Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And me without my travel taser

JAN: Since this is the time EVERYONE goes away, I'm sticking with the travel theme. Yesterday was why we travel. Today is why travel can make us nuts.

And since airline travel is a pretty good punching bag, I decided to focus on that.

I only recently overcame a twenty year plane phobia that made flying torture. I was so grateful to ditch my imagined fears that I never focused on the very real irritations that drive so many other people crazy. But reading Time Magazine's piece: "'20 Reasons to Hate the Airline Industry: or the brief history of the industry's 30 year campaign to nickel-and-dime us nearly to death," I found a new trend in the airline industry that could make me wish I was still too phobic to fly.


As I see it, so far the airline industry has only managed to come up with novel fees that make you hate the airline industry. In this latest burst of creativity, they've come up with a new fee that will make you hate the other passengers.

Imagine this: One of those really long lines you find at about six a.m. when you are headed to the Caribbean in the winter. Let's pretend you've been foolish and booked this flight during school vacation week. And let's say, you're re not one of those diligent people who get to the airport two hours early no matter what and are running late. You're three quarters deep into the line and time is running out.

You're tired because its so early, you haven't had your coffee, and you're irritated by hauling too much luggage. Plus, you bought your tickets on a whim and suspect you paid 20 percent more than everyone else. Finally, you move up the line, and with only five minutes left until boarding, it's your turn at the counter. Suddenly, a well-to-do family of six, each with two pieces of luggage and their own scuba equipment, cuts in line and takes your place. You say, "Excuse me, I was next." They completely ignore you, which they are allowed to do because they paid their $30 cut in line fee.

Maybe three other people get to step ahead of you to the open counters. Maybe you find yourself seated in front of one of them when you finally board your airplane. Maybe you ram your seat back as far as it goes and start humming "One Way or Another," by Blondie. Maybe you prefer "My Aim is True" by Elvis Costello. But you get the picture, we're talking about air rage.

My husband tells me that Southwest Airlines has had a version of the cut in line fee for a while, with the ability to "buy up" into the A line. They made the process confusing enough that most other passengers couldn't figure it out.

But I think the cut-in-line fee will surely get people killed in New York. And what's next? The Go-ahead-talk-too-loud-on-your-cell-phone-fee? The-don't-wait-your-turn for the bathroom fee? The drink-too-much and-knock-your-legs-into the nearest passenger fee? The possibilities for rude behavior revenue are endless.

Check out the Time article at:

And come back tomorrow when I'll be interviewing Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions of Kenyon College, and author of a new collection of essays about how the college admissions process makes parents crazy.


  1. Jan, I have to tell you that Southwest still has the "first to board" fee, for which I always pay. That way you don't have to sit at your computer and press the check-in button the second it's twenty four hours previous to the flight.
    Other airlines do the same thing in Europe. On Easy-Jet you cay pay to check in at a short line and get on the plane first. Ditto Ryanair. We do all of the above since John is horribly claustrophobic and can't sit squashed at the back of planes.

    But you're right that airline travel is no longer fun. We're treated like cattle--stand in line, take off shoes etc. At least the security people in Europe are pleasant.

  2. Well Rhys,,

    IT's not like the airline pretends to be for the proletarian or anything, what with first class. And I understand claustraphobia, and I probably would have paid any fee if it could have alleviated my take off panic. (Not to mention I'd still pay extra for extra leg room.)

    But theoretically,a t least the "cut in line" fee just goes against the grain for me -- challenging the sanctity of the line!!

    But I guess what's most interesting to me, is the way the airline tailors its "new fees" to our vulnerabilities. Maybe that's why they are so infuriating.


  3. Never heard of the "cut in line" fee, but I can see that headed down a very bad road. My hub hates to travel Southwest with me because I'm one of the people who rushes to get in line before it's really time, and then jockeys like mad to hold position. The "first to board" fee might help our marriage.

    USair has a "premium seat" fee now. The only thing is, the seats truly aren't premium--maybe a couple of rows up from where you'd usually be sitting.

    Traveling by air is really not fun these days...sigh.

  4. I have been traveling enough over the last few to get to "premier" status on United and it's a wonderful thing. I hate it when other people get cutsies but when it's me, I don't complain.

    This new deal that I read about where they FINE you for trying to carry on a bag that won't fit under the seat in front of you (the airline charges for overhead space)? That's nasty, especially when the foot space under the seat in front of me so often has some built-in box taking up half the space.

    My favorite thing is how airlines don't just reimburse passengers for the fee they paid to check a bag that the airline then lost.

  5. I love all kinds of travel and don't generally mind lines, waiting,etc. It's the couple that brings 2 large wheelies and spends 10 minutes trying to cram them into the overhead - displacing your carefully packed, regulation sized carry-on bag - that chaps my butt. You're going on vacation, spring for the 20 bucks, for pete's sake.

  6. KNow what I would pay for? The "sit by somoeone else fee."

    Oh, that would be terrific.

    CONGRATS to RHYS! For her Top Pick in RT book reviews!! Whoo hoo.

  7. KNow what I would pay for? The "sit by somoeone else fee."

    Oh, that would be terrific.

    CONGRATS to RHYS! For her Top Pick in RT book reviews!! Whoo hoo.

    (oh, my captcha word is very a propos: avirate.)