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Monday, January 4, 2010

What are the Airlines Smoking?

Okay, that’s it. I’ve had it up to my nostrils with you airlines. I just made an online reservation for Other Bill. The flights were cheap enough, but before I completed the transaction, I was given the opportunity to purchase travel insurance ($12, no thanks), and presented with the option of staying at a $250 hotel (pass). Then I was asked how many bags at twenty bucks a pop Other Bill would check (None. It’s cheaper to go to a laundromat). But then, before I could complete the deal, I had to surrender a SEAT FEE. If Other Bill wanted extra leg room, it was $30 more (each way). To sit closer to the front, where he’d be more likely to die in a crash, it was $25 more. So he will be sitting in the next-to-the-last aisle seat, which was $10 more. Such a bargain.

So what’s next, airlines? Pay toilets? Honey-roasted peanut tolls? You already charge for those “pillows” which are only big Kotex pads, and “blankets” that are no bigger than a Kraft Single. So tell us, you bunch of rat-eating pigs in space, what’s next on the agenda? A mandatory in-flight magazine reading fee? Twenty dollars for a ballpoint pen to fill in the crossword puzzle, which has a fifty-cent per word application fee and a substantial penalty if we look at the answers or leave it incomplete?

Stop it. Just stop it. Just raise your damned fares already and stop ten and twentying us to death. Double your rates (triple first class) and give us service like we had in the sixties, when a box of four cigarettes and a pack of gum for both adults and children were placed on our fee-free seats before we even boarded. Bring back those washable head doilies so we don’t have to lean into previous passengers’ hair product. Provide us with a bland, unpleasant, half-warmed meal so we have something trivial to complain about. And who are you kidding with those “reclining” seats that push back half an angstrom? Bring back the ones that allow me to put my head in the lap of the passenger behind me. I’m happy to return to my original upright position if they need to get up to pee. And go get me a magazine: a real damn magazine, not the freakin’ Sky Mall. I am not interested in choosing from a variety of cordless, rechargeable ice tongs, beginning at $350. Plus shipping.

Or how about this: Chop up sections of the plane and charge more for seats based on something real. Have a no-screaming-babies section, a no-seat-kicking section. A no-coughing-or-virus-spreading section that is wiped down with bleach after each flight. Give us comfortable, non-ass-freezing temperature compartments. Partition off a no-alcohol zone so we don’t have to hear fat, blathering businessmen broadcast their make-believe sex lives or endure their flirting with the flight attendants. I’d pay more for all of those. On cross-country or trans-oceanic flights, offer a high dose Valium for ten bucks a pill to let the people who just want a little peace and quiet be guaranteed it. If you’re going to sock us for fees, give us something tangible. I’d also like the ability to choose a non-oxygen-container-carrying plane so I don’t end up as alligator food.

This is what happens with government deregulation. You don’t see buses or trains charging seat fees. Can you imagine hailing a cab and having the driver tell you, “If you want to sit down, that’ll be thirty bucks each, over and above the fare. Otherwise the back seat stays in the trunk, and you squat.” What if I refuse to pay this airline seat fee? I’d be happy to send Other Bill off with a folding chair.

On the now-defunct People Express Airlines, you used to pay for your ticket in the air. The flight attendant came down the aisle with the credit card imprinting machine, and then, if there was time, which there never was, they’d roll out the beverage cart. Imagine a plane in a dangerous situation, and the flight attendant making his way down the aisle (in full hazmat gear as the plane fills with smoke) and offering an oxygen mask for $50. Credit, (gasp) or debit, sir?

As I said, if you’re going to charge for something, at least let it be for something we will appreciate. Use your head. As long as you’ve got the credit card scanner out, you could charge us a Landing Fee. If everyone onboard doesn’t cough up ten bucks, the captain will circle the airport and hold his breath until the jet runs out of fuel or he passes out (whichever comes first) and then let gravity take over.

You could stick us with a Gate Sleeve User Fee. That would give us the option of boarding, for a fee, through the jetway or, for a lower charge, climbing a rickety ladder onto the wing and crawling in through the emergency exit. Attention, passengers: Don’t forget some rope and a winch so you can hoist up your carry-ons and disabled relatives. You may also need a plunger to get the heavier ones through the window.

How about charging us the Important Safety Information opt-out choice? Look, if you can’t figure out how to unbuckle your seatbelt without a live demo, you have no business being an airplane passenger. Go find space in the cargo area. You’ll have to fork over a surcharge, though, based on your weight. Should have skipped that 8000-calorie Cinnabon back at the terminal.

On our last flight, Other Bill asked the flight attendant nicely if he could have the whole can of ginger ale instead of just the standard plastic thimble. The flight attendant said, and I quote, “No.” So, there you go: another revenue opportunity, the Whole Can Tax. You might want to consider a per-cube Ice Tariff as well.

We are all sick to death of you airlines and your surprise fees and surcharges and miscellaneous intangible tariffs. Seat fees: are you kidding me? You airline execs need to have a meeting and agree to charge us $300 for any domestic round-trip flight ($3000 for first class), even if it’s just from Kennedy to LaGuardia. Let us check two bags for free. Get out the tape measures and put the tallest people in the exit rows. We surrender. You win. Just come back down to planet earth and let us enjoy flying the way we used to.

And don’t forget my gum and cigarettes.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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