I saw it recently with farmers struggling from the drought. Compare this farmer: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417774n who has acres full of hay that don't do well in the drought to this farmer who planted a solid base of drought tolerant sorghum http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417664n in addition to his corn. The second farmer is diversified. He's making smarter decisions with his farm, but because he wasn't hit as hard as other farmers who aren't making good decisions with their land, he's not going to get as much compensation for failed crops. That first farmer needs to go to work for the second farmer so he can learn better and more profitable methods of farming and we will all benefit -- including him. Watch the two farmers. Look how worn out the first one is compared to the second one. The first farmer is working harder the second farmer is working smarter. We need to reward that.
The same thing with United. United Airlines was the largest recipient of cash grants from the US after 9/11, getting $774.2 Million . If the US hadn't kept United alive over the past 10 years so an Airline that cares could fill the void, this little child may not have been left stranded at the airport by a company full of employees who don't need to care.
On the other hand, there are many state-owned or subsidized airlines that have very good customer service.
So whether or not United needs to fail, I think the problem runs far deeper than subsidies.
Look at the comments here: http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/ryan.htm
Not one is about Ryanair failing to deliver the service they've sold (as the article is very much about United failing to) - they're all about people being disappointed about a £25 flight on an airline that prides itself on not caring one bit about your comfort ... not caring about their comfort. All of the extra charges complained about are loudly and clearly announced as part of the ticket buying process. Don't bring a 20 kg bag on a flight when your ticket clearly says "max 15 kg, excess charges apply", then complain about excess charges being leveraged.
If you want service, comfort and flexibility, fly BA and pay for it (or EasyJet, they're usually very good IMO, and usually priced in the sweet spot between Ryanair and "proper" airlines). If you want to get to the beach in the cheapest possible way, everything else be damned, fly Ryanair.
Seriously the implications of that are boggling although I suppose modern technology makes it possible to do so.
I don't think it's a good solution, but I can relate to to bitterness of being charged for a 2 kg overweight and then getting stuck in half a seat because the person next to you is the size of a cow.
Some airlines do have policies in place for such situations.
No typo there, under £4.
And I used to commute Glasgow to London once a week and would regularly pay for for the train from the airport to the centre of town than for the flight.
But yes, the train can be terrifyingly expensive if you can't pick and choose your time (though I also find it more productive - no putting away your laptop for take off, no security, just sit down and do stuff).
Many of the fees and extra charges can't be avoided (like an internet booking fee and credit card fee) yet they're usually not included in the advertised price.
And many of the extra charges (like if you forget to print your boarding pass but have it on an iPad) seems almost designed solely to get more money out of people.
It is inexcusable for a human being to not help a young child regardless of the company they work for. However, the other stories about airlines being terrible with customer service are dumb. In general people are stressed out when they fly and they project it on staff. I see it every time I travel. People are mad about weather delays, mad about gate changes, mad, mad, mad. If I had to deal with that as an employee every day, I wouldn't be freindly either. What is the point?
Most airline employees are making 30% less than they were in 2001. People’s retirements have been wiped out and they cannot change jobs in the industry because doing so would require they start at the lowest pay offered at a different company and wait until their seniority number allows them to climb. They work for zombie companies in which the employees have limited opportunity to help meaningfully change the business.
When I fly, I am nice to the staff and they are nice to me. I recognize the complexity of the daily achievement of getting people from place A to place B via air and I am extremely happy with today’s price point.
[added] Most people on HN hate the TSA, can you imagine having to deal with them every day on your way to work?
Don't underestimate the importance of leadership and management prowess in how employees perform.
Because management got lucky with a fuel hedge, their employees did not have to take pay cuts like the rest of the industry and have not lost their pensions.
For additional information read this (ignoring the stock price stuff, just for a little history)
”Mr. Alukos says the AirTran acquisition makes sense in the context of rising fuel prices. For many years, Southwest hedged rising fuel costs better than any other large U.S. airline, saving $2-billion from 2004 to 2008 by his estimate, something that “overshadow[ed]any of its other cost-containment measures.” Those contracts have gradually expired, and the current hedges are no longer a significant cost advantage, he believes.”
[added] I didn't really answer your question, but I believe that number 2 combined with number 3 to create the problems we are seeing at most airlines. People can handle a lot until they realize when they get home they have no savings, no retirement and no future.
Also, many posters have said that Southwest is non-union. This is incorrect. Their pilots are part of a union, just not the ALPA.
The airline industry has dramatically changed since the days of PanAm and Braniff. Ticket prices have been brutally cut, yet the "premier" airlines have been poor stewards of their image and reputation, and relied a lot upon heavy regulations in the industry that protected their turf. Unions have done some damage, but poor management has been the biggest culprit.
After deregulation oil stayed cheap until the mid 2000s. For whatever reason, South West hedged far more oil than industry practice and when oil went up dramatically in the mid 2000s the airline benefited dramatically. I have looked at their 10Ks, Qs, (P&Ls) and have studied the topic in some level of depth.
