You CAN return from hell

I did.

Hell was air travel. A simple trip to and from Florida. The airlines probably figure it’s routine trip, but routine for passengers these days is something entirely different: confusion, aggravation and a bed of thorns.

We had flown a month before but this next time, things had changed. Again. And again.. First, we made our reservations on one of those fly-for-cheap websites. Figuring out fares and flight times by our regular carrier has become so baffling that we turned elsewhere. That, it turned out, negated the benefits that were due us for carrying the airline’s credit card.

Second, when we approached the baggage check and I hefted my bag on the scale, the agent demanded to know where my “tag” was. “Right here,” I said pointing to the tag attached to the bag handle that showed my name and address. He obviously was annoyed having to explain the “policy” change to ignoramus customers.  I was instructed to go back to the computer to print out my baggage tag that showed my destination and all the little computer-read squiggles the ensure our luggage ends up in the right place. Not just print out the tag, but attach it myself to the bag. More DIY flying. But I will no longer fly when do-it-yourself passengers are required to program destinations into the self-flying, no-pilot on-board airplane computer.

It also meant paying for a checked bag and being forbidden–yes, IN CAPITAL LETTERS (NO BAGS ALLOWED)–from carrying anything but a personal, little something that could be stowed under the seat.

It also meant giving up a preferred (yet still crowded) boarding group and falling back into steerage class. It also meant sitting with my legs spread apart because if I tried to put my knees together, I would puncture the seat in front.

It also meant that we had the usual, carking wait at the plane’s stern while those who paid extra for the privilege of bringing their over-stuffed suitcases on board struggled to extract them from the overhead without clobbering someone sitting nearby. Hours seemed to pass.

Talk to me about the TSA pre-Check that we paid for because it would allow us to avoid the extra-long lines at the cattle run. Once again, the airline ticket didn’t show that we had this bonus, so I had to ask a ticket agent, “Why isn’t it here?” My fault, I was informed; I had to put it myself when I signed up online. Not that I found a prompt among all the confusing instructions, composed, it seems, by groups of 12-year-olds who were having fun.

Then, of course, there was the flight back to O’Hare, America’s favorite airport. Taxing out to the end of the runway, we pulled onto a pad where we stopped while the pilot announced we were on a hold because of delays at O’Hare. Something else that the billions spent on the O’Hare Modernization Program didn’t accomplish.

By the way, I don’t think that anyone flying domestically for less that a couple of hours needs to get a free tiny bag of pretzels or small Coke from the Canarble Wagon the flight attendants  have to muscle up and down the aisles. I suspect the airlines are afraid to eliminate this huge benefit because it will be the last straw for some fliers. Too bad. The flight attendants are professional air crew; treat them as such.

Here’s also a shout-out for the personnel (those that remain after all the “economies”–read layoffs) who have to put up with all the frustrated and angry passengers. They’re like the infantry who get shoot on the front-lines while the generals linger back on the hill viewing all the good they’ve done from afar.

So, hell is not much of an overstatement when it comes to describing a typical trip engineered by accountants, lawyers and other non-front-line airline managers.

Yes, I know, if I don’t like it, I don’t have to fly. The airlines set the rules and we must obey. So, if I can get someplace in a day, I’ll drive, spending my time in private, in a car, under my control and feeding myself wherever, whenever and whatever I want. Maybe, just maybe, with the airline  torture gaining steam, I’ll make that two, or even three days.

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