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by Wendy Vapors, 12/10/99

DC: This year, airlines have canceled more flights than ever before ... a great inconvenience for people who were booked on those flights. But then the flying public has been howling of late over many inconveniences associated with air travel.
The complaints have grown so intense, the Department of Taxpayer Comfort has sent auditors out to airline headquarters to assess what the companies are doing to ease the experience of air travel. Is this a real crackdown, or is it all for show? Wendy Vapors reports.

Wendy: (secretive, confidential) I'm with two Federal Comfort Auditors and we're in the back of their unmarked government van. Auditor Carl Phillips is here ... Carl, what's going to happen?

Carl: We've pulled up to the front door of Constricted Airways. In a moment, Auditor Nancy Emmanuel and I will climb out of the van and approach the building, and we'll begin assessing their dedication to consumer comfort right there.

Wendy: And they don't know you're coming?

Nancy: There's no way they could know anything is up. We're in a completely unmarked van. Except for it's immaculate condition, the motor pool number on the front fender and the US government license plates, there's nothing to distinguish us from the rest of traffic.

Carl: This way we get the jump on them. They'll be caught with their "data down" so to speak, and we'll have a chance to really assess their commitment to customer service.

Wendy: Is this really necessary? I mean, doesn't "the marketplace" take care of things like this? If customer service stinks, customers go away. Right?

Carl: Not in the airline industry. And if you travel in and out of a "hub," pardon me for saying it, but your goose is cooked, maam. Ready?

Nancy: Ready.

Carl: Let's move.

(sfx: doors open, outdoor sfx)
(sfx: rapid footsteps on concrete)

Doorman 1: (off mic) Can I help you sir? Maam?

Carl: Keep moving, keep moving.

Wendy: How exciting!

Nancy: Walk right into the building. Don't stop.

(sfx: revolving door)
(sfx: interior lobby / echo)

Carl: We're in!

Doorman 2: Is there something I can help you with?

Nancy: Federal Comfort Administration. This is a raid!

Doorman 2: Oh my gosh!

(sfx: alarm buzzer)

Carl: Freeze, Doorman! You'll be charged with interference in a government intervention!

Doorman 2: You guys from the FCA ... think you're so smooth. You're coming away from this one empty handed.

Carl: Don't count on it, Door Jamb.

Doorman 2: (insulted) Doorman!

(sfx: group of running footsteps down the hall)

Nancy: Carl! We're surrounded! It's a squadron of press agents!

Gloss: (off mic, coming on) Well, well, well. The Federal Comfort Administration. (speaking up) Turn the alarm off, boys! We're among friends!

(sfx: alarm dies)

Nancy: (officially) This is a Federal investigation of airline industry practices related to consumer comfort! You are advised to cooperate!

Gloss: Of course, of course! The public's experience while flying is our main concern here at Constricted Airways. We want people to enjoy themselves when they travel with us.

Carl: I've heard that before.

Gloss: And I see you have a reporter with you. Hello Wendy!

Wendy: Mr. Gloss.

Nancy: You ... you know each other?

Gloss: Wendy's interviewed me many times.

Wendy: Bernie Gloss, the senior vice president for communications.

Gloss: Come on down to our conference room, and we'll give you the complete presentation on our new Customer Satisfaction Program. (pause) Come on. (pause) We have a press agent to escort each of you.

Nancy: (under her breath) Follow my lead.

Wendy: Your what?

Gloss: And afterwards, we'll give you a nice lunch!

Nancy: Not on your life, smooth talker! Go, go! Through the window!

Gloss: Hey ...

(sfx: plate glass window smashes)
(sfx: outside)

Carl: Keep moving! Run out to the tarmac!

(sfx: running footsteps)

Gloss: (fading off) Halt! That's restricted!

(sfx: alarm start, then fade off)

Nancy: Head for that plane ... over there!

Wendy: But isn't this the runway?

Carl: That's what they'd like you to believe. Come on, we're going right underneath the plane.

Wendy: What if it takes off?

(sfx: footsteps slow to stop)

Nancy: Unless I miss my hunch, this plane isn't going anywhere.

(sfx: three hard bangs on hollow sounding metal)

Open ... Up ... Now!

(sfx: creaking metallic door)

Voice: (off mic) Who is it?

Carl: The Federal Comfort Administration! Open up!

(sfx: door opens farther)

Nancy: Have you got members of the flying public up there?

Voice: (off mic, hesitant) A few.

Nancy: Let them off, you hear me? Let them off the plane now!

Wendy: Aren't they going to be mad at you? You're interrupting their trip!

(sfx: jeeps pull up)

Carl: Mad? Ha! I don't think so!

Gloss: (off mic) Look, there's been a terrible misunderstanding!

Carl: Stop right there, Gloss! If we're wrong about this ... Constricted Airways will get an apology in FULL from the government and the Federal Comfort Administration! But I don't think that's gonna happen, and neither do you!

(sfx: footsteps on metal stairway)
(sfx: slowly fade up crowd sound)

Nancy: Come on out, folks. Come down here and stand on the ground!

Wendy: (amazed) These people ... they look so haggard and weary!

Carl: Take a good look, Wendy. This is Mr. Gloss's new "Customer Satisfaction Program"

Gloss: Look, I can explain ....

Passenger 1: Are we in Newark?

Wendy: No, it's Minneapolis.

Passenger 2: (old lady) Is this our gate?

Carl: (sympathetic) How long have you been waiting for a gate, mother?

Passenger 2: Quite a while. And I'm pretty mad. I'm going to raise a fuss with President Reagan.

Carl: Bless your heart, dear.

Wendy: (gasp) You've been here since the Reagan administration?

Nancy: Which one?

Passenger 2: He got re-elected?

Nancy: Good Lord! They're from the FIRST Reagan administration.

Carl: You've got a lot of explaining to do, Gloss.

Gloss: We've been trying our best to find them a gate, but do realize how much the volume of public air travel has increased in the last 25 years?

Nancy: Tell it to the judge, buddy. All of you into the bus.

(sfx: crowd continues under, police cars and sirens arrive ... a jet takes off in bg)

Wendy: And so ... a couple of courageous auditors from the Federal Comfort Administration have followed through on their promise to DO something about the inconveniences of air travel. But they are only two people, and supervisors admit the Comfort Agency is underfunded, understaffed, and misunderstood. And meanwhile, Big questions remain.
Is this an isolated incident, or do many more planes wait on airport taxiways for gates that will never open? I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting!

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