South West has a great culture, which could be unrelated to their profitability, but no one knows that for sure. Their profitability has far more to do with fuel hedging than any other single factor. My argument which cannot be proved, but I hope is considered is that the culture has more to do with the employees being compensated well, and the airline seeming stable than the reverse.
In reality I generally felt VERY well taken care of by everyone I met in retail or service industries - EXCEPT for the airlines.
We flew BA, London to LAX, and as ever BA were fine. We then flew Delta to Hawaii, and I couldn't believe how rude, unhelpful and almost angry these people were. I mean coach drivers in the UK are grumpy but these were something else. When my partner requested the gluten free meal she had confirmed with the check-in staff, she was told they didn't have anything and was given a bread roll (!!!) and an apple as a replacement.
Returning we flew United Airlines, and again they were curt, unhelpful, and generally annoyed that we were there on their plane.
I couldn't believe that these airlines could be operating in a country that prides itself so highly on service.
As the parent says, these are companies that need to be built up again from the ground up - subsidizing them is not helping them.
One problem might be the scale of the company.
Your examples of service industries are restaurants, bars, shops. Owned by franchises or small business owners. The boss is frequently behind the counter, filling in. Bad apples are noticed. And easily replaced.
Delta / United / American are huge businesses. You just don't see a small airline with one or two airplanes, with the CEO loading baggage and flying the plane. Bad apples get lost in the noise.
If my theory is correct, simply replacing Delta with another company is not going to fix the problem for long.
FWIW the last time I flew Southwest Airlines the staff was courteous, had a sense of humor, efficient. I will choose SWA over the competition when I have the chance.
At this point, our best chance is probably convincing people that the bag theft rings are ripe for terrorist exploitation and we need point-to-point video tracking to prevent mass mayhem.
1. e.g. banning the “we reimburse everything at $2/pound & $0 for anything which uses electricity" clauses in every airline's ToS
If every farmer planted a diversity of crops to account for all likely weather scenarios, then the average productivity would drop, as most crops would turn out to be unsuitable for the weather that occurred.
Here's the thought process a farmer goes through in deciding what to plant:
1. What's the expected market price for corn and soybean.
2. What is the cost of crop insurance?
3. What's the current rainfall estimate?
4. What's the cost of water via irrigation and the cost of the irrigation equipment.
5. What's my field rotation state?
6. How much is fertilizer?
7. What subsidies are in effect for the various crops?
8. How is my cash flow?
And so on. The stereotype of farmers either being stupid hicks or suckling at the teat of Federal subsidies is ridiculous. The technology farmers use is amazing, and the factors they have to consider are multi-variate.
Sometimes farmers get screwed, and sometimes they make a fortune. Subsidies (as well as futures and other hedges) are a means of smoothing out the market so that farmers can stay in business while also providing for steady agricultural returns. It's not a perfect system by any means, and subsidies for things like ethanol drastically distort other markets, but to try and simplify it into Farmer A works hard but dumb and Farmer B is a smart, HN guy is just too simplistic.
Why are subsidies bad? They "distort the market". How do subsidies distort the market? They cause overproduction of the subsidized good. Where an efficient allocation would tend to fairly precisely match demand to production (more precisely than any other known way of doing it), thus allowing the rest of the capital to go do other useful things, a subsidized good overinvests capital into producing the subsidized good, thus producing an opportunity cost to civilization due to the misallocation of resources into overproducing a good rather than doing something else more useful.
What is the result of farming subsidies? An excess of food. What is food? Food is one of the fundamental foundations of civilization. No food means total chaos in a matter of days. What does precisely producing 100% of the expected target food production means? It means the slightest bobble in production translates to shortages, and as we all know, shortages happen, and in particular, black swans will happen. A free market does not blindly assume everything will be swell and does build in some buffer against expected disaster, but the buffer can always be exceeded and the free market makes it very difficult for a given producer to make their own buffer larger, lest a competitor eat their market share.
Suddenly, a bit of "overproduction of food" doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Ideally we'd be storing the excess as much as possible, though regrettably food doesn't store as well as you'd like. Still, I'm actually in favor of a certain amount of food subsidy.
The ethanol subsidy is still stupid, and given subsidies may be bad on the grounds of being excessive, or because the interest group has captured the regulator and are managing to harvest the surplus directly instead of via overproduction (which is the result we're actually trying to produce for once), but in general, I'm not actually against a bit of overproduction of the foundations of civilization.
Also, witness the affects of the sugar tariffs that have given rise to the widespread use of HFCS. If it weren't for these, we'd still have Coca-Cola flavored with real sugar. Instead we have to import it from Mexico...
There's a lot of energy lost in the process of feeding corn to cattle and turning them into burgers; you could feed more people by eating the corn directly.
So when there's going to be a corn shortage like this year, livestock go to slaughter ahead of schedule, which reduces the demand for corn, and increases the supply of meat.
