Op-Ed

There’s no holiday cheer in the air

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If you plan on traveling this holiday season to visit relatives or simply witness the change of seasons, make sure you pack an extra helping of patience and holiday cheer before hopping a flight from Miami International, or any other major metropolitan airport for that matter. The process is more cumbersome , tedious and downright annoying than ever.

Miami’s airport, unquestionably, has made some significant aesthetic alterations in the last few years. It no longer looks like a suburban bowling alley from 1974. However, it is still plagued by service, logistical and functionality issues.

Many Miamians have given up on ol’ MIA as most natives refer to it (usually preceded or followed by a few choice expletives) and book flights out of neighboring airports, mainly Fort Lauderdale. Being a true-blue Miami faithful and a bit of a masochist, I have stuck it out through thick and thin with the hometown airport. And yet in the many decades of flying out of Miami International, I still can’t figure out the lettering system of the parking lot and how the parking garages relate to the particular airline I’m using — which means that I end up lugging my bags across the entire terminal to reach my carrier.

I have noticed slightly better customer service and employee disposition at MIA, though communication can still be an issue. If you happen to find someone who speaks English or a facsimile thereof, the answers are still monosyllabic and vague. “Where is Terminal 2?” you ask. “Over there” — as they flail their arm in a general direction — is a common response.

I’m also taken by the amount of money that airlines spend on commercial campaigns. Some of their TV spots are quite inspirational — and a classic example of bait and switch. The budgets for the glitzy ads undoubtedly are astronomical — completely out of proportion to the money spent to make travelers’ experience smooth and pleasant. I’m puzzled by commercials that feature different employees of an airline explaining how glad they are “to have your business” and how “wonderful” your experience is going to be. Somehow, I never manage to get any of those gleeful employees servicing my flights. Instead, I usually draw some grumpy representatives and flight attendants who seem tired and frazzled.

This past week, I flew to Los Angeles. The plane was small and cramped, which made the transcontinental flight uncomfortable enough. But to add insult to injury, the flight was ipoorly stocked with food and beverages, and the general attitude of the crew was surly — including the captain who was reluctant to explain in his muffled messages why we waited half an hour at the gate before taking off.

Given the steep price we pay for a seat, I’m still perplexed as to why I’m being served a third of a can of Diet Coke in a cup of ice. You’d think the high fare would entitle one to a full can.

If you are renting a car at your destination, take a moment to meditate and visualize the transaction going forth without a hitch. The transportation from the baggage claim to the rental car companies can be challenging in most airports. Signage is poor, and employees with pertinent information scarce. Upon returning the vehicle allow yourself extra time, because finding the rental car return center is a mission for James Bond.

An industry once known for its precision and timeliness has devolved into a discombobulated mess. This holiday travel season, remember to smile, breathe deeply and give yourself ample time.

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