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Ante Up, Up & Away

Traveling by air is not what it used to be. I’m too young to have flown during the heydays when my grandparents got dressed up to fly and meals were served on actual dishes with metal utensils. Flying on a commercial flight now, is just one step above being flown somewhere via parcel post. I can live with the security restrictions on liquids, the shoe removal process and the occasional x-ray body scans. We could solve a few of the healthcare issues in this country if the government hired radiologists to work for the TSA. Passengers could pass through the x-ray scanner on the way to their flights. Radiologists would watch the screens and alert the authorities if there is something that would compromise flight safety or passengers if there is a health concern: two birds, one expensive stone.

What really irritates me about airline travel is the nickel and diming that goes on once you purchase a ticket. Want to pick your own seat? That will cost you extra. Willing to take on the potential responsibility of sitting in an emergency exit row for the comfort of a little extra leg room? They’ll charge you for the privilege. Do you need to bring luggage so you have clothes to wear? Fork over more money. If you try to fit everything into one suitcase to save on the baggage fee, your bag may be overweight. They have a fee for that. Don’t even think of  bringing a second suitcase, unless you plan to take out a loan to cover the expense.

The luggage situation has gotten out of hand. People, trying to avoid the fee, are cramming bags into overhead compartments. Space has become such a hot commodity that strangers bicker about the size, shape and location of other passenger’s bags.  Perhaps it’s the fees and conversations like the one I had recently with a ticket agent that make people avoid checking a bag.

The friendly ticket agent asked, “Will you be checking a bag with us today?”

“Yes,” I said, as Oregano hoisted the suitcase onto the scale.

The ticket agent printed the tag then asked, “Are you planning to check the same bag for the return trip?”

I was checking the tag to make sure it had the right destination and flight number while several possible answers ran through my head:

Option 1: “No, I won’t be checking this bag on the way home. I filled the suitcase with old clothes. I’m going to wear all of them and then donate the whole lot, along with the suitcase, to a local charity.”

Option 2: “I will be checking this bag on my return flight, if you don’t lose it on the way there.”

Option 3: “Yes.”

Since the ticket agent has the power to control whether or not I have clean underwear for the duration of my trip, I chose Option 3 and paid the $23 bag fee. Isn’t bringing luggage part of the deal? I’m going someplace so far I can’t drive and won’t be returning home the same day. They know that. I bought the ticket from them.

Airlines argue that having these fees allow the passengers to customize their flight experience to suit their personal financial needs. Bullshit! The prices of flights haven’t gone down since they started charging these fees. They can’t blame the increasing price of gas because when the price goes up, they’ve got a surcharge for that too. All they are doing is charging us the same amount of money and offering less service.

The fees don’t stop once you board the plane. Perhaps you are feeling a bit peckish on the flight? They’ll be happy to sell you a snack from the selection described in the back of your in-flight magazine. As they roll the snack wagon down the aisle, credit card swiper at the ready, they ask if you would like a snack. Once you tell them that you’d like the celery sticks and ranch dip, they tell you they are out of it. On to healthy option number two: apples slices with cheese and crackers. Nope, they’re out of that too. How about the hummus and pita wedges? Sorry. The gentelman in the row in front of you purchased the last one. There were only 5 snack selections listed in the back of the in-flight magazine and they’re out of three of them. Invariably, the only snacks they have left are a salt lick and some beef jerky.

Since you were able to save money by not eating a snack, you have a few extra dollars to spend on the in-flight entertainment. This varies by airline and by destination. Some airlines provide headphones for free, but the movie or Direct TV will cost you. They’ve made it very convenient with a credit card reader built right into the screen on the seat back. Other airlines provide a free selection of movies, but the headphones, which fit into some weird configuration of holes that match no other headphones sold to the general public, will cost you. I refuse to pay for all of these “luxuries” that used to be included with the price of my ticket.

During my most recent flight, I found a free way to amuse myself at my seat during the time in which I could not use my approved personal electronic device. I thumbed through the Sky Mall catalog; an amalgamation of the best (or worst) of the catalogs you receive in the mail and immediately toss into the recycling bin. Contained within the glossy pages of this catalog is the oddest assortment of goods gathered in a single place. There are travel accessories, which makes sense, but you can also purchase jewelry, clothing, pet products, furniture, housewares, electronics and health and beauty aids. On one page you can buy devices and creams for making hair grow. If that hair turns gray, there’s a product for that. If you decide you don’t want that hair you just grew, don’t worry, 10 pages later there are devices and creams for removing it. It’s one stop shopping from the cramped confines of your seat.

