October 17, 2019

Fly Me To The Car?

If you haven’t flown in a while, an entire new reality awaits you. I recently flew with a friend of mine to Florida for a 10-day vacation.  So surprised was I from the “experience” that I have come to believe that the airline industry must stay up all hours of the night concocting ways to drive the flying public crazy.  At the onset, it was our belief that we had struck gold when offered tickets at $29. But then, we found that if we wanted to sit together, one of the tickets would need to be increased to $59. Shortly thereafter, we were told that since our trip would conclude within ten days, the ticket prices would escalate further- to $79. Still a bargain, although given the many nuances associated with these tickets, I suspect that the software program was written based upon the signs of the Zodiac and the positioning of the planet Mars as it relates to the Sun. In the end, however, it was the U.S. government who remained more logical and easier to understand as the taxes and fees for our flights remained at $74.80 regardless of our Astrology sign.

As our vacation and flight time approached, I suggested that we go online and print our boarding passes. Well, this particular airline views such actions as a “chargeable event” and the printing of boarding passes now escalated to the “pre-selection of our assigned seats.”  Aisle seats and emergency row seating now carry a charge of $18.00 each and for the regular middle and window seats, the charge has been drastically reduced to $14.00 per seat!  Needless to say, we opted out of seat pre-selection and the associated costs and got our boarding passes at the airport.

Now most of the privacy invasive techniques and procedures established by the National Traffic Safety Association still remain in effect.  You still take off your shoes, your coat, your belt, your watch, and empty your pockets into a plastic tray; but, now, you step into a closet-like capsule with your hands raised to the sky while a scanning mechanism does a circular scan around your body while you pray that your pants stay on your waist and do not drop to your knees when you most likely would be arrested for indecent public exposure!  Well, we passed the scan and the agent waived us along so that we could finish dressing and gather our laptops and luggage.

As we sat in the gate area waiting for our plane to arrive, I happened to look closely at my boarding pass which contained the statement that I was prohibited from bringing on any carry-on luggage.  Before my friend and I panicked, as we both had brought small duffle bags through the security process, I approached the sacred ticket agent at her counter, somewhat like a lawyer reluctantly approaches the bench in a court of law. In explaining my concern, I noted that my friend and I had brought small bags to carry on the aircraft.  Could this be a violation of the passenger/airline code of ethics?  “No,” she stated. “As long as it fits under your seat, you do not have the pay the $25.00 carry-on baggage fee that is now assessed on baggage that fits in the overhead compartment.” Of course, had I checked our baggage, there would have been no change in the $45.00 checked baggage fee.

Well, the flight left 35 minutes late which is common in the industry as the airlines do not want to seem too eager to accommodate the flying public.  I was impressed with the “new” seats on the aircraft, and after stowing my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me, I was further surprised to discover that they did not recline. Given that inquiring minds need to know, I asked the air steward why my seat did not recline and was politely informed me that the “newer seats were designed with passengers in mind and that they were professionally made for convenience and comfort.”  Next, much to my dismay, I could not find the monthly “in flight” magazine with its crossword puzzle.  I had my friend ask where we could obtain the January issue and again the air steward curtly explained that the “in flight” magazine had been discontinued.

Soon we were at cruising altitude and the air stewards announced that they would be coming through the cabin with a cart full of “purchasable snacks and beverages.”  He explained that all their flights were cashless and that we should have our debit or credit card available for our purchases.  A bottle of water was $4.00 and a can of beer was $7.00.  A card could be found in the seat pocket in front of every passenger that explained all the new “cashless” fees.  My friend happened to mention to me that he had been in a grocery store recently and that a case of water sold for $4.00.  I explained to him that he was getting professional service at 36,000 feet with a paper napkin that accompanied his bottle of water.  That surely should be worth the extra $92.00 profit for the airline!

The whole experience of flying was not only frustrating but almost nauseating.  Pricing appeared to be whatever the airline felt that it could get out of its captive passengers and the inexpensive advertised seats were anything but a bargain. For future transportation options, driving has moved up a few notches.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer
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