What little bags of pretzels say about airline service

Anyone who flies on commercial airlines these days can relate to the lament of travel writers and others about what seems to be a deterioration of quality in service. My most recent experience with it came when our business-traveling nephew David was forced to spend an extra night in Chicago after his Friday afternoon flight to Dallas/Fort Worth was canceled. Airline ticket agents at O'Hare Airport gave him conflicting information, telling him he was reserved on a later flight, then informing him he didn't have a seat and he should call the airline's 800 number for help booking for the next day. As a "gold" level frequent flier, one with 50,000 miles-plus annually on the airline, you would think the treatment would be better. The cancellation meant David's employer paid for an extra night in a Chicago hotel, and he was deprived of time at home with his family.

What do you do in such situations? It obviously doesn't do any good to complain to a beleagured gate agent for the airline, one of those millions of middle-class Americans who have seen the compensation they get for doing their jobs faithfully stagnate in the last few years. David's solution, which isn't available to many people, may turn out to be finding a different job, one that doesn't require as much business travel. If that happens, he would be one more dropout from the travel world, one who limits the use of air travel to only what's absolutely necessary.

Many of you will say so what else is new, this has been going on for years. True, but I think it helps to document signs of slippage as they occur. That's what New York Times's Joe Sharkey did yesterday in an On the Road column based on Continental's decision to stop handing out free bags of pretzels, aligning its snack practice with its new parent United. There's no point in making snide comments about airline food, folks. This is just the way it is.