An Airline Rant That Does Not Involve Fat

Because really, why would I want to restrict myself to just one aspect of why commercial air travel sucks, especially in coach, when there are so very many others?

I’ve long enjoyed reading Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon. He often does fantastic, well-informed smackdowns of two of my major pet peeves: Security theater/overblown terrorism panic and airlines rolling out new policies that make me think I, with an MFA in creative writing as my highest credential, would be substantially better at running these fucking businesses. His column today touches on both, and while I’m not sure I agree that “unbundling” is a good strategy in general and Spirit Airlines has merely taken it too far, I can appreciate his logic.  But then we come to the last paragraph:

I fly mostly international these days, which tends to be pretty civilized, but a few weeks ago I found myself in South Florida, at the Spirit Airlines terminal. I have to ask, having been out of the domestic loop for some time: Is this the state of flying in the United States? I’d never experienced anything quite like it. It was like a humanity bomb went off. The lobby was elbow-to-elbow with the ugliest, loudest, more unbearable people I have ever seen — guys in gold chains screaming at each other; trashy women tottering around on silver high-heels clutching knockoff designer bags; teenagers sleeping on the floor; gigantic suitcases and baby carriages everywhere. The din of crying babies was unbearable, the security lines endless.

There is a whole lot of classism going on there, not to mention the child hate, which I’m not even going to unpack, because it’s pretty self-evident. (I was surprised and relieved to get to the end of that paragraph, reread it again, and realize fat was not also on the list of things that disturbed him about his fellow human beings.) My point is not “Oh, Patrick Smith, you have disappointed me,” although for the record… yeah. But frankly, I can’t get on anything much higher than a Shetland pony here, because quite honestly, if my life and finances were such that I could choose to travel primarily under more “civilized” circumstances, you’re damn right I would, and fuck everyone else. Because YES, that is exactly what flying is like for most of us, most of the time, and even if I’m not offended by designer knock-off bags and try to be sympathetic to parents of small children (though I don’t always succeed) and understand that teenagers sleeping on the floor might very well be there because the airlines have canceled or delayed their flights, I hate it all just as much as Smith did.

And so do all those other people. We all hate it. Because it is miserable. Not because of babies or purses or gold chains, because it is just too damn many people shoved into too little space, moving way too slowly, in a situation that jacks up everyone’s anxiety levels for numerous reasons. On top of concerns like “Will I make it on time?” and “Will the plane go down?” and “Am I going to be mistaken for a terrorist?” and “Is my underwire going to set off the metal detector again?” and “Will my luggage actually make it with me?” and  “Are all of my bags and/or children still within my sight and if not, what happened to the one I can’t find now?” you’ve also got 150 different airline and safety policies we’re all supposed to be aware of, but the vast majority of us are not — either because we haven’t flown recently or because the rules change every five friggin’ minutes — so at every step, somebody in a uniform is barking at you. “Boarding pass and I.D.! Put that here! No, HERE! Boarding pass and I.D.! This line. No, THIS line. Boarding pass and I.D.! Take that off! That needs to go in a separate bin!  That bin needs to be turned the other way! Come on now, don’t hold up the line! What’s in your pockets? Step over here!” Et fucking cetera. And meanwhile, there are recordings playing over and over, telling you to take out your carry-on liquids, which must be in 3-oz. containers in a quart Ziplock bag and if they’re not you need to fix it or throw them out, and have your boarding pass and i.d. ready, and if you’re using a passport, make sure it’s open to the picture page (so the line moves more efficiently, natch) and if you see any unattended baggage, you must report it, and p.s. Homeland Security says we’re on ORANGE ALERT. (I’ve flown dozens of times in the last few years, and it has never been anything but an orange alert. Which means, at this point, if I encountered a red alert, I’d be like, “Well, that’s only a little worse than normal. Whatever.”) And meanwhile, you’re expected to read signs about the symptoms of swine flu (and presumably get out of line and go home if you have them — or throw a fit if someone else does?) and signs about what to do with your laptop and shoes when you finally get to the friggin’ metal detector, and signs reiterating the point about the liquids, all while listening to the recorded messages and the authority figures barking at you. And the crying babies. And the people arguing. And then the people in front of you have liquids that aren’t in approved containers or forget about the change in their pockets or try to go through with their coats still on or misplace their boarding passes or put too many things in one bin, on top of the time it takes everyone who knows the drill to remove their shoes, coats and cardigans, get their laptops out of their bags and get all their coats, cardigans, shoes, laptops, purses and metal objects into bins and trays without overcrowding, and wrangle all their kids’ stuff if they have kids, then restore everything to its original location 10 seconds later, and GOSH, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY EVERYONE ENDS UP IN A BAD MOOD.

And that’s just flying domestically. My head almost fucking exploded at the Toronto airport last Saturday as I learned how much things have changed since the last time I flew into the States from there. (Probably at least 5 years ago; I usually drove.) It used to be you checked in at the ticket counter, got your checked baggage tags, went through customs, dumped the checked bags, went through security and that was that. Three lines, three requests for your boarding pass and I.D., only one more step than flying domestically. Now you go to the ticket counter and get checked baggage tags PLUS a bright yellow tag for each carry-on item. Then you are herded, with astounding inefficiency, into the customs area by one guy who has to check your boarding pass and passport AND make sure all your luggage is properly tagged. (This is where I realized my purse didn’t have the proper carry-on tag even though my computer bag did — I stupidly didn’t realize there was no distinction between “carry-on” and “personal item” in this context — so I had to go back and start over.) Then you go through customs, which used to seem like the big pain in the ass but is now by far the simplest part of the process. Then somebody asks to see your boarding pass and passport again as you drop your checked bags on the belt. Then you go through security — which, see previous paragraph. Then, once you are PAST security, another person asks for your boarding pass and passport. Then you walk off toward your gate, and suddenly ANOTHER person wants to see your boarding pass and passport. And then ANOTHER — and this one also searches all of your carry-on baggage, then tells you to put your palms face up so she can swab your hands for traces of explosives. (Except Al had to explain that last part to me, because when I asked what she was about to do to my exposed palms, she said, “I have to take a sample of your hand.” Me: “WHAT?” Her: “I just have to take a sample of your hand.” At which point I am JUST BARELY holding it together enough to recognize that whatever that means and however much I might object if I knew, being a belligerent asshole is not the smart move here. So I let her “take a sample” of my hands and move on.)

And all of that is before you drag your carry-ons 8 or 10 miles to sit in an uncomfortable chair at the gate for ages because you were warned to arrive 6 months in advance or risk missing your flight, which is before you get on the goddamned plane, which… well, the actual flying experience has been well covered by previous posts and comment threads on the fat issue. Oh, and I almost forgot the pretty much inevitable step where they tell you that your regulation-size carry-on bag will have to be checked now, so you need to get out all the shit you want on the flight and carry it on loose and figure out where to stow it once you’re on the plane, and hey, you know what would come in really handy at that point? A FUCKING BAG. And you know why that step is pretty much inevitable at this point? Because the airlines are all charging for checked luggage now, so everyone traveling somewhere for less than two weeks tries to get by with the largest possible regulation-size carry-on bag stuffed to the gills, which means they won’t all fit in the overhead compartments. (Which would be reason #1 why I don’t agree with Smith that unbundling is a fine idea to a point.)

The whole process is absurdly time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable, no matter who you are or what you look like. Triple all of that, for different reasons, if you look remotely “Middle Eastern” by the most ignorant person’s definition, if you’re fat, if you have trouble standing or walking but not quite enough to request assistance,  if you have assistive devices the TSA people don’t understand, if you don’t speak English, if you’re traveling with small children — and I’m sure there are several more categories of Extra Horrible Suck I’m not thinking of here.

So yes, it is always like that. And it is miserable for all of us. But we can’t do a goddamned thing about it, for the most part, because in many cases, flying a commercial airline is the only option. But not in all cases, which means people who would have flown in the past are choosing alternative transportation when it’s possible — on top of former business travelers who can now do it all online and people who can no longer afford to fly, thanks to the recession, and people who are unreasonably afraid of terrorism, thanks to ridiculous fear-mongering, off the top of my head — so between all that and fuel prices and piss poor management and who knows what else, the airlines are floundering, and their brilliant recovery strategy is to make it even more miserable.

I know! Let’s charge people for blankets and headphones and carry-ons and using the restroom, in addition to checked luggage and food and drinks and being fat, instead of making it clear how much a flight actually costs up front! And hey, while we’re at it, let’s stop taking cash for any of the onboard stuff, so even people who were willing to pay might be screwed when they get on the plane! And let’s cut a bunch of flights so we can continue overbooking them even with fewer customers! And cut a bunch of staff, so everyone who works for us is just as demoralized and anxious and surly as all the customers, who are made even more miserable by the fact that there is no one available to help them, ever! Also, we should totally buy into the theory that security theater makes everyone feel safer and more comfortable, as opposed to making air travel a bazillion times more punishing for reasons that are not even our fault, although we’ll be blamed for all of it, and thus avoid pushing back with all our might every time there’s a new arbitrary restriction meant to create the illusion of safety. And meanwhile, we should continue longstanding traditions like delaying and canceling flights and offering customers as little information as possible about those changes, switching gates at the last minute, wasting time begging people to take vouchers because we’re overbooked, loading up the planes and then sitting on the tarmac for hours, generally behaving as though our business plan reads “Phase 1: Engineer epic clusterfuck. Phase 2: ? Phase 3:  Profit,”  and then insincerely thanking everyone for their business AS IF ANY OF THEM WOULD PUT UP WITH A GODDAMNED BIT OF IT IF EVEN ONE AIRLINE OFFERED A HALF-DECENT ALTERNATIVE.

Now, since I am not an aviation expert, and I have no idea what actually goes on behind the scenes at airlines, it is entirely possible that I am unfairly blaming them for some things they cannot control at all, or not easily. But guess what, that’s business. What customers perceive is just as important as anything else — and thanks to the security process, every airline is starting with 3 strikes against them in terms of customer perception of the overall flying experience, so it really sucks to be them. Nonetheless, this is my impression, as a customer, of every single airline I have flown in the last several years, which is all of the big ones and some of the small ones: They’re fucking hideous. I have occasionally had an experience that made me think, “That wasn’t as horrible as usual; I should try this airline again,” but the problem is, then I do try them again. And lightning never strikes twice in the same place. I fly quite a bit, but I don’t belong to any frequent flyer program because there is no airline that has managed not to piss me off enough that I would rather commit and earn points than just look for the cheapest flight every time.

So, let’s review: I am someone who flies at least every couple of months, on average. But I am not loyal to any airline — in fact, I pretty much despise them all. I almost always choose the cheapest non-stop flight available even though I would gladly pay extra (within reason; i.e., not first class prices) if any of them actually offered something extra (other than extra legroom, which is not a big concern at 5’2″). In the last couple of years, I have been choosing to drive or take a train or bus a hell of a lot more than I used to — routinely for any distance under about 500 miles, and sometimes much longer — because it is always less anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable than flying (and often not much more time-consuming, if you factor in how long it takes on both ends). And if high speed rail ever happens in this country, I will be thrilled to cease flying domestically altogether.

There is one reason, and one reason only, that I give any of these companies my money: Because I have to. In my experience, every last one of them treats customers like shit and provides an utterly miserable experience, start to finish. And if any one of them made a sincere gesture toward offering customers a not so utterly miserable experience, at something less than oh, four or five times the cost of a coach seat? I would fly more often, and I would pay more for it. I’m not everybody, obviously — but as for broad principles that do apply to every single person who flies, I really don’t see how “Treat customers like shit and offer an utterly miserable experience, relying on all of our competitors to suck just as badly and a certain number of people to fly anyway” is a winning business strategy. And I really, really don’t see how “Charge more for things that used to be included, offer fewer flights and make customer service experiences yet more punishing” is a smart response to declining sales. I understand that when you’re bleeding money, trying to cut costs and find new revenue streams is an obvious answer. But at some point, you have to factor in that your success depends on providing services to actual human beings, and if you cannot prevent those human beings from feeling sheer disgust at the way you provide those services, or from actively resenting you every time they have to fly  — forget about whether you can engender loyalty among them — you are going to have a long-term problem, even if some of them will consistently be forced by circumstance into patronizing your business.

I mean, what do I know? My highest credential is an MFA. But I know I have to get on a plane again tomorrow (Arkansans, come out and say hi on Saturday!) and I’m dreading it. And I always dread it, even as an able-bodied white woman who’s not fat enough to be concerned about getting thrown off a plane or tall enough to be concerned about leg injuries just from sitting there. Because yes, it is always just that bad. And I really don’t have any brilliant way to wrap this up except to say fuck yooooooou, airlines, all of you, and fuck yooooooou, decision-makers who probably never fly coach but think making security lines even longer every time our intelligence agencies and the TSA fail to catch a bad guy before he gets to the plane is a good idea, and dear god I don’t even believe in, please bring high-speed rail to this country like yesterday.

309 thoughts on “An Airline Rant That Does Not Involve Fat

  1. God, God yes. Just Jesus FUCK, miserable. I honestly hate customs and the interrogation and judgment always inherent. “You came here why? You bought what? You spent how much money?” Dude, fuck you. I don’t need your little snigger to tell me that my hobbies are weird, but they are LEGAL, and take your judgment and kiss my ass.

  2. Having been a teenager sleeping on the floor of several airports over the years, I can tell you that often we did it because our school trips began at 2:00 that morning.

  3. You know what? I live in the extreme south of Spain, and I want to go on holidays to the north coast. 620 miles. You’re convincing me to go by train.

  4. Nia, Al and I have gone by train from Chicago to New York, which is about 800 miles and takes 17 20 hours, and loses its novelty after one. But it was about dead even with the 2-hour flight there in terms of overall pain-in-the-assness.

  5. Seriously.

    I have had one (recent) good flight experience, it was ona small private air carrier that makes in state (Oregon) trips to small airfields. They’re federally subsidized because they serve rural populations so the tickets are really very cheap, and you drive up to their “gate” which is away from the rest of the terminal (by like a mile, it’s a totally separate area) have them park your car, walk in, hand someone your luggage, hand someone else your ID to check in and then walk onto the plane.

    It was sublime, bliss, perfection.

    but then you’re on a tiny plane and I have major flying anxiety so I’m trying not to have a panic attack (thank you magic pills) and it’s bouncing all over the place, but still, the overall experience? 1,000 times better than the regular type.

    Hey, anyone remember when you’re friend/family member could meet you at the gate and security took 30 seconds? Man… those were the days.

  6. Also, Kate, did you and Al take the Empire Builder? I swear it’s one of the most beautiful train rides in the country. But it’s really only pleasant if you pay for a sleeping cabin which makes it more than an airline ticket (I think…). But I really found it very nice.

    Traveling by train in the passenger car is tedious, especially if its longer than a few hours.

  7. I am pretty unhappy about the fact that, whereas the $25 “baggage fee” was started when gas was creeping toward $5 a gallon here in California and was meant to cover airlines’ soaring fuel costs, said fee has not gone away now that gas is down toward a more manageable $3.

  8. Ugh I could not agree more. I fly at least four times a year, usually eight, because my family lives on one side of the country and I go to school on the other side and I just cannot understand why my experience gets worse and worse every time. At 5’9″, I’m not the tallest of people, but my legs and back are almost always sore after a plane ride and I always (and I mean ALWAYS) get seated behind the one person who decides that they want to put their seat back all the way down, making it so I can’t even feel my knees or go on my laptop.

    The lines are ridiculous. The people are always grumpy. Although, I hve had good experiences in getting free tickets after flights were missed for whatever reason (late gate change + me sleeping at original gate = bad times), but other than that, I only really ever love service with Virgin America, which I hardly ever fly because they are expensive and they barely go anywhere, although they even lost my bags once.

    There is just no way to win these days.

  9. I’m considering printing this out and showing it to anyone who asks why I’m so freaked out about flying from Utah to Egypt this summer.

  10. Spot fucking on. I’m traveling for work quite a bit lately (3 weeks of the month) and actually sitting in the airport now wanting to cheer “yeeees!”, but someone will consider me acting suspiciously or whatever.

    Toronto airport sucks ass. GW Bush in Houston is worse.

    Don’t even get me started on complex airport layouts, such as Boston. You can’t get in or out of that place with sanity.

  11. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. The decision-makers at the airlines have all worked together to ensure that, the very SECOND there is a viable alternative to air travel, most of their customer base will heave a giant sigh of relief and say “OH THANK GOD” and do anything other than fly. Way to ensure your eventual obsolescence, there, guys! If I live long enough, I fully expect that as an old lady I’ll tell children stories about what people put up with Back In The Day before there were teleporters and personal jetpacks.

  12. So much this. So, so much.

    The only thing I’d add to the rant? The wildly fluctuating and sometimes completely arbitrary-seeming prices, particularly on international flights. I need to travel from the UK to Australia to see my family in June. Last week I saw flights advertised on the website of the airline I usually use, for £740. Stupidly, I waited for my paycheck to come through this week before booking. They’re now £904. How is a booking made this week, for a flight that’s still more than two months away, worth £160 more than a booking made last week?

    It’s enough to make a person consider transpacific swimming.

  13. You are so fucking right! But it’s northern europe and the usa that’s really bad.

    I’m English but live in Greece. Most of the time. Athens (which, eh, has the occasional terrorist and/or riot) to the uk is fine and gentle and soothes my soul – ok, a little wait as normal, but everyone nice and smiling, you can pop outside for a ciggie and take a coffee with you, security checks are quick and efficient (AND they have guns) and there’s a really nice bookshop to browse in right next to the gates.

    But uk to greece? Aaaaagh. Bad tempered staff, the route actually forces you to go through airport’s endless expensive perfume and tat etc shops from security to waiting area then again on the way to the gate (when you eventually have a gate); endless queues for everything from coffee to toilets to finding an announcement screen that works. And no but no ciggie breaks. And you can’t take your exorbitantly priced airport coffee or water (you of course can’t bring any of your own drinks in) outside the ‘designated area’, which has a squillion other travellers per square metre in it.

    Security in uk? Useless. Holds everyone up for aeons but doesn’t stop would be terrorists. At all. Seen them confiscate mascara, lipstick, and so on. What is a terrorist supposed to do: ” We are taking over this plane or else I will put serious makeup on you.”?

    Last year ended up 2 days before leaving, no time, slackly (I am such a slut) pinning up fallen down hem of trenchcoat with safety pins. Oh, the shame.

    Forgot…….remembered while in middle of security queue…oh shit they will spot this and arrest me….nothing. Just nothing. Had to put my lipstick in a special bag of course in case I threatened to crayon anyone with it. But a series of 12 or so very sharp pins round my person – nada. Sailed through.

    I loved this post. So well written and straight from the heart of experience. And equally I FEEL SO HELPLESS AND UNABLE TO CHANGE THINGS.

  14. I consider it all very comical. Because if I didn’t, I would probably snap. (I probably need to get some of Lexy’s magical pills.)

    The funniest part for me is stowing my laptop under the seat in front of me. When I was 15, I had back surgery for scoliosis, which consisted of (amongst other things) sticking two metal rods into my back, so I can’t bend my back at all. Normally, it’s not a problem – I discovered the other day that I am incapable of doing sit-ups, gee, darn – but since the seat in front of me is always closer than the distance between my butt and shoulders, I literally have to ram my shoulder into it and stretch my arm as much as I possibly can… and even then, I usually have to ask the person next to me to get it for me. I can only imagine what they must think, since you can’t tell that I had this surgery just by looking at me (clothed. Not that I ever fly naked. Though that’s probably next). In light of that, I can only smile wryly at all of the rest.

  15. Holy bitterness, Batman!

    Sounds like the trip really sucked for you. At least the airport/plane part. You know it’s a privilege to travel, right?

    At least you get to go. Lots of people have no where to go. They’re stuck where they are. And that can suck a lot more than ridiculous airport security.

    Just sayin’, as the saying goes.

  16. @Dray
    Well, yes. It is a privilege to travel at all.

    The airlines seem to be trying to persuade us to forgo that privilege as much as possible. And that’s… good?

    Amtrak costs quite a lot and takes much, much longer, and I once took a train from New Jersey to LA that crossed the NV/CA border more than 24 hours late. I would still rather take the train. More room, better scenery, and the staff is more pleasant even when they’re coping with with justifiably pissed passengers who are a day late into LA.

    What are the cross-country buses like? Can people recommend them?

  17. Economics for dummies (includes me) interlude:

    It’s all about making money you know. Air travel is not a public service; it’s a private service BUT with a captive consumer group. That’s mainly why it’s so shit and expensive.

    The people who run the airports make a little money out of the airlines, but the profit margins are really really thin. Many of them nowadays actually host particular airlines/flights at a loss.

    The costs of running an airport are really high – basic essential stuff like, oh, air traffic control and emergency standby fire services and bomb-checking people. And cleaners. And now they have all this extra security stuff, like sniffing lipsticks.

    So nowadays they’ve turned to making a significant part of their profit out of renting concessions, like big chain McDonalds.
    And by renting out the check-in desks to airlines.
    And by renting out car parking concessions.
    And by renting out toilet concessions.
    And by renting advertising space to advertising concessions.
    And by sub-contracting (ie renting out the concession but creaming off all the management fees) baggage services

    And they all make money out of US, who only stand and wait in line. For all eternity.

    Which is why we end up directly paying over the fucking odds for everything – plain water, coffees, sandwiches, car parking, toilets, seat room, check-in, hold baggage, priority buggering this and that.

    OK, polite English rant over.

  18. I used to travel a lot, just for the heck of it because I wanted to see the world. I never LOVED flying, but it used to be a whole lot more pleasurable than it is these days. I hate it so much for all of the reasons mentioned in your rant that I have just stopped flying. I don’t really HAVE to go anywhere, so I don’t. So in all of their fat-hating, cost-cutting abusive ways, the airlines haven’t saved themselves any money with me, they’ve lost all of my business. I’m sure I’m not the only person sitting at home saying to themselves that it’s just more fun spending my vacation gardening or whatever than dealing with the nightmare that air travel has become. Now why don’t any of those overpaid CEO’s figure that one out?

  19. I put up with all of this nonsense until I got an insulin pump. Now I’m not willing to fly because of the absurdly hard time I get from the TSA for daring to try to board a plane while wearing a cell phone-sized life-sustaining medical device. I’m happy to explain what it is and why I can’t take it off, but I don’t like having “WHAT is THAT? EMPTY your POCKETS!” barked at me. I don’t understand why there can’t be some basic level of training regarding assistive devices; enough people go through airports every day that I just can’t believe I’m the first person with an insulin pump or something similar that they’ve seen.

  20. I fly a few times a year and despite all the crazy that I should hate, the thing that always angers me the most is the slow walkers who take up space. And I don’t mean people who are disabled or the people who are fat. I mean the family of seven that takes up the entire walkway by everyone holding hands side-by-side and make people have to weave around the pilers at the actual gates just to get around them. Or that woman who refuses to walk on the moving walkway and keeps her rolling luggage bag next to her so the entire moving walkway behind her is at the slow-crawl pace and is overtaken by the leisurely walker who chose not to get on the moving walkway. Or that one high school sports team who is standing unsupervised gossiping in the middle of a really busy area.

  21. I live abroad and have lived in various places abroad since the mid 1990s, including 6 years in and around the middle east and now in China. I can tell you that flying via the US or into the US and Canada are the situations I dread the most. Security checks in Turkey? Kind, fast, efficient. Security checks in China? Even more so. Immigration and customs officials in India, Egypt, UAE, Oman, Mexico? Kind, helpful, efficient. Security checks when just passing through Denver on my way to see my family in Canada? Hell on earth. I was given a SSSS security stamp on my boarding card and hauled out of line going to security, personally escorted by armed guard in a line running parallel to the regular line (but obviously separate so everyone stared), then sent through an ionizing machine then swabbed for explosive residue and grilled about everything I had done before getting on my previous flight and everything I planned to do in the US (er, catch a flight to Vancouver?). When I finally got to Vancouver (my hometown), I was grilled brutally by immigration even though I am Canadian. This happens every time.

