Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The Airlines’ Biggest Shortcoming, According to The Cranky Flier

Billie Cohen | June 8, 2015

Brett Snyder’s title is Chief Airline Dork. And it’s fitting. As a kid, his idea of fun was watching planes land at LAX; by the age of 12 he’d become the youngest known travel agent. Since then, he’s worked his way through various airlines—US Airways, America West, Eos, and United—all the while helping friends and family solve various air travel snafus and frustrations. Eventually (and we’d add, inevitably), Brett turned his knack for solving problems into a service available to anyone, via his company Cranky Concierge. Need a last-minute alternative for delayed or canceled flights? Help finding a hotel when a blizzard has grounded travelers all over the country? An ally who can talk directly to airlines and untangle their rules and regulations? Call Cranky. Wendy does. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she named Brett to her Condé Nast Traveler list of top travel specialists, as an expert in urgent airline assistance. Today, when travelers ask Wendy for the best travel agent to book a complicated airline itinerary, she often sends them to Brett.

You can follow Brett on his blog, The Cranky Flier, where he monitors the airline industry, using his insider knowledge to ensure that the rest of us understand what’s going on behind the scenes. As you might have guessed from the name, Brett’s sharp sense of humor pervades all of his posts and work—after all, you’d have to be able to laugh in his business. Here, he bravely reveals one of his most memorable and embarrassing travel experiences, as well as his opinion on the biggest issue that airlines face.

Most memorable travel moment:

Well, you’re asking this question just a week after I stepped off my first (and likely only) flight in Singapore’s Suites class. So it’s tempting to say that’s it. But really there is one flight that sticks out in my mind as being the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Back in 2002, I flew Concorde from London to New York. That was incredible and is easily my most memorable travel moment.

Brett relaxing in Singapore Airlines' A380 Suite.

Brett relaxing in Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suite. Photo courtesy The Cranky Flier.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

This isn’t airplane-related, but I still remember it to this day. Way back in third grade, I was on vacation with my parents and younger brother in Washington, DC. We had walked into Georgetown to go to dinner and my brother spilled what seemed like a gallon of milk right in my crotch. It was a long walk back to the hotel for this mortified third grader.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Not much. I travel very light when I’m on the road. My wife still can’t believe I brought only a duffle bag on our two-week honeymoon. Granted, it was in French Polynesia, so I didn’t need more than a bathing suit anyway.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

Dubuque. Oh wait, that’s not touristy? Ok, then I’d probably say Washington, DC. The place is absolutely full of history, and most of the monuments and museums are free, so it is not only a great place to visit but it can be done economically for those on a budget. While there are some great out-of-the-way memorials (the Einstein one is my favorite), most of the places you want to see are the same ones everyone wants to see. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to walk. Get yourself an awkwardly named SmarTrip fast pass for the Metro as well. Stay hydrated and bring snacks. In other words, prepare like you’re getting ready for some post-apocalyptic world. Lastly, don’t go during cherry blossom season (spring). Everyone goes then, and it’s even more crowded than usual. And don’t go in the summer. Not only are their hordes of families, but the place was built on a swamp. You’ll feel like you’re in a steam bath. If you can go in the fall or winter, you’ll be better off.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about but should add to their must-visit list:

I don’t think Slovenia counts as touristy, does it? When I was young, I remember seeing a picture of this impossibly blue river in Slovenia. It took me a long time, but I finally made it there about a decade ago to see the Soca River for myself, and it remains one of my favorite trips. It’s an incredible sight. But what’s more incredible is how much you can see in Slovenia within such a short drive. You have the glacial valleys where the Soca River roams in the west. In the north you’ll find the Julian Alps and some incredibly picturesque mountain lakes (Bled and Bohinj). Come down a bit to the center and you’ll be in the medieval capital of Ljubljana. (Just try to ignore the Soviet-era buildings that surround the city.) To the east is the wine country of Maribor. And in the southwest is Slovenia’s tiny coastline with the historic town of Piran and beachy Portoroz. From one side of the country to the other is less than three hours by car. To top it off, I’m convinced that every person in Slovenia is friendly and speaks 300 different languages fluently.

