By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 5/20/2008 2:10:17 PM ET 2008-05-20T18:10:17

As the politicians expound their message of change to the public, one area in which change is certain is the airline industry. With all the mergers and alliances, overpaid executives and frustrated employees, you need to prepare yourself, because air travel is transforming right in front of your eyes.

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Are you ready? Do you know what to expect? And how will these changes affect your bottom line?

One day airline profits are up and on the next, bankruptcy looms for most airlines. For airline employees, change is really the only constant factor we can count on.

Here are some of the changes to the airline industry that you the passenger should be prepared for this summer:

1. That’s not my carrier. With airline alliances becoming more common, you might show up to your flight only to find that you’re flying on a completely different airline than the one you booked. It could say ABC Airways but it could be operated by XYZ Airlines. The trick for this situation is to see which one has the cheaper ticket price and book that one. I know of one passenger who saved over $1,500 booking a business seat on China Air but cleverly flew on her favorite airline. The key is looking for the clause “operated by…”

2. I think you said Tokyo. Year after year, computers are replacing ever more employees. This year you will run into more of them than usual. Whether it is for booking, check-in, customer service, or flight information, chances are that a computer will be in your air travel future. If you thought it was frustrating dealing with an outsourced ticket agent from Bangladesh, just try booking a ticket with an exasperating computer that after completing a plethora of voice-activated menu choices, insists that you said Tokyo instead of Chicago, and when you start your rage of vulgarities, it actually recognizes those words and hangs up on you. My best advice is to be patient and to exercise your sense of humor. How many of you are going to try cussing out that computer next time?

3. Delays, delays, delays. I know that there is nothing new about this, but believe it or not you could experience a whole host of new delays. Airlines trying to adhere to self-imposed passenger rights, fuel prices, and cutbacks are bound to foul up that on time arrival that you counted on. Best thing would to allow some extra connection time to avoid hassles.

4. Dollar doldrums. If you are flying internationally, be prepared to deal with an extremely depressed dollar. You could get a deal on the flight but watch out, you could be paying $18 for a beer, and this is without naked ladies dancing around you. Keep an eye out for an upcoming column that can help you abroad make the best use of your weak greenback.

5. Employee frustration. With airline executives making record salaries and front-line employees’ paychecks being slashed, management has informed their workers that fuel prices have hastened the need for cost-cutting measures yet again. You will get very few sympathetic employees doing more than their absolute bare minimum.

6. Charge. From additional check-in bags, to aisle seating, nothing is off-limits when it comes to chargeable items. What’s next, coin operated toilets or overhead bins, dollar activated life-jackets and seatbelts? I know that some day as a flight attendant I am going to show up for work and be forced to wear an advertisement for hemorrhoid cream on my back. Be prepared and bring some spare change just in case, because this summer everything seems to have a price.

7. Got no gas. With fuel at historic levels the airlines are pulling no punches when conserving oil. This could affect you in several different ways such as no running water for washing your hands before take-off, longer wait times at the gate, and possible flight cancellations for lack of connecting passengers.

8. Bare minimum. Don’t expect amenities such as a pillow or a blanket, and while mechanics will have their hands full with issues directly connected to keeping the airplanes flying, your seat amenities are more likely to be inoperable. Always bring back-up or at least a pair of earplugs to help you sleep it off.

9. Longer lines. Fewer employees mean longer lines, there is just no way around it. If you can, fly in the morning to avoid rush hour times and if not, leave plenty of time before your flight to wade through the chaos.

10. Good news? Yes, there is a silver lining under the projected dark rain cloud. With the new Open Skies agreement coming into effect, you will soon have more choices of destinations and carriers. This means that you might not be forced into flying on that one airline you absolutely detest.

My forecast for this summer may seem a bit dark and gloomy, but if you are prepared for the changes ahead, you can be that much ahead of the game. Most of all, try to enjoy yourself and appreciate the now, before it is history and merely a memory.

Good luck to you and have a nice summer. I’ll be watching for you.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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