I flew to Tel Aviv in a 747, the sole resident of first class. The plane was old, but it was like a huge private cabin. However, I looked forward to the return on a new Triple 7, though I suspected first class would be filled. My plan was to have dinner in El Al’s first class club and sleep for five or six hours on the plane, then do some writing, and have breakfast before we landed in Newark. From there, I was taking the Acela home.
The hotel car brought me to Ben Gurion Airport with over two hours to spare, so I bought my wife’s perfume at duty free, changed my shekels back to dollars, and checked the gate number before entering the King David Lounge.
The flight board said my plane was cancelled.
As I approached the hostess in the lounge, my phone rang. It was an El Al representative calling to try to reroute me. I enlisted the hostess’s help, as well. The told me that El Al pilots had been on random work stoppages for months. No one told me that or I wouldn’t have flown the airline. Plenty of other carriers make the trip.
It’s now 11 at night and the guy on the phone told me he could route me through Zurich to New York and I’d leave at 5 am, or I could go through Paris and leave at 11 am. Both connections would get me home Friday evening instead of 6 am Friday morning, which I had counted on to have a full day at home. The woman told me they would keep the club open and give us blankets. They had showers and sleeping areas.
There was a Delta flight at 12:10 am, but it was full. The woman told me they would try everything they could and that I was at the top of their list (full fare, first class passenger). She entered into a conversation with four other El Al women which quickly escalated into an argument, all in Hebrew. Every so often she would tell me, “We’re making progress, don’t worry.” I went back to my seat and told my wife we would have to make some significant changes in our plans, and trains and limos would have to be cancelled.
Finally, this wonderful woman told me they were able to “find” a seat on Delta, but it would be in coach. (It was a two-class plane.) Would I prefer Zurich or Paris on business class? No, let’s do it with Delta. They arranged for an electric cart driver to get me over there and a very nice woman at Delta said, “El Al got you on this flight? It’s full.” But she checked her computer and there I was. As she processed me, she said, “My God, you’re platinum medallion on Delta. I have to upgrade you.” But she couldn’t. “I can’t even get you a decent coach seat.”
Uh, oh. “I’m in a middle seat?!”
“Honey, next time fly Delta. Why did you choose El Al when you’re such an important customer with us?”
“Because I’m stupid.”
So I flew in coach—which I haven’t done since about 1980—in a middle seat. Delta served a hot dinner and a hot breakfast with several choices each time, and all liquor, head sets, and entertainment were free. The service was impressive, but the discomfort was horrible. I spent 11 hours in that seat, with a (thankfully) slim person on either side of me. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, and the sound system on the movies was so bad (as was the selection) that it was pointless.
Maria had arranged for our limo driver to meet me at Kennedy, Delta’s destination, immigration took two minutes (Global Entry) and I was in my home by 9:15 am. But it was horrid. I realized how little this mattered compared with those who have serious issues with health and relationships and careers. I know about perspective. But nonetheless, it was horrid.
El Al pilots, and Lufthansa pilots, apparently pull this stuff all the time. It certainly isn’t the “right stuff” of aviation fame. It’s thoughtless, unionized, extortion, with no care about customers being inconvenienced, (What happened to all those coach customers on my fight—they didn’t get so readily rerouted?), only personal gain. (I find school teachers the same way, in that the students are irrelevant to their personal demands.) In fact, the more they make customers miserable, the more they believe they’re pressuring the airline though revenue loss.
This, of course, should be the worst thing that ever happens to me. I understand that. But I also understand, as should you, that it takes resources and clout to gain as much control of your life as possible. That’s why success is important, so that you can exert as much control as possible.
I may sound like an elitist, but so be it (at least I’m good at it). I understand Louis C.K.’s comment to stop complaining, you’re on a sofa at 35,000 feet going 500 miles per hour. I understand that people can economically travel great distances for personal and business gain. But I also find it demeaning for anyone to be treated like a sardine (and sardines don’t live like that when they’re alive).
I wouldn’t put my dogs in a kennel that treated them that way. And if the workers at any kennel walked off the job for more money and simply left the dogs to shift for themselves, I’d make sure every one of them was thrown in jail.
These pilots are the “wrong stuff.” And when managers treat people like cattle, they’re not executives, they’re merely herders.
© Alan Weiss 2016