    Why am I so suspicious? Because I live abroad. My passport is full of very foreign looking stamps. My dodgy, suspicious terroristy occupation that has kept me abroad for so long? I teach foundation year English to non-English speakers who want to study abroad.

    If I have to travel in North America, I’ll go by bus, ferry, train, car. I want nothing to do with airports or airlines there.

    I should also mention that travelling regionally in China and Turkey is a cheap, easy, efficient process, with no baggage fees and free in flight meals and entertainment.

    Flying doesn’t have to be so unpleasant.

  22. I will add a shard of hope here. We flew to Orlando with our kids for the first time in four years. I had packed double the distractions remembering the song and dance routine I was doing for them last time in the security line that took forever.
    In *both* airports this time, there was a special “family” line to which we were immediately whisked. No one from the TSA was friendlier, per se, but they were at least accustomed to small children, and the relief of the woman in front of me, alone with three kids, trying to collapse a stroller, was palpable. She tried to throw back an “I’m so sorry” for holding up the line and all the parents with kids practically snorted at her, so relieved were we along with her that it was Just Us, no pissy business traveler (and I used to be one, and continue to make mental apologies though I don’t think I was ever cruel to parents, just…not Getting It), just a lot of grownups who have tried to collapse a stroller that wasn’t collapsing while small children tried to put on their shoes too early or took the opportunity to sprint past the gate. It was so humane I sought out management at both airports to thank them. And I whispered to my husband, “If I ever travel for work again, remind me to bring the four year old.” Seriously. So there was one thing that went right.
    The rest, as they say, is another story. But yeah, it is a privilege to fly, and also a tremendous tremendous inconvenience many of us would rather avoid until things somehow improve. And I’m wondering where this pilot spends the rest of his life that the humanity bomb doesn’t ruin his days there too. I guess he won’t say, lest we move their with our whiny kids and silver shoes.

  23. Redwoodforest, I’m with you. I’m not a business traveller; I’m a vacationer only. And becuase of the intense suckitude of airlines I haven’t flown for a vacation in two or three years. I used to make expensive international vacations annually (US east coast to UK, Europe or Australia) and a few domestic flights a year (between major cities on the east of the US or Canada). Eff that these days. Yes, it happens I have a three year old child now, but I would STILL want to travel with her if it wasn’t such an an overwhelmingly awful experience; an annual summer vacation to see her grandparents in Australia would be on the cards if the airline experience wasn’t so nightmarish. The airport security disaster festival. Getting harassed about everything you bring on board. Every woman and her dog trying to carry-on a wheely suitcase. Asking for a blanket and being told ‘no, we’ve run out’. Spending hours cramped and often separated from the family you’re traveling with.

    These days we drive, train or stay home. Since my daughter hasn’t seen her grandparents in Australia in two years, I know at some point I will have to make that flight and I dread it with a searing hot panic. Awesome, airlines. Your shitty business model managed to lose you thousands of my dollars in business each year.

  24. @MemeGRL

    I’m glad you had a good experience at the Orlando airport. We like to joke that if there’s one thing we (Orlando dwellers) do well, it’s queue properly. :)

    I haven’t flown since I had my third child. The last time with two kids was hellish enough, and we had four adults! Like others have mentioned, I feel bad that my son hasn’t see a lot of our farther-flung family. But what can you do?

  25. Am I the only one here who finds flying not THAT bad? I mean, yeah, it’s a hassle, but a lot of the hassles don’t change- i.e., you’ll always have to remove your shoes, and you’ll always have to bag up your liquids in small containers, and you’ll always have to keep your ID out until you make it through security, so I don’t understand why people don’t plan for those things by wearing slip-ons, putting their kids in slip-ons, keeping their ID in their pocket, and collecting all your liquids together before you leave the house. I’m not trying to be obnoxious, I just don’t see how it could be classified as a surprise or an unanticipated inconvenience.

    Frankly, I’ve had worse experiences waiting in Greyhound terminals than airline terminals. I’ve never seen the homeless hanging out in airline terminal bathrooms. Bus stations can be SCARY, especially late at night.

  26. I’ve been thinking about the hell that is flying recently since I will be purchasing plane tickets in the near future. I really would go by train if the trip didn’t take 22-28 damn hours. And I really want to save money, but I think non-stop flights are worth the extra cost because I get time sucked off my lifespan.

  27. Lysistrata, but what Kate is saying is that it’s not a captive audience. People are choosing not to fly because the option to pay a bit more and avoid being totally fucking miserable doesn’t exist. Airlines are cutting costs based on the assumption that the audience will always be captive, but technology means that a large part of it no longer is, and sheer desperation means that another part is falling away.

    It’s not as bad in Australia, although most airlines do charge for checked in baggage now, and I swear the seats are smaller (I’m a thin 5’4″ and I’m about the only comfortable person on the whole flight). I do wish they’d come to some agreement about whether I can carry a baby in a sling through the security thing, though. I got yelled at in one airport for doing so when it’s a federal rule that you can’t, despite the fact that the other 5 airports I’d been in at that point didn’t require me to.

  28. Well holy crap. I’m not the biggest fan of flying but it sounds like, comparatively, that flying in my country is still really fucking easy.

    I fear flying internationally to the US, or UK, because being treated like a criminal and being forced to go through full-body scanners is likely to make me feel very UNsafe, and I’m an able-bodied, cisgendered, relatively wealthy white woman.

    Is the end goal to force everyone but a very, very, VERY privileged few to become more insular?

  29. Living in Australia, this makes me like my national carrier so much – they’re getting a hard time at the moment, but when I fly international with them I feel so loved, and they give out drawstring bags with bottled water and chocolate to get you through the night.

    Not a patch on Vanuatu, of course, where people took tins of cooking oil on board and you and your luggage get on scale in a one-room airport (which has a cat) and you have to wander out onto the tarmac and make inquiries to discover which plane is yours :)

  30. “Or that woman who refuses to walk on the moving walkway and keeps her rolling luggage bag next to her so the entire moving walkway behind her is at the slow-crawl pace ”

    And you magically know this woman has no disability(ies) how?

  31. Oh god yes. I’m now choosing to drive for two days, with a hotel stay in between, rather than fly to visit my parents.

    If one airline, just one, would say, “Hey, we charge twice as much for a ticket, but we promise that we’ll have adequate seats and adequate staff and adequate training,” the whole system would have to change.

  32. @PG – And if it’s a family of seven with children, how exactly are they supposed to move through the airport without holding hands and walking relatively slowly? When I’m alone I walk quickly and purposefully but my parents are old and my siblings are young. Not to mention foreign tourists who need extra time to read the signs.

    Also, as a former, veteran “teenager sleeping on airport floor”, I’d like to tell Mr. Smith that nothing breeds a rebellious streak into a bunch of mild-mannered Latin students quite like being treated as criminals, thieves or non-humans 18 times a day while traveling.

  33. a lot of the hassles don’t change- i.e., you’ll always have to remove your shoes, and you’ll always have to bag up your liquids in small containers, and you’ll always have to keep your ID out until you make it through security,

    I don’t know how old you are, but those are actually relatively new hassles, so if you’ve been flying for a long time, every one of them adds another layer of resentment about how much worse it’s gotten. And the shoes and liquids things make me particularly irritated, because both came about in response to failed bomb attempts within the last ten years, and as Smith frequently points out, the terrorist’s greatest weapon is surprise. Nobody’s going to be trying the same shit someone’s already tried.

    so I don’t understand why people don’t plan for those things by wearing slip-ons, putting their kids in slip-ons, keeping their ID in their pocket, and collecting all your liquids together before you leave the house. I’m not trying to be obnoxious, I just don’t see how it could be classified as a surprise or an unanticipated inconvenience.

    Personally, I don’t consider those things unanticipated inconveniences, I just consider them unnecessary inconveniences. But as for other people, a lot of them haven’t flown recently or don’t fly often, so they don’t know or don’t remember — or it slips their mind while they’re getting ready, whatever. (Hell, I’ve gone through security with a loose water bottle in my carry-on because I just forgot about it.) And my husband flies a lot but always wears laced shoes because that’s all he owns and all he’s comfortable in. I often wear skirts with no pockets when I fly because it’s convenient for a lot of other reasons, but since I have to put my purse and jacket on the conveyer belt, that means I have to keep my boarding pass and ID in my hand while I’m wrangling the bag and two to three bins necessary to get all my shit through the X-ray machine, which is a pain in the ass — so sometimes I forget and leave it in my purse. Do you want me to imagine other scenarios, or do you get that it’s maybe not as simple as expecting everyone else to do what you do?

    I’ve never seen the homeless hanging out in airline terminal bathrooms

    I don’t even know where to begin.

  34. @ Rabbit: yes damn those homeless people, being all homeless, in your proximity.

    Also, your experience is not going to be universal. I have also not had a particularly bad experience flying, but then I have not had someone judge me a potential terrorist threat because of the colour of my skin or my religion, I have not been yelled at by strangers for having the temerity to travel with children, I have not been kicked off the plane or dehumanised for being too damn fat, I have not had someone question and judge me for needing an item to help my disability (and/or attempt to deny me this item), I have not had people talk past me because clearly being in a wheelchair means I am not capable of talking or understanding myself, and I have never (thus far) been through a full body scanner.

    So my experience is not going to apply to everyone, and it would be cruel for me to act like the only way someone could have a bad experience is if they were doing something wrong, themselves.

  35. What is a terrorist supposed to do: ” We are taking over this plane or else I will put serious makeup on you.”?

    HAHAHAHAHA.

    What are the cross-country buses like? Can people recommend them?

    I have gone L.A. or Orange County to Phoenix and back on Greyhound (which would be the first or last leg of a cross-country bus trip) a couple of times. If it’s anything like it was 8 years ago, it is sheer fucking hell. All the yelling and screaming and right-wing blather and slapping of kids and puking that there’s no escape from, not to mention that they’d never dream of letting a fat person who needs part of an adjoining seat actually have one for xyrself, or arranging the seating so that a skinny person sits next to xyr. Nooooo, they have to vacuum pack two fat chicks together in the same two-seater, so that neither one of us can move a muscle for seven hours. And yeah, most bus stations are pretty dicey places for a woman alone (oddly enough, the PDX one is an exception, but the Seattle one isn’t).

    Bring on the damn jetpacks. I’m ready.

  36. I mean, yeah, it’s a hassle, but a lot of the hassles don’t change- i.e., you’ll always have to remove your shoes, and you’ll always have to bag up your liquids in small containers, and you’ll always have to keep your ID out until you make it through security

    Well, no, this just isn’t true.

    For starters, as already pointed out, a lot of those regs are fairly new. Many people don’t fly all that frequently and won’t have encountered them previously.

    For another, even RIGHT NOW the implementations of those rules are NOT standard.

    At least one airport I flew through recently had signs up saying “Don’t take your shoes off unless we ask you to.” Probably because they’d gotten fed up with how much it was slowing down the lines to have everyone de-shoe and re-shoe. So it was changed to be a rule that you should be prepared to remove your shoes if asked, but don’t bother in general.

    I’ve been through airports where I had to display my ID and boarding pass to a ton of different people at a ton of different steps. I’ve also just flown through an airport where the first person who checked my ID also said “Thank you, you can put that away, you will not need it again after this point.” And meant it.

    I remember back when security required you to turn on and demonstrate the use of every electronic item you were carrying.

    I’ve been through airports where every single item in my carryon and purse was hand-inspected. I’ve never been swabbed for explosive residue but I’m not surprised it happens somewhere.

    I do most of my flying just within the US, and I have NO IDEA what to expect at any given airport. Travel internationally and it gets even crazier.

    so I don’t understand why people don’t plan for those things by wearing slip-ons, putting their kids in slip-ons, keeping their ID in their pocket, and collecting all your liquids together before you leave the house. I’m not trying to be obnoxious, I just don’t see how it could be classified as a surprise or an unanticipated inconvenience

    I don’t own slip-on shoes. Nor do most of my pants or skirts contain pockets (to my great annoyance).

  37. Not trying to thread derail here…but OMG….I just noticed the changed in the header sans massive amounts of donuts~! Is that Andulus font?? Simple…Red…and I like it. Change is good, change is good….

  38. Actually, you don’t even really have the option to simply refrain from buying from airlines, since many airports were publicly built and several airlines were bailed out by taxpayers following 9/11. This means that you are already paying to fly whether you actually do so or not.

  39. I fly from Western Canada to the midWest US (via Minneapolis St Paul) 4-5 times a year for work, and this year we also flew to the US for a vacation. Canada to US? AWFUL since December ’09. US to Canada? Easy peasy. We get on at a mid-sized airport, and going through security, while a nuisance, is so much easier for a US d0mestic flight.

    And I think the other airlines are just waiting to see how Spirit does with their charge for CARRYONS. Then they will hit us too.

    *I opted for the pat-down instead of the body scanner – they still bother me*

  40. I remember back when security required you to turn on and demonstrate the use of every electronic item you were carrying.

    I forgot about that, but yes! When I first started traveling for business in my early twenties, that was the policy, much to my chagrin (though at least all I had was a laptop and sometimes cell phone then). And for a few years (also following the Shoe Bomber, I think), you weren’t allowed to take lighters on board. That’s over now, too. After the last terrorist attempt, the rule about not having anything on your lap during the last hour of an international flight came and went in about 5 minutes. So it’s actually not unreasonable to hope that eventually some of these policies will be dropped. And it’s mostly not unreasonable to think FUCK YOOOOOOU every time you have to deal with them in the meantime.

  41. I haven’t flown in 4 years and those last two flights were for vacation/to see old friends who relocated. From what I recall, the experiences weren’t too terrible, but I imagine it’s gotten a lot worse since the days when I had to fly a lot.

    Seeing all these horror stories makes me glad that the majority of my business and pleasure travel in recent years has all been by train. SlamTrak is pretty damn shoddy considering other places I’d seen (National Rail in England was far better in my opinion) but for going a few states away, I’d take it over a plane any day. Seriously, for the continually shitty service and product that doesn’t even reflect in the cost? SlamTrak baby. More room to move around and less hassle for me to deal with. Lot less crowded too. The staff was also far more courteous to me than any airline staff ever was.

    But the security overloads in response to the brainwashed “war on terror” mania are just bullshit. Just a waste of funds that don’t enhance our safety; they are an annoyance that serve just about no purpose except to make people who were bullied in high school feel better about themselves enforcing stupid rules that they probably don’t agree with themselves.

    And truthfully, don’t knock an MFA as a credential. Lots of people who have no background in business have ended up having successful companies or striking it rich. As an accountant I’ve seen a lot of MBAs screw up bigtime. (Troubled Asset Relief Program, anyone?) And just because they can work tons of equations that bear no meaning on the real world outside of a boardroom, doesn’t mean they actually know how to treat people and expect customers to keep coming back.

    And I don’t like the classist tone of that guy’s article. It doesn’t matter if they’re wearing gold chains and knockoff bags (yeah, because poor atuomatically = trashy?) or wearing freakin Chanel. Kids are going to scream when they’re aggravated. Fact of life. It’s just that people, no matter what kind they are, cramped together like a sardine can is just plain fucking unpleasant. No matter what.

    Remember that South Park episode when Mr. Garrison made up that crazy uniped thing that went up one’s anus to provide an alternate to flying? I think we’re ready for that now.

  42. Oh man, flying. I’ve been flying since I was six months old (in 1989!) and I can’t believe how much it’s changed since I was kid. For one thing, I remember my parents complaining about putting their baggage through the x-ray, and when there was one movie screen per compartment and for some reason intercontinental flights always showed The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

    For the most part I’m okay with the actual flying part: I don’t mind being squished next to someone as long as I can listen to music and stare into space or watch television. But the security measures before the flight are the sole reason I have not gone home to visit my family since I moved to Oregon 10months ago. The shoes are enough of a pain in the ass (they made me take off flip-flops–flip-flops–what am I going to do with flip-flops?) and I will never live down the humiliation of a TSA officer rifling through my collections of lube and condoms in front of my mother looking for the needle-nose pliers I forgot to take out of my carry-on, but the full body scanners? Oh hell no. I do not need to picture some TSA jerks sniggering about my breasts and making lewd comments and leering at me afterward.

    Also I am not buying that they are going to Save! Humanity! with their shoe raids. My family has brought in a wide range of customs violations over the years, I don’t imagine that will change any time soon.

  43. You know, I taught English in Japan, and I pretty much had a 50-50 view of things that were good in relation to the US (Japan was inefficient in some ways, the US in others, but it was pretty even in my perception). I will say that Japan had mindblowingly awesome flying experiences. One I rolled up to my little Hokkaido airport just TWO minutes before my flight and the check-in lady grabbed my bag, raced upstairs, threw it through the xray machine (I’m racing behind her) and got me on an airplane to Tokyo. Two minutes.

    Now I’ve moved to China from New York, and it blows my mind how many things are as bad as the US (we were talking food safety standards here the other day and its pretty much equally shoddy and shameful in both the US and China) which is embarassing enough, but how many things are literally better. In China. An “oppressive, totalitarian” country. One such area is domestic flights, where you don’t pay for things like food or checked luggage. The security is much more reasonable (again, seriously, how does China have a friendly and reasonable security procedure and the US doesn’t!?) the airports are cleaner and better run than a lot of our airports. How is it that an economy flight from Beijing to Shenzhen is better in terms of services (you get a whole FREE meal), comfort, and customer service than any US economy flight? We talk about every other country in the developed (and even developing) world beating us in healthcare, but they are beating us in EVERYTHING.

    Its really astonishing and we had only planned to move here for 2 years, but now that we have readily available and accessible childcare, healthcare, housing, JOBS, good educations…. how do we go back?

  44. If one airline, just one, would say, “Hey, we charge twice as much for a ticket, but we promise that we’ll have adequate seats and adequate staff and adequate training,” the whole system would have to change.

    My privileged ass would totally pay more for this. Right now I mostly don’t fly, and I for sure don’t fly with my kids. Partially it’s my irrational fear of being blown up (I KNOW, you guys, I swear I REALLY DO! I’m far more likely to die in a car wreck or twenty stomptillion other ways… but I’m OCD and my mental movie theatre doesn’t play the car wreck movie on an infinite loop, it plays the blown-up airplane movie on an infinite loop, so take it up with the evil little person in the projector room. Ahem.) Mostly, though, it’s because of how much flying sucks for me, for my kids, and for everyone around my kids. Driving for three days each way – as we recently did instead of flying – *also* sucks, but it leaves us with options if things really start to go badly.

  45. DH has a ship’s reunion to go to in September and no way are we flying there. We’re both large enough that we would have to buy 3 seats, and since there’s no guarantee those seats will be together, fuck that. Minnesota to Virginia is a long drive, but I can program the TomTom to get us there and my minivan is damned comfortable, not to mention that we can stop and get out whenever we want and we can carry whatever we want to eat and drink (and DH won’t have to worry about whether the airports have a body scanner that will detect all the metal he has in his body).
    I haven’t flown since 1998, and DH hasn’t flown since he retired from the Navy in 1994, and flying back then was easy as pie compared to what it is now. There isn’t anywhere in North America that I want to go in such a hurry that I have to fly to get there, thank whatever gods there be.

  46. Screw it, I’d rather take 3 days to drive, get a flat outside of a major city and need to be towed, stay in two fleabag motels, and listen to my cat complain loudly every five minutes. At least when you drive you can get out to walk, pack as much shit as your car will hold, and nobody pats you down before you get going.

    I feel worst for the business fliers who are on a trip to do something that could easily be handled by teleconferencing, and you know, modern technology. My father had to fly everywhere for a while because his company just refused to invest in their own IT infrastructure. I’m sure if he was still working for them today, he’d have probably told them where to stick the pension plan, since he’d be flying while fat on top of it all. Flying internationally ten times a month just to attend meetings is wasteful, and downright cruel!

  47. I know I might be a little late to the game with this, but can I please tell my story?

    Last time I went down to visit my grandparents on a Dutch island in the Caribbean, my luggage didn’t make it down with me. I knew this was going to happen, because I had a 20 minute connection in JFK. But it took the bags 3 days to find me. Whatever. I had intense carry on and planned ahead.

    But on the way home, I was supposed to leave at 7 am. We couldn’t leave, because there was a problem with propeller. Not the American Airlines’ fault, I guess, but we didn’t leave until 5 pm. After arriving in San Juan, I was told I was booked on a flight leaving for New York at 9 pm. Cool. Just enough time for supper. Except just kidding! The flight was delayed until 11. Then 12:30. Then 2. And then it was canceled altogether.

    Why?

    Because the plane just didn’t show up to pick us up. So by the time I got to see a ticket agent, they booked me on a flight leaving San Juan at 11 the next day, which left an hour late, but it still left.

    And then, guess what! My flight from JFK to Halifax was delayed. When I finally got into Halifax, I was over 24 hours late.

    Yeah, flying isn’t really everything you’d hope for.

  48. I stopped flying once the carry-on liquid, etc. restrictions came into place. I travel with a wide array of homeopathic medicines (we have no emergency homeopathic hospitals or pharmacies in Canada), and I don’t believe they’ll let me through with them anymore; even before all this security nonsense, they used to get confused over my requests to hand-inspect them (xrays can damage them). I’m seriously chronically ill and not willing to risk my life by being 1000 miles from my medicines.

    The bigger issue here is how do we stop all this? We’re all sharp enough to grasp that this has nothing to do with ‘security’ or ‘terrorism’, but power. Everyday, travelers are being verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually assaulted by these ‘security personnel’, and most of it is perfectly legal. How do we fight these regulations? The airlines themselves have little say over most security theatre antics, as they are set by government agencies nationally or transnationally, so airline boycotts aren’t going to do the trick. So, now do we fight these asinine transport authorities ? What is their Achilles’ heel?

  49. Years ago I flew Christmas Day from VA to Denver and when I went through security with an unwrapped, but still sealed Simpsons Monopoly game I remember the security dude saying, “I’m sorry, but we’re gonna have to open this game.” he smiled and then added, “and we’re gonna have to play it as well.”

  50. Because I have privileges up the wazoo, I am lucky in that flying is not usually a bad experience for me. Not great, for the reasons listed above, but definitely not as bad as it could be. When the full body scans become more common, driving is going to be my main option. (I hate the train and bus.) Or if its close enough I’ll rent an aircraft and fly myself. :) (Student pilot here.)

    I hate how they deal with security in the U.S. Biggest joke over. One time I’m pulled out of line and have my bag rummaged through and they discover I had a roll of quarters (for laundry) I had forgotten to take out. That night I get home, unpack, and find my knife (which I also forgot to take out before I left school). Well, thank all that is holy, they got my quarters before I could do damage. Cause if I have a choice, I’m picking coins for sure. The knife? I was going to use that as a toothpick.

    The only thing I will say in defense of the airport system is it is not always the airlines fault when you’re stuck on the tarmac. Pilots are still performing their pre-flight checklist when passengers are being boarded and if there is even one tiny thing off they are not supposed to take off. Not to say every time its that reason (I think the majority is the airport fucked up and overbooked), but that sometimes it really is a safety issue.

  51. I used to fly 4-8 times a year, but in the last 2 years, have only taken two 2-hr flights with a 9 month old, and it went surprisingly well. I was really nervous about it but I made sure to book flights when neither of us would be sleepy (late morning, late afternoon), and when air traffic tends to be less frenetic. I lucked out with a happy, laughing child who made our seatmates cheer (literally). The flights were both almost one or two seats shy of full, but so many people passed me by once they saw I had a baby, that on one flight I ended up on the aisle end of the only empty (middle) seat.

