I had a business trip that took me flying this week from Florida to Colorado. I had some surprises as well as expected experiences.
American Airlines Update
I left American Airlines in 2015 after 15 years together, but occasionally, we still hook up. While flights were available non-stop, they were incredibly expensive with respect to the rest of the market. It’s my dime, not a faceless corporation, I couldn’t justify it. Plus, I wanted to see how my old flame was holding up.
Of my four flights (RSW-CLT, CLT-DEN, DEN-DFW, DFW-RSW), three were late, one egregiously. More on that later. Staff was apathetic, contingency plans were non-existent and Legacy US Airways A321s still don’t have an in-seat power port on the entire plane. We have self-landing rockets, but I can’t watch them land on drone boats in the sea, because American Airlines still thinks we don’t need a power port on a nearly four-hour flight.
What I found so appalling is really an adjustment of my own expectations. I would have thought airlines would be hungry for customers, and perhaps they are. But that hasn’t filtered down to the employee level.
Case in point, my missed connection to start my trip from Charlotte to Denver could have been avoided and would have been in the days before the pandemic. American gate staff knew that three passengers from my flight would arrive close to when the door shuts. We pulled into B7 at CLT at 11:22 AM by 11:23 I was at my connecting gate having run one gate away to B9.
The gate staff would have been able to see that my flight (with other passengers connecting too) had pulled into the gate, had connected to the jetbridge, and probably could have closed that door just a couple of minutes later.
Not these days and it meant I spent 7.5 hours in Charlotte because of few connecting options due to COVID-19. I had “Time Lapse on a Moving Walkway” kind of time.
Perhaps I would be best suited to write into American expressing my discontent, but frankly, this is far more cathartic and plenty fair.
The Hotel Experience
I selected a Hyatt Place for my stay due to its location and the quality of this particular property. At checkin I had a particularly robotic experience. “Have you stayed here recently?” “Yes, I was just here last week.” I lied because I knew what was coming next but wanted to avoid it. “Due to COVID-19 cases…” then he went through the same details you’ve read about on blogs like ours regarding breakfast limitations, housekeeping, etc.
There was one interesting approach that I thought other hotels might learn from. The hotel offers access to the pool and fitness center by appointment. This is a much better alternative than closing them altogether to avoid potential infection.
I had lied to them, it was time they lied to me. I asked them how full the hotel was and the reception manager said, “About 20-30%” Really? I offered him a chance to correct. “Somewhere in that range.” Wow. For a suburban hotel after 10 pm, with 150 rooms and seven cars in the parking lot, it seemed like a bit of a fib. Fair enough, I guess we are all rounding up these days as it suits us.
Hyatt’s policy is that face masks must be worn in all public areas of the hotel. I don’t really have an issue with this, and if I did, I should have booked elsewhere. However, human as I am, I forgot to loop a mask behind my ears and had my hands full leaving the property. It wasn’t intentional, I’m sure at least one of our readers has done the same.
A manager immediately asked me to put on my mask as soon as I was in sight, about 15 feet away from her and her co-worker, the only other people on the entire lobby floor of the hotel.
It’s not that she wasn’t right to do it, but her delivery was a little terse. I felt like I was an employee that walked in ten minutes late to work, rather than a hotel guest who simply forgot to put the paper mask in front of my face for the short walk from the elevators to the door.
As you might imagine, when I later came around a corner to find that same manager sitting idly at a computer – shock – without a mask on, I was sure to deliver a knowing look. I didn’t remind her of Hyatt’s policy.
One more note on the hotel experience with regards to breakfast.
Prior to COVID-19 breakfast at a Hyatt Place was something hot and substantial: scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon, potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurt, selection of cereals, toast, danishes, and more.
Understandably, buffets may never come back but putting out a selection of Nutrigrain bars, yogurt cups, and bananas is not equivalent. They don’t have to make it room service or menu ordering, but it would cost the hotel less than it did before the pandemic to put some eggs, bacon, and cheese on an English muffin for a breakfast sandwich and leave a stack of them wrapped under a heat lamp.
