The airline peanut is likely only second to the mother-in-law as the starting point for jokes by comedians. But even beyond the peanut, airlines are a never-ending source of material for the stand-ups and sketch artists who connect between cities large and small to deliver their act.
With all that travel comes insight into what goes wrong. And while it’s surrounded by laughter and delivered with derision, it’s almost always about a real pain point airlines have. We’ve collected seven hilarious bits, below, that deal with customer complaints. It’s not just about the laughs: We follow them with serious advice about how airlines could provide a fix.
Editor’s Note: Avoid drinking while watching; we wouldn’t want a spit take to ruin your laptop.
Warning: Offensive language
Complaint: Airline peanuts do not provide suitable satisfaction for passengers. Jerry Seinfeld was not the first to point out that servings of peanuts on airplanes are small, but over the years he returned to the issue over and over (even past the point where it was obvious he must be flying private).
Solution: Many airlines ditched free peanuts and other food for paid snacks. But only two airlines turned it into a branding opportunity: JetBlue began giving away delicious blue-themed chips to passengers, and Southwest reminded passengers that with them you “fly for peanuts.”
Complaint: Airline seats are uncomfortable. As Elle DeGeneres points out, seats in coach class have a limited pitch and they’re uncomfortable. The difference between “fully upright” and reclining is so minimal as to escape most passengers.
Solution: Revenue by seat is tight, and passengers are obsessed with ticket prices, but tight seats do not bring return passengers, which means you’re fighting harder (and paying more) for each of those bargain customers you cram into your tiny seats.
Complaint: Airlines can treat you any way they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it. For John Mulaney, that means being jerked around by Delta agents and by Delta help desk representatives. “We took off while you were in the bathroom because we hate you,” they tell the comedian when he inquires about how long his flight will be delayed. The gate agent then adds “we’re going to frame you for murder and you’re going to go to jail for 30 years.” Why does Delta do it? Mulaney answers in a sing-song voice, “Because we’re Delta Airlines and life is a f**king nightmare.”
Solution: Empower your employees to be nice. Often that means they need to be happy with their jobs, and freezing wages and cutting staff short is not the way to make this happen.
Complaint: If you’re not in first class or paying a premium, you’re going to be treated like garbage. Even back in 1975 — before the end of regulation in the U.S. — the line between budget traveler and preferred passengers was clear. “Are you in the no-frills section?” Burnett asks Tim Conway. “Then get your foot off the rug.”
Solution: Although Spirit Air would disagree, no-frills doesn’t have to equal “screw you.” Ryanair rival easyJet has demonstrated over the years that realistic expectations and decent manners go a long way.
Complaint: Passengers rush the gate as soon as coach boarding is announced. In a world where “please remain seated until your row has been called” translates into “Everybody up and rush the door … Push and shove and do whatever you have to get onboard,” gate agents are at the mercy of the gate lice who are most definitely in the last seating group. (Bit starts at 5:40 point.)
Solution: While some passengers may suggest public shaming and punishment, the best airlines — like Southwest — stick to relatively strict, easy-to-understand passenger grouping.
Complaint: Airlines lose your bags. The incredulous comic who’s left with nothing but the handle of his roller board deals with non-sensical questions from customers service. “Did you pack it yourself?” she asks, among other questions.
Solution: Try not to lose the luggage.
Complaint: Flights get delayed; sometimes even by 40 minutes. Even when flights are on time, people will complain about it taking too long. They seem to have forgotten about the magic of flight, as Louis CK says: “New York to Los Angeles in six hours? That used to take 30 years to do that and a bunch of you would die.”
Solution: You can’t make everyone happy, even if you are delivering an experience that would be unknown and perhaps worshipped by people only a few generations ago.