    But now that the kid is a temperamental toddler, I’m avoiding flying. We are taking a train trip to California next month, and I am looking forward to exploring more of my own state, other west coast destinations, and the mountain states – anyplace we can get to reasonably within a day and a half by car or train.

    I’m fortunate to live within 20 minutes of all but one member of my family, so I don’t NEED to go anywhere. I feel bad for those who have to travel either for work or family obligations. I’m not sure what direction the airlines will go – but I suspect a few of them will start offering more expensive seats/flights for better service/comfort. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I think a lot of the furor (and media) over the indignities of flying will die down if the airlines can figure out a way to give the middle classes more comfort.

  52. What are the cross-country buses like? Can people recommend them?

    They are improving enormously in the last couple of years. New buses are pretty much the paradise of travel. Big, comfortable seats, lots of legroom, wi-fi and electric outlets. (Well, maybe that’s on the trains now, so you can get that and the club car?) Greyhound has these on a number of routes in the northeast, other companies are running posh buses elsewhere. And buses also stop at clusters of fast-food joints at normal meal times, and you get a chance to walk around and stretch.

    Yes, being at bus stations sucks, but unlike air travel, you don’t have to get there early. If you have to change buses during the trip, perhaps you’ll wait a while, but this darn ‘get here at least two hours early to go through security and then make this terminal your home because we’re leaving an hour late and the pre-travel harassment only really took half an hour’ business isn’t done. And it doesn’t take them forty minutes to unload your baggage from under the darn bus. When you arrive you leave the station in five minutes. Also, the bus station is probably downtown, but the airport is probably forty minutes away from the part of wherever that you actually want to get to.

    Thus, even on the older, no-outlet-no-wifi-less-legroom buses, if the length of the journey in hours is less than or equal to air-travel time plus five, you save time (and aches, because they’re still roomier than airplanes) and a chunk of cash. And if it’s longer than that, it still might well worth it to be able to bring your water-bottle, have some leg-room, be able to use your ‘phone, not get anally probed, etc.

  53. Kate said So it’s actually not unreasonable to hope that eventually some of these policies will be dropped.

    We can finally take knitting needles! and crochet hooks! on domestic Australian flights again.

  54. Now if the airlines who still actually serve food like products could keep them from backing you up or giving you colon blow our vision of pleasant air travel would be fully realized.

  55. “New buses are pretty much the paradise of travel. Big, comfortable seats, lots of legroom, wi-fi and electric outlets.”

    This must be a US thing. Yes, in Canada the new coach buses have wi-fi, but they also have much smaller, painfully cramped airplane-style seating. And have refused to let me claim a second seat that I paid for, the one time I tried it. As someone who doesn’t drive, I’m on the verge of being shut out completely from travel outside of my city, and don’t know how I’d explain to my adviser that I can’t present papers at out-of-town conferences anymore.

    “Yes, being at bus stations sucks, but unlike air travel, you don’t have to get there early.”

    Greyhound has just cut back my (major) route to one bus every 24 hours (conveniently leaving at 1am, for my 30-hour trip), down from the previous three. So, you do need to get there early, because if you miss it, you’re screwed. On top of this, at least one of the major terminals now has mandatory security screening even for domestic trips.

    So, in my own experience, while I still take the bus because I can’t fly, it’s getting progressively much worse, at least up here.

  56. I am flabbergasted, honestly. I’ve never minded flying, and while I normally fly internationally (England, Germany, Scandinavia), I’ve done some domestic travel as well, and I haven’t had an issue with either.

    I never thought I had any more patience than any other person, but I don’t have a problem with any of the issues that you just mentioned. I show up 3-4 hours early so I don’t have to rush, I pack as little as I absolutely need, I usually don’t carry liquids, and I check out any new travel restrictions before I leave. I figure it’s just courteous. I order the vegan in-flight meal (it’s usually far more edible), and then I just pop in my earplugs and put on my eye mask and zone out for the remainder of the flight. I mean, sure, there are long waits, and some of the security precautions seem silly sometimes, but I fly out of Detroit, so I’m grateful for the extra wait, if it means the job is getting done correctly. I’ve always found flying to be reasonably enjoyable.

    Also, I’m a pretty big girl, but I can fit in between the armrests and buckle my belt, and no one has ever given me a second look.

  57. Flying should not be a privilege. Americans have a Constitutional right to freedom of assembly, and if you want to assemble with people on the other side of the country, flying’s one of the few efficient ways to do so.

  58. Even before the arrival of ridiculous security theater America was the most unpleasant place in the world to fly to/from/through. Even Heathrow, which is pretty unpleasant, didn’t prepare me for my first arrival in the US and the concept that airport security might regard a family travelling with an 8 year old girl as Highly Suspicious. Nowadays my combination of coloring that can be read as Arab and stamps in my passport from all sort of Places Where Terrorists Live seems to immediately flag me as a dangerous person. Not that flying is any fun for people deemed all-American and not dangerous either. Flying here sucks. I miss the Middle East and Asia. Even flying into Saudi Arabia was never this much of a pain in the ass, and they used to confiscate my Barbies sometimes when I was a kid.

    The moment the US has a better train system I’m never getting on a plane again. I won’t even fly down to LA from SF any more – when you take the time added by security theater into account it’s quicker to take the train, or hell, even drive. At least if you drive you won’t have to pay $5 for a small bottle of water.

  59. To the majority of this post I can only say WORD, but I was surprised by the paragraph you quoted in the beginning. Yeah, flying is a fucking awful experience, but I’ve always been struck by how well people generally hold it together under the circumstances. I’ve flown maybe a dozen times in my life, and every time, in the midst of exhaustion and the cramped pain of being a six-foot lady in a tiny seat, I’ll think how nice it is that everyone manages to make it through these ridiculous gymnastics and still act civilized. I’ve never had a flight with a crying baby, I’ve never seen a couple have a loud argument, I’ve never seen a person harass a stewardess. What I have seen is a lot of friendly conversations between seatmates, and general good behavior from a really broad cross-section of humanity crammed together and forced to deal. It’s always been something that’s made me a little happy to fly, to see that we can all get along when we really have to.

    Then again, I only ever fly between New England and the Pacific Northwest, so maybe I’m just flying with a lot of hippies. (Also, is it obnoxious to sleep in airports? When I have to leave the house at 4:30 AM, I kind of can’t help myself.)

  60. Vidya, what a bummer that is.

    The bus I usually take is a commuter-service to the neighboring city very much marketed to white-collars with laptops who want an extra hour to work while during the commute. I’ve seen the new posh hounds and they are pretty much the same inside, very spacious, just with a bathroom and without the wheelchair-securing spot. We still have the old crappy hounds around here, comparatively cramped. Maybe they’ve put wireless on them, dunno. But they’ve still got more legroom than planes, and no security check at the bus station. Hell, you can sneak a six-pack on and the drivers will pretend not to notice you drinking it.

  61. “Traveling by train in the passenger car is tedious, especially if its longer than a few hours.”

    And especially if it’s more than a day!

    Personally, I try to get to the airport 2 hours before my flight leaves if it’s domestic and 3 hours before my flight leaves if it’s international, just to beat the crowds and have some margin in case I get profiled for being swarthy. Once I went between Boston and Philadelphia by train round trip and I figure I saved myself around 1.5 hours of needing to be there ahead of time and 1 more hour because I didn’t need to hike between the city and the airport at either end of going either way. :)

    “Don’t even get me started on complex airport layouts, such as Boston. You can’t get in or out of that place with sanity.”

    Me, I just count on the Silver Line dropping me off at my terminal since it doesn’t have just one airport stop.

    “wi-fi and electric outlets. (Well, maybe that’s on the trains now, so you can get that and the club car?)”

    Last time I took Amtrak it had two electric outlets per row of seats (one on each side under the window). I didn’t notice the wifi because my computer at the time didn’t have wifi anyway.

    “(Also, is it obnoxious to sleep in airports? When I have to leave the house at 4:30 AM, I kind of can’t help myself.)”

    Obnoxious, no! Worrying, yeah (fellow passengers like me might worry that you’ll miss an announcement relevant to your plans and then have your trip all ruined). Kinda like on subways and buses. A few times I’ve noticed that the passenger next to me was asleep and woke him or her up and said “I don’t want you to miss your stop, [name of stop] is next” like I’d want someone to do for me if I fell asleep in transit.

  62. I’m a tiny, 5’4″ white female. I know I’m really fortunate when it comes to things like security and flying. And I’m STILL scared shitless of the security in the airport.

  63. The whole security overhaul happened when I was in college, which was 1999-2003. I had to fly back and forth between Wisconsin and Connecticut several times a year, so I got to experience all the stages.

    I was at college during 9/11. I didn’t learn to drive before I went to college, so I didn’t have a government-issued ID, which, after 9/11, was required in order to fly. My mom had to mail me my birth certificate just so I could get home from school.

    I flew Midwest all my life because it’s based in Milwaukee, where I live. Our whole family used to love flying Midwest because their flights were “all business class” with roomy leather seats, they served gourmet meals with real silverware and china, and they handed out warm chocolate chip cookies on every flight. It was pretty cushy even back then. Now? That kind of service is impossible to find anywhere.

    First they replaced the real knives with plastic knives, because I guess a plastic butter knife was less of a threat than a real butter knife? (Like a fork wouldn’t be more dangerous than a butter knife as far as doing harm went. Come on.) Then all the silverware and china became plastic. Then the meals stopped altogether. Then the seats got smaller and they divided the plane into “Signature” and “Saver” seats. I THINK they still have the cookies, but I usually sleep through the cookie handout these days so I can’t be sure.

    The ONLY improvement to flying that has happened over the past few years is the electronic check-in. No more forgetting tickets at home and panicking once you get to the airport. You just swipe your credit card (or punch in your confirmation number) and you’re set. Ah, how nice to have technology used to make the experience more convenient instead of less.

    I dreaded flying for the first time after 9/11, not because I was afraid of terrorist attacks, but because I knew how much more unpleasant the experience would be. I had no idea it would just get worse and worse in small increments until it became the clusterfuck we have today.

  64. There is hope! Today’s (errr…by now it’s yesterday’s) New York Times reported on some potential high-speed rail in California. (Technology, labour, and materials to be supplied by another country (China), of course. Why would we think of that and do it ourselves? EYEROLL.)

  65. Grafton, thanks for the heads-up on the newer buses. I do think a lot of the problem with the cross-country trips has to do with the sheer amount of time people are cooped up in these things if they’re going more than, say, 250 miles, with no chance to lie down or take a real shower unless you work in time for an overnight hotel snooze before getting on again, which many cross-country bus riders can’t afford to do. That will make people every bit as cranky as being dusted for bomb particles and arguing over shampoo.

    LA/Phoenix is 400 miles, getting on in Santa Ana theoretically shaves an hour off the trip, but even so, it sometimes seemed like it took at least an hour just to get from there onto I-10 and start heading east. (Sometimes I’d get someone to drive me from Orange to San Berdoo to shave off yet another hour. Never seemed like enough.) We’re talking probably a week if people are going from, say, LA to NYC on a bus. Sitting upright the whole time. Often with small children in tow. Cushier buses will help, but only a little. They’re not making them any faster, unfortunately.

  66. No-one has mentioned body-scanners – is that only from Europe to the US? I am not happy about body scanners.

    Oh – flying with children – I have found a string bag invaluable. Take everything off (except my shoes, because I can’t walk without my special boots) before entering the security queue, bung it in a string bag ready to shove in a bin, whip it off at the other end and everyone walk ensocked to chairs to get dressed again.

  67. @occhiblu – Flying should not be a privilege. Americans have a Constitutional right to freedom of assembly, and if you want to assemble with people on the other side of the country, flying’s one of the few efficient ways to do so.

    I’m pretty liberal, but that’s kind of stretching it even for me.

    @Adara – I’m going to guess cost?

    And I’m actually okay with our country orienting towards other modes of transportation and less need/pressure to fly – the amount of garbage generated and energy consumed during flights and in airports is astonishing to me. A few years ago I flew 3,000 miles to Boston on a red-eye, arrived at 8am, attended 30 minutes of a board meeting to give a status report, and then turned around and caught a noon flight home. I’m pretty sure that’s the single most wasteful act I’ve ever committed in my life.

  68. Actually, there are security checks at some Greyhound boarding terminals now. Every time I board the Greyhound in Vancouver (Canada), everything comes out of my pockets, I get wanded, and all my carry-ons get inspected. The last time, the security lady didn’t understand what my guitar capo was or how it worked, and almost took it from me. I don’t know if this is so much b/c of terrorism, or b/c of the Olympics, or b/c of that one crazy dude who started beheading people on the prairies.

  69. First, big Yes to everything you said about flying in the US. It really is so much easier here in Europe (except maybe the UK, but I haven’t been in quite a while).

    One thing stood out to me about the quote (aside from the general privileged, classist, ageist, racist (or was I the only one who saw that in the comment about gold-chains?It is such a cliched stereotype here) doushbagginess).

    The “bomb of humanity”. I mean, seriousely? Humanity is now a bad thing? Like C4? Or … even if it is supposed to be purely metaphorical, in the way that we say a room looks like a bomb went off- I still don’t get it. In my books, an explosion of humanity sounds like a good thing. You know, everybody suddenly giving each other a respectful, humane treatment?

    (Or maybe I am misunderstanding something because of the English-is-my-second-language-thing. In that case, please feel free to ignore me.)

  70. Well, you’ve nicely encapsulated the reasons I haven’t flown to North America since 2003. Even London Heathrow, which is the first place I got “swabbed” for bomb stuff with no explanation from the bitch (sorry, that’s the only word for her attitude) who did it, doesn’t make you go through that rigmarole with all the checks. Check-in, customs, boarding. That’s it.

    I think airlines should stop charging for 2 bags of checked luggage, and charge for cabin luggage that’s above the size that will comfortably fit UNDER the seat. If it’s “large” or the second piece, too bad, pay up. I’m sick of the wankers who get huge cases in the cabins, even in Australia, where luggage mostly isn’t charged. I mean, my shoulder bag can fit 2 books, or a book + my eeePC, PDA, Mp3 player, small toiletries. It does me fine, even on a 26-hour flight to the UK. There is no need to have your entire life in the cabin.

    Getting back to the horror that is travelling to the US, you know they’re charging us furriners an additional tax (sorry, visa waiver fee) to come in, to make up for the 20% (or whatever, it’s around there) drop in tourist revenue in recent years? Nice logic. Also, you have to “pre-register” three days in advance of your travel so as to get the visa-on-entry option. Why bother? Especially when they fingerprint you like a fucking crim, which is why I haven’t visited in nearly a decade. It’s a shame – I like SF, NY and Chicago, and totally want to visit Seattle.

    So, yeah, not much experience with flying domestically in the US lately. The whole thing is a nightmare, and I’m quite certain achieves fuck-all. Sure, there should be a basic level of precaution, and some decent intelligence on risky groups- but failing to act on the intelligence they already had allowed 9/11 to happen (at least in the way it did). I don’t think any of the security measures that are currently in place would prevent it if it happened now (with the possible exception of reinforcing the cockpit doors, which is just commonsense).

  71. If one airline, just one, would say, “Hey, we charge twice as much for a ticket, but we promise that we’ll have adequate seats and adequate staff and adequate training,” the whole system would have to change.

    *waves at notemily* Yes, I was going to say that that airline WAS Midwest Express once upon a time. I remember the days when you got one free glass of wine or champagne with every meal, even breakfast. There was no first or second class, just all wide leather seats. The leather, the wide, all seats the same size, the super-friendly service, and everything else are long gone except the cookies. They were bought out last year, and I’m guessing that sometime in the next year or two they’ll change the name.

    I still don’t understand why they changed their business model because I still think it would work again.

  72. I am privileged in that all of the family that I would ever want to see or keep in touch with is in England so pretty much the only flight I take is Boston – Heathrow with occasionally connections to other parts of Europe if I’m visiting my parents. I really only ever fly British Airways and luckily have the means to do it. I pretty much consider them the best of all possible airplane worlds, especially for long-haul international flights (especially since I figured out that I could request that my vegetarian meal be Indian food. Awesome!) The flight crew are pleasant, Heathrow is a marvel of modern convenience mostly because it has a Pret a Manger, and I know my way around Logan well enough that I can beat almost everyone to customs on re-entry. (If you have ever seen a very small busty redhead RUNNING HER ASS OFF to get to customs in Logan… that was probably me. Hi!)

    And you know what? Flying. Still. Sucks. Security sucks, these stupid liquid/shoes/blah rules suck, the fact that they seem to arbitrarily determine how much shit you can take with you sucks. Also I, like A Sarah, am completely convinced that every airplane I fly in is about to explode.

  73. Joanne: *I opted for the pat-down instead of the body scanner – they still bother me*</blockquote

    I recently discovered that if you get selected to go through the body scanner in the UK (adult or child, ill or not – no matter) you have no choice of a pat down instead. It's scanner or don't fly. Which is now my biggest reason (well, the biggest reason after not being able to afford it anyway at the moment) for not wanting to fly at all because I really don't want my entire body exposed to unneccessary xrays, nor do I want a repeat of the episode at Heathrow (a worker got sacked after making inappropriate comments when a colleage passed through the scanner by accident… yet *apparently* we're supposed to believe there are systems in place to prevent the person looking at the screen to know who has gone through the scanner!?!?) or to even be worried about somebody in a room where I can't see them looking at a picture of me basically naked.

    Thing is I really want to travel more when/if I get more money — I've always wanted to. But now it looks like I need to investigate whether steamships still operate long voyages to the US…

  74. It’s funny, but I think I’m one of the few people who has bigger issues driving than flying. Not for comfort reasons (flying is terrible for all the reasons described), but long highway trips just feel unsafe to me, what with all the trucks on the highway, and the douchebags changing lanes willy nilly, and etc. etc. I can turn my car crash imagination off. So I do what I can to avoid it. I would LOVE a train system that is a really viable alternative to long highway trips.

    As to flying, I’ve learned to shut most of it out, but the thing that fills me with rage is the $25 bag fee. It is a policy absolutely calculated to make the baggage situation as miserable as possible. Because while I am perfectly willing to take the (very small, IME) risk that my bag will be lost and while I’m perfectly willing to wait 20 minutes to pick up my bag after I get off the flight, I’m not willing to pay the airlines for the privilege of doing so. And neither is anyone else, which means everyone on the flight is trying to cram their bag into the overhead bins, leading to a desperate struggle for bin space and it taking twice as long to board the plane. Leading to the airline “gate checking” for free the bags of people who get on the plane later, making a mockery of their stupid “pay to check a bag” policy to begin with. It’s infuriating.

    The stupid money making scheme I am okay with is that they now charge for food, because actually, sometimes I will pay $8 for a decent salad and that is better than the creepy inedible stuff they used to hand out to everyone.

  75. It’s just struck me… Isn’t someone flying without a bag (now being made more likely if charging for onboard baggage takes off, pardon the rubbish pun!) meant to be one of the indicators of ‘suspicious behaviour’? So, like, isn’t this going to make the security staff have more to do, and mean that more of us get pulled to one side? I started concocting plans for a coat with many many pockets as a possible way to fly more cheaply before I realised this…

  76. I haven’t flown in years. Shame, that, as there are many US places I’d love to go and see. But I have the same fear as A Sarah (waves, hi!). I used to fly all over the US and Caribbean (I guarantee I’ve been to that Ducth island mentioned above, even if it is the obscure one) by myself, but that was wayyyyyy before security theatre. Now, we drive everywhere. And we have the dogs, so we usually vacation with them which makes driving the only option. A patient recently told us that he takes the TRAIN from NY to CA. I’m gonna do that. Just once. But it sounds kinda awesome and I have the romantic notion of really seeing America. It takes 4 days, so that turns into a loooooooong trip, but I’d still rather do that than fly.

  77. Oh, man, I forgot about how fantastic Midwest Express used to be. I grew up in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago, so the Milwaukee airport wasn’t that far away, and as soon as the family got hip to Midwest Express, it was all we wanted to fly — that’s the one airline I ever really was loyal to. As I recall, it was usually the same price, or VERY close to the same price as coach seats on other airlines, so as long as the route you wanted was available, there was no contest. The cookies and champagne were a nice bonus, but the biggest thing by far was the seats (which I believe were recycled first class seats from old planes). If anybody offered that set-up again, I’m thinking they could find themselves a hell of a lot of loyal fat customers, among others.

    According to Wikipedia, ME was profitable for a long time, but like all airlines, took a major hit after 9/11. And their recovery strategy was to add coach and start charging a bundle for what used to be standard, apparently. So, once again, making things shittier and acting like formerly standard stuff is suddenly luxurious was seen as the way to make money. Except for how you alienate all your old customers.

  78. @Trix: “I think airlines should stop charging for 2 bags of checked luggage, and charge for cabin luggage that’s above the size that will comfortably fit UNDER the seat.”
    OMG YES. I’d totally understand exceptions to that hypothetical rule (for those who actually need more luggage), but lately it seems that 90% of the people on the flights I’ve been on have had cabin luggage better suited for cargo. Then they didn’t understand why the overhead bins were full.

    Reading this post and the comments made me kind of re-think my plans to go to the US in the next couple of years. Flying here is annoying (in fact, I just wrote a long rant about it elsewhere) but there are no body scanners, you don’t have to take off your shoes, and in general it seems like the security routine is smoother.

  79. The last flight I took was in December of 2000. I generally enjoyed flying up to that point, and had fond memories of long-ago childhood trips when getting on a plane was something you dressed up for, and you ate with actual silverware (even in coach), and planes usually weren’t full, and the attendants were very nice to you, etc. I am one of those people who wouldn’t have the faintest idea what rules to follow if I had to get on a plane tomorrow, and everything I hear about today’s air travel makes me think I’d rather have a root canal, a pap smear, and a mammogram…all at the same time.

    I’m 49, and odds are good that I will never fly again. There’s nowhere I really want to go that I can’t get to by train or car (well, except maybe England, but I’ll deal with that if I can ever afford to go there again someday). My husband and I are thinking about traveling from Michigan to Connecticut this fall, and we never even considered flying. It might take quite a bit longer to drive there (uh, maybe, considering the delays and cancellations and security issues and what-not that are involved with flying these days), but at least we can pack what we want, stop when we want, and see some sights on the way. And maybe cut through Canada on the way without being treated like potential terrorists…

  80. yes, yes, yes, every single word of this post is EXTREMELY TRUE and it makes me so damned depressed that I don’t know what to do. Because, as you say, there are. no. other. options. We have no choice. And that’s what makes their policies so hideous to me – they know we have no choice, and take ruthless advantage of it.

    I have to fly overseas in the summer, and I am already dreading it – in addition to worrying about getting thrown off the plane for being fat, the whole thing is such a huge hassle overall that, if I had the kind of time and money necessary to do so, I would take a damn ship. I used to love flying; I used to look forward to it. I join you in your giant helpless cry of FUCK YOU, airlines.

  81. I think airlines should stop charging for 2 bags of checked luggage, and charge for cabin luggage that’s above the size that will comfortably fit UNDER the seat.

    I think that’s a better alternative to the way things are now (or Spirit’s ridiculous new policy of charging for checked AND carry-on luggage), but as an old fogey, I feel the need to remind everyone that once upon a time, everyone was allowed to check bags for free and bring on TWO carry-ons for free (we only get one, plus a “personal item” like a smaller purse or briefcase in the U.S. now), and somehow, there was room for all of it and I don’t recall any of this gate-check business that’s now SOP. (Of course, by “for free,” I mean ticket prices were higher, but again, I am not a fan of “unbundling.”)

