It’s time to talk about the industry we love to hate… commercial airlines - or as I like to call it, the world’s collective punching bag! But I’d like you to help me change that. After all, the numbers don’t lie. According to published data, if you fly every day, you will die in a plane in roughly 19,000 years. The odds of you slipping this mortal coil while midflight, according to the National Safety Council, are so low it’s shocking. To even more clearly illustrate this, your odds of being unintentionally poisoned are about 1 and 113. Your odds of plummeting to your death from 35,000 feet in a commercial airline? 1 and 8,500. The bottom line… flying is the safest mode of transportation. That’s right, Superman did not, in fact, lie to Lois Lane.
So, why are we so up in arms when we arrive at the airport to discover our flight is delayed? Well, could it be that we don't fully grasp the enormous list of things that can (and usually DON’T) go wrong? I think it could. Here is a small portion of the most simple speed bumps that can toss a wrench into our flight plans!
LOST OR "MISPLACED" BAGGAGE
Now, usually the airline is not going to lose your checked luggage. Airlines "mishandle" about 7 bags per 1,000 people per year. I find that to be pretty amazing, considering the volume of luggage they handle daily. Believe it or not, YOUR plane might be delayed because that aircraft is waiting on someone else’s luggage to arrive. It happens. In all my years of flying, my luggage was delayed a few days ONCE. Was it annoying? Yes. Did I complain? Oh, you betcha! Do I now travel with the intent to NEVER go through that again? Darn tootin’ I do! How do I do that? I don’t check my luggage. I’ll either ship it, go carry on only or buy clothes when you get where I’m going and donate them before I leave. If I have to check luggage, I avoid flight connections. Your checked bags travel faster through airports than you do, but even they can be lost or miss their connecting flight.
The airlines don’t like their planes flying in bad weather. They, like you, don’t like weather-related incidents that result in turbulence or, you know, CRASHING. When your flight IS delayed or canceled due to bad weather, I say… have a party! I know it’s a bummer… but rejoice the airline has decided to value your life over profit and stayed on the ground until the weather improves. Which, for as long as I’ve traveled, it always does. Keep in mind that it's not just about the weather at your departure airport. It’s also about the weather enroute and the weather at the destination in which you are expecting to land. It might be sunny where you are but the forecast in Denver could mean CERTAIN DOOM.
What appears to be bad news because it has delayed your departure, is actually good! I love it when my airline discovers a problem with its equipment BEFORE we leave the ground. A mechanical problem, once detected, can be resolved. A repair can be made, and you can be on your way. If a mechanical problem is discovered in the air, a plane usually lands without incident. Yes, you may not like being in an unscheduled place for a period of time, but it’s better than the alternative.
Please don’t take it out on the airline employees when this sort of delay happens. This is primarily the responsibility of the airport involved. Too many planes trying to take off and land need space. Creating that space takes time. Lining up space and time for those planes to land needs excellent planning and, well, there’s a saying about best laid plans, isn’t there? One delayed flight can throw off an entire schedule. One mechanical issue can clog up the available gate situation. It’s a domino effect of issues that can suddenly be harder to solve than a Rubix Cube (see the 1980’s). So, please, save the airlines your social media vitriol and direct it - if you absolutely need to - at the airport staff who weren’t prepared to roll with the punches.
Crew issues is another reason planes are late and for this, I put the responsibility squarely on the airline. If you run an airline, then you already know this. Get your crew there, rested and ready to go. We bought a ticket to fly with you, and the general understanding is that YOU are going to hold up your end of the deal...we can’t fly the plane by ourselves.
THE SIZE OF THE AIRLINE
If you are concerned about abnormal problems with flying, then you should probably choose an airline large enough to handle problems quickly. More problems arise when an airline cannot recover quickly from an abnormal situation. Larger airlines have more planes, more available crew, and more resources to get you to where they said they would within an acceptable amount of time. What do I mean by large airline? Southwest is a big airline and they have about 735 planes in their fleet, while a smaller airline like Jet Blue has 282 planes in their fleet.
YOU'RE THE PROBLEM, JACK!
I have said on so many occasions, if you want to increase the likelihood of successfully flying commercially, then we have to do our part. Play the game, if you will. Check in online, print your boarding pass or have it available on a fully charged mobile device. Get to the airport early: 90 minutes for domestic, two and a half hours for international. Check your bags if you need to and don;t try to “sneak” an oversized bag onto the plane. Tag your checked luggage inside and out (in case the outside tag gets ripped off). Wear comfortable but upscale clothing (leave the flip flops at home). Do not wear excessive perfumes. Look, act and smell like the passenger you want sitting next to YOU. Know what you can and cannot bring onto an airplane. Be nice to people and save the stressed out, pushy attitude for your therapist's office.
These are my opinions and, while they have formed over years of experience, take them for what they are worth. But I assure you, I want your commercial flying experience to be as pleasant as possible. Have a fantastic flight!
Erik the Travel Guy