Image: Waiting passengers
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images file
Passengers are frustrated with several different aspects of air travel, with long lines and plane delays topping the list.
By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 6/19/2007 11:15:57 AM ET 2007-06-19T15:15:57

OK, so you've read my earlier column about everything that is right with air travel. At the end of that article, I solicited readers' comments about what might be wrong with air travel. Now comes the fun part: your pet peeves.

Before I get started, I would like to make one point clear to the many people who will no doubt be writing to me to complain about the following list. I did not write the responses, you did. If a complaint was made more than once, I put it on the list — whether it was serious, funny, trivial or bizarre. My own comments are in italics.

Without further ado, here it is: what's wrong with air travel.

In the terminal
1. Longer lines and fewer employees.This was the top complaint.

2. Customs and immigration. The lines and the inefficient procedures are a nightmare and getting worse.

3. Wheelchair attendants. How come these guys never meet the airplane on time and can't speak more than a few words of English? I have to admit: As a flight attendant, this is one of my pet peeves as well.

4. “Federal regulations require.” What exactly do federal regulations require? In the security area, especially, federal regulations seem to change from week to week and airport to airport. Other requirements vary widely from airline to airline, though the explanation is always: "Federal regulations require ..." Make an across-the-board policy and stick to it at every airport.

5. Additional screening. If my 80-year-old grandmother gets sent to secondary screening but Moammar Hussein does not, there is something very wrong.

6. Arrival monitors inside the gate area. Who cares about arriving flights when the only people permitted past security are ticketed passengers? Good point. I never thought about that. I mean, there just aren't that many arriving passengers meeting other arriving passengers.

7. Boarding procedures. It's time to figure out how to board passengers in a more efficient manner. This is the 21st century.

On the airplane
1. Smaller seats and bigger people. Do the airlines not know that most people are over 5'3" and 150 pounds?

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2. Old flight attendants with attitudes.Apparently, quite a few of you have recently traveled on international Pacific flights and have had the same crew of pissed-off grandmothers.

3. Carry-on luggage. It was so nice after the London bomb scare when nobody was allowed any carry-on. Boarding was quicker and easier, and the flights went so much smoother.

4. In-flight lavatories. By the end of the flight they are so disgusting that if you are forced to use one, you just want to cry. That or pass out.

5. Airlines that serve Pepsi instead of Coke.Really? Of all the things wrong in the airline industry, you see soda pop as a major issue? Apparently three of you did.

6. The seat-belt police. "Come on!" complains one reader. "The seat-belt sign goes on, the cockpit makes an announcement, flight attendants check everybody's seat belt, and then, when somebody desperately has to use the facilities, they shout at the top of their lungs, "FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS!" We're not in elementary school anymore. If you gotta go, you gotta go. Would you rather I wet the seat?" I sympathize, but here's another point of view: When you are out of your seat, you are endangering the people around you, who can get hurt if you get thrown around the cabin.

7. Germs and worse. It never fails: When I go on a trip, I always catch something. They say the onboard air filters catch most of everything but that is hooey. Why do you think the man with tuberculosis was such a threat to his fellow passengers? Whether it be SARS, TB, or the next chemical concoctions of terrorists, people who fly are at risk. All true — but you've got to be careful when you mix hypochondria with paranoia. You can make yourself sick with worry.

In the boardroom
1. Greedy CEOs.I say amen to that!

2. Bankruptcy shenanigans. Airlines that go into bankruptcy, threaten to close down, slash employee paychecks and pensions, but then quickly emerge from Chapter 11 and bid billions to buy another airline. Can you say US Airways? I give another amen to that point!

3. Last-minute price gouging. Just because the airline can take advantage of you when you're desperate doesn't mean they should.

4. Overbooking. In this day and time, why do airlines still overbook by 20 percent? If passengers don't show, they should lose all or most of the ticket price — period!

In the break room
1. Airline unions. They only give the right for employees to maintain snotty attitudes. I don't agree, but I won't comment further.

2. Airline employees who won't take responsibility and pass the blame elsewhere. Well, speaking as an airline employee myself, most problems really aren't my fault. Blame management!

People skills
1. The airlines' ever-diminishing concern for customer service. Similar responses included: the cattle-car mentality, putting computers and/or incompetent personnel in charge of customer relations, the focus on the bottom line instead of the customer, airlines that make promises and don't deliver, etc. Customer service was the No. 2 complaint overall.

2. Rudeness. "When did higher security mean the removal of courtesy?" asks one reader. "No other customer-service business in this country could survive treating its customers with so much rudeness. This is mainly ground-based and very little follows through to the onboard portion of the industry. Sure, ground support puts up with a great deal of shall we say "difficult" customers, but that must go with the job. If the employees cannot handle or are not fit to handle difficult customers, then maybe this is not the industry for them to work in."

People themselves
1. No dress code. Would it be asking too much for people to cover at least 25 percent of their bodies?

2. Smoking — pro and con. Antismoking activists and unrepentant smokers both chimed in on airport smoking policies. Both made the list, but I just don't see smoking as much of an issue anymore.

3. Air travel advice givers.I'm thinking that would be yours truly, but I prefer to think that this reader meant Peter Greenberg, the so-called Travel Detective. It was only said once, but I got a good chuckle out of it so I thought I would include it.

4. Unrealistic expectations. People who expect air travel to be way more than safe passage from point A to point B.

5. People! The airline world would be so much better without them. Obviously from burnt-out employees. Maybe they should work for the United Parcel Service or Federal Express.

Industry-wide
1. Environmental degradation. Pollution, overdependence on oil, noise, waste and non-recycling practices.

2. Political correctness. Traveling has become a sterile atmosphere, void of culture and personality with the airlines so afraid of offending someone. For goodness sake, is "Merry Christmas" so wrong to say? Amen ... oops!

3. U.S. airlines. Many of you vented your frustration on particular airlines. Northwest got the most votes, but American, United, US Airways, Delta and Continental all made the list.

4. Unnecessary paperwork. How many trees do we have to cut down to produce the millions of daily landing documents that are ignored anyway?

The variety of things that bother people about air travel never ceases to amaze me. Some of the bizarre comments included: too many choices, smelly feet, irritating pilot announcements, color schemes, employees who are liars, and incredibly enough, the airplanes themselves. Call me crazy, but I think you need airplanes for air travel, unless of course hot air balloons or zeppelins are coming back in style.

Surprisingly, a large portion of the e-mail I received thanked me for writing about the positive side of air travel. This gives me true hope. In fact, I believe most people look on the bright side, and I like that about people.

Thanks for your comments, and if you have anything else to add, send it along. Believe it or not, I love what I do and I enjoy hearing from you!

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