    And the reasons for the change all seem to come back to shitty airline policies/service. For starters, there’s the fact that baggage claim takes forever, which encouraged people to try to get away with a carry-on even before the charges. Then came the wheely bags (yes, those are relatively new, too — at least the design with the handle that pops up), and I’m not SURE about this, but I do believe the “carry-on size” of those is quite a bit bigger than what used to be carry-on size. (It’s possible that the regulation was always the same, but people just used to more commonly travel with tote bags and daypacks, so it was all smaller. So maybe that’s nobody’s fault, technically, but I would sure not object to a new rule saying that only smaller carry-ons are allowed.) Then there’s overbooking — when I was a kid and through my early 20s, a lot of flights I took weren’t anywhere near full. (Which I’ll grant is not an ideal situation for a business, but it was sure a lot more pleasant for customers.) So there was plenty of space for people’s carry-ons. Also, I am flying on a LOT more smaller planes than I used to, on the same routes — which I’m sure is about trying to keep a large number of flights going with fewer seats sold, but it means the flights are starting out both fuller and with less storage space. And finally, you have the charges for checked baggage which, as I said, made everybody and their brother start trying to bring the biggest possible wheely bag on board. Which gave birth to gate-checking, a whole new irritating step in the process which, as Lilah Morgan said, makes a mockery out of the charges anyway.

    So they created the problem, but customers are expected to absorb extra charges and inconvenience because of the problem they created. Which is pretty much the story of air travel in a nutshell.

  82. I just recently had to fly for work (domestic, thank whatever deity). Before that I hadn’t flown for several years. It wasn’t nearly as bad I expected. I think it worked out well because I started and ended at very small airports, with layovers in bigger ones. Also, my expectations were pretty low because for some strange reason I decided to visit Egypt just a year after 9/11 and the security was extra super-duper strong then, and also the Cairo airport was packed so full that people were spilling out the door and I wondered if every single person in the entire country was trying to leave for some reason. I’ve had plenty of bad experiences and plenty of very long flights, so I guess that helped when I only had to fly across the U.S.

    Anyway, the point I meant to make is that the flying experience is so terrible even besides the security theater, and how can any airline wonder why people don’t want to fly as much as they used to?

  83. Also, my expectations were pretty low because for some strange reason I decided to visit Egypt just a year after 9/11 and the security was extra super-duper strong then, and also the Cairo airport was packed so full that people were spilling out the door and I wondered if every single person in the entire country was trying to leave for some reason.

    I have to say, there’s nothing like spending some time in the Middle East for making you willing to tolerate U.S. security. I mean, it’s not like it makes U.S. security any better – it still, clearly, sucks. It’s more that your brain overloads with the sheer bizareness of the procedures/scene/etc., and you reach some kind of state where you no longer process each new indignity.

    Oh, except clearly I’m still willing to complain about U.S. security too. Another pet peeve: I find it really annoying that people flying first class get to go through a faster security line. I understand the lines are controlled by the airport, not the TSA, but what it comes down to is people paying for faster government service, which is just wrong.

  84. Oh, except clearly I’m still willing to complain about U.S. security too. Another pet peeve: I find it really annoying that people flying first class get to go through a faster security line. I understand the lines are controlled by the airport, not the TSA, but what it comes down to is people paying for faster government service, which is just wrong.

    They also let PWD, unaccompanied minors, and folks with small kids board early too.

    Also< I've flown all over the world and did not find the security of say any foreign carrier to be more annoying than the US, if anything the system was far more organized and efficient than anything we've ever had here, and that was largely 20 years ago!

    And this was at the height of the airplane bombings and all that. In fact on two separate occasions I missed being involved in history by mere HOURS, random acts of fate.

    Rome/Vienna Christmas holiday 85 we were just getting in to Frankfurt upon hearing they went and shot up the place.

    Lockerbie/Heathrow . same thing. Xmas holiday three years later. Trying to get to either the states or back to Germany. By FATE my dad got offered a “hop” which is basically a military plane with some lawn chairs bolted to the floor. We were hoping to get on that Pam Am Flight, which we’d taken to the states on numerous occasions!

    So I guess I feel kind of like numb to whatever is going on with the airports at this point.

  85. Just don’t make me pay $3 for water after making me sit for three hours on the tarmac. My dear and fluffy Lord, do I hate Spirit…..

    There is something about charging people in a small, hot, enclosing space which legally they cannot leave for WATER that is just…creepy, and awful–cost bundling or no cost bundling.

    On security theater—my real last name is much less Jewishy than “Chava,” and sounds Latina enough to uninformed Dudes to get me pulled over in security lines coming back through Miami (since the husband and I don’t have the same last name). Finally they just had to accept the US Passport I repeatedly shoved in their racist faces, but that was an experience I certainly found…educational.

  86. Oh yes, I can remember the salad days of half-full planes – those were the days when you could rock Chicago to New York City for $150 roundtrip.

    I think I’m simply inured to the pain in the ass that flying has become at this point. If I’m able to get through the epic shittastic process and arrive/depart semi-on time without wanting to cry, I consider it a personal victory. And that’s just pathetic.

  87. I would much rather take a plane than take a bus anywhere, but that’s personal preference based on how I like to limit the amount of time I spend sitting around in cramped quarters next to people I don’t know. Bus ride from my city to Montreal? Around 18-20 hours, I think. Plane ride? 2 hours. I want my travel time to be as SHORT AS POSSIBLE. (I’m gonna be the first one in line when crazy-dangerous experimental teleportation technology is brought to market. What? Possible side effects include nosebleeds and organ re-arrangement? …eh, I’ll take my chances!) And the folk at my local airport are polite and courteous liek wut. Air Canada has been good to me.

    But yeah, I’m young. I only started taking trips via plane around 2004-2005, when I started making enough money to afford it. All the wack-ass security theater crap seems NORMAL to me. Thank you for pointing out that long-time travellers didn’t have to deal with the stuff, Kate. It puts it in perspective.

    I still love flying. It’s like AN ADVENTURE, with all the bad food and bathrooms and discomfort that AN ADVENTURE implies. But hey, it seems that fluffy-haired chubby able-bodied white girls don’t get a lot of shit going through security. Priiiiivilege, yes. I’m just a few steps and a bad day away from having a craptacular time. And despite my obnoxious Pollyanna-like tendancies, OF COURSE it would be REALLY AWESOME if airlines STOPPED SUCKING FOR EVERYONE.

  88. I really like taking the hound. It’s fun. I always time it so I can stop and hang out with friends in NYC and then I sort of admire how instantly the bus goes from all white to an even mixture to “Soul Bus” from NYC to Baltimore. Then back to mixture, then back to mostly white when we arrive in Col. Williamsburg. I like how the bus drivers make people shut up.

    Though one time I rode the bus and the door of the bathroom didn’t latch right and we hit a patch of bump road and the damn thing flew up and folks got to see my squatting on the crapper.

    It was a looooong walk back to my seat.

  89. They also let PWD, unaccompanied minors, and folks with small kids board early too.

    I’m actually wasn’t talking about early boarding, but the special lines at security which I’ve never seen PWD, unaccompanied minors, and folks with small kids waived into (in fact, these days, families and PWD usually seem directed into the slower lines so they won’t “slow up” other people). Early boarding I don’t have any problem with – obviously not for people who need it, and I see why the airlines give better service to people who pay for it. I just don’t think TSA should be searching people quicker because they have more money.

  90. Unfortunately I’m going to tie this back in with the fat thing with the following story, which happened to me last week:

    I was traveling to a country in Southeast Asia with my husband for vacation. When we got to the customs booth, I the officer checked my husband’s passport and then got to mine. Now I have to preface this with the fact that yes, at the time my passport photo was taken I was significantly thinner than I am now, but not so much that it no longer resembles me.

    The officer looked at me and looked at the photo, and immediately held it up to my husband and said with a smirk, “Slim! Not like now…” At this point my a lump immediately developed in my throat and I fought hard to fight back the inevitable tears. The officer made another remark that I don’t recall to my husband, and I just recall being so stunned at his rudeness and audacity at making these remarks as if I wasn’t standing right in front him, hearing every humiliating word.

    The officer finally addressed me and asked me to verify some personal data. Apparently this didn’t satisfy him enough because he then called for another officer to come and have a look at my passport photo. By this time it was almost impossible to keep the tears in my eyes from rolling down my face. Then they finally let me through and the first thing I did was head straight to the bathroom. It was a great way to start my vacation in the country.

    I could not let go of the incident during my trip, and it just instilled in me this fear that everyone I encountered in the country might randomly make a remark about my weight. Luckily this was not the case, as everyone else was lovely. But thinking about this still makes me mad. I just cannot fathom why someone could be so rude and hurtful.

  91. “Though one time I rode the bus and the door of the bathroom didn’t latch right and we hit a patch of bump road and the damn thing flew up and folks got to see my squatting on the crapper.”

    I feel your pain. This has happened to me twice on a train, and those automated doors take an eternity to roll back to the closed position. I believe I laughed akwardly and said sorry too, just incase my humiliation might in anyway spoil someone else’s unblinking view.

  92. I don’t have any problem with – obviously not for people who need it, and I see why the airlines give better service to people who pay for it. I just don’t think TSA should be searching people quicker because they have more money.

    How odd. I hadn’t noticed the first class express lane! Though I have observed folks need more assistance being directed towards other lines, which appeared to be shorter, though maybe they weren’t.

    I’ve only flown first class once as an unaccompanied minor. I didn’t see the point then or now, unless it’s to ensure you’re surrounded by a better class of pervs or something.

  93. Yeah, I’m not sure it’s every airport – Portland (which I fly to a lot to visit my family) has one, and I think I’ve noticed it a couple of other times, but others probably don’t.

    I’m glad they’re making it a point to send people who need assistance to shorter lines sometimes. I’ve noticed a couple of airports that have set up different lines for “experienced” travelers vs. “casual” travelers vs. “families,” which is nice for the experienced travelers, I guess, but I’m not sure if it triples the time families have to wait or what.

  94. I flew for the first time in 1968 (London Heathrow to Malaga, Spain). It was fun, and relatively uncommon — there were all sorts of currency restrictions and things and people didn’t do much flying back then.

    During the mid-’70s to mid-80s, I flew a lot mostly business, and for a time lived in the Middle East with frequent trips around the area and back to England. Despite this being the era of plane hijackings, security was “laid back and lax” all over. It was very common to meet people in the transit lounge of Bahrain airport, either for social or business reasons — they’d have a couple of hours layover, you’d show up with your passport tell the nice man at the desk you wanted to meet a traveler in the transit lounge and he’d write you a pass (in Arabic) and let you in. When you were done, you’d hand back the pass as you left.

    The last time I flew was to London ThiefHeathrow in 2002. It was for my mum’s 80th birthday. I vowed then I wasn’t going to travel again while it was so unpleasant. Virgin Atlantic was good, the airports in both London and Boston sucked.

    If I never fly a commercial airline again, my only regret will be that I never managed a trip on Concorde.

  95. Worst part of flying for me, on the rare occasions (every couple years) I am forced (weddings, funerals, relocating cross-country with only my luggage) to do it? I am terrified of airplanes, which makes itself pretty obvious from the shaking and sweating and bloodless face… which evidently makes me look like I’m a terrorist, not terriFIED, because I get the special no-holds-barred inspect-everything-you-own we’re-contemplating-a-cavity-search checks every. single. time.

    Which really helps with my terror.

    Little kids screaming, hell, I can’t blame them. I want very badly to JOIN them.

  96. There was a time, not so very long ago, that myself and a co-worker needed to travel from Milwuakee to Oklahoma City and back on business. A trip that, on paper at least, is but a few hours by aircraft. On the other hand it is just over nine hundred miles by interstate highway to drive it.

    I chose to fly, my co-worker chose to drive. I spent the better part of a week joking around with him about not taking the easy fast way there. This, as it turns out, was a mistake.

    My wonderful day started at 5am, since my flight left at 9 and the airport was an hours drive from home, assuming good traffic. Traffic was a bit on the bad side, but it turns out that it was the best part of my day.

    After arriving and parking my car in what apparently was it’s own private luxury parking spa for what it cost me, I proceeded to spend the next two hours being treated like a criminal as I was x-rayed, searched, questioned, and generally annoyed, arriving at my gate (finally) at about 8.

    I was there at 8 along with dozens of other rather grumpy people. The plane was there at 8, I could see it through the window. Somewhere around 8:30 or so the flight crew showed up. That’s when things got really interesting.

    Apparently the night before they had put too much fuel on the plane.

    Now call me silly but I always thought having extra fuel was kind of a good idea. Something to do with that whole “hit the ground like an asteroid if we run out of gas” thing, but I may just be overly cautious.

    Anyhow, we were delayed while a truck came over and removed the excess fuel. Apparently they used a soup spoon, because it took like two hours. We finally get going, figuring I have now had my annoyance for that trip, everything else will go smoothly.

    I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong.

    The little dealy while the eyedropper weilding de-fueling technicians did thier job had caused most of us to miss our connecting flight in Chicago. We were then informed by the airline that the dozen or so of us that were headed for OK City that they had found us another flight, please be at (insert gate number here) in five hours.

    Thanks goodness I had my laptop and a WI-FI connection.

    The next flight just happened to run into a slight delay as well, perhaps fifteen minutes or so. I still don’t know what that one was since the airline employees did not even bother to mention it over their PA system. Heaven forbid they actually inform the sheep about the status of their cattle car.

    When we finally did arrive at the airport I headed over to the counter to catch the shuttle bus another hour to the hotel/training center I was to attend. Thats when I found out that last one of the day had left at 6pm, about ten minutes earlier.

    Thanks once again to my laptop and the magic of Google I was able to call the facility and arrange a ride. They would send the shuttle back for me once it got there. Que up another hour or so of cooling my heels at an airport.

    At 8:30 that evening I finally arrived. Tired, frustrated, and severly dissapointed with my day. I had been on the go for 15 1/2 hours to go just over 900 miles.

    For those without a calcualtor thats an average of right at 58 miles per hour.

    The worst part was glancing into the hotel lounge as I drug my tired bones past and seeing him sitting in there.

    Yep, there sat my co-worker fresh as a daisy enjoying a frosty beverage. We left at nearly the same time and he drove there faster than I managed to fly.

    I ate my words on that one, and a week later cashed in my return ticket and carpooled home with him.

    Screw the airlines. Unless there is an ocean in my way i’ll drive wherever I am headed. It’s faster, cheaper, and far less annoying.

  97. My comment regarding Boston Logan’s airport wasn’t the layout of the airport itself, but the actual getting in and out of the airport area. Would be great to be able to take the T or a bus in, but when you are traveling for business from another area, not always an option.

    Manchester, NH has a great airport – and is my preference over Logan any day.

    I do most of my travel for business and can’t really take the option of a train or car for most of it. Personal travel? Oh hell yeah, that’s a different story.

    Besides the knee-jerk reactions of the security measures (reactive not proactive) it’s the whole the terrible process of going through security, which others here have covered great. How about adding some room on the conveyor belt so we can all strip and put our stuff into bins without feeling like we are holding up the line, putting lots of seating in the area so people can grab their shoes and sit down to put them on instead of trying to put them on when they come out the other end of the scanner? In crappy weather, taking off shoes / boots on those nasty floors is just gross.

    The grilling in customs as to why I’m traveling to and from anywhere outside the US sucks. I thought I was going to be arrested one day b/c I was really sick and had to use the restroom before clearing customs. Needless to say I was there for a while. When I came out, I was swarmed by officials and grilled, asking where had I been!! where did I come from!! what flight I did I arrive on!! etc. “Um, the bathroom”.

    The additional charges for things like a crappy pillow or blanket (I just use my coat now) or the whole “the bathroom at the front of the plane is reserved for first class only as a security measure” bullshit, it’s the lack of any seeming standard or common sense in security that kills me.

    I was flying back from Canada and had some of those little applesauce cups with me. As I was going through security, I swear the conversation went like this:

    Security: What is this?
    me: Applesauce
    S: What’s in it?
    M: Apples
    S: Is it liquid?
    M: ? No, it’s applesauce (liquid would be apple juice
    S: It has water in it.
    M: ?
    S: It’s 113 grams.
    M: ?
    S: You can’t have this, it’s liquid and over whatever the gram allotment is. Ours!

    And you know, it really just depends on the security official. I’ve gone through before with them and it wasn’t even a big deal. I can’t even imagine what traveling with small children or infants would be like if I got that reaction over individual cups of applesauce. Last I checked baby food was an emulsification and formula / breast milk were liquids.

    I also find it stupid that they have whole body scanners now, but can’t figure out how to improve shoe-screening technology.

  98. OMG, your description of airport hell was so evocative that I’m having an anxiety attack. As much as I hate air travel, I miss having Elite status with the one airline my company used. I had to fly every week, but I was able to score free upgrades to first class almost every time.

  99. Oh my God. Yes. You have just described EXACTLY why I haven’t nearly 2 years and why I’ll do almost anything to avoid flying EVER AGAIN.

  100. “My comment regarding Boston Logan’s airport wasn’t the layout of the airport itself, but the actual getting in and out of the airport area. Would be great to be able to take the T or a bus in, but when you are traveling for business from another area, not always an option.”

    Got it now!

    “I mean, my shoulder bag can fit 2 books, or a book + my eeePC, PDA, Mp3 player, small toiletries. It does me fine, even on a 26-hour flight to the UK. ”

    You can even fit in a change of clothes for the day after you land, just in case your checked luggage gets lost, right? That’s what I do with my shoulder bag.

  101. God bless you for every line of this. Every line.

    Leaving aside the classism (Hi, Patrick, welcome to life OUTSIDE FIRST CLASS!), I’m going to focus on the comfort.

    I flew on business from about 1994-2000. I mostly flew economy, mostly USAir. The airplanes themselves got cheaper, nastier, and more uncomfortable every. single. year. It was as if they went out of their way to make me, the passenger, as miserable as possible. And it was still better in 2000, when I mercifully stopped, than it is in 2010.

    Flying is a thoroughly miserable experience nowadays. The passengers are miserable. The attendants are miserable. The gate agents are miserable. Everybody is snappish and tired and wants nothing more than to GET OUT OF THERE PLEASE.

    The airlines blame me, the consumer, for wanting a cheap flight. They take offense — I’ve seen the interviews — that my company isn’t willing to pay more than it has to to get me to a meeting. Nobody at the major airlines, as far as I can tell, is thinking about providing a Target or Costco experience, where there are obvious cuts in some areas but excellent quality in others. Instead, they’ve cut wholesale at everything that might, in some way, make the experience pleasant.

    P.S. Try flying JetBlue. Amazingly comfortable. You’re still stuck with the airport experience, though. And if you can afford the price bump (and don’t mind spending 7 hours on the tarmack, grrrrr) Virgin America is very comfortable as well.

  102. Carry-on baggage: Change of clothes for self and children while on the flight, in case we end up with the seatbelt sign on for two solid hours again and someone wets themselves or throws up or spills their food. Change of clothes for self and children for the following day, on the assumption that the bags will get lost. Food because allergies are not adequately catered for in airports and we could be 3 or 4 hours in the airport before boarding the plane, carefully packed into 100ml containers within 1000ml bags, and toothpaste in one bag. Toothbrushes. Nappies and wipes. One squashy toy per child. Crayons and notebooks, and maybe small-format storybooks if possible. Painrelief medicine in case the pressure changes hurt their ears. Stomach medicines in case the airline food makes them sick. Travel sickness medicine in case we’re stuck on the runway for hours again. Actually yes, a small shoulderbag is not in the least adequate… Thank gods I don’t fly much.

  103. Zenoodle: I’m utterly appalled by what it means for trans people, among others. The whole bodyscanner thing freaks me out.

    I’ll go if a friend gets any sicker but I won’t be travelling to the US for amusement any time soon.

  104. LilahMorgan: When I was travelling through Heathrow in an airline-supplied wheelchair with a babe in arms and a toddler, I was ushered through a much faster security queue, but that could have been because I had a member of staff pushing my wheelchair rather than because I was in one at all.

  105. Oh my god, seriously. Did I write this? Because I have the EXACT same thoughts every time I go near an airport. My boyfriend tells me he actually likes flying and I feel like I cannot even comprehend that because how in the name of all that is holy could a person like any part of that experience? It is hideous, and I hope a special place in hell is reserved for the airline execs who keep making all these dumb decisions. Did you hear about the airline that is now charging for both checked AND carry on baggage? What the what? Are people supposed to magically make their belongings small enough to fit into a pocket for the duration of the flight? Buy all new belongings once arriving at their destination? I almost had a stroke when I heard that piece of airline news.

  106. I took my first airline flight when Nixon was in the White House, and I haven’t flown since 9/11. I have two brothers I haven’t seen in nearly a decade because I a) can’t afford and b) can’t deal with the flight.

    The flight itself wouldn’t be a problem. I’m not a nervous flier, and at 5’2″ my legs don’t get cramped. But dealing with the airlines is a biiiig problem for me. The last four flights I was booked on, I got bumped from due to overbooking. Mr. Twistie is routinely mistaken for whatever ethnicity isn’t quite ‘white’ and isn’t African American… which means that he spends a lot of time being scanned, questioned, searched, and treated like a criminal (like that business trip he had to take to Miami where they literally had to hold his return flight because he got pulled aside by security THREE TIMES for questioning about his activities and motives in flying to California, because goodness knows someone with brownish skin wouldn’t LIVE in California!) before he’s allowed to go anywhere.

    I know that part of it is his racial appearance, and part of it is his personal appearance. To give you an idea, he was in New York once on business, and one day when he was walking down the street he saw a long line of people waiting to get into a building. As it turned out, the line was for a casting call for a Sylvester Stallone movie. How did he find this out? When the casting director came racing out and offered him the role of a bouncer at a bar based on looks alone. He’s tall, he’s burly, he’s got long black hair and mutton chop sideburns, and he generally dresses in black with a beret. And you know what? All terrorists look big and tough and love berets.

    Even Mr. Twistie hasn’t flown in several years, between working for a company that doesn’t send him on business trips and the cost of flying for recreational purposes. But I know that if he tries to board a plane, we need to arrive even longer before the flight than is generally recommended because he’s going to wind up having everyone want to search him.

    Oh, and dressing in business clothes that aren’t black doesn’t seem to help. He could dress all in pastel golfing clothes and people would still stop him for being big, scary, and not white. Me? I could probably waltz a bomb through airport security any day of the week (not that I have any intention of doing so!). I’m a non-threatening looking lady of the Transparent Peoples. I get a pass because a short white lady who wears funky hats is never perceived as a potential security risk.

    And as has been pointed out several times on this thread, the security checks are carried out in a rather whimsical manner. Ah the joys of red tape!

  107. Hey, anyone remember when you’re friend/family member could meet you at the gate and security took 30 seconds? Man… those were the days.

    Yeah; when my Uncle Traveling Ken used to come to visit, we’d go meet him, and then we’d take him to the airport again at the end of his visit and send him off to Parts Unknown, and we’d stand there at the windows until his plane took off and wave at it when it did.

    I wonder if the security bullshit is a factor in his never coming to visit anymore. Or going anywhere, really. The man has been on every continent at least twice. Now he just sits at home.

  108. “I’ve only flown first class once as an unaccompanied minor. I didn’t see the point then or now, unless it’s to ensure you’re surrounded by a better class of pervs or something.”

    I fainted and had a seizure on a train once when I was by myself, and they put me in first class for the rest of the trip because that’s where the service people hang out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same goes for kids.

    Three years ago when I was speccing out universities, I found out that it takes the same amount of time to take a train (8 hours) from Exeter (South West England) to Leuchers (in Scotland, near Fife) as it does to take a plane from Exeter to Edinbrugh (45 mins) and then train to Leuchers (1 hour). Security theater – we hates it.

    My parents still insisted on taking the plane, of course.