Hiking outside of Kobarid in the Soca River Valley, Slovenia.

Hiking outside of Kobarid in the Soca River Valley, Slovenia. Photo courtesy The Cranky Flier.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:

1) The app for whatever airline I’m flying.

2) Google Maps, which is great for plotting public transit routes and providing fare information.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

I’m not really a gadget guy. I travel light, so my phone is probably the only real gadget I use when I travel. And it has definitely saved me a lot of stress. (It also creates a ton too, but that’s my fault for checking my email.)

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each:

Here’s the funny thing. I don’t read a ton of travel bloggers. When I do, it’s usually more for the business insight into the industry as opposed to things that focus on the travel experience itself. So for example, I read Gary Leff’s View from the Wing for news on frequent-flier programs. Or I read really geeky stuff like Airline Route, which shows airline schedule changes. Boring, right? I should read more aspirational stuff—I’d probably be happier.

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

Well if you’re looking for entertainment, try out @FakeUnitedJeff and his impersonation of United’s CEO. It rings a little too close to home. Otherwise, if you’re looking for useful, I turn to all my favorite #AvGeeks. People like Airline Reporter, Ben Granucci, Benet Wilson, Ghim-Lay Yeo, Henry Harteveldt, Holly Hegeman, Jason Rabinowitz, Jeremy DwyerLindgren, Jon Ostrower, Justin Meyer, and Paul Thompson.

Name one way the travel industry can do better:

Well my experience is more on the airline/travel agent side, so I’ll focus on that. I honestly think the biggest issue for airlines has long been communication. We all understand that flying airplanes around the world is a complex business. Most people are understanding when things go wrong if they know what’s actually happening. But for years and years, airlines have had this “need to know” kind of attitude, and the customer doesn’t need to know. It’s not just on the operations side either. Delta has really taken this further by hiding its seat maps and availability from third parties. Heck, it even stopped publishing an award chart altogether. If airlines really want to improve the travel experience, they should communicate openly, truthfully, and often. The fact that they don’t is one of the reasons that my Cranky Concierge business is thriving, so maybe I shouldn’t hope for them to change…

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

I’d like to think that we’ll be closer to having space travel as a reality. Even if it’s not for travel into space but as a way to speed up the transit time between cities on Earth, it would be a huge win. Between 1903 and 1965, we saw travel times come down dramatically in the air. But nothing has changed since then. It’s time.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

The best thing anyone can do is just be nice. If you’re using that as a tool solely to get an upgrade, then that’s pretty shady. And it doesn’t work with airlines much anymore, since there’s a lot less leeway for a gate agent to give you an upgrade than there used to be. But just be nice in general and things can sometimes fall in your favor. If the gate agent has any leeway, then being nice is the only way you’ll get an upgrade. (Just try the “do you know who I am” route. You’ll end up in a middle seat in the last row.)

I remember one time I was at JFK and it was a mess. I had to get rebooked and finally got to the agent at the counter. She looked wrecked. I simply asked her if she’d like a sandwich or a drink or anything, and her mood changed instantly. It’s hard doing that job and getting yelled at all day. I actually did end up getting a seat up front, but I didn’t even ask. I was just trying to empathize.

To make friends, I always carry:

Deodorant.

Overrated:

Cruises. 

Underrated:

Train travel.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

Some good classic rock—maybe a little Tom Petty, possibly some Zeppelin. Or it could be something a little more recent like Smashing Pumpkins, which admittedly still isn’t all that recent. As my brother says, my appreciation for music somehow stopped developing at the turn of the millennium.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

Marley & Me. Never watch a dog movie with a sad ending on an airplane.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

Going naked into a communal bath.

But I am afraid of:

Getting violently ill from accidentally drinking the water in a country where I shouldn’t.

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1 Comment

  1. Mary Helen Maupin, Life CTC

    Wendy,

    I continue to enjoy and learn from your newsletter. Thank you! Retired from travel industry after over twenty years as entertainment industry travel agent, leisure agent, travel school administrator and instructor, and incentive group travel.

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