I’ve been around the world a time or two, so boarding a flight is like getting on a bus for me. I know this is just transportation to get me from point A to point B and back home again…hopefully without incident. I know how to board, behave and deplane a flight like a pro. With over 1.7 million miles on American Airlines alone, I’ve seen what airlines have to put up with: novice fliers, drunks, crusty folks who haven’t bathed in weeks, children running amok — it’s a living nightmare.
How did it get like this?
My first flight ever taken was from New York’s JFK to Bermuda in 1977. Mom told me I had to dress up for the flight (her last flight had been in 1958, so that’s what people did in those days). We shopped for a new pair of blue bellbottoms with a matching long collared blouse in a wild, swirling print. I was 10 and I looked good in that outfit, sporting my Dorothy Hamill haircut. I remember walking through the TWA terminal seeing men in suits and women in high heels and dresses. Some ladies looked like they were going right to the disco! I, on the other hand, was uncomfortable — the polyester was scratching me. Flight attendants, or stewardesses as they were called back then, were perky and happy as they served me a tray of cellophane covered food in Economy Class. I thought flying was the greatest thing ever and wanted to become a stewardess when I grew up!
There was a mutual respect between those in uniform and their guests who dressed for a flight. People clapped when the wheels touched down and graciously helped others around them remove their bags from the overhead compartments. It was a different time.
In the forty years since that flight I’ve seen comfort overtake fashion to the extent that folks roll out of bed, still in their pajamas, and with pillow in hand head straight for the airport. Luggage runs from the trendy Tumi down to Hefty green garbage bags and everything in between. Today, flying is a hot mess.
Now passengers are dragged off flights, fights break loose, and we are all nickel and dimed for everything. I’m actually waiting for the day that during the safety instruction video they will say “in an emergency your oxygen masks may fall from the ceiling…please deposit 50 cents to initiate oxygen flow…”
There’s a natural give and take in the world and unfortunately the airlines keep taking and passengers keep giving, in money and bad attitude. American Airlines just announced they would remove 2” from the legroom in Economy. I’m 5’8” and find it uncomfortable to sit in the seats the way they are currently configured. Take another 2” off and I’ll be able to perform a tonsillectomy on the guy in front of me when he reclines his seat. Our comfort is being taken away and we are paying for it through the nose.
Last month I traveled on 7 flights covering about 13,000 miles. In my estimation I didn’t need to be on at least two of those flights. When I booked my travel through American Airlines all of my flights had to somehow transit through London’s Heathrow Airport. FYI American, no one actually likes flying through Heathrow…even those flyers who rave about how fabulous Terminal 5 is…they’re lying. It sucks.
Los Angeles to Lisbon, Lisbon to Paris, Paris to New York — all of them included a stopover in London. I get it when there are no direct flights, as in the case with Los Angeles to Lisbon. But even the security guy in Portugal, who when he asked me where I was flying and I replied Paris via London, told me “you know we have direct flights to Paris, right?” Yeah, thanks for that Sherlock, I know, but AA put me on BA through London. It wasn’t until I left Paris that it really pissed me off though. I walked right past an American flight heading directly to New York — no stopover at Heathrow, except for me. I saw that just after the BA check-in agent told me I looked “tired.” Thanks asshole.
My final leg of the journey was JFK to LAX, fortunately not through London. I was gone for almost three weeks and had dragged a large checked bag around Europe. When I left LAX I was pleased that the bag weight came in exactly at 50 pounds. While in Europe, I moved some items from my checked bag into my carry-on and didn’t buy much so I knew the bag weighed about the same.
So I was a bit surprised when I placed my checked bag on the scale at JFK to find it was now 53.5 pounds. Here’s what followed:
Agent: You’ll have to remove some items otherwise I will have to charge you $100
Me: When was the last time this scale was calibrated?
Agent: (a bit flustered at my question) Well, um, you can try your bag on this scale if you want.
I moved the bag to the next scale over only to find it had mysteriously gained weight and now read 55.5 pounds!
Me: Well that’s odd, it gained two pounds.
Agent: Um, that’s strange, I don’t know what’s wrong with them…
I pulled the bag off and opened it up. The agent saw my jacket and said I should probably take that onto the flight because it can get cold on planes. Really? Not my first time at the rodeo, I thought. I pulled the jacket and a pair of slacks out and threw them directly onto the scale — 4.5 pounds. Ok, well, I am at least underweight from the first scale’s reading. After zipping up the bag, I then placed it on the heavier scale to find that it had only lost one measly pound. If this were a Weight Watchers scale I would have been really pissed off!
Agent: It’s ok, just make sure it’s zipped…it’s fine. It’s fine.
She stumbled through her words but at least I didn’t have to pay the $100. I walked away feeling like I’d just thwarted a pickpocket. I also had a lot of questions…
- How much money do the airlines make every day just from overweight bags?
- How often are the scales calibrated?
- Who has oversight of luggage scales?
- How do we know the scales are accurate?
- Why do passengers get 50 lbs. when traveling domestically but 75 lbs when traveling internationally?
I tried Googling some of these questions, but I felt like I was walking into the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This would not end well, and I would be lost in the abyss!
Over the last few years I’ve become a huge fan of Southwest Airlines. They don’t pretend they are something they are not. They don’t charge for extra bags. They give you some peanuts and sodas. They don’t charge you a “change fee” when you have to rebook a flight. It’s nothing fancy, but they seem to understand that without their customers they wouldn’t have a business. Overall, interactions with Southwest have been positive and pleasant and I don’t feel like I’m getting fleeced.
All of the airlines put up with a lot from unruly passengers, but the old saying — you catch more bees with honey than vinegar — could help the other airlines if they made it part of their business practice as Southwest seems to have. If you make the flights more comfortable (don’t take away inches), provided a few “free” food items (make it seem like you’re giving us something, instead of just taking $$$), cleaned the plane before we board (steam those lavatories and tray tables maybe?), don’t drag us off flights…just these little things would make a huge difference in our attitude.
Give us some respect and we’ll respect you in return.
#americanairlines #southwestairlines #unitedairlines #airlines #airplanes #respect #travel #dontfleeceme #flying #travelinggram
One thought on “I Love to Travel, Except for the Traveling Part”
FINALLY had time to read your fabulous installment of MGYA47. So good. You should try to get it to HuffPo – not b/c they’re great — but b/c it’ll be READ; needs to be read. Or maybe your pals/fans at the LA TIMES? It’s great — true & sad (& why I no longer travel).
Hope you’re good. I’m working on my story for the NEXT story gig — Bare Burger on Main St. in SM on 7/27: 12 minutes — way easier than the measly 7 minutes last week. Thinking of you. And your sweet, wonderful dad. And My 2, terrific dads, today… Oy…. Hard, huh? Hope your mom’s good. I owe My Golden Girls (Virginia & the 2 other 80 & 90-something Moms of Friends I write to — a note. Each time I write to my friend’s (only) 85 — but not-so-healthy — Mom — she writes back and says the SAME THING every time: “It’s SO nice to get MAIL. Nobody writes anymore. I love that you write to me and use a stamp! I feel very important.” It’s so darling….
Congrats! Maybe lunch in early July? Cannot believe my dance card’s filled-to-the-brim the rest of June. Cray-Cray. Please keep me posted w/ ALL your exciting news items. I’ve got to get my act together and collate my columns for the amazon book. How’s yours doing? That’s one more thing I need to do: BUY YOUR BOOK!
Love you!!! XOXOXOX L