  109. My family (two adults, two kids) just went to L.A. and back to Victoria by air – and, okay, all the security stuff we knew about happened, but – what’s up with the belly searches? I had my stomach patted down twice on the way to and coming back from the U.S. – are they afraid that the next terror threat is belly-button bombs? I was the only one in my family to be patted down like that, and I am fat – is this normal, now?

    I also found that the security personnel in American airports are scary – steely-eyed and tight-lipped, but not actually so good at the security part – I unknowingly had ‘contraband’ items in my purse that weren’t discovered until I was back in Canada at the Calgary airport. My over-the-regulations sunscreen was confiscated and my assorted un-bagged liquidy items were politely bagged by a smiling Canadian officer – after he swabbed my purse for (gunpowder? C-4? Anthrax?) twice.

  110. Oh wait – ‘Stomach search’ sounds like they made me swallow one of those bariatric cameras. They didn’t. Not yet. But you know that’s going to be next, right?

  111. You know, I love planes and I love flying but I hate airlines and airports. I hate them precisely for the reasons that you’ve outlined. Why is it so hard to tell me what a ticket will cost, with everything (my bags, a drink, a meal, etc.) included?

    Thank you for voicing what so many of us have thought but can’t say in the airport for fear of being locked away and thrown in a jail somewhere. Have you heard the recording that says “making fun of airport security is a federal crime punishable by law” or something along those lines? I heard it in Houston the last time I was flying back from Cancun.

  112. My husband and I are flying to Portland later this month and we are dreading it, despite the fact that we bought tickets that were an extra $150 above average to travel with an airline that, while not great, has yet to treat us completely shitty. (And most of that extra $150 was said airline factoring in baggage check costs rather than springing them on you at the last minute).

    If we could afford the extra 4-6 vacation days, I’d take Amtrak in a heartbeat.

  113. I actually don’t mind security or airplane travel. Like Kate, I have no disabilities, and am not fat or otherwise disadvantaged, but what actually bothers me the most is the people who refuse to follow instruction and get mad. That helps nothing. Security, customs, fight attendants, it strikes me as a set of jobs with zero flexibility, so it makes me cringe when people get mad in airports/on planes.
    I travel a lot. I have had many frustrating experiences flying, but I figure it comes with the territory until I finally buy my G5. ; )
    Did Kate call it “Glorified public transit”? Because, well, yes, that’s what it is.
    Recommend: Air Canada, West Jet, Cathay Pacific, and Alitalia for overseas travel. You will be treated humanely, entertained, and fed & beveraged. The 15 hours from YYZ to HKG on Cathay Pacific was actually the nicest flight of my life. Fed! (Plentifully, and with food that was actually delicious.) Entertained! (Individual entertainment systems.) Beveraged! (Wine & Cognac!!)

    Now! ***Does anyone know if I can take my hair staightener from Detroit to NYC in carry-on?

    I would love y’all forever if you know. I’m not checking a bag and I would love to bring it – but have never tried on a domestic US flight.

  114. For people looking for other alternatives to air travel the megabus (megabus.com) is quite cheap and is in the US now. It only goes to select cities, but it is cheap and the busses are quite nices and have free wifi. Greyhound was not so bad when I was in college but I often feel unsafe in the terminals. (And feel somehow safer WITHOUT a terminal? whatever…)

    I have been thinking a lot lately that the Airlines should really do some research into how they could get more people to fly more often. I think the strategy they are employing now is bad and very short sighted as Kate mentioned.

    If flying were easy and pleasant I would never drive or take the megabus, I HATE long trips, HATE, a LOT. (But not apparently enough to make me want to spend 3 anxiety and pain filled hours when I could spend 6 on the road.)

    I travel back and forth from chicago to St. louis at a minimum of 4 times a year, depending on how many weddings I have that year. And in the last two years of those 4 times a year I have only flown once. They are missing opportunities to take my money.

  115. So… Patrick Smith seems to be surprised that he’ll be traveling with other human beings? Or is he shocked that other human beings don’t all look/dress/act as impeccably as he does? What briefing did he get that led him to think he’d be traveling exclusively with slim able-bodied pretty people in their twenties and thirties who have taken a vow of silence (and/or mannequins of similar appearance)? Is he planning to stop flying whenever he gets fat, old, disabled, or tired? How naive is Patrick Smith?

    Note to Patrick and others like him: When you’re IN PUBLIC–that’s generally going to mean mingling with THE PUBLIC, which is generally going to include people who aren’t like you and who honestly don’t care if you find them attractive or admirable. And they don’t need your permission to be in an airport, in a park, at the bank, at the beach, on the dance floor, or anywhere else.

  116. @oxymoronica and lauredhel

    The thing is, stringing out a family in one row isn’t the only option, in the cases I’ve seen there are at least two parent/guardians and when that’s the case you can have two lines with one adult walking with half the kids etc. I know travelling with that many kids has to be hard, but when you have people glaring at this family from both directions because there is a human barrier keeping everyone else from moving, the least they can do is try to make an effort to keep their kids shoulder-to-shoulder.

    As for the person on the walkway, I am unaware of disability that makes it harder or impossible to have one’s luggage sit in front of or behind one’s person while on a walkway so someone else can pass.

    I try to be considerate, and maybe it’s unfair of me to get angry at these people, but when my flight landed late and my transfer is about to take off, these things just make my blood boil.

  117. Most airlines are pretty screwed, no matter what they do. Many airlines allot 60% of their budgets (that’s from their *entire* budgets, including salaries and marketing and whatever else) to jet fuel. 60% of their costs go to jet fuel. That’s enormous, and pretty soon, if gas prices keep rising, most average income folks will be totally priced out of buying airline tickets. I’m hoping against hope that high-speed rail can be built and implemented quickly, because that’s the alternative I want!

    I think Southwest is one of the few airlines that actually operates at a profit, these days. Airlines are doomed, it’s just a matter of how quickly they start to fall.

  118. “I’ve noticed a couple of airports that have set up different lines for “experienced” travelers vs. “casual” travelers vs. “families,” which is nice for the experienced travelers, I guess, but I’m not sure if it triples the time families have to wait or what.”

    Yeah, the airports I tend to fly in and out of have signs for different kinds of travelers too, but when there is only one security line open at any given time anyway, it’s kind of pointless.

    I have flown a lot (have family living in other countries), and hands down my best experience of late was on Hawaiian Air….. and I only say that because we were fed! For free! On a flight that lasted only slightly more than five hours!

  119. “As for the person on the walkway, I am unaware of disability that makes it harder or impossible to have one’s luggage sit in front of or behind one’s person while on a walkway so someone else can pass.”

    Isn’t it the norm to stand quietly on a moving walkway while *it* does the moving for you? If a person wants/needs to run to catch a flight, the place to do that is not on a walkway which is designed to help people travel long stretches of the terminal with minimal exertion, whether because of health, age, or preference.

  120. Isn’t it the norm to stand quietly on a moving walkway while *it* does the moving for you? If a person wants/needs to run to catch a flight, the place to do that is not on a walkway which is designed to help people travel long stretches of the terminal with minimal exertion, whether because of health, age, or preference.

    I thought the norm was stand on the right, walk on the left.

  121. Isn’t it the norm to stand quietly on a moving walkway while *it* does the moving for you? If a person wants/needs to run to catch a flight, the place to do that is not on a walkway which is designed to help people travel long stretches of the terminal with minimal exertion, whether because of health, age, or preference.

    It is my understanding that one side of the walkway is for those who wish to stand and one side is for those who wish to have their walking sped up by doing it on the conveyence. At least that’s how I’ve always experienced it.

  122. @Sarah – re airlines demise – I am inclined to agree with you. And if we ever start to pay the real cost of fuel, that will hasten it. Americans may have to rethink the convenience of traveling huge distances in mere hours, but from a sustainability perspective, I am okay with that.

  123. “Most airlines are pretty screwed, no matter what they do. Many airlines allot 60% of their budgets (that’s from their *entire* budgets, including salaries and marketing and whatever else) to jet fuel. 60% of their costs go to jet fuel. ”

    I can has hydrogen powered Jet? Come on science people, GET ON IT!

  124. Oh why oh why do I have to go visit my parents this weekend, when I could go down to Little Rock and meet you? No one ever comes to Arkansas (they plan it, but then they always cancel). I hope you have a good time in Little Rock, and come back with a happy Arkansas memory. If you ever have a reason to come to Fayetteville, AR, do! It’s a strange little liberal oasis.

  125. I can’t remember who asked about the families/ special assistance security line, but I usually use that because I have both a small child AND a disability. It takes about the same amount of time as the other lines, but no one scowls at me and my son for “holding up the line” when I take three seconds to fold the stroller or something. It definitely hasn’t ever taken me longer than the “casual traveler” lines.

    I have had fairly good luck, price and service-wise, with flying Air Tran and then getting a last-minute business-class upgrade for $49. It brings the level of service back up to about where coach class was in the late 80s/ early 90s, and a checked bag is included. Air Tran is sort of regional though.

  126. @Hsofia–I’m okay with it, too. It’ll be painful, but necessary, and whatever we come up with next will (hopefully) be way better! I’ve been doing some small research for a paper into high speed rail, and it’s totally not gonna get done here unless the public at large gets on board (hee) with it. It just costs way way too much money. What the Obama administration has funded is just the tiniest drop in the bucket, apparently. If we want it for real, it’ll be costly. Either we can fund through taxes, or private enterprises can invest billions, but either way there has to be demand, I think. So, um, let me declare: I demand!

    @shinobi42–ha! and for realz. I’m one of the least science-y people out there, but my understanding is that there really isn’t anything on the horizon that can realistically take the place of jet fuel. (anyone that knows more, please correct me if I’m wrong, because this stuff is fascinating to me!)

  127. I work in the travel business and I fly a lot.

    It BOGGLES my mind that the response to the contraction of the airline industry has been, essentially, “let’s make planes more uncomfortable!”. I think this is hurting them in the long run. I mean, this strategy has essentially had since 9/11 to work and it HASN’T YET.

  128. Stand on the right walk on the left. Lots of places have signs for it and everything. Though my general experience with moving walkways is stroll on the right powerwalk/jog on the left. The thing is, I’ve walked at my normal pace on a moving walkway while a determined businessman jogged alongside me on stationary ground. They do help with speed.

  129. “but my understanding is that there really isn’t anything on the horizon that can realistically take the place of jet fuel.”

    Pshaw, When I was a baby there wasn’t anything that would allow you to make a phone call without being attached to a wire. And now we can surf the freaking internet, ANYWHERE. (Which, need I add, didn’t really exsist then either.)

    Hmmm perhaps the rapid advancement of certain technologies in my lifetime has lead me to have unrealistic expectations……

  130. @Shinobi – ha! I’m counting on holographic experiences or in-Home travel experiences a la The Veldt! Hehe

    @Snarkysmachine – I for one am glad you’re still with us!

  131. Shinobi, please say more about Megabus. Because I got all excited about the Megabus when I first read about it (this is when I lived 90 minutes from Chicago and had family in St. Louis) but then I read one passenger’s review that said that on hir trip the movie they showed in the bus was some sort of slasher flick. Which, you know, made me nervous about taking my then-preschool-aged children on the Megabus. So your experiences have been good, then? Any un-asked-for slasher flicks?

  132. Ugh, I HATE traveling!!! Usually I do it with my 2 young special-needs kids in tow. They are young, but not young enough, apparently, to qualify for pre-boarding. (Another screw to the passenger; kids now must be 6 months or YOUNGER to pre-board!!! WTF?!?!?!)
    Trust me, I do everything humanly possible to prevent my kids from shrieking, crying, kicking the seat in front of them, running through the aisles, etc., and I STILL get crap from the airline and from other passengers! Like, how DARE I travel with my children?! Why can’t we stay home until they’re 18? And other parents don’t want their kids anywhere near mine, ’cause, y’know, they might catch Autism.
    So we try to travel to places we can drive to. Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Southern California. But we have family in Hawaii, and my kids LOVE it there! So I’m not going to stop bringing my kids out there when we can afford to. And everyone else will just have to suck it up.

  133. A Sarah,
    They haven’t showed any movies at all when I’ve been on the Megabus (from Chicago to STL). And the drivers are usually okay so I’m sure if they were showing something inappropriate and you had your kids with you they would turn it off. Generally my experiences have been positive. You have to be ready to handle your own baggage and be on time because they will leave you. It is sortof a you get what you pay for thing, there is no terminal, no helpful people to ask, you show up on the curb, they check your name off a list, you sit on the bus and go from one place to another. And everyone is trying to get on the bus so they get a seat and get their luggage on and there isn’t much room for carryons, kindof chaotic.

    It might be hard with kids, but I have definitely seen it done. (I got smacked on the ass by some kid (4/5?) at our food/bathroom stop. He was no trouble ON the bus. Some people need to teach their children about boundaries.)

    They are also sometimes late, and there is no one around to tell you what is going on. And they selectively enforce rules. My sister and her friend were not allowed to board a bus because they made a fus about it being late, but it was supposedly because they were seated in outdoor seating for a restaurant that served alchohol so they’d been drinking (WTF?) But that’s 1 in about 10 times we have taken the megabus. I’ve also seen some people get crap about how much luggage they had while other people didn’t, and the passengers are really a mixed bunch. (I sat next to a guy my first time on the MB who spent the whole time having this conversation with his girlfriend: “Are you okay? Are you happy? I just want you to be happy?”)

    But if you want to get somewhere on the cheap, I recommend it. It is about the same amount of hassel as any other form of travel, but it costs less. The buses are clean and nice (double decker!) and for the price you can’t beat it.

  134. RE: Megabus. I think shinobi42 has it about right. My friend and I went from Philadelphia to NYC and back via Megabus recently. We had a very comfortable, cheap, mostly hassle-free trip.

  135. Ugh, this is so spot-on about the whole flying experience that my chest is getting tight just reading it.

    I wish the airlines were run by some company that cared about customer service and efficiency. Let Amazon take a crack at it.

  136. I try to be considerate, and maybe it’s unfair of me to get angry at these people, but when my flight landed late and my transfer is about to take off, these things just make my blood boil.

    You know, that’s part of what I was getting at in the post — everyone’s blood is boiling because of things like late flights and connecting flights at a gate 9 miles away, and I think that’s a huge part of the fatty scapegoating, as well as the hostile response to people with kids, the impatience with people who move slowly, etc. I mean, assholes are everywhere, but in this situation, even people who would usually be sympathetic or at least indifferent to others are so close to the edge, they end up looking at whomever they’re stuck next to/behind like, “YOU! YOU ARE THE CAUSE OF MY MISERY! DIE DIE DIE!” I know I’ve done it. (I mean, I’m not rude, but I have certainly stood in airports and sat on planes thinking eeeeeeevil thoughts about people who are probably perfectly decent, because they happen to be in front of me and I can’t get any satisfaction from those who actually deserve the blame for my misery.) It just absolutely brings out the worst in people, and makes everyone even more selfish and hostile than usual, which makes it very easy to decide that THOSE PEOPLE WHO DON’T LOOK/BEHAVE EXACTLY AS I’D LIKE are the real problem, instead of the airlines (and government) doing everything possible to make our blood boil.

    Which is one reason why I bitch about airlines so much.

    Flight to Arkansas, btw, sucked as much as always, but no more. About as good as it gets.

  137. I have noticed that for me, a lousy flying experience can be made up for by the flying staff. I don’t EXPECT them to make it better for me, but it does make me feel better when the flight attendants are having fun.

    I was flying with my ex who was deathly afraid of flying. Our best flight was when the flight attendants openly joked around with each other and the passengers, when the ride got bumpy they took turns distracting us.

  138. Even *reading* this made me anxious. I’ve had that many bad flying experiences — and I don’t even fly that often. (MAYBE once a year.) I’m thinking our next cross-country trip to visit the in-laws is going to have to be by train, and we’ll just take an extra week off work. Ugh.

  139. What’s next with unbundling? contest:

    FIRST PRIZE: “In the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. To start the flow of oxygen, simply insert your credit card…”

    I could see it happening, I really could.

    I once flew cross-country with a baby and two cats, one of whom had diarrhea in-flight. And you can’t take a cat out of its carrier on the flight, even for diarrhea, so we all got to smell it all the way from Boston to Seattle. During the jaunt through security, I had forgotten to take my cell phone out of my pocket, which meant I had to be wanded, along with the cat I was carrying. And the supervisor shut down the entire checkpoint for the great opportunity to train everyone in how to wand a cat. My fellow passengers were not amused. (It was the other cat that had the diarrhea, though, so I can’t blame that on the trauma of having his giant belly prodded with an electronic device.)

  140. @Alyssa: I completely understand the looks of “OMgosh I’m going to catch Autism from him/her!” Heck, I get those in the general public, forget airline travel. Which is precisely why we drove from Houston, TX to Fredrick, MD. It may have taken us 2 days, but dagnabit my son was a happy camper because we could stop whenever he wanted and take a short walk before climbing into the car again.

    And good for you for refusing to give in to people’s stupidity. I’m sorry, but if you don’t want to be around kids then don’t go where kids are going to be, and that includes airlines, unless they have some sort of “adults only” airline that I’m not familiar with.

  141. And the supervisor shut down the entire checkpoint for the great opportunity to train everyone in how to wand a cat. My fellow passengers were not amused. (It was the other cat that had the diarrhea, though, so I can’t blame that on the trauma of having his giant belly prodded with an electronic device.)

    Oh man, poor kitty (and you). I actually had my best recent-flying experience on a cross-country flight originating out of Boston with my cat. The security people (perhaps having been trained on your cat) were delighted by him, and the flight crew was thrilled at how quiet he was (because he goes limp and rag doll-like in times of stress). Particularly when I explained he wasn’t drugged at all. It made me want to fly with the cat all the time, but I don’t think he’d appreciate that.

  142. @Karen, I’ve never heard of “adult-only” flights or airlines, either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start restricting the hours during which kids can fly!

  143. Most of my frustration with incredibly assinine security measures is because they are in reaction to terror attempts that DID NOT WORK because passengers (that’s us, Jill and Juan ordinary) stopped them. Mr. shoebomb and Mr undiebomb had no hope.

    After 30 plus years of “sit still, be good, don’t upset the bad hijackers, let the pros take care of it” air travelers are now the best defense against airplane mass murder. So how are we treated? Like the security (in the genuine sense) assets that we are? Like people with a vested interest in getting from A to B in comfort, and alive? Nooooo, we are treated like a bunch of nasty, disobedient, inconveniences, to be scolded and herded and shoved in a pen. Lovely. And umm I would not expect much from Air Canada.

  144. Alyssa said: @Karen, I’ve never heard of “adult-only” flights or airlines, either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start restricting the hours during which kids can fly!

    Yeah, which would suck. I’ve been on late night flights with the kiddo and he’s been nothing but an angel (mostly because I inundate him with entertainment out the wazoo), and if they restricted my flight with him that would lose them my business. Adults aren’t the only ones who need to get to other states in a hurry for funerals. Then again I rarely fly anymore. Once a year maybe, and most of the time it’s alone because I needs me a break.

  145. Flying now sucks. I remember I used to be so excited about flying when I was little. I would even love just visiting the airport! Now, I just cringe. I live in New York, so getting to the airport is a pain to begin with and though I haven’t traveled much in the last several years, the experiences I have had, have not been good.

    Last summer, I was detained at the second security check point I had to go through at Heathrow. They found something suspicious in my bag and emptied out every single item and scanned it to determine if I indeed was going to blow something up with a piece of a gum and a kleenex.

    My connecting flight was set to take off in 15 minutes and I was clear on the other side of the airport. Needless to say, I was extremely anxious to get on that plane back to the States! What really pissed me off, however, is when my bag was nearly empty, the security person did NOT take out the spare pair of undies and some tampons I had. So, everything else might have been a terrorist weapon except the embarrassing items for him to check??

    I made my flight but I vow never to fly through or to Heathrow again, if I can help it. I had another bad experience there several years before this, so I’ve made up my mind.

    On another note, I do want to make a suggestion for a more positive flying experience, Kate. After my Heathrow debacle last summer, I decided to visit a friend in Ottawa. I flew with Porter Airlines from Newark to Ottawa, changing in Toronto. Though it was kind of a pain in the ass for me to get to Newark from where I live in the city, the flying and airport experience were so incredibly pleasant! Even dealing with security wasn’t bad, I guess because Porter flies out of less major airports. The tickets weren’t dirt cheap, but they were reasonable. I do believe they fly from Chicago so check them out: http://www.flyporter.com/fly/Search.aspx?culture=en-CA

    They fly into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and give you a kitchenette full of snacks and beverages you can help yourself to. There is also free wireless and computers to use in the terminal and everyone is so nice. Would definitely repeat! Now, if only they flew to Europe!

  146. This is one of the reasons I like to fly Virgin America. It still sucks like WHOA, but you sometimes you ca upgrade at the counter, most of the flights I’ve been on with them haven’t been overbooked, and because they’re a small airline everything is scaled down and a little less stressed. Of course, I’ve only ever flown into and out of the country once, so it’s all relative.

  147. Speaking of travelling with cats, two years ago when we moved back to Canada after six years in Turkey, we brought my cat back with us. We flew KLM from Istanbul to Vancouver via Amsterdam. Because she’d be stuck in a small soft carrier for nearly 24 hours without a bathroom break, we weren’t allowed to feed or water her and our vet in Istanbul gave me four syringes full of cat sedative. Syringes. Seriously. And I made it through three international airport security screenings with four freaking syringes full of sedatives. At Amsterdam airport, I had to carry her through the metal detector went through the x-ray machine. When the bag had passed through, the security person scanning the bag asked me to open the little side pocket where the syringes were. I did and explained they were for the cat. She waved me through. I was amazed- just a few years earlier, I’d had my lovely antique butterknife confiscated in Frankfurt because it was a weapon (seriously- it was one of those very old-skool ones with very rounded edges). But four syringes full of sedatives? No problem!

    I should also note that carrying the cat through customs upon arrival in Vancouver was probably the smoothest and kindest arrival I’d had at that airport in over a decade. I should carry a cat every time I fly.

  148. “London Heathrow, which is the first place I got “swabbed” for bomb stuff with no explanation from the bitch (sorry, that’s the only word for her attitude)”

    No. It’s not. You could have said she was rude, unprofessional, cruel, poorly trained, demanding, obstinate, or countless, countless other descriptive words without misogynistic undertones.

    A huuuge reason that traveling sucks so much is becuase airline staff from baggage handlers to TSA employees to plane stewards work in very controlled jobs that don’t pay much; a recipe for angry, disempowered employees interacting crankily with their customers. But we should at least try not to take our frustrations out on the employees. Whether that’s by yelling at the steward for charging $5 for a bottle of water, or calling a TSA employee a bitch behind her back.

  149. Last time I flew to the US, I got selected for the random pat down, and after roughly poking and prodding around my middle, the officer patting me down demanded to know what was under my shirt. It was my ribs.

  150. Say, you know what is NOT AT ALL hard to imagine? The TV news coverage if airlines did ever switch to adults-only hours. “Thanks Matt. Well, up next: have you ever been next to a crying baby or a wiggling toddler on an airplane? Chances are you have, and if you’re like most passengers, you’d pay more if it meant you’d be guaranteed a flight with no children on it. Douchenozzle Air made headlines this week when they instituted special ‘adults only’ flights… But some parents are saying: ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ Are they just crybabies? We’ll have that story after the break.”

    Oh God, it’s so easy.

