I don't understand what's so unpardonably exotic about a last name that consists of two words, especially in a country that has long prided itself on being made up of immigrants. Du Maurier. Van Dyke. García-Ramírez. Al-Maliki. Von Statthausen. Da Silva. How many of us are there in the United States? Millions, for sure.
This fact eludes airlines, though. In an era where even the perennial bureaucratic basket case that is the DMV has finally caught up and now issues licenses to drivers with two-word last names, properly spelled, the aviation industry can't be bothered. To the airlines, I don't exist — can't possibly exist — with my family name intact. Van Bakel? Out of the question. In a quarter century of flying in the U.S., I've never had a ticket that didn't say VANBAKEL.
A very minor irritation? You'd think so. Well, ponder this. I'm writing this at the Las Vegas airport, where my wife and I have four hours to fritter away, and not because we'd love to play the slot machines that are thoughtfully positioned all over the place. All we want to do is get home to our kids. To that end, we got up at 5 a.m., returned the rental car, took the shuttle to the terminal, arrived at the Delta check-in area at 6:05, and were greeted by a bank of automated boarding-pass machines.
The idea is that you insert a valid credit card and the robot will print out your tickets. It never works for me because the last name on my credit cards (two words) and the one on my reservation (one word) don't match. I gamely take another stab at getting my ticket printed, the machine predictably informs me it can't find my record, so my wife and I go stand in line to check our luggage and get our boarding passes. When our turn comes, the Delta employee tells us rather sternly we must have a boarding pass in order for her to take our bags. No boarding pass? Managing not to roll her eyes, she directs us to the "special services" desk, a moniker with the same condescending, you-poor-thing overtone as "special needs" and "special Olympics."
There is another line there, of course, and when we finally get to the front and give the special-services lady our IDs, it's 6:22 and she says our 7 a.m. flight is closed and there is nothing she can do; would we please be so good as to come back in a couple of hours? She can probably get us on an 11 a.m flight instead. Oh, and there'll be a $50-per-ticket change fee. When I protest that the fee is surely adding insult to injury, she appears stung and retorts that Delta is just trying to "accommodate" us.
That's fucking wonderful, Delta special-services lady! Thanks for being so accommodating! (When we insist, and persist, a supervisor finally agrees to waive the hundred bucks.)
Now consider this: Last week, on her flight from Portland Maine to Vegas, with a stopover in New York, my wife got into JFK late because, they told her, "the runway is being repaved." This rather crucial bit of scheduled maintenance had not made it up whatever the appropriate channels should have been. My wife missed her connecting flight, and as the repaving is a federal project that is "not the responsibility of the airlines," they left her holding the bag, as it were. Would the airline make her whole for a lost vacation day? Dream on! Pay for a hotel? Heck no! For local transportation so she could stay with a relative in Brooklyn? Nuh-uh! For a meal? Sorry ma'am!
None of this even takes into account the unadulterated preposterousness that is the entire TSA, and how that agency takes care of business.
Never mind that as fliers, we are all paying customers who provide the
million-plus people who work in either the federal or the private-sector
parts of the aviation industry with their livelihoods.
Customer service? Screw that. We are constantly asked told to bend over
backwards, obey every request, follow every dumb directive, condone
every outrageous new policy. The feds and the airlines together are
locked in a bubble of heedlessness and arrogance that robs passengers
of their dignity, steals their time, and treats them like marks that
are suitable for fleecing at every turn. With the possible exception of
Virgin Atlantic and maybe Southwest on a good day, customer service is
an unknown concept in this alternate-reality field.
I'll put my name on that statement. Remember, two words.