Do Airlines Deserve Their Bad Reputation?

Locations in this article:  Miami, FL

Plane landing - Does Air Travel Deserve Its Bad ReputationNo one knows the pitfalls of air travel than frequent fliers. But maybe, just maybe, passengers don’t give the airlines enough credit when they pull off a relatively stress-free flight.

Peter recently chatted with George Hobica, founder of, about his USA Today column, “Does Air Travel Deserve its Bad Reputation?”

Read on to find out what these savvy travelers had to say about passenger responsibility and the positive side of travel.

Peter Greenberg: I say that airlines have such a bad reputation because of airlines like Spirit that make announcements like, “Baggage is not needed for travel.”

George Hobica: You never check bags, but you wouldn’t pay Spirit a dime?

PG: That is correct.

GH: You FedEx Ground or UPS Ground?

Plane flying overheadPG: I use FedEx Ground or UPS Ground. If you do the math, with very very few exceptions, UPS Ground or FedEx Ground costs about $22 more than the airlines will charge you to lose your bags. You get door to door service, and save about two and a half hours of your life. And when I say door-to-door service, I mean they come to your house or your office, they pick up your bag, off it goes, and when you get to your home or hotel, it is there. No schlepping.

GH: Absolutely, and if you bring it to Kinko’s it’s even less on short trips to use FedEx Ground. UPS now even has a luggage box that they sell. In any case, in my article I wrote about the fact that I’ve taken 20 flights recently, and every one went like clockwork.

PG: Wait a second, George. Whose clock?

Learn more: Luggage Shipping Services on The Early Show.

GH: My clock.

PG: OK, just checking.

Plane art - airline industry's reputationGH: Most people who responded to my article on “Does Air Travel Deserve its Bad Reputation” and said, “You’re out of your mind. Stop making a fool out of yourself.” But I had some good experiences. I’ll tell you something Peter, I am really polite to flight attendants. If I’m going to a business convention or meeting, I put on my suit and my tie. I say, “Please may I have a Coke?” and, “Thank you for the Coke,” and they treat me nicely. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t treat the flight attendants very well. I was sitting next to a guy on American Airlines first class. He held up his glass with some ice cubes in it, and he shook it at the flight attendant and he said, “More ice.” The flight attendant said, “What’s the magic word, sir?” And he said, “Don’t try to teach me manners.” This is a true story.

PG: At least he was being honest. He had no manners.

Learn more in our Global Travel Etiquette section.

GH: Exactly. If you’re nice to the flight attendants, you don’t check bags, you get to the airport super early, yes your flight might be delayed, but the United guy will come up to you at the kiosk and say, “What flight are you on? I’m putting you put you on an earlier flight, and you’re leaving in 10 minutes.”

Plane flying - air travel's reputationPG: I start out with the assumption that before you ever get to the airport that person behind the gate has already been beaten up about 150 times. A hundred times by passengers, and 50 times by his own company. So they’ve already had a bad day. They have a thankless job. They’re beaten up, and if you go up there and say, “I want this, and want that,” they’re going to beat you up. They have no other choice. But if you walk up there and you’re compassionate about their plight, just say, “Hey, I know you had a tough day, but is there a seat available on the next flight?” They’ll look at you and it will become like a scene out of Oliver. “Please sir, can I have some more?”

GH: Some more kindness.

Learn more in our Air Travel: Airlines & Airports section.

PG: Some more kindness. And just maybe they’ll be nice to you. But there is one more thing that I always do George, and I bet you don’t. I write thank-you letters.

Plane landing - Air Travel industryGH: I did, to Virgin America. My flight attendant was so nice I sent an email to the company.

PG: Nothing beats that because people don’t do enough of them. These days when an airline ticket agent or a counter agent goes out of their way, it means they’ve probably violated some draconian policy of their airline. So they really have helped you at some degree of risk to themselves, so they really better get a thank-you letter.

GH: I agree with you. I think we’re not appreciative of the 99 percent of flights that go right, and we just gripe about the 1 percent that go wrong. I’m not an apologist for the airlines. In fact the PR guy for the Airline Transport Association just sent me a scathing email saying I was way off base about something I wrote.

Find more of Peter’s opinions in his Travel Detective Blog.

PG: Oh, the ATA doesn’t even talk to me anymore.

Airplane in the sky - Airlines' reputationGH: Well at least they talk to me, but they don’t say nice things. I’m not an apologist for the airlines. I just think sometimes we’re sometimes our own worst enemies when it comes to arriving at the airport last minute, and wondering why we get bumped, overpacking, being rude …

PG: There’s one more thing. We’re victims of our own unrealistic expectations. But it is prompted by airline advertising that is not realistic to begin with. Look, the only reason why we fly, at the end of the day, is to go from point A to point B and not die.

GH: And do it very, very cheaply.

PG: Yeah. I mean we’re in a metal cylinder at 35,00 feet. Do we really want that leather seat? Is it that important to us? No, I just don’t want to hit a mountain. How about that?

Read more about air safety incidents in our Plane Crashes section.

Plane landing - Air Travel's bad reputationGH: Speaking of comfortable seats, you know, I gladly pay the $40 extra for extra legroom, or economy plus. I mean I don’t think that’s it’s a lot of money. We just have to try to treat ourselves better: Fly on an airline that has free TV, so you’ll be entertained and not bored.

PG: I love flying on either Virgin or JetBlue for the free TV. You know why? I always end up on the ESPN sports classic shows. This is how stupid I am: I’m actually watching the 1972 Super Bowl. I already know that it was Miami’s perfect season. I already know they are going to win. And then we land with another 4 minutes left to go in the game, and me and five other guys are begging the flight attendant, “Don’t turn it off. We want to see the end.” Anyway, let me just say that George does a great job on And I want you to tell me about your next 20 flights, because I don’t think you’re going to have the same experience.

GH: You’re probably right.

By Peter Greenberg for

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