The Top 10 Air Travel Pet Peeves Before the Flight Begins

“W hat irks you the most in the pre-flight experience (everything from planning an itinerary until you are walking down the jet bridge)?” was the question Jonathan Spira — who is the editorial director of Frequent Business Traveler magazine — asked of me via e-mail message back on Thursday, March 16, 2015 in preparation for a survey pertaining to the top 10 air travel pet peeves before the flight begins.

The following list is what immediately came to my mind with little thought and in no specific order — and I am certain that I could have more than doubled the items on the list if I actually gave myself some time:

  • Flights which are inexplicably more expensive for the dates and times I want than at other times
  • Unexpected schedule changes in flights which throw my schedule off
  • Finding less expensive flights after I already booked mine — and it is too late to change
  • Having to deal with the “middleman” when a request is placed — even when the request was placed in person at the airport
  • Seat selection on a flight which is already crowded and only less-than-desirable seats remain in inventory
  • Being number 396 on the upgrade list for two open seats remaining in the premium class cabin
  • Airlines which unnecessarily form long lines at the gate to board
  • A dearth of announcements when a flight is delayed at the gate
  • Being screened in a newer whole body scanner through the airport security checkpoint instead of the more traditional scanners
  • “Pat-downs” if the scanner alerts me after I go through it
  • Long lines for being screened at the airport security checkpoint
  • The person in front of me on that line who only first decides at the moment when it is time to go through the scanner to first take off the belt, removed the phone from the pocket, etc. and wastes time
  • Arriving at the airport — only to find a parking lot which is full, leading to searching for another parking lot at which to park
  • Once the car is parked, the shuttle bus to the terminals does not arrive for at least 20 minutes; and once I am picked up, the driver circles the parking lot searching for more customers to take to the terminals — including the ones who just parked their car and are unloading enough items from their vehicle to fill a warehouse, which further delays the shuttle bus as the driver assists
  • If being driven to the airport by someone, dealing with police who try to shoo you out of there as soon as possible but do nothing about helping to alleviate the traffic approaching the terminal
  • Going through the entire process of checking in for a flight at a kiosk — only to have it instruct me to see an agent anyway, for which I have to wait in line
  • Packing for the trip, hoping that I do not forget anything
  • Leaving plenty of time to prepare for the trip 24 hours before it begins — only to have a spate of unexpected issues which require my attention to pop up, forcing me to rush through the process of preparing for my trip
  • Inclement weather — especially when meteorologists predicted no problems
  • Dealing with and fighting traffic on the way to the airport
  • Checking before I leave for the airport extremely early in the morning to ensure that the flight is on time — only to arrive and find that it is delayed by 7 hours; and recently I arrived at Incheon Airport for a flight from Seoul to Manila — only to be informed when I arrived that it was canceled and I had to stay overnight in Shanghai
  • Having to gulp down my dangerous water before being screened at the airport security checkpoint
  • Having my bags inspected “thoroughly” at the airport security checkpoint — only to have my items put into my bag incorrectly by the agents where I have had to repack my bag once through; and I once even had a brazen agent take candy out of my bag before asking my permission
  • Being informed of a bunch of events which I wanted to attend and are scheduled to occur during my trip — after already booking my trip when it is too late to change my itinerary

 

“I assume you are referring only to airlines”, I responded along with submitting my list. “I have a whole bunch more things which irk me pertaining to hotels and rental cars; and I can probably think of even more things which would irk me before a flight, as — believe it or not — much of the above list was off the top of my head. If I think of anything else, I intend to send it to you.”

Jonathan Spira seemed to be satisfied with the aforementioned list; but when I mentioned that I might post my list in an article here at The Gate, he asked me to at least wait until the actual survey was posted back in April.

I went one step further in honoring his request: I waited until after the results of the survey — conducted in collaboration with members of FlyerTalk via this discussion — were revealed in this article written by Jesse Sokolow on Thursday, June 11, 2015.

Without further ado, here is the list of the top ten pre-flight air travel pet peeves for 2015 — along with comments by me:

1. Others Blocking the Gate When Your Group is Called to Board the Aircraft

Also known as the derogatory term of gate lice, this can be irritating when it is time to board — only to have access blocked by those fellow passengers whose time to board has not yet arrived.

I see this somewhat as an extension of a mysterious behavior human beings tend to unknowingly exhibit. I cannot tell you how many times I have personally witnessed people unnecessarily blocking a doorway to an exit or to the toilet to talk to each other when there are plenty of other places to congregate where they would not be in the way of anyone.

2. Clueless Travelers

Instead of clueless travelers, I was slightly more tactful when I called this group of people inexperienced travelers for the Memorial Day holiday in 2013 and asked how you deal with them when you travel; and a number of readers posted comments from many sides of this issue.

With the announcement from the Transportation Security Administration earlier this year declaring that fewer frequent fliers will be able to qualify for the Pre✓ program without paying for the privilege, this could mean more interactions between frequent fliers and inexperienced travelers — not that that has not already happened when inexperienced travelers were randomly selected at airport security checkpoints to use the Pre✓ program lanes and potentially slowing them down to the chagrin of more experienced travelers hoping to minimize the time passing through the security checkpoint at the airport.

3. Long Lines at Check-in

Ticket counters at the airport are like lanes at the airport security checkpoint or teller counters at the bank: they spare no expense and build what seems like a thousand of them — but only a few of those counters are actively staffed much of the time. Why?!?

Even more irritating is when there are uniformed employees behind the counter who are not assisting passengers in order to move the line faster. I am not sure as to the topic of the conversation those employees are having amongst themselves; but can it not wait until the line is shorter — or better yet, eliminated altogether?