A few items jumped out at me from this collection of crap unique merchandise. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

Home Mushroom Garden Kit – Who wouldn’t want fungus growing in their kitchen?

Sumo wrestler glass-topped table – truly a conversation piece

A pierogi Christmas tree ornament – I like pierogies with apple sauce and sour cream, not trees.

I could go on and on, the possibilities are endless.

Passengers leafing through the Sky Mall catalog are a captive audience, crammed in a tight space, delirious with hunger and loopy from jet lag.  These are not people who are going to make sound decisions as consumers. Next time you are on a plane, if you don’t have any money left after paying for your luggage, leg room and snack, there’s at least one form of in-flight entertainment that’s still free.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

55 responses »

  1. I suggest we fly naked. It would avoid all the lines at check in, no need for clothes or luggage. Buy what you need when you get there. You would purpose ly not want to be too close to any other person. Some wouldn’t even fly because their body is too beautiful for so many to see

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  2. Loving that coffee table…Have you ordered one yet? Hahaha!

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  3. My partner and I laughed soooo hard when we encountered the christmas tree empanada (okay, actually listed as a pierogi). The pacing and pitch of your writing is just perfect. Perfect!

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    • Thank you so much for your wonderful compliments! I took it as a pierogi because that’s what the description said, but, now that you mentioned it, it really does look like an empanada. I guess it all depends on your ethnic background or what you are in the mood to eat. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Hope you’ll be back again soon.

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  4. Brilliant post, mind you, I am not sure I would want to be told I something wrong with me just as I was about to step onto a plane for any length of time. “Excuse me sir, could you empty your pockets, and by the way, you have a huge tumour on your pancreas. Have a good flight”.

    I once flew on a very pricey British airways flight to San Fran. They gave my “pre-ordered” veggie meal to the wrong person. But they made up for it by rushing to first class and grabbing me a few grapes and a slice of cheese. Yeah right, that’s gonna get you through a 11 hour flight.

    Then there was my trip back from Vienna. Again, no veggie meal. Hostess shoves a chicken dinner under my nose and says “pick round the meat”. British Airways, the world’s favourite airline!

    I could start on about sleazy jet, no, what is it? Oh yeah, Easy Jet. I am sure they’ll ask for your credit card if ever you need the life jacket, and then another swipe to get to ride the blow up slide into the sea!

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    • Wow! You’ve had some miserable flight experiences and on long flights no less. I can’t believe the flight attendant told you to eat around the meat.

      You do make an excellent point about getting bad, health-related news just before boarding a flight. It could definitely put a damper on a relaxing vacation. Maybe they could mail the findings and you’ll get the news when you return home.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

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  5. They really do nickel and dime us! I get cranky paying for all of those extras! As for the end table I think I need one of those for my living room 😉

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  6. You probably need another award like Imelda Marcos needed more shoes, but I’ve nominated your wonderful blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. Think of it as one more virtual award you won’t have to dust. For more information on the award, go to: http://earthriderdotcom.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/the-envelope-please/

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    • Thank you! I’m so glad that you are enjoying my blog enough to honor me with a Versatile Blogger Award. I also love your description of a virtual award that I don’t need to dust. Stay tuned for a shout out in my next post.

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  7. Pingback: Höhenflug | Thirty Years Of Growing Pain(s)

  8. I enjoyed this, ha ha. Flying these days is a painful experience!!

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  9. Not only a hilarious post we can all identify with – the comments are a fun read, too! Thanks for getting us all together! (but I do worry now about all the sneezes and airborne germs covering that catalogue – I mean it’s all that’s left for anyone to spend time with!)

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the running dialogue that’s been happening with readers. I’d like to thank you for making me paranoid about the germs on the Sky Mall catalog. I hadn’t thought of how many hands must have touched that catalog before I started leafing through it.

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  10. All so hilarious, all so true. I once witnessed something unforgettable at check-in. A woman’s luggage exceeded the weight requirement but she refused to pay extra to send it through. She finally agreed to remove some items from her bag. When she opened it up, out tumbled dozens of steaks! Loose hunks of meat, unrefrigerated! You could say she had a beef with the airlines . . .

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    • I have seen people remove items from overweight suitcases right at the check-in desk, but I can honestly say that all of those items were what one would consider normal for a suitcase. Love the beef pun! Thanks for sharing such a funny story.

