Myself, I've never had a truly terrible airline experience (except for the TSA agent in Philly who screamed at one of my daughters and called her a "retard") but overall, I would rate my time in airports somewhere on the mildly inconvenient-to-mostly satisfactory continuum.
One irritating thing about airlines is their imposed petty social pecking order, unknown anywhere else in the commercial world. This is partly evidenced by the special boarding lanes. Not only are first class passengers allowed to board first, they get to use a SPECIAL BOARDING LANE. Most airlines have the priority lane and the regular lane, but United Airlines actually has four distinct lanes. Then, also on United, once you've achieved altitude, they make a point of welcoming aboard all their first class-star alliance-muckety muck passengers, while ignoring the rest of us. Then there's the obnoxious curtain that separates first class from coach. It's not enough to get more comfortable seating and better food, you also get a polyester shield from coach cooties. Airlines: you're running a business, not a caste system.
Once, waiting for a flight from Madison to Atlanta, a couple was standing at the opening to the priority lane because apparently it was very important that they publicly assert their first class status. It wasn't even close to boarding time, but they spent the whole time standing there, with facial expressions that showed their outrage at being exposed to the gaze of the loathsome creatures who fly economy. But guess what happened? The gate agent announced that the first class bathrooms on the plane were out of order and first class passengers would have to use the coach bathrooms.
Biggest eye roll on an airplane? A Delta airlines flight in which we were told we would be getting a "complimentary" safety demonstration.
Philadelphia, Chicago, and Newark seem to be the top contenders for the worst airport in the US, at least among my narrow east coast acquaintance. To me, Chicago seems the most chaotic, Newark the dirtiest, and Philly has the most incompetent staff. A couple of weekends ago, we had a layover in Philly on our way to Buffalo. After landing, when we arrived at our gate, I noticed a lonely black duffle bag, sitting on the tarmac, presumably from whatever flight had occupied the gate before us. The baggage handler unceremoniously tossed it onto the cart intended for our flight's luggage. Poor, sad duffle bag! It probably got a free flight to Buffalo.
Turbulence. I know it's a normal part of flight, but I hate it. On that same recent trip to Buffalo, when we were en route from Richmond to Philly, it was a bit bumpy and we were flying through clouds (another thing I hate) and a woman across the aisle from us said, "I see flames!" Of course she was mistaking the flashing red lights on the wings, reflecting off the clouds for flames, but even so, what an idiotic thing to say on a plane.
On that same trip, as we left Philly, heading for Buffalo, the flight attendant announced there would be no drink service because of turbulence. It was actually a very smooth flight until we began our descent into Buffalo, where the winds were gusting to 50 mph. Suddenly, it was as if the plane were attached by a string to a stick being batted about by a demented three year old. I dug my nails into my palm and cranked out Hail Mary's. The turbulence didn't stop until we were on the ground. Stepping out of the plane (it was after midnight and there was no jet bridge) the wind wrapped my hair around my face and I had to blindly grope my way down the stairs. Once safely on the ground, I couldn't stop laughing--partly from hysteria, partly from gratitude at being alive, and partly because it was so hilarious to have left Richmond at a balmy 68 degrees and arrive a few hours later in a howling blizzard.
Sometimes, though, the view from the sky is lovely. On that same trip to Buffalo (which spawned this post--we spent an entire weekend doing little but sitting around in airports) as we took off for home, I was keen to see Lake Erie from the air, because this winter it had the thickest ice since 1977. As always, when taking off from Buffalo, you fly west across the city and turn once you get to the lake, and there it was. The picture below was taken in January, 2014, but when we saw it in early April, it was still frozen, as were most of the finger lakes, which we saw as we flew toward Newark.
Your air travel horror stories?