On its face, eating meat is a luxury, but it actually serves an important function as a buffer against shortages.
If vegetarianism ever became a very popular lifestyle (I'd say, very roughly, if it was adopted by a majority), the risk of food shortages would increase.
It's good enough to offer insurance to farmers for when harvests will fail. This exists, I know because I (even if only at arms length) work in this field.
I'd wager that the "compensation" the hay farmer mentioned above is part of an insurance-type scheme. Maybe like this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/drough...
That said, if I were selling insurances, I'd want two things: data to justify or explain my rates to my customers, and data to make predictions of my own risk and/or profit margins. The two might be correlated in a highly competitive and transparent market, but I have a hunch that these insurances are not, and that there isn't a whole lot of pressure to work on a cost plus pricing model, so that these insurers can work on a value-added pricing model.
Breaking the feedback loop by subsidizing failed crops doesn't create any incentive to invest effort into making good decisions in these areas.
That would be an interesting study. Take weather data and forecast data from the last n years and look at how good various sources are at prediction over various regions and timescales.
I'm sure it's been done?
The guy putting in hay just got unlucky this year. I grew up on a farm, this isn't unheard of. Also sorghum doesn't grow well in all areas, where I lived corn and barely/wheat/rye were the best crops. Sorghum grew, just not all that great due to growing season. We never ever planted the same field twice in a row with the same crop. Some years we left it fallow (nothing planted) to give it and the microorganisms a rest.
I think the parent poster lacks some fundamental knowledge of crops with his analogy.
You have no idea if the diversified strategy has a higher expected value, or if it's just a variance play based on heat, or if different weather conditions could've affected interplay in a different way. You have no idea what the crop insurances for different crops cost. You have no idea what the weather forecasts were.
You literally know absolutely nothing about the matter.
All you know is that you've got an ideology and that you see absolutely everything through the ideas of your ideology, selectively perceiving, remembering and interpreting events to confirm and reconfirm your ideology. And you're sufficiently arrogant that you think you can glance at a farm and know what tradeoffs they considered when they were planting their fields.
And that doesn't even get into the fact that if you travel via air around the globe, nearly all of the airlines are absolutely terrible, not just the subsidized ones in the US. Thus, it's fairly clear that while you'd like to pretend that your religion explains everything, it really doesn't.
The criticisms could be absolutely correct, but the response doesn't "reason" anything.
The response doesn't actually demonstrate that the parent is incorrect or propose a complete alternative. It simply states that it is wrong without a shred of evidence or exposition, only vague phrases suggesting omissions.
That's not an indictment, just a wordy insult.
I get the frustration with what appears to be shallow understanding of something turned into a sweeping judgement, but at least it's attempting something constructive. The response is pure aggressive arrogance.
There is inadequate evidence here to come to any conclusion.
It would be irresponsible of me to claim that I knew all the farmer's capabilities, costs, risks, weather forecasts, crop options, crop rotation requirements, etc. If I did that, I'd be guilty of exactly the same mistake as OP.
Noise is not signal. Noise is the enemy.
You did a great job of noisily pointing out that the parent is noisy, without generating much if any signal yourself.
You don't have to provide a conclusion, just presenting a theory about how to apply those data points that you keep rattling off would be something constructive, a starting point.
Thing is, that would be hard and expose something you created to criticism. It's much easier to simply sit back and poke holes in someone else's flawed theory while alluding to an ability to construct a better one yet demonstrating absolutely nothing.
Is it really relevant that his account is new? Or should HN put up a delay that you can only post a reply after your account has aged appropriately?
And this isn't a new thing for the internets. No one knows you're a dog...
The person I responded to frequents HN (according to their own words); it seems highly likely they know quite well how non-constructive their response was and specifically chose to use a throwaway account rather than stand behind their comment under their normal account.
That said, my original constructive criticism got me hellbanned (as happens to nearly all people who post sentiment that could be construed as anti-libertarian), whereas your idiotic and unaware hypocrisy got you nothing.
Unshocking, given the faggotry of you and this site.
Evidently some people agree with me. You can continue to be angry that your style of discourse isn't accepted, or you can do something about it and have people give your insight the time it deserves. I believe you're selling yourself short.
What is with the create a throwaway account to insult people thing? Karma isn't worth anything why not burn it under your real username?
It doesn't mean he's creating an account to troll necessarily, but to conceal his more reputable account from things we all know if possible; abuse. Something your parent doesn't seem to respect.
"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire
Anyway, I tend to disagree. Reputation can do plenty to make a place worse - squashing dissenting opinions, incentivizing "gaming" of the system. I do my best to ignore these systems entirely.
Most corporations fail to realize this.
Only if it makes them valuable members of the community. If patio11(just as an example no offense) logged out of patio11 and logged in as a string of throw away accounts, then him valuing his account hurts the community. It incorrectly values the patio11 persona. It improves engagement of someone who is actively trolling. It actively encourages others to engage in such behavior.
