Where’s The Fun in Flying?

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   Don’t get me wrong, travel is a gift, opening up whole worlds, uniting families, and with an open mind and clear eyes, a constant learning experience. Airline travel today is not about consumers, but Wall Street. It’s not for the adventuresome as much as it is for the adaptable.

Reading about the holiday power outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, the busiest in the United States that shut down more than 1000 flights put a sharp edge to what had been nagging me. Having traveled millions of miles in my work over all of these years by land and air, I always make a special note when I return from my “last trip of the year,” when I get home, safe and sound.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t escape my notice that despite the safety of airlines, the actual pleasure of flying is towards the bottom of everyone’s list. It’s not always cheaper, even with so-called discount airlines, and the campers are not happy.

I flew Spirit Airlines to Cleveland. ACORN Canada booked the flight, so wisely they made sure they got the lowest price using Google Flights and buying two one-way tickets. Frugality with the members dues for their part of the ticket was spot on. I’m not a Spirit veteran though, but became one quickly. First, I had to get my boarding pass on line or they informed me I would have to pay $10 at the counter if they had to print it for me. I went on-line, but if you weren’t already registered with Spirit of course that would take some time and trouble as well. After another 20 minutes of delays and marketing when they wanted me to pay some amount to become a member, like this was Sam’s Club or something, it took several tries to print the boarding pass for them to tell me, it just wasn’t printing now, so…good luck.

Then I had to go back online in order to figure out how to pay for the baggage. Canada had paid for what Spirit called a “carry-on,” but there was no definition of what exactly that meant on the website. Yet it was abundantly clearly that if a customer made the mistake of not paying for a checked bag online, it would not just cost an arm, but you would be losing your leg as well. A checked bag was $40, which was actually more than what the ticket’s actual value seemed to be. Only when I got to the airport where they couldn’t have been friendlier at the counter and then to the gate did Spirit make it clear that you had a “personal” item for free and you had a “carry-on,” already paid, so the checked bag was a ripoff. Caveat emptor! I’ll know the next time, if there is one.

And, then in the plane there were five rows bunched, tightly in the front which were filled and some in the back, but vast expanses that were empty. I was in a middle seat, not having chosen to pay more for seat selection, between two big boys, so gladly moved, once the attendant allowed, to the open areas. There you didn’t have seats at all, but sort of benches. The trays were six inches of metal that snapped down. No seat reclines anywhere that I could tell. On the whole it was quite an experience, but friendly people and a nonstop flight to Cleveland is still something.

Airports are now bus stations located in shopping malls. Airlines make some $82 billion for ancillary charges for all of the kinds of things that Spirit for example is specializing in, but American, Delta, and United, as legacy airlines are taking to the cash register as well.

If this is the way their wheels are going to roll up, there needs to be a lot more truth-in-advertising or whatever we might call transparency, though I read in the papers as well that the Trump administration had sided with airline lobbyists and beat back requirements for more clarity and disclosures before purchase.

Away we go!