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  11. Those humans can find a way to make most anything a miserable experience. At least they don’t add insult to injury by showing those happy commercials they used to many years ago.

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  12. Looking at today’s flying experience, it has some positive qualities to it. Starting with the arrival at the airport check in you get a good looking over, a breast exam, and free X-ray, and if you insist on additional exam just make a threat, and you get a free colonoscopy. Traveling and health care at the same time. Who knew?

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  13. You said EXACTLY what I have been thinking and saying for the last year. On our last fight (it happened to be to Hawaii) I perused the snack selection and asked for the pita and hummus. Oh no, they didn’t carry that particular snack on this flight. Really? So why was it listed on the menu? I was so ticked at the luggage fee that I managed to get four people to Hawaii for 8 days with only three carry ons and one piece of checked luggage. Every where we went people expressed surprise and amazement that we had so little luggage. My response every time was that I was working my way to traveling with a tooth brush and and pair of underwear. And I am. I am thinking about getting one of those travel jackets with all the pockets that I can stuff full of things and not have to have luggage at all. Take that, airline luggage fees! Next time they will be imposing jacket fees!

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    • I bow to your packing prowess! My husband keeps joking about wearing some sort of metal free overalls to fly in so that he won’t have to remove his shoes and belt when he goes through security. Thanks for taking the time to share your travel experiences.

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  14. LOL! Just reminds me not to fly anywhere anymore!! A perfect literary illustration of the perils and pitfalls of trying to get somewhere wonderful! Blog well done!! And so funny, as you always are!!!

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  15. If I ever have my own business, I’ll do whatever it takes to advertise in those magazines. Thousands of people forced to look through them daily. Jackpot.

    If I was rich I would buy that sumo table for someone as a gag gift. By the way, based on my experience, having the word “sumo” in your blog will result in many search engine views on your site. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s such a popular search term.

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    • Thousands of people are forced to look through those magazines/catalogs, but I wonder how much business they actually generate.

      Thanks for the heads up on the “sumo” search engine views. It will be interesting to see if that happens to me too. I remember that you wrote a post about that not long ago.

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  16. Now imagine all that hassle and muss and fuss with 3 children in tow going on a 9-10 hr flight to Germany!!!! It is just so terrible that we haven’t flown in years… for one the expense and for two the attitudes of the flight personal!!! Great post and head on!!! Really, enjoy your writing!!! 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for sharing your travel story. There is so much rigamarole now that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to keep an entire family wrangled through an airport. So glad to know that you are enjoying the blog. Hearing that from readers keeps me encouraged.

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  17. My experiences with airlines are limited, but my last flight was roundtrip to LA in order to accompany one of my daughter’s cats back to NYC (the rules stated only one animal per passenger and there was no way my youngest would have one or both of her cats put down under with the luggage) So I “volunteered” to fly out just to have the privilege of carrying one of the furry friends on board for the trip back east. Since I have this issue with wheat, etc., I asked the airline for a gluten free meal. (You can surmise how long ago this flight was by the fact that “meals” were actually served.) When it came time for the food cart to make its appearance, the stewardess yelled out, “Who gets the gluten-free meal?.” So, in addition to being the first passenger in coach to be served, I received a full-course meal (a la first class) while the rest of the section received a piece of cardboard sandwiched in a bun, served in a plastic bag. It was probably a good thing I was not sitting in the emergency exit row or the cat and I would have been on the ground well before we crossed the Nevada border.

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  18. I love the radiology idea. And I would also love that pierogi ear ornament, if I can get a kielbasa to go with it.

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  19. Okay here’s my last travel nightmare (this should have been a roadmovie, but I’ll keep it factually short)

    -Phil & me travelling to US (BOS) via London Heathrow

    – Phil has flue – like – symptoms the night before, but we opt to go ahead an fly anyways

    – Arriving at Heathrow we ask for a Pharmacy b/c Phil is feeling worse – the young girl stops attending to her purple nails for just long enough to tell us there isn’t one

    – Foolishly I then ask if we could see a doctor – this wakes her up and she repeats my question loud and clear. She says no, we can’t see a doctor, but since we asked to see one, we would be on the no-fly-list for 24hours.

