Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Flying with No Shoes

Fly Like An Eagle - Steve Miller Band

I am not a particularly good flyer. I'm not an engineer or blind believer so when I see planes in the sky I expect them to fall. Yes I have been known to duck when hearing one overhead.

You throw a rock into the air and it falls. An airplane is heavier than a rock (a bit)! Even a aerodynamically designed airplane comes crashing down eventually. I get that it isn't exactly the same thing, but that is the basic premise of my fear. 

Beyond that is the human factor. We are not perfect and prone to errors in judgement and execution. Consider for a moment the recent scare with faulty ignition switches in a popular American manufactured vehicle. If that can happen in cars, it can happen in airplanes. Add to that human error, weather phenomenon and these days terror attacks and it is surprising that more planes aren't falling from the skies. 

If I have to soar among the clouds I would rather have the freedom to spread my wings and soar like an eagle. Protected from predators on the ground wanting to shoot me down. That's not going to happen, and yet, I still fly. Not particularly often and out of necessity rather than pleasure. For pleasure, I would much rather travel under my own power and control or by rail. I would throw by sea into that mix but that mode is still a dream to me now.

It's Christmas and road travel can be precarious with unpredictable weather and so I booked a flight to go see my kiddies almost 2,000 km away. I think I did well, non-stop flight (landings and take offs are the most dangerous) at a decent price. Spirits were soaring as I wrapped the gifts that had been selected with care and love. Local goods not available in the mass market, I proudly supported my local merchants. The bag was packed  2 days before departure leaving just personal items to be packed. 

When to my horror did arrive a confirmation email from the airline stating the dimensions of allowable carry on baggage. Old news, I knew there were size restrictions and the bag I had packed was bigger and I knew would have to be checked. Recent terrorist activities have brought about significant changes in the way we travel. Sad but I get the safety issues that have arisen. And I knew that accordingly my suitcase must be checked. Liquids and wrapped packages are not allowed on-board the plane.

But the email wasn't very clear about the procedures for checked bags. All that was clear was the cost for oversized, overweight and extra baggage. Panicked, I called the airline. What about my single bag that was not oversized or overweight but larger than carry on? 

All checked bags subject to $25.00 plus tax charge. Say what? 

According to the representative this new charge was put in place earlier in the year when other major carriers did the same so that they could remain competitive. I am far from a marketing specialist but does this make sense to anyone? Not satisfied with that logic I pressed on and was told the extra charge was needed to keep up the comforts and conveniences of the lounge area in the airport. Pardon my inexperience in this area but if plans were not delayed for mechanical, personnel or weather issues, why is a lounge area even necessary? Yeah, yeah connecting flights. Sorry, not buying the logic there. 

If 5 people out of 30 passengers pay the extra fee for baggage you still have to have the business expense of hiring staff to deal with those bags. You need the same equipment regardless of the numbers. Call it what it is....a money grab.

So, the airlines have removed any excess room to accommodate a growing (in size) population, and forced the passengers to stow their own bags. Flights have been delayed and turned around due to on board turf wars. Somewhat understandably, as reclining  seats easily infringe upon anothers personal space. There simply doesn't seem to be enough room in the cabin for all the carry-on people must bring with them. Add to that the fact that seats are so compressed that no one beyond a pre-pubescent teen less than 5'2" tall can fit comfortably. But society in general is increasing, not only girth but in stature. There is no wonder that products such as the Knee Defender have become popular for travellers. That particular gizmo prevents the passenger in the seat in front of you from reclining their seat. Quite frankly the time is past for the option of reclining seats. These days I think the concept of personal space is lost on the airline executives who fly first class in comfort, unaware of the gymnastics going on for average flyer. For hours, hips and knees are connected with complete strangers. Contortions are performed to turn the page of a book or have a sip of a beverage without elbowing your seat mate in the face or inadvertently coping a feel of breasts resting dangerously close to the invisible dividing line of the shared arm rest. Oh I love flying! lol

And don't get me started on the washrooms which have been downsized to the point where only double jointed 5 year olds could possibly fit in there to join the Mile High Club. The average adult meanwhile must perform complex gymnastics manoeuvres to turn around and wash their hands in the sink.

And for this privilege we pay ever increasing costs, receive fewer and fewer benefits for our money and suffer more and more inconveniences. Add at least an hour before a national flight to arrive at the airport, don't bring any food or beverages with you to compensate for the lack of amenities on the plane (but you can always purchase goods from the secured side for double or triple the cost). And learn to juggle that coffee and sandwich with your two carry bags, while you grip your boarding pass and official government ID in your teeth. Damn, is that the phone ringing? It better not be an alert from the airline that the gate or departure time has changed. Leave your toothpaste and shampoo at home unless you have paid a premium for the travel-size versions. Costco value-sized sunscreen be damn, you can pay for the concoction not approved by your higher government standards once you arrive at your destination.

I can abide by all these restrictions and cutbacks although with a snarl on my face and a curse on my lips. But what I can't forgive is travelling any where in any weather for any longer than 5 days with one carry-on bag (22x16x9in). Casual clothes, dress clothes, (one outfit each) toiletries, personal items and a few electronics or luxury items (deodorant) and your bag is full. You must decide before you travel how important comfort is to you. You can bring the warm jacket or the rain gear - would you rather be warm or dry? Comfort or style - can you handle a night on the town wearing your best formal wear with runners?

I Wish I could fit 3 pairs!
These are the questions I grappled with before this trip. The gifts were already purchased and wrapped do I leave them behind or unwrap them? In the end, I opted for a compromise. I would bring as many gifts as I could fit with a minimal amount of personal attire and check said bag. For the return trip I would save the cost and carry the bag with me as liquids and surprises would no longer be an issue. But that necessitated a complete re-think on the wardrobe choices. No room for the everyday purse or the warm footwear. The smaller handbag and comfort shoes took precedence. Now I ask you who can enjoy travel under those harsh conditions? One pair of shoes? Really? 

It would seem that I am not alone in being forced to pay the surcharge. At the baggage carousel there stood about 40 people waiting for checked bags. Not Including overweight and additional charges that Is about $1,000 in extra pocket change for the airline - on one flight, one way!

The bulky sweater was left behind, the hat and warm scarf didn't fit. So for Christmas in the centre of the Universe where the exhaust fumes should be enough to warm up the ambient air I will freeze. But please, don't think this is a call for the creature comforts for life in the north. I have plenty of warm gear back home in my other suitcase that I couldn't bring with me.

Wait until you see the size of the purse I buy for the next time I fly. My carry-on will dwarf it. This year on Boxing Day, I will be shopping at the luggage store!