Where does this come from? I find that most airlines around the world are absolutely brilliant.
And where are your sources and analysis to back this up?
The original commenter at least linked to a few interesting articles to support his argument.
They're really hit and miss with the service - it's either great or it's shit. Sometimes I really love them... I've had two flights where a host has gone out of their way to block off a faulty overhead light and a faulty in seat entertainment system so I could sleep, another flight where I didn't have a long enough layover to get food and they had no snack service so they gave me two main courses (and I wasn't even elite back then). Other times they're like a bad fucking movie - 6 weeks ago at 1am after a cancelled flight they just arbitrarily closed the elite line with "a dozen people left" and told us to go to the end of the economy line with 100s of people waiting in it already for reticketing and hotel vouchers.
They care so little that they don't even want core pieces of their business done by their own people.
It reminds me of a cable co in canada called Rogers, the entire thing is a bunch of outsourced services glued together with a couple sales people.
That child you rescued and escorted to their destination or a safe location? That's 30 minutes you weren't "doing your job".
And perhaps you're not authorized to escort children. The liability! Sorry, but we are going to have to terminate you.
When it gets to this point of actively "not caring", it's no longer human nature; it is a contrary behavior that has been actively taught and reinforced.
I recall many years ago, working at a certain phone company (I was a college student on a summer job). I needed to get some information off a circuit board that was sitting in a box on a warehouse shelf -- I could see it from where I was standing, but couldn't read it. Yet I was forced to stand around for 1/2 hour until a warehouse worker could go fetch the box for me. I was told that union rules didn't allow me to walk 50 feet over to pick up a box, and the union would file a grievance if I did so.
I don't mean this as a rant against unions. I just mean to say that there can be other extenuating factors. In the long run, management should be aware of these problems and act to mitigate them. But in the short term -- when there's a problem right now, that I'd like to fix -- both I and management may have our hands tied.
There is plenty of idiocy and self-serving turf warfare to go around.
I was in a union -- by default -- for a while, one time. It meant that in exchange for a small amount in dues, my wages were 25% - 30% higher than those of other jobs available to me. And, I worked my ass off. With other people who worked their asses off. And who still had the time and energy for some good humor, perhaps in part because there were limits to the amount that management could jerk them around. We were all "blue collar stiffs"; nonetheless, it was one of the happier places I've worked.
I have an uncle who ended up president of his union (in an unrelated field and business). One of the most decent people I know. And he's busted his balls for his folks; it's been necessary, in order to try to counteract some of the very typical, abusive management techniques that have become prevalent -- and increasingly written about -- in the last 20 years.
Unions do bad things. Short-sighted, self-destructive things. But no worse than Management. And often, it seems that the "badness" is symmetric; the worse one side gets, the worse the other becomes in response.
Some of the more compelling arguments of economics occur at the macro level. And there, the decline and destruction of the union workforce has a strong correlation -- if arguments continue over causation -- with the decline of the American workforce and productive industry.
Unions also, at their best, epitomize a characteristic oft lauded as an American ideal: When the chips are down, we "rouged individualist" Americans step up and take care of each other. We're in this together. (A sentiment having significant base in WW II.) It ain't pretty, but it works.
The decline of unions seems to correspond with, symbolize, and perhaps represent the decline of this ideal in the American population and psyche.
These days, to be caustic, we seem to be lauding "ever dog for himself".
P.S. Your story about having to wait 30 minutes to look in a box disgusts me. That definitely is not the way things should be -- I agree with you.
- What was previously Continental, works well.
- What was previously United, doesn't.
I'm sure the Continental parts will converge to mediocrity given enough time - but for now, they're still closer to Continental quality than to old-United quality.
I'm talking about overall experience - the plane being on time, the agents being clueful, the air crew being competent and accommodating, etc.
I might have accepted your hypothesis about the merger, if it wasn't for the fact that my experience with united for YEARS before the merger had been dismal, whereas my experience with Continental was top notch.
In the last two years, my experience with continental degraded visibly (though not to the pre-merger united levels), and the very little united experience I did have was not really improved.
Note: My dichotomy might be wrong - I used to use continental mostly for international flights (with a few domestic), and only flew united domestically. It's possible that Continental/United is paying more attention to international flights than they do domestic, rather than the "pre merger" status of a flight or terminal.
In 1995 I flew with my brother and mother to America from Australia, a 12 hour flight. I was 5 years old and my older brother was 7. They knew our ages, and had seated us with 1 seat at the back of the plane, and 2 near the front. My mother was pretty frustrated. Was she supposed to sit up the front by herself and leave us two at the other end of the plane? Or sit with one of us and leave the other by themselves?
I recently took a very similar flight at the end of last year. I was flying by myself, but sure enough, once the bulk of the passengers had boarded the plane, an attendent over the loudspeaker told us that they were aware that family members had been separated due to seating arrangements and they ask that we please just sit in those seats for take-off and rearrange ourselves once we were in the air. I couldn't believe that after 16 years they were still having the same problems.
