Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bait-And-Switch In Modern Intercontinental Air Travel

Airports in general are impersonal places. Most travelers and staff keep their game faces on and look straight ahead. People may connect a little in the bar, but even there it’s usually simple chatter with the bartender. The odds of real conversation are much better in the smoking rooms.

“Oh! Menthol! Can I trade for one of mine?” (Followed by a conversation.)

“Excuse . . . (gestures for a light).” (Followed by a conversation.)

Cigarettes are a shared adversity, smokers all understand that. The Germans would say we’ve all stolen horses together. The modern world correctly hates us. Want proof? In Thailand, you can sell them, but you can’t advertise them and in all retail locations they must be completely out of sight. In Taiwan, it’s even worse. At least in Thailand the airports still have smoking rooms. In Taiwan, smoking has almost been criminalized. Things like that are more easily done in police states.

I just flew Eva Air from BKK to L.A. My wife had recently done the same thing, also on Eva, and she’d found the entire experience somehow deficient. No offer of wine, no drinks, she didn’t like the food. Maybe I’m easier to please. I thought the food was pretty good. I asked for wine, and sure enough they had it on the cart. Luckily for me I’m no wine-snob, I was fine with the well chilled box-wine. I asked for a few drinks too, and I got them fast enough, although on the short flight to Taipei I got a scotch on the rocks instead of the vodka I’d asked for. That’s a small matter, I enjoyed it anyway.

The Eva stewardesses were efficient, very pleasant to deal with, and very easy on the eyes. Maybe they weren’t like the all-Miss-Universe crews of Singapore Airlines, but they were all pretty women.

One thing the flights of myself and my wife had in common: the entertainment system completely crapped out during the long leg of the flight. On her flight, it was only a few complete rows; on my flight the entire plane went dark. These new systems are a great blessing to the long distance traveler. A choice of thirty movies or so, lots of TV shows, literally hundreds of musical alternatives, it can really ease the pain of fourteen hours in the same chair. It’s amazing to me that there is not more of a hue and cry when it goes out. And this seems to happen all the time, it’s happened to me before.

So the lawyer in me wonders, why don’t we demand and receive a few hundred dollars refund when this happens? Certainly it’s part of what we pay for, what we pay extra for. We could have taken some shitty budget airline and been stuck on an ancient plane watching a movie projected on a beige wall, but we spent the extra money for Eva Air. Certainly it was a material term of our contract, part of our bargained for exchange, and when the airline failed to perform on that term they breached the contract in a material way. So why no return of money?

I’m quite serious. It’s the old bait-and-switch.

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