  151. And on topic, I totally agree that the in general the worst part about flying is how it makes you hate everyone. I find myself upset and irritated in airports over things that wouldn’t even register in normal life. Once I was late for a connection, and had 8 minutes to run through half of O’hare, and I nearly screamed at some guy who happened to ask me for the time, all “Can’t you see I’m panting and running and late!?!?!” in my head, but I managed to just say “my watch is on the wrong time zone, and I’m about to miss my flight” as I scurried past.
    Someone else’s anxiety over flying once led to a fellow passenger’s concern that my blunt-tipped hollow plastic knitting needles would be snatched up by a terrorist and “used against me.” If you can see a deadly weapon in transparent blue sparkly plastic, security theater is obviously doing something to you.

  152. @LilahMorgan I love the family security line. It can be sloooooow, but that’s ok, so are we, since we no longer check bags, travel with a stroller, and have to drag a billion pound car seat through the airport. The personel tend to be much more understanding of half empty juice bottles you forgot were in your purse, and I’ve even noticed some of the staff taking a whole 10 seconds to be pleasant to my daughter when she says hello.
    I’ve actually found that people are actually quite nice when I’m traveling with a child; I rarely get irritated looks, just sympathetic ones.

    I’m one of the reasons that air travel is so awful. I will buy the absolute cheapest ticket I can find no matter how much the airline sucks. Come on people, you know you do it too, and you are contributing to the suckage. There are people who can afford to be loyal to airlines that dont treat you like cattle (if there were any), and those of us who can’t, if we want to go at all.

  153. I first flew when I was eighteen, a couple years ago, a short hop from a medium-sized Oregon airport to SeaTac and then up to Anchorage, and back two weeks later. No real problems with security or anything.

    The major problem was me. My ears wouldn’t pop on the approach to Anchorage and the pain just kept getting worse the closer we got to the ground. I was traveling with my grandma, and all I could do was squeeze her hand, cry, and try really hard not to scream.

    I’m flying to Europe next January, and I’m slightly terrified of what it’s going to be like. I’m going to be alone. There is no way people are going to be sympathetic to this twenty-something fat white chick who’ll be convulsing in pain in the tiny airplane seat. But, I’m going anyway. Hopefully.

  154. …They’re charging people for their carry on bags? Um, are they offering any explanation for this? I mean, you’re carrying it yourself, no need to pay baggage handlers extra, and it’s not like they would have been able to sell anyone the overhead bin as a seat.

    Then again, if they hadn’t started charging to check bags they wouldn’t have an issue with people insisting on bringing gigantic duffel bags into the cabin anyway.

  155. @LilahMorgan – I actually found security considerably less onerous in the Middle East than it is here. Never been to Israel, it may be stricter there, but Saudi, Egypt, Dubai, Morocco, Oman…meh, not that big a deal. OK there are soldiers conspicuously carrying guns, but whatever, at least they don’t make you take off your shoes and put your teeny toiletries in wierd little baggies. Libya was sort of a pain but that’s mostly ye old communist lack of efficiency rather than excessive security measures.

  156. My boys and I are taking the Southwest Chief round-trip from LA to Chicago this year. We can hardly wait for the experience. After 10 years of making this exact trip by air, alone, with what were babies to begin with, I RELISH the opportunity to sleep in a marginally comfy chair for two nights if it means avoiding security theater. With the $$ we’re saving, we can eat steak at every meal, have an adventure, bring our bicycles along for the visit, and still and come out ahead. I don’t even have to pack light!

    To Grandmother’s house we go; highlights of airline travel for moms:
    Barked orders to extract infant child 2 from potentially explosive baby bjorn carrier, and handing him through the metal detector to a total stranger as toddler child 1 wanders off on the happy side of security, past a contingent of oblivious security “guards”. Attempting to fold a flimsy umbrella stroller and two ginormous car seats into the x-ray machine in a timely fashion while all eyes are burning a hole in my back, (these things always move faster when you glare at someone) and my previously mentioned, now ambulatory, children are disappearing from my sight on the far side of the metal detector. Finding out that the airline had discontinued pre-board for people traveling with children after I spent 10 years of business flying patiently waiting out that crap with the understanding that someday it would be my turn. Watching my now older kids freak out when I get hauled off and practically strip-searched for forgetting that my capris had brass grommets that were going to alert NORAD. Its people like me that keep the threat alert at orange, sorry about that. (yeah, the grommets were a stupid oversight; aggressively separating me from my children was probably not best way to deal with it)

    What capped it: fun family trips waiting on the happy side of security for 2 hours with child 1 while husband and child 2, who apparently have the same names as white supremacists on the latest watch list, slowly wend their way through pleading with various levels of TSA for the privilege of flying with us. Yes, 8-year-old boys ARE that dangerous. Also, they don’t have enough ID. (and yeah, we tried the pre-screen thing. no dice.)

    AUGH! I don’t care how uncomfortable the train is: Not buying plane tickets EVER AGAIN is how I am voting for high-speed rail.

    (They were zen babies or I never would have attempted this—I don’t like to sit next to loud any more than you do. I could have lived without reading “Freight Train” 4,000 times on the planes, though.)

  157. @CassandraSays:

    I was in Israel this February and it was a really good security experience, mainly because everyone is treated the same way. There’s a lot more checks than what you see in US/European airports, like they xrays your checked bags and hand check through them. The part that I liked though, was that the procedure was known by everyone, all the staff was friendly and explained what they were doing, and were quite efficient at their job. I was really impressed and would fly through Ben Gurion for any reason at all.

    I fly a lot, because I work in Norway and my family lives in the US. I also like to travel and get out of the frozen north as much as possible. What I really don’t get is that if the airline delays your bags, that’s fine that your bags fly alone but try to change tickets to an earlier flight? Oh, hell no that’s not going to happen, because your bags don’t fly alone!! I understand the premise of the rule, but even the airlines themselves don’t follow it when it’s not convenient.

    In Norway, I also love the targeting of non-Norwegian speakers in the security line, like how my French-Afghan coworker and I both got “randomly selected” one after another in the same line. Then again, though public policy says otherwise, individual Norwegians, in my experience, tend to very xenophobic, and being an American woman with bright blue hair and an Afghan man with a French passport must have set someone’s thoughts going. I still find it strange though, since we were in one of the more major airports (Bergen). Meh. At least security for getting on the offshore helicopters is easy.

  158. I am fat, my husband is fat, and we both have lower gastric issues and orthopedic issues.

    If we can’t drive there, we aren’t going. I really do not want to stand for more than about three minutes without my shoes on. (Yes, my feet are in that bad a shape. I am not supposed to be able to walk normally, even with shoes.) Do I have to take my braces off? Does it help they are all cloth and velcro? And of course there is the meds fear issue, and one can’t ship them ahead the way one does with anything that is worth anything or interesting to some minimum wage individual somewhere in the bowels of the place. And they will confiscate my hair sticks, probably. And after that even if I get there on time I WILL have an exacerbation, with all that stress, and lose another day in resting up anyway.

    No, much better to drive. Much happier. Much more sane.

  159. @ Mmarie

    YMMV, but I’ve often found that smaller planes, such as the little ones they use for short hops between Londin and Edinburgh, are much worse for ear-popping than the bigger aircraft used for long-haul intercontinental flights. Something about stronger pressurisation being needed for a larger cabin, I’m not quite sure. I hope this is the case for you — ear pain when flying absolutely sucks, and I’m sure it’s one of the main reasons for screaming children (can’t say I blame them, either!).

  160. Flying with children: After one awful flight, when we were stuck on the tarmac with the seatbelt lights on for hours waiting for a chance to take off and one of our two wet herself because she wasn’t allowed to get up to use the toilet, some of the very expensive suits with smartphones were so obnoxious that other passengers remonstrated with them and all the people travelling with children I saw were complimented loudly by other passengers as we all disembarked and waited for baggage. And really, late at night and immobilised with no trays, laptops or electronics allowed, the kids might have had an excuse to act up – but none of them did (not just mine, no-one’s, honestly). Only the adults.

  161. @Mmarie, if you can take some kind of decongestant before the flight, that might help with ear-popping.

  162. Agree that flying is horrible for everyone, but it’s particularly awful for disabled people. I have had walking aids removed from me despite desperately needing them, been refused a seat I can get to the toilet from, been left on the plane for over an hour after everyone else got off, had my wheelchair broken by baggage handlers, been patronized, treated like a child and shouted at, made to stand in queues (when I can only stand for about half a minute without collapsing), and all sorts of other crap. I think that fat people can particularly relate to a lot of this, in that the way they are treated when flying can be equally appalling. Ultimately, I think it’s about body ideologies in a convenience society. People don’t want to wait for disabled people who slow them down, nor do they want to share their space with fat people. Both groups are done a disservice by a consumerist ideology that says “Me me me! Now now now!” that leads to people having no patience for anyone who is different or not able to keep up.

  163. I actually found security considerably less onerous in the Middle East than it is here.

    Yeah, it for the most part (excepting a bizarre experience or two, particularly in Jordan) airport security that made me tolerate things better when I got back to the U.S.. It was everything else. Having to go through security everytime I went anywhere made me kind of blase about it. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, though.

  164. “What capped it: fun family trips waiting on the happy side of security for 2 hours with child 1 while husband and child 2, who apparently have the same names as white supremacists on the latest watch list, slowly wend their way through pleading with various levels of TSA for the privilege of flying with us. Yes, 8-year-old boys ARE that dangerous. Also, they don’t have enough ID. (and yeah, we tried the pre-screen thing. no dice.)”

    I think the idea is that if the TSA automatically doesn’t screen children, eventually someone who wants to sneak explosives onto a plane will do so by strapping the explosives onto one of his or her children and getting the explosives onboard *that* way… :(

  165. I’m kind of boggling about the idea of homeopathic emergency care. I mean, if you’re taking a supplement, you can dilute it as many time as you need to, fine. But how do you administer CPR in homeopathic amounts? And how do you select treatment carefully matched to the patient’s lifestyle and body and diet if you’re treating a total stranger in a life-threatening situation? Emergency medicine seems like a fundamentally allopathic situation, I have to say.

    Israeli security: it’s very good, it takes a long time and is intense but it’s done by people who are properly trained (and well-paid and respected), and it makes logical sense and you don’t get thugs on power trips trying to stress you out and make you spend more money, you get polite security professionals who are actually trying to prevent terrorism. However, Israeli security is also utterly awful and horrendous if you’re Arab. Now, Israelis have the advantage over Americans that they can actually identify Arabs correctly, and don’t confuse everyone with dark hair and brown skin for Arabs, but that doesn’t really make the blatant racism better. (They can also be a bit evil to blonde women from Eastern Europe, but I don’t want to get into an argument about whether discrimination by middle-eastern people against white people actually counts as racism.)

  166. @MMarie, in addition to the above comments with respect to ear problems, I’ll add that I have experienced that — and it’s horrid — but only a few times in many years of flying. So the good news is, just because it happened once doesn’t mean you’ll go through it every time you fly. Did you have a cold when you were flying last time, or were you just getting over one? That can make it extremely painful, so I second the advice about trying a decongestant. (It can also be bad for me if the plane drops a certain amount and then hangs out in a holding pattern at the lower altitude, which you can’t do anything about, but at least it doesn’t happen every time. I had that happen once while I ALSO had a cold, and it’s my single worst memory of being on a plane.) Ear popping is not usually spike-through-your-head excruciating like that, but a lot of people have experienced what you did at least once — so there’s not necessarily something different about your ears that will doom you to a life of horrible pain when flying. And you might even find more sympathy than you think if it ever happens again, though I hope it doesn’t!

  167. Yup – I had the profound dagger through the ears pain on a flight once, but ONLY once. It was shriekingly, hair-rippingly painful, but I’ve flown loads of times and have been as comfortable as a spring lamb ever since.
    I actually enjoy flying and have never had even the smallest problem with any aspect of it, so reading all your horror stories makes me realise I’ve been very lucky.

  168. @MMarie,

    I have the same problem with no ear popping during descent, which in my case is caused by a minor inner ear deformity that doesn’t do anything except prevent my ears from popping. I’ve found that sipping something and eating something chewy like Starburst or gummi bears helps my ears pop enough to keep the pain down, but gum does nothing for me at all.

  169. @jennifer…Yikes! I’ve visited the Naked Air link. I’m glad flights arent naked, mainly because of the sheer amount of times people (and by that I mean men) seem compelled to start fiddling in the overhead locker the minute I’m sat down. I’d rather not have to face that.
    Also, in the event of crashing, imagine how many hits the video of everyone escaping by bouncing down a giant inflatable exit slide would get. That would be a career ruiner for sure.

  170. @Edan – I didn’t see anyone respond to your question. In my experience, I’ve never had anyone look twice at my flat iron, and I never check bags. These are domestic flights w/in the US and international flights between US and Canada. Granted, these flights were all before Dec. 2009… but from what I understand, the carry-on regulations are back to pre-Dec. 2009 policies.

    @MMarie – I feel your pain. All you can do is cry, right? Fortunately, it’s only happened to me one time that I’ve flown, so I hope this was your one-off. I, too, recommend a decongestant, if you can take them. I usually try to fly with the 12-hour or 24-hour variety, since the 4-to-6-hour variety tends to wear off mid-flight.

    @Kate – Spot on rant!!!

    What I think is one of the more amazing things about the air travel experience is that we’re all stressed, cramped, and uncomfortable, but for the most part, my fellow travelers are trying to be pleasant and courteous, too. I’ve had a lovely experiences where people have traded seats so families can all sit together, and I’ve had people make sure planes were held for me.

  171. I fly almost every week. Yes… It is that bad. Here in the US and everywhere. Your descriptions are spot-on. EXCELLENT post!

    I was flying frequently to the Midwest on one particular airline (won’t name it), and got grand poobah status (not its real name), and it still sucked. The only thing that I REALLY liked about being grand poobah status was that on transcontinental flights (like NYC to PHX) I got bumped up to first class most of the time. Not always, but it REALLY helped my mood when I did. It was also helpful to get onto the plane before the masses which meant that sometimes I actually could put my computer in an overhead bin near the seat I was supposed to be sitting in. And I got my faves — aisle seats — most of the time. Come to think of it, in context that is all huge.

    Now, I am dung-girl status on every single airline program I’m in (I’m in pretty much all of them) because I spent last year in overseas for the job and was thus not flying every week.

    Sucks to be the dung-girl again. Gotta fly on Monday and it’s the back of the bus in a middle seat for moi. Oh Joy, Oh Rapture.

  172. @Karen: I hear ya! 2 years ago I flew across the country twice. Sad circumstances (my dad was sick, then he passed), but I enjoyed flying alone.

  173. @Mmarie

    I learned an awesome trick for painful popping ears from a genius stewardess on one of my first flights ever back in the day on Piedmont Airlines.

    She took two Styrofoam cups, and put three or four napkins in them and then doused the napkins with boiling water and had me hold them to my ears until the pain went away. Worked like a charm. I had my high school physics teacher explain to me why that solution worked, but I no longer remember it. However, it’s a simple solution using things that should be available on any airplane, and I highly recommend it.

  174. ASarah —

    I will freely admit to being a douchenozzle, because one of my queen of the world fantasies was exactly that: adults only flights on airlines. My early morning and late evening flights would be priced more highly, but excluding children… My plane would have nice wide seats and good legroom for everyone, and I wouldn’t charge for baggage. I would charge for carry-ons because even in the days of free baggage check people still would bring entire steamer trunks and expect to get them in the overhead bins (I almost got knocked on the head by those a few times). The whole airline wouldn’t be adult-only, just a few flights a day.

    Sorry for being so cranky, but I’m one of those people getting hated on all the time for not having children and being told I “Just Don’t Understand” by SOME (not all) who do. I understand just fine. I don’t make faces at children or their parents, I don’t bark at families, and I patiently wait while people with children go through security or are let on the plane before anyone else. I try to help them if I see that they have missed one of the items on the security procedure (like the mother and teenage daughter team wearing scarves, cardigans, four sets of sunglasses each hanging off said sweaters as fashion statements and coats all at the same time who didn’t know they needed to take off said garments and their shoes and who hadn’t heard the announcement that they had to take the computer out of the bag because they had their IPODs in their ears at earbleed volume). No family line in that airport, or I would have gone there because people in that line (toddlers, strollers and all) would probably have moved faster and been more aware of their surroundings than those two. I’d rather be patient with all of that than having someone have to squeeze past me to catch an escaping toddler.

    Most parents control their children just fine, but some do not – they seem not to care. I have sat patiently as I have had crumbs thrown at me and my seat kicked from the back, I have gotten punched by an aggressive child (he HAD to have had major issues — that was one sucky flight), and I have had to suffer other indignities perpetrated by others’ kids. All of this with the parents sitting right there and not giving a damn even when asked please can they not do something. I don’t include crying here. Crying can’t always be helped — popping ears hurt and children don’t know that it is normal.

    In return, once I got barked at because I had the audacity to ask to have my seat changed when I got seated next to a woman with a 2 or 3-year old in arms (this kid was too big for that, but hey..). I had just gotten a MONSTER COLD, was utterly miserable sneezing and coughing, and I didn’t think the woman would appreciate the contagion. A nice man got up and said he didn’t mind moving because ‘he didn’t hate children’. Right. And I do… Right? Next time I’ll just sit there and the kid can get sick. Oh, wait, then I’ll be the insensitive childless fatty who coughed all over her bundle of joy (gadzooks! foiled again!) – why didn’t the fatty ask to change seats? I can’t win. Hey, this doesn’t happen every day and every trip but it makes for misery when it does.

    When I stop having my fantasy, though, I realize it is all quite illegal (it would be discrimination) and it probably wouldn’t work anyway – I’m remembering one horrible flight with two seatmates who were complete psychos and managed somehow to stuff a giant toy burro up in the bins and brought enough baggage for a safari and shoved it under the seats. They took a bargain airline, and complained all night (a red-eye) and that they didn’t get peanuts. They said they would report the flight attendant to the airline. They were so awful I gave the flight attendant my card in case she needed someone on her side. They were adults… In their 50’s. I really can’t make this stuff up. My imagination isn’t up to it. No… all-adult flights could be just as bad.

    So… No on the airline and I’ll keep my queen of the world fantasies to myself. Business travelers would be the ones interested, and businesses are requiring their travelers to take the lowest-priced tickets available. I’d go broke…

    Oops. Sorry. This got too long… Something touched a nerve.

  175. @Jennifer

    Totally they should screen kids the same as adults, but they don’t screen this particular kid to the “watch list” extreme when he is traveling with just mom. Its only when Dad with the bad name is with us, too. Its so random.

  176. @individ-ewe-al – It’s OT, but yeah, there are ‘standard’ homeopathic remedies for certain types of emergencies (injuries, heart attacks, bleeding, appendicitis, etc.); plus, anyone with hir own collection (like me) probably has a good idea what range of remedies act best for hir own body and should be carried when traveling. I was so glad a few weeks ago to be at home with my medicines when an ovarian cyst burst and caused me unbelievable, vomit-inducing agony…until 15 minutes after I took the needed remedy and was right-as-rain again. (My pre-homeopathic cyst-bursts kept me in pain for days -weeks.)

  177. AndyJo, hey, point taken, and FWIW, I don’t think any of those things makes you a douchenozzle. You don’t sound like one to me! And, thank you, yes, I realize now that I let my snarkiness get away from me. In my head “Douchenozzle Airlines” was meant to be a generic name for an airline in a conversation about how much airlines suck in every respect. Like “Acme Airlines” except with a general air of scorn for airlines. But I totally see how you got from what I wrote that anyone who would fly adults-only hours = a douchenozzle.

    Which, as I read your comment, I realized isn’t actually what I think… because honestly, if there were special planes or flights or sections that were more amenable to children’s bodily needs *I* would totally fly them with my kids because the current situation sucks so much.

    I will say, though, from experience, that there’s a difference between a parent not seeming to care about the person that their Little Precious One is pelting with Legos; and a parent who is unable – in the midst of a situation that sucks for everyone – to keep Little Precious One from seat-kicking or crying or whatever. And the difference isn’t always obvious (sometimes it is) if you don’t know the kid. Unfortunately. (Dear God, I would love it if my two-year-old walked around with spectral words hovering above his head that said “Hello stranger! If you knew how often I punched my mom in the face you’d see my current behavior isn’t so bad. PS: My older brother is very well-behaved, and my parents do a pretty good job generally, so don’t even go there.” Alas.)

    So, yeah, if a parent sees that their child is harassing a stranger and could reasonably do something about it but instead thinks “Eh, wev, I’ll never see this person again,” that’s totally wrong and obnoxious. But that’s an obnoxious person issue, not a parent issue. If a kid is LOUDLY reading “Blue Hat, Green Hat” for the fifteenth time and the parent is encouraging this — possibly because s/he is aware of what the alternatives are, given this child’s personality and given the fact that the kid missed a nap and it’s hot in the cabin and we’ve been sitting on the tarmac for an hour with no announcements — then quite possibly that *is* a kid issue (because of what kids are realistically capable of) but not so much a parent issue. The parent may be making the best of a bad situation.

    I sometimes hear parents being blamed in the second scenario as well as the first, and I don’t think that’s fair. But I didn’t hear you doing that. (You don’t sound like the guy, for instance, who accosted my in the library and said, of my two year old, “He’s too independent! He needs to be taught to mind!” Uh, thanks, Random Library Dude! Exactly when may we expect you to show up at our door, bringing a hot meal and an offer to do dishes afterward, so that we have time to do this obedience training? And can I assume that you’ll also go to bat for me with the lady I encounter online tomorrow who goes on and on and on about Those Awful Parents who try to Make Their Children Obey Them and thus Squelch the child’s Inner Magic!!1 Oh, wait, what’s that? You actually AREN’T interested in helping, you just wanted to feel good about criticizing a stranger? Ah, my mistake. Well then, feel free to fuck right off.”)

    And of course meanwhile this is all happening in a setting where we’re all being treated like shit… and, like Kate said, it’s easy to get mad at the small person who’s three millimeters away from me and bothering me because I can’t actually singlehandedly convince airlines to act against their bottom line and treating customers decently. It inflames the irritation of people who are being bothered by kids, and come to think of it it probably also inflames the irritation of some (*cough*) parents (*cough*) like (*cough*) me, maybe (*cough*) who are then inclined to get EXTRA defensive about being judged by strangers. Rinse, repeat, until everyone on the airplane hates everyone else on the airplane, even people who are perfectly nice in other settings.

  178. Ahem. What I logged on to say, though — before I had my emotional over-functioning moment of “Ack! There’s a small amount of conflict somewhere, involving me! I’d better write twenty pages of carefully-nuanced prose!” — was that this thread has given me a new appreciation for how I don’t know the half of what it means to find air travel sucky, death glares at my two-year-old notwithstanding.

    When this body scanning technology came out — and bear in mind I’m irrationally terrified of terrorist attacks, but still, that doesn’t mitigate it entirely — my knee-jerk reaction was “OH THANK GOD THE MACHINE FINDS UNDIE BOMBS I HEART THE MACHINE.” Never even thought of privacy. Because for me, the teeny and irrationally-focused-upon chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack was a more real fear than being humiliated because of a prosthesis or colostomy bag or some such… because I in fact don’t have to worry about that, because I don’t have those. No skin off my nose, so everyone else can go suck a turd, right? Sheesh. Anyway… I understand better now why the scanners are a bad idea. So all y’all who’ve been making that case intelligently here and elsewhere, thanks.

  179. Thanks ASarah!

    And FWIW — From what you’re saying I’m sure some of the parents of the little ones who torment their seatmates just suffer from communication issues. It really makes a difference if someone at least ACTS like they are trying… “No Johnny, you can’t pull the nice lady’s scarf off her neck…”. “Nice lady… I’m terribly sorry. Sometimes it is difficult to keep him quiet, but I am trying”.

    Whereupon a nice conversation might ensue.

    This nice lady would be very thankful!

  180. So, this is my first comment. I love this blog; my criticisms are intended to be of ideas, not people, and to contribute rather than detract.