Wow. Overprotective much? At 10 I went to school by bus, alone, with 2 or 3 changes along the way (and a ~10 minutes walk between home and the bus station), total travel time was maybe 45~60mn and same thing the other way around in the evening. And I had friends boarding who took the train at the beginning and end of the week, same age, hours of travel on their own.
> Maybe it's a cultural difference and this is common in the US (is it?)
I'm not in the US, and I'd definitely consider that fine. Taking the plane is probably less common around here but considering the plane culture of the US I don't see any issue with it.
> I understand United offers a service to make this possible but it seems like a ridiculous thing for a parent to take advantage of.
1. No it's not, the whole point of the service is to use it.
2. I'm pretty sure United created the service because parents were already sending children across the country by plane alone, that's not a rare occurrence. Most children of 8 or 10 are reasonably bright and can actually take care of themselves reasonably well unless you spent 10 years making them completely dependent.
There was a national outcry because someone let their 12 year old ride a subway.
You can find most of the roots of helicopter parenting in attachment parenting, the idea that a child should always be touched by their parent until they're about 5.
Futhermore "attachment parenting" is not the antecedent to "helicopter parenting" and certainly does not require constant contact past 1 year of age much less fife.
Sucks to grow up in a town that makes ball bearings.
That attitude is rather a shame, I think. How are we expected to raise a generation of functioning, independent adults if the default expectation is that kids are constantly chaperoned? The societal dangers are familiar to anyone who's tried to deal with the average intern.
Unaccompanied minors on US airlines are very common. The service works well, most of the time, but when it fails the result is always a lost, scared child and some very angry parents. Headlines inevitably follow. In this case, United's callous treatment is utterly deplorable. Please understand that it's the airline that's at fault here, not the parents for availing themselves of a tried and tested service.
Children are humans, therefore highly adaptable and a lot smarter than anyone thinks. Lone children as young as six are frequently put in charge of an entire family's herd of goats in Kenya; now, granted, there aren't the same dangers from traffic or population density that you'd find in a city, but the herd represents the majority of the family's wealth and it's therefore an awesome responsibility. Imagine herding your parent's entire net worth at that age! Kids that young take the bus - the regular commuter service - to school alone in the UK all the time. I see young kids in NYC taking the subway alone every day. Very, very rarely is there a problem; certainly no more so than a mother doing the school run rolling her SUV.
As a society we have a tendency to focus our attention away from where the data leads us. We will act extremely suboptimally to prevent an incredibly remote risk, while ignoring much more likely ones altogether.
If the goal is to prevent child predators, we would do a whole lot better by starting with the people already in our immediate lives, rather than worry about a stranger on a bus.
Well, that's because Uncle Bob is around your kids much more often. I'm not sure if that would be true after adjusting for exposure rate.
This was in the 90s though - what I still regard as the Golden Age of Flying (tm), and the Unaccompanied Minor service offered by most airlines was absolutely fantastic. You would be under constant supervision in the airports, get access to the nicer lounges.waiting areas, have priority for boarding/disembarking, and be generally treated like royalty.
Even if you were flying coach/economy.
It was totally brilliant, and I was heart-broken about losing this aspect of flying when I turned 16. (IIRC that's the age limit)
Come to think of it, the reason that UA screwed the pooch so badly on this could be because of the death of the Golden Age of Flying.
BTW, in Sweden the age limit for using this service is 12 - if you're 12 or older you're considered old enough to fly (again, domestic) alone, something my 11 year old daughter who turns 12 in a few months looks forward to as the last time she flew alone she felt that she was too big to've been "babysat" on the flight.
As to why, specifically? Well, suppose you split custody of a kid with your ex-spouse, and you live in L.A. while ex-spouse lives in New York. Or, suppose your parents want your kid to visit, but you live in L.A. while your parents live in New York, and you can't take time off from work (or you want your parents to get a little time to monopolize the kid).
No, at least not in this story. She had to make a transfer in Chicago.
Until right now I never even reflected over that anyone would find this strange or abnormal.
Good article on the topic http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/raising-suc...
I can assure you that handing over the daughter, who was accompanied by an airline employee at all times was not taken lightly.
They very thoroughly checked his identification and checked it towards a list of the person authorized to pick her up.
Alas, this was in the early 90s.
Unaccompanied children are not that far-out as you seem to imagine and virtually any airline (I can speak for Europe and the US, but that probably also goes for Asian carriers) offers the service.
However, it shouldn't be outsourced to some dodgy outfit, which "forgets to send a representative" to pick her up for connecting flight. No matter. It's United's 100% responsibility and the only comfort is that they pay an extremely high price for this (in terms of publicity).
There is simply no excuse for their despicable actions here.
When I flew from Zurich to Vienna with my sister she knew the purser of the flight.
