Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dealing with Domestic Flights

I love traveling, but despise the actual act of traveling, especially if it involves airports. And the new "security theater" with all kinds of stupid regulations only make it worse. I could rant and rave about that, but before I get distracted, let me focus on my main point: the thing I hate most about flying is the lack of communication between company and consumer. Perfect market information, my ass.

For example, on both my flights to and from Florida on Delta, I checked in early with my flight and travel insurance confirmation number in tow for a flight I had booked in January. But somehow I did not get an assigned seat (despite having picked one out online). I just got a pseudo-ticket with a bold stamp on it saying "Seat Requested". WTF?! Yes, I paid for a flight, I do request a seat on the mother-f'ing plane. So I go through security, and go to my terminal, and the people at the counter say they will call me when they have a seat ready. What does this mean? Does this mean I might not make the flight? Both flights were overbooked with a mile-long "wish-list" (Since when did they start calling the waiting list a wish list and really does it make people feel better that they're wishing rather than waiting?). Was there a possibility there might not be a seat for me? Why do they do this? Why couldn't they explain it? So I wait around, praying I'm not getting bumped off the flight and preparing myself to raise hell especially as they're starting to board people and I still haven't gotten my seat. They finally call me when the terminal is nearly empty and I get my seat, but underneath the relief I am fuming because I've been stressed for no apparent reason. A little communication people! I'm just saying, it would have been nice to know in advance what was going on.

When you purchase your ticket, there is never any information about what you're getting for your money. All flights are not equal, and in the era of cutbacks, they're getting worse. Instead of getting the usual food, movies, blankets and pillows included in the whole flight package, you now have to pay for all said items--and hope they haven't run out of what you want because the airline didn't prepare for demand. Moreover, some flights offer some of these things and others don't. Some offer meals, others offer junk food you have to pay $7 for or go hungry. Some flights have pillows, others have blankets, and still others have neither. And now they're charging $15 apiece for check-in luggage--which of course means people try to squeeze their big-ass bags into the overhead bins and create delays, cramped space, and all around headaches for everyone else.

I, for one, would much rather have a set price included in the actual price of the ticket in order to have a comfortable flight, than to be nickeled and dimed every step of the way. But if they are going to charge separately for these items, they should offer a rundown of prices so you know what you're getting yourself into when you buy the ticket. Choosing flights solely on price and travel times can leave you stranded with a subpar or positively hellish flight.

So what is the consumer to do? Short of demonstrations, boycotts, and strongly-worded letters, the only thing to do is adapt. Having flown 8 domestic flights in something like 2 months, I have compiled a list of ways to have a smooth flying experience:

1) Prepare to play your part in security theatre:
  • Only carry liquids and gels in 3 oz. containers and keep them in a clear ziploc bag you can easily pull out of your bag
  • Wear shoes that are easy to take on/off so you don't have to bother with laces and such in the security line
  • Pack so you are prepared to slip your laptop out of its case and place it in a separate bin
  • Minimize the amount of metal accessories you'll have to take off before going through the metal detector
2) Pack light. If you cannot travel light, don't be a cheapskate. You're allowed 1 carry-on bag (please keep it small) and a purse or laptop case. If you cannot fit everything you want to bring in either of these items, pay the lousy $15 and check it in. The overhead bins are overcrowded and trying to stuff your duffel bag or almost-suitcase just creates problems for everybody. You'll hold up the line as you puff and sweat trying to shove your bag where it won't fit, piss off everyone behind you, and most likely end up having to check it anyway.

3) Be prepared to bring whatever you might need on the plane because there is no guarantee the flight will offer what you want and it most certainly won't come at a reasonable price. So if you want a pillow or blanket, go buy one of those little travel-size ones. A good quality travel pillow is worth its weight in gold when you want to get some shut-eye. Also, bring some food like a sandwich, fiber/protein bar and/or fruit; something that is filling and doesn't take up too much space. You'll be so glad you did when you see the flight attendants going down the aisle offering unhealthy, unsatisfying, and expensive snacks. Seriously, who wants to pay $5 for a bag of peanuts to sustain themselves on a 5-hour flight? No thank you.

4) Last but not least: arrive early. Better to be bored than harried and stressed out.

I hope this list is useful (especially for anyone who hasn't flown recently). Happy travels!

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