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.