I don’t mind COVID-19 adjustments when necessary. Hotels, owners, and employees have to operate in tough economic environments as well as confusing legislation at the municipal, state and federal levels. But there’s only one reason that breakfast for their “20-30%” occupied hotel could have been procured for $15 at the grocery store; and it doesn’t have to do with COVID-19. It’s what the hotel can get away with as a brand while remaining compliant.
In case you were wondering, I stayed at the Hyatt Place Westminster/Denver.
Rental Cars Galore
In a week full of new things with rental cars, it started with the buses at Denver International no longer taking renters of Enterprise, Alamo, and National to the same place. They made a change in September, but despite having flown into Denver several times, I just got on the Enterprise bus. The staff was kind enough to drive me to National.
When I booked the rental on National’s website, it flashed that if I wanted an SUV, I needed to book one as opposed to grabbing one off the Executive Aisle. Call me crazy, but I thought I’d roll the dice. There were so many vehicles that a $100,000 Lincoln Navigator was parked under “Standard.”
It’s a fun trick that National was playing on renters, but don’t fall for it. They have p-l-e-n-t-y of SUVs.
Feelings Regarding COVID-19 Among The Traveling Public
I spoke to many other passengers. Yes, my experiences are all anecdotal. Many weren’t essential workers or even business travelers. Many were just tired of being cooped up, rightly or wrongly. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been clear that air travel is not recommended, many simply ignored this.
While American Airlines doesn’t feel compelled to offer seats with built-in social distancing (they will sell their middle seats if they can) they are rather emphatic about requiring passengers to wear masks. I am absolutely fine with any company that chooses to enforce any policy they see fit as is their right. But on every one of my flights, instead of saying, “Flight attendants will now come through the aisles and make one final check [of your safety belt]” the last portion has been replaced with “that you’re wearing your mask.”
Some passengers were unnecessarily resistant in places, and that was disappointing because everyone knows what’s required. If you have a problem with the policy, don’t get on the plane. However, flight attendants jumped on a few opportunities to briskly demand a mask was put back on, even when the customer was clearly eating food they had distributed and in compliance with the carrier’s policy.
In the United States, a million people have been infected weekly for the last few. That didn’t stop passengers I met from flouting the recommendations for an opportunity to leave Colorado, California, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. Similarly, it was business as usual for the card companies. Flight attendants were hitting the credit card offers hard on all of my flights with the speech, walk through the aisles waving fanned applications (and making eye contact with each passenger) as well as holding them at the sole exit door.
On balance, it seemed that Americans are more and more disregarding orders of states that choose to lockdown further as well as recommendations from the CDC. While not all of the passengers I encountered took their travel lightly (some were overly precautious, wearing two masks at once), many had decided that they would no longer stay at home, and stay safe. This was also the case during the Thanksgiving holiday. The availability of a vaccine may further expedite a return to travel for those that have not yet gotten back on an airplane but feel more emboldened to do so.
But what do I know? Maybe that won’t be the case at all.
My short journey across the country was an interesting snapshot into the state of travel right now. It highlighted some of the shortcomings of American Airlines and the challenges of traveling right now. I won’t be racing back to their waiting arms… except to redeem some miles and upgrades that remain in my account. The Hyatt Place had some missteps too, but more than anything else, it felt like they were a little dishonest about occupancy, the reasons for breakfast adjustments, and were quick to enforce their mask policy for guests, but hesitant to follow it for themselves. National in Denver is trying to get more money for rentals, which I can understand, but it would go further to be honest about just how great the experience could be for renters rather than try to trick them into paying more. And travelers seem to be happy to return to the skies if it means escape and some level of normalcy.
What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? Did your experiences differ? Is it okay, given the circumstances, for brands to stray from their customer promises?