Voices: Have rant, will travel

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Voices is an occasional column in which Post-Gazette arts, entertainment and feature reporters share what's on their minds.

Vacation travel season is almost upon us and it looks like getting there from here, or elsewhere, is going to be as bad as it has been in past summers -- or worse.

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Extreme snafus continue, for example, the three-hour Delta flight from the Caribbean to Atlanta on Good Friday that turned into a 13-hour fiasco. It was deja vu in Tarmac Hell as passengers were held captive on the plane for five hours in Columbia, S.C., without food or water and dwindling diaper supplies. One distressed passenger finally called 911 saying she needed food.

But even little travel annoyances can take the fun out of highly anticipated vacations. Here's our advice to folks in the travel industry from experiences we've had on recent trips (not that we're bitter):

Note to airline flight attendants: Don't lie to your passengers.

If a mechanical problem delays your passengers' flight from Pittsburgh -- leaving a half-hour to spare for them to make their connection in Chicago to San Francisco -- don't say, "Not a problem."

When your passengers ask the flight attendant on board to alert the Chicago airport staff that they're on their way and will be there before the scheduled takeoff, don't brush off their concerns, saying, "Yeah, they know you're coming. They'll hold the plane. Not a problem."

Then, after you've given away their tickets to people on standby -- even though they made it to the gate with 15 minutes to spare -- know that it doesn't help when you say, "Have a nice day," after you've rebooked the five-member family with children on another flight from Chicago to San Francisco -- through Boston.

-- Virginia Linn

Note to cruise lines: Stop trying to sell passengers everything under the Caribbean sun.

Aboard a cruise to the Panama Canal in March, an arriving passenger found herself waylaid by staff members trying to sell deals on soft drinks for the week and photographers wanting to take her picture. She abhors soft drinks and dislikes being photographed.

After an athletic trainer's lecture on body chemistry and improving one's health, he launched into a sales pitch for Elemis products designed to cleanse the body's impurities.

An elegant wine tasting turned into yet another chance to relieve passengers of their money. (Luckily, this did not happen at afternoon tea.)

A humorous cooking demonstration by chefs in one of the ship's theaters, followed by a tour of the kitchens, included a chance to buy a $30 cookbook.

Isn't it enough that on the ship's televised morning program, an attractive woman waxes rhapsodically about all the jewelry shops travelers can visit if they go ashore?

-- Marylynne Pitz

Note to airlines: Use your brains.

When your staff is gate-checking regulation-size luggage because it doesn't fit in the puddle jumper-size commuter jets now dominating midsize airports, don't insist on checking it through to the final destination instead of returning it to the passenger at the end of that flight before the connection.

Because when the passenger arrives but his bag does not, it will cost your airline what could have been a totally avoidable two hours of staff time and a quarter tank of gas to deliver the missing bag to the passenger's home.

-- Virginia Linn

Note to cruise lines. Eliminating little things can rock the boat in a big way.

Such was the case on a recent cruise from Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas. The three-night adventure offered a full casino, nightly entertainment, sports activities, swimming pool and climbing wall, island sightseeing and food, food and more food.

But missing in action were the chocolates on the bed pillows at night -- a change that veteran cruisers couldn't complain enough about. The obvious cost-cutting measure (also missing was lobster on the dinner menu) proved to be a disastrous PR move. For three nights the dinner conversation invariably returned to the missing chocolates -- a longtime amenity.

Surely the cruise line could have trimmed elsewhere. The ship had a capacity of more than 3,600 people (2,744 guest and 856 crew members). In a Q&A among the passengers with the captain and her crew, the chefs boasted of preparing an average of 15,000 meals a day. That comes out to more than four meals per person. Trim the buffet and restore the chocolates.


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