Thursday, April 08, 2010

That's the Spirit

After Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on baggage, I waited for the onslaught of consumer backlash. And waited. Shockingly, the opposite occurred. Judging from responses broadcast by our local television stations, a lot of frequent fliers are applauding the move. WTF?

One person seemed to feel less carry-on luggage would translate into faster de-boarding times (I don't know that he/she actually used the word de-boarding, or if, in fact, it's even a word at all). Puh-lease. The reason it takes so long to get off a plane, especially if you're in Row 23, which seems to be where I'm seated every single time I fly, is that a couple hundred people are attempting to exit down narrow aisles through a single door at the same time. It has nothing to do with people in First Class spending hours grabbing their suitcases from overhead bins. People in First Class don't even travel with luggage. They're rich enough to just buy everything they need whenever they get where they're going.

Another person thought that charging would teach a lesson to people with large carry-on bags. As if fines for texting while driving has eradicated that behavior. The thing is, if passengers had any confidence that their checked luggage would arrive with them at their chosen destination, they wouldn't be so obsessed with stuffing their entire closet into their carry-on, myself being one such individual. I'd like to point out that the one time our luggage did get lost, I had all my toiletries and several changes of clothing in my carry-on, while my husband, a carry-on non-believer had bupkiss. I felt incredibly smug and superior until I realized his misery would translate into my misery.

By far my favorite response came from a senior citizen. He/she was thrilled that us young 'uns would have to pony up for our carry-ons, same as the old-timers do for their checked bags. I wasn't aware of this phenomenon, but apparently seniors are incapable of hauling their bags into the overhead bins. And can't find a flight attendant or fellow passenger who will lend a hand. So they check everything. Seriously? I'm 5' 1"--the overhead bins are physically out of my reach too, and I always get someone to help me out. Granted, this is usually my husband, but others have offered assistance as well. AARP needs to investigate this ASAP.

Add the baggage charges on top of the full-body scanner they installed at O'Hare, and I've pretty much settled on never flying again. Not that I was keen on this particular mode of transportation in the first place. Sure, air travel covers a large amount of ground in a relatively short amount of time, but that's about its only benefit. You can't roll down the windows. There's never anything good playing on the radio channels. It's impossible to time a bathroom break--as soon as the sign says "unoccupied" someone always beats you to the punch. You don't even get honey-roasted peanuts any more. Mostly I just hate the whole hurry up-and-wait aspect of flying, which, come to think of it, resembles the whole hurry up-and-wait aspect of a doctor's appointment. You make every effort to show up on schedule--usually at an inconvenient time that they've dictated to you--then they keep you cooling your heels, taking off/calling you into an exam room whenever they see fit. We only put up with this because they hold our lives in their hands and we don't want to piss them off.

My disdain for flying (not to be confused with fear) sucks, because there are places I'd like to go--Portland, New York, Paris, New Zealand--that are difficult, if not impossible, to reach by car from Chicago. Frankly, I'm running out of Midwest travel destinations within a six-hour drive. Then the other morning I awoke with a flash--we could ride the train to NYC. I immediately e-mailed my brother for his opinion of Amtrak, which he'd taken from St. Louis to visit us last fall. He was enthusiastic, but only about those few hundred miles of track. The east-west rails, he reported, are notoriously ill-kept, outdated and prone to delays. (I trust him in these matters because he's an urban planner and listens to NPR.) He suggested a sleeper car to help pass the 20+ hours in unconscious oblivion, unaware that I am perhaps the lightest sleeper in the history of sleep.

So...I'm thinking there must be something cool to see in Iowa.


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