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Fly the Friendly Skies?

27 Jun

I recently had the ‘pleasure’ of air travel. I consider myself a seasoned traveler. In my lifetime I have flown over sixty times. It’s honestly not my preferred method of travel despite it being among the safest. I do it because I have to. However, since my travelling began in the 1980s the entire industry has changed and not for the better. What ever happened to flying the friendly skies?

A slogan used by United Airlines from 1965 to 1996, flying used to have an allure that has long gone. Global economic changes has forced an industry to change. I never thought that I’d have to pay for so many things for air travel. For those who’ve never flown, and even those who have, flying in the past meant that you’d be fed in some way, may have entertainment, and the flight attendants would be the cream of the crop (depending on the airline). When I was younger growing up in Jamaica it meant something if you were able to become a flight attendant. Albeit a bit discriminatory and sexist (I was a child and we’re all guilty of believing stereotypes), it usually meant for men and women that you were beautiful, slim, professional and poised. When you’d see the group of them walk by you’d dream of becoming one.

Pilots were thought to be heroes and even gods. The belief was that they did and could fly the plane under any conditions. In their suits and hat, children and adults alike wanted the privilege of visiting the cockpit and receiving a pin. It was like a commercial. The entire team seemed like the elite, representing a profession and field that felt luxurious. I remember on international flights your ticket price include a meal (beef, chicken or fish) and beverages or snacks. The price of the ticket also included two checked pieces of luggage as well as the ability to also have a carry-on piece.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia of it all, maybe the free champagne never really happened, that air travel was still something to complain about even then. I don’t really think so though. There is a great deal less complimentary items or services offered to flyers today. For example, wouldn’t you think that the cost of having luggage would be a part of your ticket price? You’d be wrong if you were travelling on Spirit Airlines. This discount airline deeply cuts the price of travel (ex. ATL to ACY roundtrip, $78) but expects you to shell out some serious cash to do more than have a sardined seat on their planes and a chance to be served by disheveled flight attendants. I suppose they deem luggage, beverages and virtually everything else a luxury. If you want to check-in a piece of luggage and you check-in online prior to your flight you have to pay $28 for the first piece. If you wait until you check-in at the airport you’ll pay $33. I suppose there’s a “look at an agent” fee of $5. But wait, if you’d rather simply bring a carry-on, it costs $30 and $35 respectively. Mind you, this is for the first piece. I guess it’s their way of punishing you for not using baggage claim.  You have to pay a premium if you plan to bring on more pieces. Plus, if you go over the forty pound weight limit per piece, you have to pay an additional $25. Trust me, the standard weight limits are generally not forty pounds. Needless to say, on my recent trip I was four pounds over on my trip back and had to shell out another $25. I am really used to all of these changes.

I haven’t even gotten to food. I used this airline previously and I suppose from the announced fact that the airline could not provide pens so borrow one from your neighbor, I’d know better. If you wanted water, you have to pay for that too. They offered deal packages, of course, and showed the amount of ‘savings.’ Seriously, how many people get on a plane and not at least nibble on or drink something?! I purchased a $5 deal which consisted of a Cup of Noodles (chicken, no assortments available) and a drink. I won’t even get into the lackluster announcements made on the PA by the team.

I was again reminded of why I generally don’t use that airline. And yes, I know we have choices but why do some of them have to be so ridiculous? Most individuals prefer an all-inclusive price to that of a la carte airline travel. And while Spirit Airlines is likely one of the most extreme, don’t look to the airline giants like Delta or American Airlines to be much better. You will likely have to come out-of-pocket for “you’d thought it would be included but it’s not” fees. Delta, for example, charges the non-club member (casual traveler) $25 for your first piece for domestic luggage while international travel allows for one free bag. The assumption I suppose is that you really don’t need luggage domestically.

A lot has changed in air travel and I’m certainly not saying don’t fly. You just have to be very cautious of the many fees that you can start accruing. Be prepared to pay for it at the point of sale and to dismiss any nostalgia of flying the friendly skies.

This article appeared on page 5A in the 6/27/12 issue of The Union-Recorder.

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