While she was immediately seated in business class I was asked if I would mind to enjoy the entire flight in the cockpit on a jump seat
(yeah, I know: stupid question :) )
Even though I was in my late 20s it was a kid's dream come true.
Needless to say that this was before 9/11 and that this would be completely impossible nowadays.
Which is a shame.
Imagine about seven quite massive ring binders on the floor on the right side of the first officer.
Today they probably have that all on an iPad. I could imagine, though and given how conservative the aviation industry is, that they still have to lug around the entire amount of paper.
That, however and admittedly, is just a guess.
I flew to a conference in Vegas last month on a 737 (via Southwest). Chatted a bit with the pilots and was reminded how cramped the cockpit is these days. Even with multi-function displays, there were a billion levers/buttons/knobs. How they ever were allowed to have a hyper-curious kid in the cockpit back in the day is unthinkable.
So your point about unaccompanied minors seems even more valid; who would send a child cross country, and who would do so using a crappy airline?
I guess I'm fortunate that my parents not only trusted me to do that, but encouraged it.
That said, I have a face for radio - they probably didn't think anyone in their right mind would even attempt to try and steal me...
This article very specifically touches upon how the United employees were asked directly by a scared child for help, and yet did nothing. There are a lot of other associated failures, but this is the central idea: that the individuals working for the company felt not even a little responsibility to help their customers.
Google, the company, ignores you as a matter of policy. That might be a dubious practice, but it is categorically different.
But to answer your question, no. Paypal, eBay, Google, Facebook, Yahoo. None of these companies are in the business of transporting humans (at least not yet, and I guess yes only if you count those self-driving cars Google has).
Interesting. I would make this guy wait some 40 mins on the phone, then tell him "something has happened" and that he would have to call later. In the meantime he would have to wait and watch the news getting widespread in media. A little bit of reciprocity would be nice to educate this corporate people. It's absurd that, IMHO, parents of a missing child who have not received proper care for days, now have to give all the attention and care to some executive.
If that's standard policy in the airline industry, then half of the adult population wouldn't be able to help the poor child even if they wanted to.
As an investor I looked into United and I believe the issue was that, being staff owned for a long time, there was no effective management and poor performers could not be fired. As a result a culture of not-my-problem arose. Cultures, once established, are hard to shift.
I remember coming in to the US on a 16 hour flight, I was having trouble getting my bag out of the overhead compartment and was treated to an extended harangue by a fat, ugly, unpleasant woman (stewardess) about how stupid all men were. All I needed not to hear after a long trip (with another 8 hours to travel to look forward to). This was in business class. Last time I traveled with United.
* Yes, it is negligible. For every scare story you hear, thousands of people interact with minors with absolutely no issues at all.
Just today a man was ordered to move his airline seat away from two young children. Until he proved they were his children.
In another story out today a woman aggressively approached a man and threatened him with arrest for taking his own children to a store.
Another man found a lost child and returned the child to its mother, only to be abused and threatened by the mother.
You see enough of this, eventually you conclude "OK, have it your way".
Just like it's a 100% result if your plane crashes. But we know that, statistically speaking, airline travel is safe and crashes are pretty rare.
So, of the million of interactions between men and unaccompanied children, how many result in some crazy, unjustified child-molester accusation? I'm guessing it's about the same as the percentage of flights that crash.
I don't believe that a handful of anecdotes, considered in isolation, are a good basis for making decisions.
However the benefits to the person helping the child is minuscule compared to the risk of ending up in prison and being added to sex offenders list. It is minuscule even compared to the risk of undergoing a criminal trial.
So: Do you want to risk a 1 in a million chance of someone tsk tsking at you until you explain yourself to help a little lost girl? If your answer is "no" then I think that makes you kind of a bad person, just like those United employees.
You could look at it this way: The only way of increasing the perceived probability that an adult talking to a child is just being nice is to increase the number of times that exact event happens.
Edit: There's more on wikipedia .
If you are a grown adult male in the USA, you will have experienced this. People believe these stories because it aligns with their own personal experiences.
So while few of us have actually been arrested for talking to a minor, and definitely very few have ever had to deal with the police over this, a large portion of us have felt the accusing stare for daring to interact with a child. We've felt the suspicious eyes of every single mother on us as we jog past a playground. We've seen our colleagues and acquaintances make paranoid, disparaging remarks about strangers around their children.
We're not scared of children because of a few scary stories in a few newspapers - we're scared of children because this happens incredibly often and the scary news stories demonstrate just how far these situations can escalate out of control.
This is especially notable in the social media heavy environment we're in now. I personally know someone who got shouted at because he led a kid to customer service so their parent could be found; posted the event to Facebook, and now everyone he knows (who read the article) is going to be a little less likely to help.
There's a reason Good Samaritan laws had to be put in place; people have been prosecuted for attempting to help others in good faith, and that led to others not trying. Shitty situation, but that's how it goes.