    Air travel is second only to car travel in ecological inefficiency. Outside of human-powered, the best choice is trains, followed by buses. Currently, society depends deeply on a heavily subsidized transport infrastructure, so life often demands that we get places quickly–but an ecologically sustainable society would probably never require us to get somewhere faster than we could by train.

    Furthermore, if you’ve ever crossed the country by car on a true shoestring budget–a cheap motel every couple of days, canned food and sandwiches, a body for every seatbelt (or possibly more) and possessions packed in every available square inch–it’s clear that the worst airline travel is a step up.

    Doesn’t it seem strange to expect comfort during the miraculous feat of being transported thousands of miles in a single day? Doesn’t it seem strange that we should expect something so incredibly resource intensive to be normal and easy for us?

    From a capitalist perspective, this is the natural and healthy way that the market corrects itself–how it adapts to offer the products and services for which there is demand. You seem to be making an argument that it’s past time for the market to correct, which has not been happening. Do you think there’s a flaw in the functioning of the market? If so, what?

    From an anti-capitalist perspective (I thought I might as well represent my own viewpoint), if the global working class can’t even afford a bicycle and we could be working on that instead, why should we invest resources in trying to make airline travel convenient for Americans? If you personally need to make your own experience more comfortable and would be willing to pay twice as much to do it, get a second seat and/or plan to pay for all the extras.

    From an environmentalist perspective, there’s no reason air travel should be easy or comfortable, though we might want to work on providing equal access and comfort to people in all sorts of different bodies.

  181. @ASarah

    Oh, thank you thank you for mentioning the parenting sages that come out of the woodwork just in time to not actually be helpful. Squelching a kid’s “Inner Magic” while traveling. HA! Good one! If their inner magic can’t withstand a day’s worth of squelching, its not very magic-ey to begin with. I’ll go to bat for you.

    @AndyJo
    You are so right—kids can be a great way to meet interesting people, even if the situation is awkward at first. If kids are bothering you, report it to the parent immediately, as calmly as you can muster. They will kill themselves to keep it from happening again, but only if you’re nice. If they’ve already lost your goodwill, well, they’ve got other things to worry about than regaining it. Fun people who wait until whatever irksome thing a kid is doing has driven them right off the civility rails before they mention it to the frazzled parent, as rudely as possible, are just not helping anyone. Between the making sure all the toys are still in the vicinity, the snacks, the peeing, the etc. etc. etc…is taken care of, sometimes the parent isn’t aware of an irritant unless its noisy. Especially if its happening under a tray covered with crayons and whatnot. Vigilance overload happens.

    rant.
    Incidentally, (not to belabor this thread, but I’m going to) it has been my general observation that the foibles of men traveling alone with children are treated as if they’re cute lost Dads in the woods, while Moms alone, or families, are just perceived as incompetent parents, if the kids aren’t angels. I can’t tell you how annoying that is.
    /rant.

    Perhaps the Sky Caps could just anesthetize passengers at the curb. The airlines could stack us like cord wood on the planes and solve all these problems.

  182. Mmarie – I’ve had that experience – during a long flight. I honestly thought my eardrum was exploding and kept checking my ear because I thought it had to be bleeding. It was horrible, horrible pain. Tears were streaming down my face. No one noticed/paid attention, so I was left undisturbed. But I’ve flown dozens of times and have only had that experience once. So I think it is unlikely you will have that pain again.

  183. @Mmarie, I always have a problem with my ears not popping on the plane. In the past I would end up with one ear completely blocked for the first 2-3 days of my trip. The only thing that I’ve found that has helped a lot are those ear plugs that are made specifically for air travel. You can usually find them in the eye/ear aisle at the pharmacy and each set is good for 2 flights. I think they cost about $4.

  184. @kmbr: I try hard to not mind that my male partner gets cut a lot more slack when in public with the children than I do, but I did end up saying, once, to a stranger who criticised my sobbing child, told me to hit her, and then admonished me to “think about what she’ll be like when she grows up!” – I said to the stranger, “Yes, she might grow up to be the kind of person who criticises strangers in public.”

    I’m still not sorry.

  185. @Edan, I just took a looooong round-trip flight from Portland to Cincinnati this Feb. with a hair straightener in my carry on bag and had no problems whatsoever, I think you’ll be fine :)

  186. @Mmarie I had those terrible Oh-My-Sweet-Lord-My-Eardrum-is-Exploding pains when I was a kid. My mother had them too, I guess, because she also brought hard candy for my brother and I to suck on (my brother never had the issue; he just liked the candy). Maybe you can try that if you have to fly again? The gum never did it for me.

    Re: children on flights: I don’t know what it is about me, but whenever a strange child comes face to face with me they instantly behave. Y’all should try channeling moi. In the cases where I cannot come face-to-face with a child I just use $15 noise-reducing earbuds from F.Y.E. Not a solution for everyone, but a perfect solution for me.

  187. When I go to the UK, I use the Sail&Rail ticket: any station in Ireland to any station in the UK. It costs approximately three times as much as the plane ticket, but I’m one of those weirdos who loves trains (I’ve InterRailed around Europe twice), and I quite like the ferry too.

    I’ve never actually had a bad experience on a plane, but I fly very rarely. I don’t like planes (partly for environmental reasons, and partly because I tend to feel very stressed coming in to land).

    ***

    Emergancy Homoeopathy.

    TRiG.

  188. About the ear pain: I had it something fierce when I was a kid, and I tended to take things like nose spray and Sudafed when I flew. Nowadays, it’s not a problem…unless I have a cold. I have nearly blown my left eardrum out when I was congested trying to relieve the excruciating pain, and this is with the nose spray and decongestant. It was like taking an aspirin for someone trying to gouge my ear out with a hammer.

    So now, I refuse to fly if I’m stuffed up. I’ve done it twice, and the third time will be the time my left ear blows out for good. I got flight insurance for my next flight, which will be next month. Unfortunately, I booked Delta before Jill posted about her Delta made-of-ass-fest on Feministe. Good news: I’m going through Minneapolis, not Atlanta. You’d think an airline would have its act together in the airport in its hub city; I flew United out of San Francisco lots of times when I lived there, and never had a problem with SFO, although maybe it’s different now or I just got lucky. Reading Jill’s piece, I kept thinking, “If they were trying to get rid of all their customers, they couldn’t be doing a better job.” Yeah, that’s the bete noire for airlines, all right — customers. They suck. Why can’t we just siphon out their bank accounts and not actually transport anyone at all?

  189. Ailbhe: You are awesome. As someone with no kids, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use that line (and I don’t think it would work regarding my dog), but I love it.

  190. TooManyJessicas,

    Oh lovely, another science blog to add to my ever-increasing list. I already read Pharygula religiously. And I pop by Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and look in on a couple of others. And there’s Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog, newspaper column, and rather excellent book. Too much!

    “Ben Goldacre’s cat is my nutritionist.”

    TRiG.

  191. TRiG: Sail & Rail is cheaper than flying if you have children, and not much slower, and also they can go pee whenever they want. But I can’t visit the US that way…

  192. On having your seat kicked by the child behind you: I’ve just realised that many children *leave their shoes on* in these situations. If you suggest they take their shoes off, the kicks might bother you a lot less. It’s hard not to kick when your feet don’t touch the floor for long periods, but you can minimise the impact of accidental kicking / necessary legswinging.

  193. I flew into the Denver airport on Wednesday, but the shoe thing hadn’t happened yet. I’m getting ready to fly home tomorrow morning. Until this trip, I hadn’t flown in several years, and I was surprised to see the checked bag fee and, subsequently, how many people had so much carry-on luggage. Really surprised.

    I agree with everything that’s been said already about the problems with this new policy, and I’d like to add that I find the sudden influx of rolling “carry-ons” annoying. It takes so much longer to board and exit the plane when everyone’s got these suitcases behind them, and certainly the airlines must know that time is money. I’m not saying we should all just pay baggage fees. I’m just not really supportive of the whole thing.

    Final comment: I have discovered that my blood boiling can be calmed somewhat by waiting until close to the final boarding call. That way, I don’t have to stand in the aisle of the plane waiting for everyone to load their gigantic rolling luggage into overhead compartments, and I don’t have to spend any more time than I must cramped into the seat. Instead, I walk around or sit in the terminal, knitting and listening to audiobooks, until almost everyone has boarded. It seems to be a good strategy. I don’t know why everyone’s in such a hurry to board anyway.

    Final

  194. @AndyJo: I have to second that you are not a douchenozzle. Hell, even when in flight with my own child I’ve wondered what it would be like to have no children around. Then again getting a break from the kiddo is a long standing fantasy of mine. Perhaps I would be more open to the idea of “adult-only flights” if they had flights running at the same time that allowed children. The only issue there is that they can’t even run two flights of a mixed group at the same time (due to financial constraints) so that seems to be out. Then again if they could ideally provide “adult-only” flights then they could ideally provide more “family friendly” flights, including but not limited to extra space for kiddo’s with car seats because the safety concern I have about letting small children ride in their parent’s lap is not unfounded. So, in short, you’re not a douchenozzle in my mind. I think we all have fantasies of how things “should be” in our minds, and you sound like someone that I would appreciate having near me in case I need help.

  195. @MMarie – oh hon, that sucks and I sympathise. I’m usually okay on flights, but once I had to fly home while a) hungover and b) with a nasty head cold. That was one of the most spectacularly unpleasant experiences of my entire life.

    Re: original article: man, I slept on the floors as a teenager sometimes because my flights got pushed back further and further and further — I once got stranded in Philadelphia overnight. What was I supposed to do? (Also I once stayed in the non-secure part of the Pittsburgh airport overnight, but I assure you, I was too freaked out to sleep any.)

    I actually love Greyhounding it up, but sometimes you have to get somewhere quickly, and buses are not quick. The other thing is that plenty of bus terminals are sketchy as hell — I tend to be pretty casual about being alone late at night or in strange cities or what have you, but some of the bus terminals I’ve been in have actively freaked me out.

    @Ailbhe – thanks for the tip. I don’t mind noise, really, especially since if I were small enough to get away with it I’d probably wail through the whole flight too, but getting whapped repeatedly in the kidneys make me want to cry.

  196. @LilahMorgan – Yeah, blase is exactly how I’d describe my reaction to anything that seems like a legitimate security procedure (it was annoying in the old days that going through Heathrow took so long, but oh well, you know?). It’s the stuff that’s obviously security theater meant to make everyone feel safe that annoys me, because none of it is going to do anything to actually increase safety, and it mostly seems to make travellers feel crabby and irritable rather than safer. I don’t mind people checking my luggage for weapons or things I might be illegally smuggling, but I do object to the idea that someone’s shampoo is a dire threat to airline security. The reason it didn’t annoy me so much in the Middle East is that they were mostly checking for stuff that was actually illegal to bring into the country, rather than just putting on a big song and dance routine which inconveniences everyone while having no practical benefit.

    Though to be fair, being British probably made it easier – I frequently had the experience where airport security would assume I was American on site, and then chill out and be much friendlier once they realised I was actually a Brit. This is particularly the case in Libya, but again, given the history I can’t really blame anyone for reacting that way.

  197. CassandraSays, when my British passport expired, I replaced it with an Irish one (I qualify for both), because I’ve heard that can be a help in some situations. I wouldn’t take an American passport if I was offered it.

    TRiG.

  198. @AndyJo — Thank you, Nice Lady! :) And thank you (she shouted into the big dark barn of the internet) to all the Nice Ladies and Nice Fellows who *don’t* give the stinkeye or drive-by criticism to parents of children being poorly-behaved in public.

    I do tend to forget that there really are some parents who are assholes about their kids bothering people in public. To tell you the truth, my breath is taken away at the very thought of it, because I’m the sort of person who really has to work at not going through life saying “I’m sorry for existing! Please don’t be mad at me! But you probably ARE, right? And just not saying it to be nice? I knew it.” And so when my kids are being annoying I am so keenly and shamefully aware of it that it’s like I’ve got cat hearing. But meanwhile, you know, I quite love this dreadful little person whom I truly cannot always (or usually) control. So then when someone’s all “EW YOUR KID” then the two wire endings connect and the neurosis circuit is closed and the alarm bells sound.

    So the fact that there really are some parents who think, “Oh, Trixie’s hitting that person on the head with her fairy wand. Wow, that’s probably really good for her fine motor coordination. Excellent! Let’s see, what can I order from SkyMall?” is, I’m sure, true… but I always forget to take that into account, because for me parenthood is so synonymous with public judgment and the impotent fear thereof.

  199. RE: kids on planes

    My favorite memory of a kid on a plane was flying in or out of Heathrow one time (to/from Morocco? not sure). There was the worst turbulence I had ever experienced. The kid behind me and my traveling companion had been singing the song to “Bob the Builder” off and on throughout the flight. When the turbulence got bad, he/she (don’t remember) was yelling the lyrics. It seemed like a pretty good strategy for managing stress to me, as most people found it quite amusing, and now all of us on that plane know the lyrics to that timeless classic. (Bob the builder, can we fix it, Bob the builder, yes we can!)

    And, no, I didn’t even know about Bob the Builder before this flight.

  200. Israeli security: it’s very good, it takes a long time and is intense but it’s done by people who are properly trained (and well-paid and respected), and it makes logical sense and you don’t get thugs on power trips trying to stress you out and make you spend more money, you get polite security professionals who are actually trying to prevent terrorism. However, Israeli security is also utterly awful and horrendous if you’re Arab. Now, Israelis have the advantage over Americans that they can actually identify Arabs correctly, and don’t confuse everyone with dark hair and brown skin for Arabs, but that doesn’t really make the blatant racism better.

    True dat.

  201. I actually love Greyhounding it up, but sometimes you have to get somewhere quickly, and buses are not quick. The other thing is that plenty of bus terminals are sketchy as hell — I tend to be pretty casual about being alone late at night or in strange cities or what have you, but some of the bus terminals I’ve been in have actively freaked me out.

    Which ones? I’ve noticed lately many stations discourage non traveling passengers from loitering in the terminals and there seem to be way more staff than actual travelers. And actively taken steps to ensure passenger comfort and travel. Baltimore , Richmond and ATL used to have the worst bus terminals in terms of clean air to bad smells ratio and nothing ever working properly. Even Penn Station isn’t as bad as I remember, though it still smells like ass and stale smoke.

  202. @megbap —

    I follow your strategy of being last to board … it’s awesome. Especially since I only carry on a backpack that I can fit under the seat. I’m fortunate in that I don’t *need* a lot of stuff with me in the cabin (kid gear, medical gear, etc.). I don’t even mind the checked-bag fee … it’s a small price to pay to avoid competing with all the rolley-bag carryon people for bin space. I prefer to opt out of that particular circus, even if it means $15.

    EXCEPT, I recently flew Southwest for the first time, and they don’t have assigned seats, rather that pick-your-seat business, so I couldn’t follow that strategy, unless I was willing to accept the last-choice seat. I had to line up in my group like a kid waiting for school lunch.

    Related — the Southwest flights were full, they told us repeatedly … and yet, some passengers tried to keep people from sitting by them. And I don’t mean they were saving a seat for their companion. I mean, somehow they magically thought that there’d be extra seats despite being told the flight was full, airline people asking for bump volunteers, etc. Give it up, people, (I wanted to say) no one’s going to magically keel over dead or dematerialize at the last minute so you can have an empty seat next to you!

    I also disapprove when people use a city bus seat for their BAG when the bus is full. Does your backpack have its own ass, dude? If not, it shouldn’t get its own seat.

  203. Regarding the comment up above from a parent who said she needed lots of cabin luggage space for the kids – entertainment, spare outfits and so on. Sure – each kid has his/her own seat, so they should get the same luggage allocation as the other passengers. Of course, you still have to carry three times as much cabin baggage (or for however many kids you have), but I have seen kids with little (and I mean little) roll-ons that they use to take their supplies on board.

    Sorry, I don’t think adults need to take entire changes of clothing on board. Wear clothes that don’t get grubby easily, and if you must, take a change of underwear for those occasions where luggage might get lost (or your connection is cancelled, so you need to stay overnight en route). I’ve been flying for 2 decades, several times a year, and have yet to have luggage go missing, so it can’t be that frequent an occurrence. Of course, it would suck, but that’s what travel insurance is for.

    @Timothy – what advantage would an Irish passport have over a UK one? I can still remember the days when it was a positive disadvantage – everyone thought you were toting bombs for the frigging IRA.

  204. Oh! Here’s a tip for people who (like me) tend to turn into poo-flinging monkeys when exposed to too much high-pitched noise: Drummers’ earplugs. You get them in a musical instrument store; they cost about $10. (They have fancier ones, too, that look like headsets; those run somewhere around $30-$40. I think hunters use that kind also.) They work a lot better than the cheeseball ones from the drugstore. I think I lost the pair I had when I was taking drum lessons a few years ago, but I’m going to get another pair before I go on this next trip. Fewer decibels = less Klonopin.

  205. re: adults not needing a full change of clothes:

    Trix, have you ever been peed, pooped or puked on while traveling? That extra change of clothes some parent is carrying might just save YOUR nose from the stench when the soiled clothed get changed and packed away.

  206. Last time I flew with kids, one of mine was a toddler; and we used his car seat on the airline. This had the effect that every time he moved his legs he kicked the seat in front of him. That passenger objected; and I simply pointed out that there wasn’t enough room for his legs and the seat being kicked was inevitable. I felt bad for him, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, there was about three inches of space for the kiddo’s legs. My recollection is that car seats were recommended, as being safer; but they sure were a pain to haul around and caused inconvienence to others. Overall, I’d say leave them behind.

    Oh, and infants are the best travellers, they mostly sleep. I breastfed, which meant I didn’t have to worry about keeping bottles and formula sterile, which helped.

  207. Ah, wonderful, delicious airline travel, whose motto could be, “It’s better than a Grayhound bus!”

    The whole security line thing as you describe it is exactly like the initial line people have to go through when entering Navy bootcamp (except that it takes hours to get through some airline security lines, versus the two or three days without sleep for bootcamp.) The goal of the bootcamp line is to disorient people so that they can’t even properly say their social security number or put a sticker on a bottle (And both of those are requirements to leave the line.)

    I try to avoid anti-LGBT airlines, but the problem is that some airlines which are pro-LGBT give bad service to blind people, and then I don’t even know what all the track records are for treatment of other minorities. There isn’t a whole lot of choice out there as far as airlines go.

    When I was younger my brother would try to take trips back home from his service in the Navy. We never knew when he is going to be called away or if his ship will be late. The airlines really didn’t care, though, so they wouldn’t refund the tickets or change the flight times for him.

    One of the more ridiculous things that airlines get away with, in my opinion, is the ability to change the flight times or simply kick people off of the flight. There is nothing like thinking I can catch the bus to the airport and save myself money on a taxi cab, since my budget is already tight, only to find out that I have to go to it in the middle of the night. Or finding out that my trip which I had been planning all year, to see people I haven’t seen in a long time, will be cut very short. Especially if I offered to pay more for a specific time. Bah…

    Anyway, I am one of those people who opts not to go anywhere rather than let these companies do what they will. Their treatment of employees and customers is really appalling. And let’s not forget that they oftne schedule their pilots back to back so they don’t get enough sleep, and that stewards and stewardesses are only paid for their time when the plane is up in the air. They have to do all the cleaning and restocking on their own.

  208. Trix: So I should be managing two kids’ roll-ons as well as my own cabin baggage, possiblya pushchair, both before and after baggage check-in, including on the airport bus, on and off the connecting bus from the city centre to where we’re staying, etc? Ha.

    And you may enjoy traveling while covered in other people’s bodily fluids, but I really don’t.

  209. Thank you, everyone who gave me advice. I honestly can’t remember if I had a cold, but the air at SeaTac where we had a several hour layover was extremely dry and that might have had an effect.

    I’ll definitely give the decongestants and earplugs a try. One more thing to add on top of the motion-sickness meds. Yay!

  210. Yeah, the last time I flew they put my little sister (who is barely old enough, and who needs valium to fly anyway) through the naked scanner. That is – well, I’d love to be able to say “that is the last straw!” and hop on the handy efficient train system that totally comes anywhere near me and is affordable, and for which I totally have enough time off to get where I’m going. But it doesn’t, it isn’t , and I don’t. So yeah, I’m going to keep giving them my money and being upset. Win.

  211. @purpleshoes: There’s no age limit on the bodyscanners in the UK – children or infants whose parents refuse to let them through will not be allowed to fly.

  212. @Lynn
    I keep my purse on the seat next to me unless the bus/train has no more empty sets of seats and someone needs it. I used to keep it at my feet with the strap wrapped around my ankle, but I found creepy entitled guys were a lot more likely to sit next to and harass me if the seat was empty. It does not have an ass, it is an ass-deterrent!

    I am surprised by the hatred of wheely luggage–I don’t think I could get by without it. I can carry 30-50lbs in one hand easily for about 5 minutes and I can get it above my head into the overhead compartment, but I sure as hell can’t run for my plane or the bus with it, and I can’t walk from the bus to my hotel with it unless it has wheels–and not the tiny little ones they put on luggage in the early nineties that snap off if you hit a bump.

  213. @ too many jessicas

    Re: seat-hoarding
    OK, fair enough, for some cases; there are creeps out there, and maybe they target you more than me. I’ll accept that. But there are many seat-hoarders whose actions can’t be explained this way:
    (a) grown men who hoard seats with their bags — is their main concern avoiding sexual harassment? Maybe in a few, few cases, but the more obvious answer is that they just don’t want a seatmate, they believe that their desire to avoid a seatmate is more important than other people’s exactly identical desires, and thus they hope to make sure the seat next to them is the absolutely last one taken.
    (b) people who passive-aggressively try to keep women, children and even elderly people from sitting next to them. I doubt fear of sexual harassment is their main concern, either.

    So while there may be a reasonable explanation in some cases, there isn’t a empathy-worthy explanation in all cases.

  214. As far as airports in general go, they all kinda suck imo. Crowded, long lines, rude employees in Mumbai, Barcelona, Bangkok, Frankfurt, etc. I had an 11 hr. layover in Mumbai only to discover that my flight was delayed another 4 hrs. I don’t remember customs from every place I’ve been (Frankfurt was a hassle, plus the passport checker looked at me like I was a serial killer for some reason), but Spain was much easier than the U.S. I was worried about bringing back pancake mix and maple syrup when my Spanish roommate had brought a cat back from Panama!

    I don’t know what on/of my body is seen through scanners in LAX, but I wasn’t overly pleased with having to step behind a curtain (being female) and being “forbiddingly” patted down/frisked in India and the United Arab Emirates. But that was a few years ago, I don’t know what has or hasn’t changed since.

    I read upthread about how we shouldn’t take our frustrations out on airport employees and I completely understand that, but it goes the other way too. After traveling for 10 or 20 hours, or more, I still try so goddamn hard to be polite and patient so it’s not cool when they decide to metaphorically shit all over my face as a result . . . maybe it’s because I’m not a big fucking asshole but instead am polite and soft-spoken and so I’m an easy target? Maybe if I had more of an attitude, they’d back off. Anyway, that shit bugs me. I’ve had insanely rude behavior directed at me and I shit you not, I did nothing to deserve it. So it grates when I hear people defend that behavior when *they* didn’t have to deal with it themselves. How easy. How convenient. By that justification, then I can act the same way, which I won’t, ya know? Not to say anyone on here has done that, I’m just venting.

    And I refuse to take the Greyhound. Insanely fucking rude employees. I’ll pay a few bucks more and take Amtrak.

