Consumer research giant J.D. Power and Associates just released a report outlining the best and worst airlines for customer satisfaction. US Airways, the largest carrier out of Philadelphia International airport, and the airline responsible for 70 percent of Philly passengers, ranked last in the entire nation.
Next to last in customer satisfaction was Southwest, Philly’s second-largest carrier.
If you have flown out of, or into, Philly International in the last few years, this is no surprise to you. In fact, you probably saw it from 35,000 feet.
To be fair to both US Air and Southwest, just about any flight out of PHL is a massive pain in the posterior, regardless of who owns the plane.
And to be fair to PHL, we’re not the only city whose airport fails to enhance the flying experience. There seems to be a silent conspiracy involving air carriers, TSA screeners, and airport personnel to make flying as joyless as possible.
Sometime shortly after 9/11, airport personnel got aggressive — and we loved it. We gladly took off our shoes and belts, and stood patiently as the lines got longer and the screeners became drunk with power. We watched in silence as little old ladies were strip-searched and toddlers in strollers were patted down for hidden weapons — all in the name of increased security in the face of global terrorism.
And what did we get for it? Increased headaches, that’s what. And we’re not one bit safer, only more inconvenienced by the presence of an extra layer of authoritative bureaucracy.
The one moron who tried to blow up an airline using his shoes failed. Security didn’t stop him, and he wasn’t apprehended by the eagle eye of some airport screener. His fuse didn’t light — which is a clear indicator of his bomb making abilities, not our government’s ability to stop bombers. Same goes for the underwear bomber, another example of the government’s ability to take credit for the fumbling buffoonery of an incompetent.
I have the same amount of faith in the ability of TSA screeners to root out terrorists that I have in the ability of a fat mall security guard in chasing down shoplifters. And the truth is, so do you — but we’ll never say so while standing in that long line at the metal detectors, shoeless and holding our pants up with one hand.
We won’t say so because that TSA screener, whose primary job six months ago was cleaning out the Slurpee machine at the local 7-Eleven, is now in complete control over whether you catch your flight or not — indeed, their power extends to whether or not you fly anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Rarely does a week go by that we’re not greeted by yet another tale of airport security run amok, with screeners leaving notes in passengers’ luggage, getting their jollies by leering at the images from the full body scanners, or wrestling some senior citizen to the floor in order to confiscate her fingernail clipper.
The seats on planes are much closer together, and tighter front to back, in order to pack on as many passengers per flight as possible. Which is fine, I suppose, if you’re five feet tall, but if, like me, you happen to be six-foot-three, prepare to spend the next several hours folded up like a lawn chair.
Don’t look for relief from your flight attendant, who has lately become just as power mad as the airport screener. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for whatever reason, they’ve become increasingly surly over the past decade — to the point where now you’re afraid to ask for an extra bag of peanuts, which by the way, costs $3.
So there you sit with your knees painfully planted in the back of the seat in front of you, tired, hungry, thirsty and afraid to speak up lest you find yourself on an arbitrary “no fly” list, or the subject of tomorrow’s “Passenger escorted from flight” headline.
We have gladly sacrificed comfort and convenience for the sake of safety and security, and as Ben Franklin predicted, ended up with neither. They treat us like sheep, and why not? We act like sheep, herded into cramped spaces for hours with nary a bleat of complaint.
One of the popular airline slogans from a few years ago was, “We know why you fly.” What US Airways, Southwest, and indeed most airlines don’t seem to know, and what J.D. Power can’t explain to them, is why we hate flying.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.