King: COVID legacy – end of service from airlines to banks

The wreckage from COVID continues to litter our lives. We work differently, play differently and are entertained differently.

Customer service of all kinds has been laid waste. Excuse the bitter laughter, but what was for a while called the service economy was sent packing by COVID, as companies in droves found out they could serve less and get the same money.

Let us start with the airlines. Booking online isn’t for the faint of heart. Some people aren’t computer-wise but don’t think you can call the airlines and get help. That is so last century. You had best find one of the few independent travel agents still in business. This person, you soon learn, will book you on Expedia and charge you a fee for doing the obvious. What price hassle reduction?

The TSA security infuriates us all. It didn’t have to be this way. If the airlines and their friendly regulator, the FAA, had just put locks on cockpit doors after the first hijackings in the 1950s, chances are there would have been no 9/11, no TSA, and I could keep my shoes on and TSA hands off.

Then there is the cash conundrum. On banknotes, it says, “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” Not anymore. Try using cash at the airline counter. Not since COVID do they take it. I saw a sad situation when a  young woman, already pulled up short for having to pay for checking her backpack, was told to convert her cash into a credit voucher at a machine, which has suddenly appeared near the check-in — for another fee, of course.

Once you have paid extra for luggage, extra for a marginally larger seat, extra to board early and extra for Wi-Fi, you might think all is well, and it is time for the boarding scrum. No way. The flight is canceled. No pilot. To my mind, that would be a critical job in aviation, and if you have the temerity to run an airline, you might want to have a few extra pilots.

Banks responded to COVID by closing branches and putting ATM machines in parking lots.

Maybe you have tried to pay your credit card bill when it is already in arrears because the bank card company has stopped sending out paper bills without telling you? Next thing is they are calling you in the middle of dinner to tell you that your credit is being damaged by your being tardy paying. “No problem,” you tell the recorded voice, which has just ruined dinner.

Don’t do that unless you have half a day to spare because you don’t call the bank and speak to someone — it used to be a person, but they are now a “representative” who can’t solve your problem because you don’t have the paper bill.

Hotels also have jumped at the opportunity to stick it to you since the COVID outbreak. You have to beg to have your room cleaned, even though you pay hundreds of dollars a night. More begging for towels. When you complain about how you are being treated, they say this is for your safety due to COVID.

The hospitality industry is reeling from COVID. Yes. Reeling it in.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. This column was provided by