    – I insist we sign off on some form or see a doctor or anything to board to BOS

    – She gets doctor on phone for us. She tells him the following: male, 28 y.o., caucasian, flue like symptoms – The doctor (w/o) even talking to Phil says “no fly”

    – We leave airport and take a 50 pound cab drive to the next hospital, they examin Phil (for free!!!) and sign off on a note saying he’s physically capable of being a passenger on an aircraft

    – Back to Airport b/c now we are broke – through security – controls – Flight for BOS left only Flight we could get on to NYC – since that’s cheaper we ask for upgrade – no can do, but we’ll get the friggin headphones for free

    (This story doesn’t end here, but that’s where the flight part ends) – So annoying all of it!

    Oh and I think the budda should tell anyone what you think about the zen-movement when you plant your feet on his back 😉

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  20. May family has a little game we play whenever we take out a second mortgage and fly together: the first one to find the “Lawn Yeti” in the SkyMall catalog wins! There really isn’t any prize — just bragging rights. But the Lawn Yeti has been around for quite awhile….

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  21. You nailed it! On a recent flight to Houston, I thought a little snack would do nicely. Out of five choices, four were no longer available and I’m not a big fan of pork rinds, so I passed on the food. I asked for a cup of coffee instead…and was told there was none left.

    I suppose they would have let me suck on the grounds…

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    • They probably would have charged you to suck on the grounds. I’m always amazed how they “run out” of the snacks they have listed. I’ve been in the first 10 rows when they start offering the food and they’ve “run out” of snacks. When you “run out” that soon into the service, you never had the snack to begin with, just be honest.

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  22. I used to rant about the food thing, saying “Why don’t they just charge me another $5 and feed me?” until someone said something like, “People will get the best airfare even if it means saving $1.” I realized, at that moment, that that’s exactly what I do. I lose sight of which airlines will feed me, allow me to check a bag without paying extra, let me have a seat inside the plane rather then strapped to the wing. I just want to save that $1. So now I bring snacks, my Kindle, never check a bag, and have extra straps if the ones they provide don’t secure me tightly enough to the wing.

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    • Everyone is willing to take their bargain hunting to a different level. The fees are getting to be so expensive that I take it into consideration when shopping for airfare. Just because an airline looks like it has the cheapest airfare doesn’t mean it’s going to wind up being the cheapest flight. I can do without the snacks and movies, but the luggage thing really makes me mad.

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  23. My traveling has been dwindling because of all this nonsense (along with the 6 hour delays where you need to sit on the floor to wait). I wonder if you could actually wear 7 days’ worth of clothes when you board? It would be kind of icky on the flight back but it would serve them right if you stunk!

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    • It’s an interesting proposal to wear 7 days of clothes at one time. I would be puffed so big I’d probably have trouble buckling the seat belt and they’d charge me extra and tell me I need to pay for two seats. I’m sure the airline could care less if you stink, but your seatmates might.

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      • Thanks, Elyse. I keep wondering if they have a team of people sitting around dreaming up new fees to charge passengers. I know an airline in Europe tried to charge people for using the bathroom, but I think they have since stopped. Next thing you know they’ll let you use the bathroom for free, but charge for toilet paper.

        Glad you liked the line about the salt lick. I agree with you, I’d be swelled up like the Sumo wrestler table too.

  24. Great post. It is hard to laugh and “you’re right” at the same time, but I am. I”Airlines argue that having these fees allow the passengers to customize their flight experience to suit their personal financial needs.” — AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Their personal financial needs might just be that they don’t need to repay for clothes they already own being carried in a suitcase that is theirs, too.

    But by far the best line was “Invariably, the only snacks they have left are a salt lick and some beef jerky.” And if I eat that, I’ll look like the sumo wrestler table.

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  25. Hear! Hear! This is why we prefer traveling by car. Every time I hear about “possible responses” – I think of the original Terminator movie. My preferred choice is always Response No. 4 (you’ll have to watch or look it up, but I’m sure you can guess); yours, kindly, was not. The sumo table might look good outside next to the Koi pond!

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    • Traveling by car does have its benefits, but there are just desinations we can’t reach that way. I actually looked up the line from the original Terminator movie. That possible response has run through my head too, but only when they tell me that my flight is delayed for 6 hours.

      I’m sure the Sumo table would look great next to the Koi pond. Maybe if you buy them together, you can get a discount on the shipping.

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  26. How true Paprika! Flying is to be endured not enjoyed. Just hope the destination exceeds the trip!

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  27. Oh so true Paprika! Flying is an endurance test at best to see if you will be able to enjoy your vacation. On my last flight we were delayed almost 3 hours and our reward for enduring that, free headphones! And don’t think about complaining as they may take you off the plane! Oh for the good old days!

    Reply

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