Up in the Air

I am eagerly awaiting the release of George Clooney’s new movie Up in the Air this Christmas. In it, he plays a man who travels a tremendous amount for his job, and he has become addicted to collecting frequent flyer miles and similar perks. I empathize with a character who feels at home in airports and hotels.

His program of choice is American Airlines AAdvantage, which is also my favorite, but while his character is aiming for 10 million lifetime miles, I only just passed 1 million earlier this year. However, for the first time in my life I managed to make “Executive Platinum” by accruing over 100,000 elite miles in one calendar year.

Even as much as I travel, hitting EXP was difficult. I tend to travel in one or two week chunks, so I’m only on a plane once or twice a week, and it took several trips overseas plus a special program at American in which one could earn double elite miles for me to get there. I am interested to see if I’m treated any differently, as I have zero plans to make EXP again next year, so I hope to enjoy it while I can.

Unlike this year, in 2010 I also hope to avoid being molested by the crew. The following is a letter I sent to American Airlines about an experience I had on a flight from New York back to Raleigh. I never got a reply, so I assume they really don’t care that such things are happening (at least to men), but it didn’t upset me enough to keep me from flying on their airline.

27 July 2009

American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612

Dear American:

As I have just reached my first million miles in the AAdvantage program, you probably know I am a big fan of American Airlines. In fact, the only two times previously I have used this address to write a letter was for the purpose of singing the praises of flight attendants who went the extra mile to make my journey a pleasant one, and they are one of the reasons I love American.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those letters.

Last night I was on flight 4738 from LGA to RDU in seat 11A. This was an American Eagle flight, and I believe the name of the attendant was Kathy (she didn’t have on a name tag but I believe the pilot referred to her as such).

Due to weather we ended up sitting on the taxiway for a couple of hours. When it came time to take off, the attendant came through the cabin to check seat belts. Since I had been fidgeting for two hours my belt buckle was slightly twisted. She saw this and said, “Sir, your seat belt has to lie flat” and before I could move she reached down and adjusted it.

Now picture this procedure: the fingers of her left hand were inserted between the buckle and my thigh, while the fingers of her right hand went between the belt and my crotch.

Both me and the man across the aisle looked at each other with amazement. As we talked about it later, neither of us had heard of this new FAA regulation that the seatbelt has to be perfectly flat for takeoff.

I don’t believe this violation of personal space was sexual in nature – it struck me as more of an obsessive/compulsive problem – but still, I suffer enough indignity simply going through the security screening process to have to worry about being groped on the plane.

Please don’t think I’m one of those people who complains about the slightest problem. With all of its complexity, I realize that no organization can make air travel perfect. But the behavior of this attendant was thoughtless and somewhat disturbing (you can contact the nice couple in 11B and 11C if you want to verify this story, as they were just as astonished as I was) and I can’t help but think if our genders were reversed you’d have a much larger problem on your hands.

I still love American (I’m on pace to make Executive Platinum this year and this won’t change that) and I understand that there is some difference between American and American Eagle, but as it is your name on the outside of the plane, I figured you should know.

Tarus Paul Balog
Chief Executive Officer
The OpenNMS Group, Inc.