Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flying The Friendly Skies?

In the last six months, I have traveled a lot. I have spent countless hours in a terminal watching my flight delay time increase minute to minute knowing my connection is shot. I've had flights cancelled ten minutes before boarding.  I've stood in long security lines only to have my boobs frisked, and they didn't even have the decency to buy me a drink first. I've dealt with  grumpy airport staff who give off the vibe that they would rather be having a root canal than check the validity of your driver's license. I've shared the airport with outright rude passengers that make me wonder how people can be so miserable all the time. I guess they get their frustration out IN the airport and I am doing it here. I've had flight attendants who gave me the death stare because I asked for one more creamer for my coffee.

(The all to familiar notification on my phone when traveling)

(The worst thing you can see while waiting in the terminal to board) 

Don't get me wrong, I have had some amazingly fun times on the pressurized metal tubes and have met some really cool people. I sat next to DMX on a flight from Washington, DC to Greenville, SC (my hometown). I had a seatmate who is the drummer for Edwin McCain, (I'm looking at you, Tez). I've had flight attendants who made my trip so much fun with their cheery attitude and wanting to make the flight fun for all. I've had pilots who were intrigued with my Google Glass and were happy to try them on and snap a cool picture for my 6-year-old son. Yes, nice people are all around, too.

(My seat mate, DMX) 
(My favorite seat mate, Tez Sherard, Edwin McCain's drummer)

A good or bad seat mate can make or break your flight. I have had both. The good seat mate is someone you can engage in a fun conversation with and make your flight fly by. I talk a lot but I always read the people I am sitting next to. If they say a quick, "Hello", and quickly put their ear buds in, I pop my Beats on my head and get lost in iTunes. We say, "Goodbye", at landing, and that's that. Some talk your ear off non-stop as you look at your lonely headphones and wonder, would it be incredibly rude to just put them on, close your eyes, and tilt your head back. 

I would have to say that the worst seat mate is the one with no regard for your comfort during your time sitting 4 inches away from them for hours. By this, I mean the people whose breath smell like they ate a whole onion directly prior to boarding. Or, the ones who spent the hour before boarding at the bar downing Jack Daniels. It costs $1.54 to buy some breath mints at the Hudson News that's in every airport across the country. And, don't forget to shower before you fly or at least put some deodorant on. I sat next to a guy who was very nice looking, but smelled as if he had just spent a year in the desert in the middle of summer. I literally had to spray breath spray on my finger and rub it under my nose.  

Moving away from the people you share your travel experiences with and moving on to the airlines themselves. What happened, airline industry? I remember when flying was a pleasure. It was something people looked forward to just as much as the destination they were going to. You got served with a hot meal that you wouldn't eat if  you were on the ground, but in the air, it may as well be a $300 a head meal in a fine dining institute. Don't even act like you didn't get excited when you saw the food cart come rolling down the aisle. Now, you pay $8 for packaged crackers, some trail mix, and a piece of chocolate.

Speaking of money, flying is nothing short of highway robbery. Yes, I know some will say I should drive or take a Greyhound, but those people clearly haven't flown lately. First your fare will be ridiculous and sometimes it makes no sense. For example, I needed to fly to Philadelphia. The choices were Greenville to Philadelphia, $398 & Greenville, SC to NYC via Philadelphia, $220. I thought  I would one-over the airline. I decided to book the Greenville to NYC via Philly and just hop off in Philadelphia. NYC was where I would end up and fly out of, but I needed to go to Philly first. I hopped off the plane and smiled as I knew I had saved over $100. However, the day I was to leave from NYC to come home, I got this message as I checked in:

It said my reservation was, "Out of sync" and I needed to call the airlines. I did so and was floored in the process. Apparently, hopping off your flight is considered abandoning your itinerary. The result? A $200 change fee and the difference in fare, which is astronomical the day of. Well played, US Airways, well played. Lesson learned.

Baggage fees will eat you alive. When I first started traveling to NYC last year, I brought two check-in bags for a 3 day trip each time. Hey, I am a woman. I prepare for the worst. After a few months of almost having to take out a 2nd mortgage on my house, I downsized to one.  $60 each way adds up fast. Now, I am the master of the carry on bag.

An eye opening experience came to me two weeks ago. My 2-year-old came down with a nasty stomach bug on a Tuesday. I added it up and figured I would be full blown sick by that Thursday night and unable to fly to Colorado that Friday. My prediction came true. I called the airline Friday morning explaining that I was vomiting like a fraternity brother and I wanted to do the responsible thing and travel at another time. I didn't think it was fair to be actively vomiting on a booked flight with over 200 people, exposing them all to the incapacitating illness that would likely ruin their vacation. Us Airways informed me that I could cancel, but I would have to pay the $200 change fee to re-book my flight at a later date and any change in fares. I protested in between pukes. I told the agent I would be glad to bring a huge garbage bag to the terminal with me and apologize for exposing everyone to my illness as we boarded. US Air didn't flinch. They were more than ready to infect the entire airplane to collect $200 from me. I decided to not be selfish and fly sick, so I stayed home. I will owe them $200 to re-book in addition to the over $500 in fares I paid for when I was healthy.

Will airlines get any better? I don't think so. The pilots and flight attendants hands are tied. I don't blame them for the conditions on board the aircraft. You get a free drink on all flights and that's about it. The planes are typically nasty for the most part and they're are all pretty much run down. I ripped my new jacket and scratched my arm on this broken armrest which US Air didn't feel responsible for. Thank god I didn't get Teatnus:

I could go on and on about the pitfalls of airports and flying, but that would require a book deal and about 1,000 pages to play with. I guess when it comes down to it, when your wheels touch the ground at your destination, the hassle, and the empty wallet is of little concern. I've had a blast traveling. I've met amazing people, seen fantastic concerts, and made memories that will last me a lifetime.

 (Neil Young at Carnegie Hall - amazing show!)
 (Allie Mills, mom from 'The Wonder Years' at a subway station on Upper West Side) 

 (Cyndi Lauper concert in Englewood, NJ) 

(Nellie Furtado and I after Cyndi Lauper and Friends concert, NYC) 

(P!nk at Barclay's Center, Brooklyn)

(This view may just be worth all the money and hassle)