1) A child approached by an adult man = everyone is alerted.
2) A helpless child that should be helped = nobody cares.
It seems that in case 1 it's more about getting the bad guy then to help the child. This is all sorts of crazy if there is any truth to it. I'd love to see a study on this.
Another way to look at it is that the worst outcome of one is the child gets lonely and scared for a small period of time, the worst outcome of the other is they get kidnapped and worse.
That said, I'm playing devil's advocate here, not arguing that the above logic should be used by anyone.
Actually the outcome could be the exact same thing in both cases.
At no time would another passenger be in a position to assist. The only people who could have helped were likely United's staff and the out-sourcing firm (who are also by extension United staff).
He didn't say anybody (other than United) was responsible.
> Not making sure an unaccompanied minor gets to her next flight is not "lack of human decency".
I'd say not helping a fellow human in distress, especially a vulnerable one (such as a child) in a situation where you can help at next to no cost, definitely qualifies for "lack of human decency".
> "I want to know who the the passengers were sitting next to this child were that didn't help her with her transfer."
And, no, you don't know she was in obvious distress, nor do you know the passengers next to her were aware of her problem as they were disembarking.
Not taking the time to help a child to the next gate is normal, any rational actor would expect the airline to take care of it; the fact that they did not does not mean the other passengers lack human decency, what the hell.
"Losing a child" is putting a child on BOS-EWR instead of BOS-CLE and not noticing the problem until the child's family in Cleveland calls the parents and the parents call Newark, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2009....
It sounds like what happened here was "causing a child to miss a connection" (and also separately "delaying the delivery of a child's luggage"). This is of course a very bad thing.
Missing the handoff of an UM from the aircraft to their connecting gate is the same kind of service delivery failure that routinely happens to pax with disabilities who, when the third-party wheelchair vendor fails to show up, occasionally may be stuck at a gate waiting for someone for an hour. It's a really bad way for a third-party vendor to fail.
The unaccompanied minor fee is supposed to cover a really, really good white-glove service, so it's really sad to see this break down. The service is supposed to include a gate pass so you can accompany your minor to the gate; a complimentary onboard meal (food-for-purchase these days); careful handoff of the pax by flight crew to the ground staff who are supposed to be waiting to escort them to their connecting gate; and in the rare event of an overnight delay, guaranteed overnight accommodations with airline staff staying with the minor at the hotel. (This last perk is so expensive to the airlines that in the event of irregular operations that require a rebooking, UMs typically get top priority for rebooking, ahead of all other displaced pax.)
Total bummer to see service delivery fail here.
Your mileage may vary, but when someone who works for a company has done something horribly wrong and I'm trying to clean it up, I often find it helpful to be careful with my language so that I can express precisely and correctly what it is that they did wrong.
This is mostly a matter of showing empathy, not being a stickler for technical correctness. When I talk to someone who can fix a horrible mistake, and I show that I understand precisely what went wrong and who's responsible without overreaching, I gain credibility and the person I'm talking to (who is after all a person, if perhaps one who has done something horrible) is more likely to believe that I understand them. If I can express that I know exactly how their system works and what part of it broke, it helps them realize that I'm seeing things from their point of view, and this can help bridge the gap between "my side" and "their side" to help them realize that we're trying to get the same thing done.
I've found empirically that practicing empathy with people makes them more likely to try harder to fix mistakes and gets better outcomes. It also saves a lot of time to be able to say "X happened", which is exactly what happened, and not waste anyone's time re-explaining the problem instead of fixing it.
But, again, this is just a thing that's worked for me in practice (as it happens, mostly with airlines). Concise, precise communication about what went wrong, who's responsible, and what I'd like to fix the problem has helped me get great outcomes dozens of times.
Sometimes it goes on an earlier flight, as was the case with my bag last month flying IAH-LAX on United, a route where United has a dozen flights a day. If you're connecting, your first flight may have been delayed and they couldn't get the bag from one end of the airport to the other.
I'm not trying to say the situation doesn't suck but there is a certain logic, twisted it may be, to airline operations.
And I'm certainly not trying to defend United's actions in this instance.
You are logically correct. From the parent's point of view the initial impression was 'lost'.
They put the kid on the plane in one airport, she failed to show up at the destination. This was all the parents knew for several hours.
This kind of first impression is going to stick with a person, and it's going to be retold that way.
Domestic airlines treat statistics about these complaints as a core KPI. As a result, filing a DoT complaint has a few distinct advantages over just writing a blog post and hoping it catches on: (1) it guarantees you a response from a senior executive, (2) you can present the facts exactly the way you want (something this blog post complains was impossible when asking a customer service rep to file an internal complaint), (3) aggregate statistics about DoT complaints become public record and can help other people make informed decisions about where to spend their travel money.
In my experience, when you file one of these forms, you get a response within a week from a senior executive in Houston who has read your entire complaint, has investigated the problem, and is empowered to fix it.
