IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

5 things travelers aren’t grateful for

Air travel is affordable. The nation’s roads have never been safer. And hotels offer more amenities than ever. Given all that, you would think travelers would be a grateful lot. They aren’t.
Image: TSA Explosive Detection System
Feeling thankful this Thanksgiving? If you're a frequent traveler, the answer is probably no. Despite affordable seats and safe highways, travelers have plenty of reasons to be agitated, columnist Christopher Elliott writes.Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Air travel is affordable. The nation’s roads have never been safer. And hotels offer more amenities than ever.

Given all that, you would think travelers would be a grateful lot.

They aren’t.

Check out the latest customer surveys, and it’s clear that people are profoundly ungrateful when it comes to their travels. They give the airline industry worse grades than the Internal Revenue Service, they complain about traffic, and they gripe about high room rates.

So at a time of the year when everyone else seems to be giving thanks, the contrarian in me wonders: What are we not thankful about?

Inconsiderate travelers
They cut in line. They talk loudly on their cell phones. They travel with bratty children in tow. Where do these rude passengers come from? “They shout into their cell phones and talk loudly and are demanding to in-flight crews with gimmees ,” says Leonard Hansen, a writer from Bellingham, Wash. His theory is that airline deregulation, which made air travel more affordable, precipitated the “onslaught of the great unwashed,” which led to a sharp decline in civility among travelers. I think he’s right. These inconsiderate travelers are also likelier to complain for no good reason, says Gail Richardson, a nurse practitioner from Atlanta. “They feel that travel rules do not apply to them. They show up at the airport late, complain if they miss their flight, grumble about long security lines,” she says. “I am not thankful for them.”

Avaricious airlines
While it’s true that on average, airline ticket prices are remarkably affordable, it isn’t always the case. Airlines still price their tickets according to demand, and when a lot of people are flying, fares can really take off. “Even supposedly low-cost JetBlue is charging over $600 from Los Angeles to New York for the holidays,” gripes Steve Surjaputra, a technical support representative for an automobile software company in Los Angeles. “I found a cheaper fare — about $360 — on Delta.”

But wait, it gets worse. Business travelers who have to buy their tickets at the last minute or who don’t stay over a Saturday night sometimes get charged double or triple what everyone else pays. All that, for the same seat. Those kinds of pricing games make airline passengers like Surjaputra cringe. There ought to be a law ...

Resorts and their silly, silly, silly fees
Just as airlines can be shifty with their ticket prices, so, too, can hotels with their rates. And at times, even shiftier. Consider the experience of James Salter, an analyst for the state of Minnesota in Minneapolis. A year ago, he stayed at the Radisson Hotel and Suites Sydney, where high-speed Internet access was included in his room rate. He liked the resort so much, he booked a room for next year. But wait! “Now there’s a $24.95 per day charge for Internet access,” he says. “I've contacted corporate Radisson to find out why, and they say they’ve opened a file.”

Maybe instead of opening files, they should buy a clue. Internet access is widely considered a utility, like running water or power. Guests expect it. Charging for items like Internet access, the use of the exercise rooms, mandatory gratuities, and the like, are something no one is grateful for. Can I hear another “silly” please?

The Transportation Security Administration ...
Forget, for a moment, that there is no proof this $4.7-billion agency has protected us from terrorists, hijackers and bombs any better than the rent-a-cops that preceded them. And never mind that more than half a decade after 9/11, the agency can’t seem to detect explosives at its own airports. No, what troubles most airline passengers is that the TSA can’t seem to be consistent. “TSA screening is different no matter what airport you go through,” complains Kathleen Vigil, a human resources manager for a telecommunications company in Aurora, Colo. “Do TSA screeners want shoes on, shoes off, or they don’t care ... you choose! When you go through the metal detector, do you hold your boarding pass and identification in your hand where they have a visual, put your boarding pass in your pocket, or do they not care?” The answers are on the TSA Web site. Thanks, screeners, for taking the time to read it. Or not ...

And what it’s turned us into
You can’t really blame the TSA for this next one, at least not entirely. No, we probably did this to ourselves. “We’ve been reduced to quaking, shamed, fearful, cowardly sheep while traveling,” says Carole Jonas, a retired consultant from Whidbey Island, Wash. “Because if you even look cross or angry and you’re confronted by our esteemed TSA or airline employees, you could be branded as a troublemaker or purported terrorist, hauled away from your flight, questioned, harassed, tormented, perhaps handcuffed, arrested, or worse.” She makes a valid point. Travel — and air travel, in particular — used to be fun. It isn’t anymore. In fact, people dread traveling for a variety of reasons. The intrusive screenings. The airline crewmembers who are often on a power trip. The lack of basic amenities. Jonas traces a lot of it back to 9/11. “We’ve all become terrorized while traveling,” she says. “Thanks, terrorists, you’ve done your job well — mission accomplished.”

It doesn’t have to stay this way. I can remember a time not so long ago, when travel was a pleasure. If you’re having trouble remembering, or are just too young, check out the Northwestern University library collection of transportation menus which features 400 menus from 54 national and international airline carriers, cruise ships and railroad companies, from 1929 to the present. Ah, foie gras economy class. Meals served on real china. It illustrates how far we’ve fallen in such a short amount of time.

There’s hope, though. I think travelers can be grateful once again — if they have something to be grateful for. All they want is to travel with a little dignity. They don’t want to be afraid of their crewmembers or TSA screeners or fellow passengers. They don’t want to be hit with extra fees when they check out of their hotel. Is that asking too much?