.
Although I did have to marvel at the scene before me. The airline’s gate was more of a narrow hallway that seemed to have more akin to an airbridge than a place where 200 passengers should be packed into for hours at a time. The messages telling us to wear masks and social distance that still blasted over the intercom every five minutes came as a sick irony. A piece of paper that had the airline’s name with an arrow sloppily hand drawn on it was the only thing indicating where the so-called gate even was. The windows were narrow slits. The florescent tubes installed in the low ceiling blasted us with sterile white light.
“It looks like a third world bus station,” my wife texted after I sent her a picture.
She was right.
An hour goes by …
One of the gate agents then moves to the microphone behind the counter as a hundred passengers rise to attention. She pulls the mic to her and starts speaking. No sound comes out. She blows into it. Taps it. No sound. Like everything else in America, it didn’t work. So she just yelled out the announcement … in Spanish because she didn’t really speak English. I scanned the hallway and watched as the English speakers sheepishly asked the Spanish speakers for translations.
I went to try to fill my water bottle up at a drinking fountain. A little red light indicated that the filter was shot. It didn’t really work. Nobody cared.
This would have been unthinkable ten years ago in the USA. People would have complained upon seeing the hallway, they would have lost their shit about the flight attendant getting sick and, especially, being told to wait four hours to find out if the flight was going to leave or not. But now we bend over and just take it. We take it because we know there is no other option. “Welcome to Walmart, fuck you,” has become our national motto.
We’ve been conditioned to accept a poor customer experience. We accept things being broken. We just shrug about delays and having our schedules messed up and not really getting what we pay for. We have been conditioned to have a third world mentality. This is how people think in Latin America — “It is what it is.” It’s how people acted in China ten years ago. It’s an ingrained part of the culture in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Eastern Europe that’s fading rapidly. Now, many of these countries are starting to work and it’s my country that is broken. It used to fascinate me when some emerging market country would create something that’s more technologically advanced / new / better than what my country had to offer, but now this is just normal.
While I probably never admitted it, I used to breathe a big sigh of relief upon coming back to the USA. I’d go off and travel in dysfunctional countries for years at a time and when I’d come back I’d really enjoy a little respite in a place that worked, was clean, where things left and arrived on time, where customer service was a thing and companies competed for your business not just with cheap prices but with quality service. I’m fortunate because I had 20 years of travel where I could come back to my own country and be spoiled.
Now, I’m more confident in the systems of Mexico …
America is now like a poster for an old Kevin Bacon movie — outdated, faded, and seen many times before; it’s only remaining value being nostalgia. I don’t believe this is a musing for the good old days. We’ve lost something here. That charm, that spark, that intangible something that made this place the creative supernova of the world seems to be gone. We’re now regurgitating our own culture, we’re cutting corners, we care more about people using the right pronouns than having clean water, we unquestioningly believe and do whatever the government tells us, we no longer fly first class.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
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