4. Discourteous or Uninformed Staff

Perhaps this is a reason why more of those aforementioned ticket counters are not manned or why the boarding process is usually not expedited more efficiently? Just a thought…

5. Poorly Managed Boarding Process

Speaking of the boarding process, Jesse Sokolow wrote in the article that “…this ties back to the top peeve, ‘Others blocking gate when your group is called to board.’ The boarding process is in many respects broken and clearly more work is needed.”

From no carry-on luggage by American Airlines to Southwest Airlines charging $40.00 for early boarding to United Airlines attempting to change the process itself, airlines have been trying to improve the boarding process for what seems like forever.

The boarding process can be so stressful and frustrating that it can cause people to act irrationally. For example, a person who claimed to be a Chairman Preferred member of the US Airways Dividend Miles frequent flier loyalty program was reportedly arrested back in 2012 for pushing a gate agent against the wall following a series of attempts to board by elite status despite the gate agent boarding by row number.

In my opinion, the boarding process cannot be significantly improved when attempting to board hundreds of passengers through a single doorway onto a piece of complex equipment shaped like a hollow metal tube with wings. Simple physics combined with human nature supports that statement, in my opinion.

6. Difficulty Using Miles and Points for Award Travel

Frustration with frequent flier loyalty programs has increased over the years to the point where there has been a call — more than once — to have them regulated by the federal government of the United States, with which I do not agree. One of the reasons is that airlines advertise that you can use the frequent flier loyalty program miles you earn towards future flights; but members find the process to redeem them for the flights they want increasingly difficult — to the point where people believe that frequent flier loyalty programs are actually the “crack cocaine of the travel industry” which are little more than “pyramid schemes” designed to scam the majority of their members; and that you should cut up your frequent flier loyalty program cards and quit the programs “cold turkey” in order to rebel against a ploy which cleverly fools you into feeding into its ultimate fiendish goals.

Despite the almost laughable claim that airlines are freeing up more reward seats, airlines have no incentive to ease the process of redeeming frequent flier loyalty program miles for its members — especially in recent years when they are enjoying record profits.

7. Inconsistencies in Security Screenings

I believe that Jesse Sokolow summarized this well: “I still don’t fully appreciate why a belt that I can wear through the walk-through metal detector at LaGuardia sets off alarms in Seattle or why shoes that are fine in Los Angeles suddenly become suspect in Chicago. (And I use PreCheck, which if anything should be more consistent than the non-PreCheck line.)”

Although the Transportation Security Administration may like to use the line that the inconsistencies keep the potential terrorists off guard, I disagree to a point: basic security measures — such as metal detection and a policy pertaining to the transport of liquids as two examples — should be consistent; whereas additional security measures designed to keep potential terrorists “on their toes” can vary to a certain degree.

If you want proof as to how inconsistent are security screenings at airports, look no further than this article written by me on April 14, 2012 where Edmund Hawley — otherwise known as “Kip” and was the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration from July 2005 through January 2009 — admitted that airport security in the United States was “broken” and offered advice on how to fix it

…never mind that many of the policies were implemented while he served as Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Perhaps he was attempting to promote a book; or that he is seeking to attempt to earn income as a consultant.

I have said in countless articles in the past that smarter security measures need to be implemented. The goal should be to ensure that security is as effective as possible while simultaneously causing as little convenience to travelers as possible; and — please pardon my grammar — inconsistencies in security screenings ain’t it.

8. Passengers Who Cut the Line

“If I had it my way, I would do away with lines altogether — whether at the airport, a bank, or at a grocery store…” is what I wrote as a part of an article called Line Cutting: Is It Getting Worse? on Friday, March 27, 2015. “Why do I feel so strongly about line cutting? Time is a precious commodity which none of us can ever retrieve once it is lost; and I personally try not to waste my time on experiences which I do not enjoy — such as waiting in line, for example. Who is the person in front of me to autonomously determine arbitrarily that his or her time is more valuable than mine — especially when cutting in line in front of me usually means that I will have to spend more time to wait even longer in that line?”

Lines are simply inefficient, for the most part. I avoid lines whenever possible — which has the automatic added side benefit of eliminating someone attempting to cut in front of me whenever I am successful.

Better yet: to deter line cutting, how about cutting the lines down to a manageable size — or eliminating them altogether — as I suggested in item number 3 pertaining to long lines at check-in?

9. Misbehaving Passengers

The answer is simple and is similar to what was posted as item number 4 in this article: use duct tape.

Try as you might, you just cannot change human nature. ’Nuff said.

10. Poor Communications About Schedule Changes

From Delta Air Lines to Etihad Airways, my experiences suggest that no airline is immune to an anomaly which simply should not exist. There is no reason or excuse why announcements pertaining to schedule changes or irregular operations should not be announced — other than in the unlikely event of perhaps preventing a customer from unnecessarily experiencing nervousness and panic; and even then, a cursory intermediate update should suffice.

Keeping customers informed is key to establishing and maintaining trust.

Summary

There are actually dozens of pre-flight pet peeves pertaining to air travel — and I will bet that there are still many which have not even been mentioned in this article.

For me, the best way to deal with them is simply to expect them and cope with them as best as possible. There is not much I can do about the air travel “pet peeves” which might come my way prior to a flight; but I can do what I can to manage my expectations — I will re-post an article pertaining to that topic, as the original article is no longer posted — and attempt to have my air travel experience be as pleasant as possible by doing what I can which is within my control.

What pre-flight pet peeves pertaining to air travel are on your top ten list — and why?

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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