It's good for other consumers to file one of these complaints, in addition to writing a blog post, because the aggregate information the DoT publishes can help consumers make better decisions. We actually have data to show that this person's horrible experience was not an isolated incident of a few misbehaving staff who did not represent the company; instead, the data suggest a pattern of increasingly scary service delivery failures. In the first half of 2012, United's DoT complaint numbers doubled year-over-year, according to the DoT's latest Air Travel Consumer Report. (See discussion at e.g. http://consumerist.com/2012/08/united-airlines-now-responsib...).
To loop things back around: the "United lost a ten-year-old" headline would be totally unnecessary in a DoT complaint, because it would rapidly reach an expert who understood the real problem and knew how to fix it.
I had no idea there was such a thing. I'll file that data away, just in case.
As for the rest of your post, it was really interesting: I had no idea that there was so much involved in handling a UM (an acronym I learned about 5 minutes ago :) ).
provides an explanation of the chronic financial problems that airlines find themselves in. Briefly, the senior pilots get to negotiate their own pay rates, and since they have the airlines over a barrel they always wind up taking any profit themselves.
Of course that means that airline management is permanently strapped for cash and has to spend the bare minimum on everything else.
The book is at http://www.startwithwhy.com/
TL;DR folks this is the "trailer" for the book: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/848
I cannot even imagine what it would feel like to be told over the phone that the company lost your child, and the baggage, and that they don't really care... or even think it's a big deal.
At least for Delta, flight attendants' primary compensation is based on scheduled flight time. Not actual flight time. Not tarmac time. Not delay time. Scheduled flight time. And even then, only with passengers!
So when you're stuck at the gate, waiting for some nincompoop to fetch the jet bridge, and you start giving the flight attendants hell, you need to understand that waiting there sucks for them too. They have only a few short hours to get a half night's sleep and enjoy the destination; the only perk that justifies their lifestyle. The rest of their job boils down to glorified waitress and underpaid babysitter.
If you think you've got a travel horror story, you ain't got nothing on a flight attendant. One night, my girlfriend's phone woke us up at 3 AM. She was on call and was needed immediately for a flight from Anchorage (we're in Seattle). It's about 40 minutes to the airport and this was a "short call", meaning she needed to be there in less than 2 hours! She and 5 of her co-workers, had to jump out of bed and haul ass to the airport where they boarded an empty flight to Anchorage. They were there to relieve a crew that didn't receive the legal minimum rest time due to a weather delay. While they were in the air, scheduling decided "fuck the FAA regulations" and put the overworked crew back on a plane anyway. So my girlfriend's crew arrives, finds that the flight they were supposed to work has already departed, and the pilot who brought them required a legal rest period. So they were required to spend the night in Alaska and take another empty flight home. It was the dead of winter, so it was far too cold to go anywhere outside the hotel. All in all, the crew received one days worth of per diem and no compensation for either flight, as they were "dead heading", which is unpaid. That per diem is fixed for "domestic" travel, so it's relative value varies by destination. It generally doesn't even cover the cost of meals in Alaska.
Everyone is responsible for their own actions. It doesn't matter if those are your "orders", you're still completely responsible if you carry them out.
I know for a fact that flight attendants have procedures where a child is handed off from person-to-person, by signature. The agent comes with the child and paperwork, gives it to the FA, and then when the plane arrives at a new location, the paperwork and the child are handed off to the next person. This article does not mention any of the procedures, but I know they exist -- If a flight attendant loses a child, her job is on the line. The company does care.
Reminded me of this kid's story (almost same age):
So should all the self-serving, money-grubbing, union-busting, career-exporting, not-in-my-backyard scum that have come to infest the U.S.
You want to blame someone? Look in the damned mirror, reader.
They are, the parents very specifically opted into (and paid for) United's $99 "baby-sitting" (unaccompanied minor) service. Let me quote from the parents's letter:
> The United personnel who gave her the wristband and instructions told her very loud and clear to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times”.
I don't think this even needs additional emphasizing, it stands on its own.
How's it not? As you noted United charge for an unaccompanied minor service, the parents believed everything was squared and United completely dropped the ball. Had the service not existed they could have opted to not send the child to camp, try to get what to do drilled into her and sent her on her own or found somebody to accompany. Then they could have been at fault if things had gone wrong.
But here? I fail to see how any fault can be put on the parents. We can debate between the fault being 100% United or 80% United and 20% bad luck, but the parents? Not in the presentation of the article.
 And the complaint letter adds details:
Even so, you're right. It should be like 99% United, 1% parents.
Besides, unaccompanied flights are awesome as a child. I did that once, don't
remember how old I was. Flew with the German Lufthansa from my parents to my
grandparents. You can't imagine how adult I felt, flying (almost) all alone. I
remember the attendants were all friendly and helpful, and the gentleman next to
me even swapped his seat with me so I could look out of the window. It was a
valuable and memorable experience.