  215. Re bag-seat scenarios, this is just me and like you I have seen people who appear to just be putting bags on seats to try to put off *anyone* sitting next to them even on full buses/trains (even when the train announcer person repeatedly asks people to remove any baggage from the seats as some people have been standing fo 2 hours on a packed train). But after a couple of experiences as a teenager which really scared me and echo the Schoedinger’s Rapist post from a few months ago (including the time a very drunk late middle aged man with what appeared to be a huge back filled with beers sat in the aisle seat next to me (me in a window seat) and leant over me, boxing me in and kept ranting at me while trying to look down my top and feel my leg and not one person did anything to help me and me being terrified he’d get angry at me if I told him to leave me alone) I now tend to sit in the aisle seat with my bag by the window. That way, if someone needs the seat next to me I can ask if they mind sitting by the window (obvs I wouldn’t insist as I realise people might need the aisle seat) so that I am less likely to get boxed in in a scary way. I feel like the fact I will have to get up and pick up my bag will always give me an extra second to assess whether I feel ‘at risk’ by sitting next to that person rather than ending up with no choice in the matter, but without it looking too obvious I’m wondering if they’re Schroedinger’s Rapist or Schroedinger’s StalkyRanter, and therefore that’s an extra couple of seconds to decide whether actually I can make like I want to get up as I might be getting off soon, thereby freeing up 2 seats (I hope to never yell NO DON’T SIT BY ME whilst selfishly hoarding 2 seats).

  216. All I can say is I’m so glad I live on the East Coast and that most of my relatives also live on the East Coast and that everywhere I really want to go (except Hawaii) is accessible by either Amtrak or by car.

    Sleeper to Hilton Head to see my MIL? considering that it’s a 12 hour trip and that the train leaves Union Station at 7:30 PM, it feels like a shorter trip than the same trip by plane.

    The Vermonter to see my sister in Vermont? $135 each way. I shit you not. Yeah, it’s also a 10 hour trip, but by God, it’s pleasant and my son just settles in and watches movies on my laptop.

    And now they’ve got Wifi on the trains between NYC and DC.

    Sincerely, never taking a plane again if I can possibly help it.

  217. “but I did end up saying, once, to a stranger who criticised my sobbing child, told me to hit her, and then admonished me to “think about what she’ll be like when she grows up!””

    What an asshole! You don’t hit someone for sobbing!

    You offer tissues and ask how you can help! And if you’re a stranger and the sobbing person is a child with an adult who isn’t hurting the child and causing the sobbing but actually caring for the child, you talk to the adult who can pass on the tissues to the child so you’ll be less likely to cross any “don’t interfere with my parenting!!!” boundaries. Srsly, sobbing or sneezing in public after I run out of tissues feels pretty awkward for me and I’d appreciate an offer when that happens, so why not extend the same consideration to others?

  218. Jennifer, you just reminded me of two really nice people on two different train trips. Each time I was sobbing and crying myself during and after being on the phone with a particular emotionally abusive (now ex) boyfriend who was living in a different country. Person 1 was a busy looking lawyer type working on the train, who when I got off the phone and continued crying, gave me Haribo and asked if I was ok, and then went to get me a cup of water and some napkins from the buffet. He was really sweet and chatted with me and cheered me right up. The second time, the crying and sobbing was occurring as I was getting off the train and I got out of the station and slumped onto a broad window sill of the station to try to compose myself but was failing. A really really nice lady came over with tissues and asked if I was ok and offered to buy me a hot chocolate. I said no to the choc but thanks for the tissues and she made me smile because it was more evidence of humanity not being all bad at a point when I was very down. I think of those two experiences fairly often and hope to pass the good karma on if I ever encounter a similar situation from the other side myself!

  219. @Jennifer: Now, she was sobbing because she couldn’t get her own way (I didn’t have busfare, so we had to walk home, and she was cold and tired and also about four years old). Wanting to get your own way is a TERRIBLE thing, everyone knows that.

  220. @Lynn “So while there may be a reasonable explanation in some cases, there isn’t a empathy-worthy explanation in all cases.”

    Oh, I completely agree with you; but when I saw you mention people who put their bags on the seats next to them I thought, “I do that. Someone on the internet doesn’t like me! Maybe I did this to hir? I must explain!”

    What pisses me off is when a group of four guys drape themselves over four rows of seats and talk loudly about how much they want to “bang” (ugh) random women. If you were on the Blue line to Hillsboro this morning and this sounds like you: You are all jerks.

  221. @Lynn re Southwest
    here’s a dilemma for the Shapelings to ponder
    I flew on a completely full Southwest flight. A few people were running late, but the flight attendants kept announcing that it was a full flight, and that everyone just needed to take the first seat they could find, etc.
    A man boarded and tried to take the middle seat. The guy on the aisle seat, who was medium-large, made a big fuss that he and the window seat person were both large and that the middle seat person should go and try to find another seat. (we were near the front and couldn’t tell if there was another seat available or not) the flight attendents told him it was a full flight and he’d have someone in the middle seat no matter what. he continued to bitch and the guy that tried to take the middle seat managed to find a seat further back. of course, when the last passenger arrived he was a lot larger than the first guy, who was just medium sized.

    from a ‘some people are just assholes’ perspective, I was amused. from a FA perspective, I’m not sure what to think. the dude who complained, while certainly large enough to find flying uncomfortable, was neither super tall nor super large, yet he was kind of pulling a weird kind of sizism on the other dude.

  222. @ Too Many Jessicas
    Thanks for yr reply — I like you on the internet! ;) In fact, I’ve seen more seat-hording from men than women, now that I think of it. So, despite the fact that some women have legitimate harassment anxiety, seems like they STILL feel more obliged to to be “polite” than the duuuuuudes. I’ve seen that draping behavior, too. Annoying! Sure, the bus is virtually empty, what’s the harm, but as it’s filling up … ugh. And saying shit like that basically IS harassment. Sorry those jerkwads ruined your ride.

    @ southwest dilemma …
    Well, from a capitalist-masters POV, more evidence that the seats really are just too small.
    From a human-nature-in-bad-situations POV, what did the complainer guy hope for? That instead of a medium-sized man, they could hold out for a small woman, for whom it would be perfectly hunky-dory to be squeezed in between two guys? Great. Did they maybe notice a group of jockeys at the gate who had yet to board?

    When I flew SW recently, the whole Kevin Smith saga was on my mind. I had a window seat, and there was a medium-sized guy on the aisle who was doing that passive-aggressive-no-eye-contact thing to discourage middle-sitters until there were almost no seats left. A bigger woman came down the aisle and needed to sit. With Kevin on my brain, I made eye contact and gestured for her to join our row. The aisle-guy still tried to ignore her, so I out-loud said, “Would you like to sit here?” She smiled and settled in. A tiny little blow for FA.

  223. F Y’all’s I, I just released a LOT of comments from the mod queue, so I apologize to anyone who was stuck there for a while. We’re down to two busy mods, and neither one of us went through the queue this weekend.

  224. Ailbhe, I’m interested to hear that Sail & Rail is cheaper if you’re travelling with children (not that I’m likely to be doing that any time soon). It’s certainly not much slower. And it’s far more comfortable.

    There’s an interesting baggage-reversal too: On the ferry, I try to check in as much baggage as possible, so I’m not tied to it, and can wander around, go out on deck (where I try skidding on the wet deck as the kids are doing, land on my arse, and get weird looks because I’m no longer eight years old and therefore shouldn’t be doing that, apparently). And in Holyhead, you can walk straight off the ferry onto the train! If only Dublin were so easy. The connection at Dun Laoighre is simpler, but you get the HSS from there: faster, but not as nice a boat. Only two tiny outside decks, where you can’t really walk around. At least nowadays, after I dropped a note in the suggestion box several times, they open both outside decks and mark one as non-smoking. Before that, it was impossible to get a breath of fresh air for the entire journey. My note in the suggestion box. I’m taking credit for that.

    ***

    Note: I’ve recently discovered an excellent way of starting conversations on the train. It’s worked with teenage boys, young women, young men, and older women. I say, “By the way, I’m trying to write a table quiz. Do you have any suggestions?”

    TRiG.

  225. And I refuse to take the Greyhound. Insanely fucking rude employees. I’ll pay a few bucks more and take Amtrak.

    OH MY GOD YES. I have countless stories from the single trip I took two months ago, but my favorite has to be when I was transferring busses at New York. At this point, incidentally, I had not eaten in over 24 hours and was utterly out of it. I rushed up to the man at the terminal door and ask, “Sorry, when’s this bus leaving? I wanted to see if I could grab some food.” He said, “Fine. Show me the ticket.” I rummage around in my bag to find my ticket, and he sighs and says, “Why do women always have to carry around so much stuff in their purses?” and makes this “Am I right?” gestrure to the guy standing near him. MAYBE BECAUSE I AM A HUMAN BEING WHO IS TRAVELING UGH. Now is not time for your ‘edgy’ observations on sex and gender, asshole.

    Now I take Bolt Bus, which is hardly Sticking It to Greyhound, considering Greyhound owns it. But the buses are infinitely nicer and have WiFi, and the whole system is much better organized. It also costs a hell of a lot less, especially when you book in advance. ($8 from NY to Boston, woo!) Of course, I can only use this because I travel between DC, Philly, and Boston — some of the only cities it services.

  226. Day, above, newly released from the mod queue:

    From an environmentalist perspective, there’s no reason air travel should be easy or comfortable.

    Yes! Exactly. And this is one of many reasons why I strongly dislike flying. Did you know that the TGV put some regional French airlines out of business? Brilliant!

    Dechion, also newly released from the mod queue, I’m fascinated to learn that two people who know each other, and who are travelling from the same place to the same place, who decide to share a vehicle, count as a carpool. I thought it counted as basic common sense.

    TRiG.

  227. I think it’s hilarious that the “mainstream” airlines have all adopted the Skybus model now. Remember Skybus? It was an airline that lasted maybe five minutes, leaving me stranged in North Carolina the weekend it folded. Skybus was about dirt-cheap fares with lots of add-ons at reasonable prices. $10 for “priority boarding.” $10 to check a bag. Food and beverages to purchase on board AT REASONABLE PRICES. Since my flight started at thirty-nine bucks each way, I made a point to buy stuff on the plane because the T-shirt and jeans-clad flight attendants were paid like crap and got commissions on what they sold. Now that we know what Colgan Air pays THEIR pilots, I shudder to think what my pilots on that flight, “Gwen” and “Rich” (yes, not “Captain” anyone, but “Gwen” and Rich”) were being paid.

    But damn it if there wasn’t a ton of legroom and a seatbelt that fit people larger than size 0. And yes, it was damn pleasant.

    My last two flights were for business overseas, in business class. Lufthansa business class is awesome. It’s also like $4000 to Europe — something one can only do on a corporate nickel.

    My husband and I used to go to Jamaica every year. Now the thought of dealing with airport crap and sitting in a crammed 4-hour flight makes me want to commit suicide.

    Later this year I’m going to NC again. I’m taking Amtrak. It’s 11 hours, and worth every minute of it.

  228. OMG, Meowser you may have just saved my marriage! Drummer’s earplugs, I’m making a note now. The manbeast snores, it’s not too bad if I can fall asleep before he starts, but if I’m up at night while he’s sleeping I have to resist the urge to scream at him or smother him with a pillow.

  229. Re: Greyhound employees — With a couple of exceptions, I’ve had good-to-excellent service from Greyhound people (in Canada). On my last trip, a delay meant we had to forgo one of our scheduled meal stops. In chatting with the driver, I happened to mention that it was the only stop for the next 24 hours where vegan food was available, and he offered me some of the snacks he was carrying with him! (In fact, I always travel with more-than-enough food for myself for just such reasons. Seriously, why are none of Greyhound’s scheduled stops at a Subway restaurant, at least? With all the students who use their service, there must be a huge number of others veg*ns among their customers.)

  230. @Day:

    Ah, “the market will correct” argument. This is basically arguing from Darwinism. The thing that people forget about Darwinism, social or otherwise, is that evolution is not in fact in the business of producing winners. No, the winners are an incredibly rare and impossible to predict side effect of what the evolutionary process produces by the boatload: losers. Dead ends. The correction will come when the whole fucking house of cards comes tumbling down, because Unsustainable Situations Are Unsustainable. Evolution—and capitalism—doesn’t have a mechanism to prevent unsustainable situations from happening because there’s no need for one. They fall apart. The centre cannot hold.

    We see this all over the place. A truly free market allows the most cutthroat businesses to amass enough power that the free market ceases to exist, at which point we either have an autocracy or a collapse, because the situation that allowed the business to thrive is no longer there. Should’ve listened to the Lorax.

    You can see this going on now. The free market is currently in the process of eating the middle class—you know, the people whose existence fuels the market for many goods and services—alive. The free market is paying us less and charging us more, the free market is making it harder for us to save, easier for us to get into debt, and harder for us to get out of it. The free market is working to limit our ability to bargain, individually and collectively, and doing what it can to silence or drown out our voices politically.

    Is this “a flaw in the functioning of the market?” No. It’s what the market does. Is it good for us? Is it good for anybody? No. It’s simply the reason “the free market” is rarely the only answer we need for anything for long. The correction will come. It might come in the form of the collapse of the private airline industry. Or it’ll come in the form of increasingly large government payouts (they already got more tax money in the previous 10 years then Amtrak did!).

    If sanity prevails then that public money will be attached to the understanding that yes, air travel is a public service and anyone in the industry who doesn’t want to treat it as such is welcome to stop taking tax money and go out and make a fucking profit.

    As for the rest of your post? I loathe America’s Car Culture, I’ll always choose rail travel over air travel where it’s practical and I wish that more people would do the same, but… meh. It’s okay to be environmentally irresponsible if we’re not comfortable while we’re doing it? Okay, then may I please have ample leg room and a cash bar if I wear a hairshirt? Or does it not count if we choose our own discomfort?

  231. @TRiG:

    What exactly do you think counts as a carpool? Does it need to be inconvenient to be worth it? I need to get a new smug filter installed, I’m choking to death on the fumes.

  232. Alexandra Erin: I’ve always imagined it must involve rotas and route-planning and fuel-cost-sharing and things, and be organised in some way – close neighbours who were going to the same place anyway just means not having to pay double for parking fees and petrol, no?

  233. Thank you TRiG. :)

    @Alexandra: Actually, as I said, I’m anti-capitalist–so you don’t need to convince me. My questions within the framework of classical economics were directed at the original post, because I presume Kate is some sort of market liberal.

    With regards to the rest, no, it isn’t ok to be environmentally irresponsible as long as you’re uncomfortable. However, I’m assuming that there is a responsible level of use for airplanes. If so, two things need to happen; one, their use needs to be rationed (which, under a market system, is done with high prices and poor conditions), and two, the most ecologically responsible way to use them needs to be implemented. That might mean not spending fuel to fly refreshments. It definitely means flying every flight full; eventually, to have equality about it, this might entail having different seat sizes for different body sizes.

    You may personally prefer to make comfort sacrifices in other areas rather than be uncomfortable flying, but infrastructure choices have to be make at a societal level. Ultimately, the best system would allow individuals to make those kinds of trade-offs wherever possible while still keeping everyone’s impact down to a sustainable minimum.

  234. Day: I’ve read some convincing arguments that coach or bus travel is more ecologically sound than train travel. Which I would hate to be true, because I get sick on long-distance buses (on a British Isles scale, not a continental scale).

  235. @Day:The thing is, you’d probably describe me as a “market liberal”, too… one can believe in capitalism and the market as forces and even beneficial forces without thinking it’s a good idea to let them run about unchecked. “Is there a failing in the market?” Yes, in the sense that it’s not perfect, but that’s no reason to throw it out. It just means we can’t let it be the only or most powerful force at work in society.

    The alternative to capitalisms are either to move directly to a totalitarian system or to adopt some some form of anarchy, and anarchy is the free market applied to the whole of society. DO NOT WANT.

  236. @Ailbhe: I’m pretty sure that the reason a two person ad hoc car sharing agreement between friends results in “not paying double for petrol” is because roughly half as much petrol is being used. So I’m really not sure why people are objecting to calling a two person ad hoc car sharing agreement between friends “carpooling”. Does it have to be inconvenient to save the earth? Do you have to prove your sincerity with charts and sign-up sheets for it to count? Because if this is important, I’m more than happy to start calling what I usually do when I need to get somewhere by car a two person ad hoc car sharing agreement… but on the off chance that it’s just a bit of arrant snobbery, I’d like to know because calling it “carpooling” is a bit less of a mouthful, you know?

  237. Now that I’m sufficiently horrified by the overabundant suckitude of the airlines, I’m so very glad that I don’t have to fly anywhere and haven’t since 1999!

    I once took a hound from Gulfport, MS to Ft. Walton Beach, FL because I was stationed at Keesler AFB and didn’t have a car. I think it would’ve taken about two hours to drive and I spent 5 hours on that bus AND we had to stop in Mobile. bleh.

    As for Amtrak, I live in CA and if you’re going north to south or vice versa, half your trip could be on a bus, anyway.

    I promise to look for a passenger next time I go to San Fran, but I’m taking the car!

  238. Kate – Toronto/Chicago? I would definitely second the recommendation for Porter airlines (“Flying Refined!”) I’ve never actually flown with them myself, as I’ve had no reason to travel anywhere they service since they started up – but all of my friends here in Toronto practically skip to the island airport everytime they ‘get’ to fly with them. It’s the Little Airline That Could.

    Porter Airlines has a new home at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and is now open to passengers. The $50 million passenger terminal enhances passenger services, further improving the travel experience at this revitalized facility. The new lounges triple previous capacity and include standard complimentary Porter amenities such as a business centre, modern lounge-style seating, beverages, snacks and Wi-Fi. Porter projects over 1.3 million passengers using the airport in 2010.

    Porter Airlines offers you convenience, speed and seamless service in your short-haul air travel. The Porter travel experience is simple, hassle-free and dignified, reflecting the days when flying was fun, exciting and a part of the journey to look forward to.

    Porter sets the standard for service, bringing an uncompromising commitment to delivering on its http://www.flyporter.com/fly2/PorterExperience/FlyingRefined?culture=en-CA>“flying refined” brand promise.

    I cannot wait to have a reason to fly with them.

  239. @Alexandra Erin “I need to get a new smug filter installed, I’m choking to death on the fumes.”

    This seriously made me laugh!

  240. there are ’standard’ homeopathic remedies for certain types of emergencies (injuries, heart attacks, bleeding, appendicitis, etc.)

    Yeahno. If I ever have a heart attack or appendicitis in public I sure hope whoever helps me has *real* medicine. Ye gods.

  241. I have to travel for business a few times a year, and I have to say I really liked the security set up in Tampa, FL. They had three lines, one for families and inexperienced travelers, one for vacationers and one for business/experienced travelers. The first few times in and out of there were great. The only problem was the last trip on my way home I got into the business line and the TSA person asked me to get into the family line (which was much longer). I asked why and she said “you’re too young to be an experienced traveler.” WTF? I was terrified to say anything for fear of being hauled aways as a Troublemaker. That’s the worst part of this flying thing. We’re helpless to do anything about it because we might be hauled away or arrested or what not.

  242. I am surprised by the hatred of wheely luggage–I don’t think I could get by without it.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t hate the bags themselves at all. Love them, in fact, for the very reasons you mention. What I hate is the fact that the largest “carry-on” size wheely bag is really too big to fit if everyone shows up with one, and these days, everyone does. So something’s got to give.

  243. What Kate said about the bags above. There just isn’t room for 50 of them on a flight. That, and the fact that some people with wheely bags have a knack for ramming the bags into other people’s legs because they’re just carelessly dragging the bags behind them. The bags in themselves are fine for those who like to use them (I don’t, but I know that many people do).

    I almost always travel with a daypack in which I can easily fit a laptop, a couple of changes of clothes, toiletries and a paperback book, and it still slides easily under the seat in front of me. If I’m going to be away for more than a weekend, I pack in a larger backpack that I check in. I prefer backpacks because I don’t have to drag them around (especially useful if you go someplace with cobblestoned streets or stairs) or carry them in one hand, I always know where I’ve got my bag (as I, ehum, tend to lose anything I’m not actually wearing), backpacks tend to weigh less, they don’t get as dirty as bags that are rolled on the ground, and they don’t make that annoying whrrrrrrrrr noise. Also, they take up less space if you pack less. A lot of wheely bags take up just as much space whether they’re full or empty. But that’s just how I feel about them. :-)

    Re: earache when flying, I second the recommendation for earplugs meant for flying. They’re called Earplanes, though there might be other brands available now. My mother swears by them. Before they were available she used really strong cough drops. I’ve only ever got an ear/headache when I’ve had a cold, but it’s awful. I try to always have some strong cough drops in my bag when flying, just in case (so Mmarie, if you were sitting next to me on a flight, I would offer you one instead of staring at you! :-). If I have or have had a cold before a flight I also use nose spray.

  244. I just wouldn’t call it carpooling if you’re doing it with someone you already know, especially if you’re actually travelling to the same event. I’d call it car sharing. Or basic common sense. As in, it wouldn’t occur to me to do otherwise.

    TRiG.

  245. Alexandra Erin: I think this is partly to do with normal car culture where you are. It would be really weird, where I’m from, for that arrangement to be anything other than the norm – so something with a special name I had just assumed would be different, especially since I’ve heard of carpool lanes on roads which are some sort of special privilege, and the carpool arrangements I’ve heard of *called* that are, um, arranged, not just automatic normal habit. Like there’s “food you eat” and “diet” – when someone talks about their diet, I’d usually assume they mean something which is *not* usual for them and everyone they know.

  246. @ Eleventyone —

    Look out! I think you’ve just opened yourself to criticism from people saying, (a) not everyone is physically able to carry a backpack, and (b) regarding getting whacked by bags-on-wheels, people with backpacks sometimes carelessly whack people, too, and everyone’s got a story about that.

    So, you’re right about there not being enough room for everyone to bring on a big wheeled suitcase, and that’s a real problem, but I’m afraid your comment might have walked out a little too far on the limb of backpack-promotion.

    @ Wheelies … Before reading this thread, I would’ve gladly voted ‘yay’ to banning these bags as “carry”-ons. Now, OK, I accept that some people need them for kid-related to medical-supply reasons, which to me merit more consideration than just impatience with baggage claim or paying the checked-bag fee.

    So there are people who don’t care about having a big bag with them … but they have to pay the fee and also wait at the carousel. They’re doing their fellow passengers are service by not taking up bin space, but that “service” is dis-incentivized. Is there a way to let some wheelies on, but not too many, and still be fair to everyone?

    What about a “cap and trade” for wheeley bags. It would work like this:
    — there are a fixed and publicized number of wheeley spaces available, maybe a couple dozen?
    — they’re given out by lottery;
    — those who don’t need a wheeley-sized space can yield it to someone who does in exchange for a free adult beverage or other goody courtesy of the airlines. Priority for trades goes to parents of small children and people with medical needs.

    Advantages
    — What it costs the airline in miniature plastic wine bottles, they save in time-as-money when boarding the plane. Plus, they gain goodwill from tipsy passengers.
    — The non-wheelie users don’t feel taken advantage of or for granted.
    — Those who really need to bring on big bags are less likely to endure last-minute mandated checking.
    — It priorities wheelies as carry-ons for those who actually do need them, and weeds out those who are just impatient or cheap.

    I think there’s something to this … or maybe I’m just angling for free drinks!

  247. especially since I’ve heard of carpool lanes on roads which are some sort of special privilege

    Where I’ve lived, anyone with 2 (or 3 depending on the lane) or more people in the car can ride in the carpool lane. Probably because nobody wants the cops to be grilling people about how they know the other people in the car and whether their arrangement is sufficiently inconvenient.

  248. LilahMorgan: We have bus-and-cycle lanes but I’ve never heard of a carpool lane in the UK or Ireland. Ever. I think carpooling-being-a-thing is a very US thing, like yard sales or car parks for office blocks or schools.

  249. Probably because nobody wants the cops to be grilling people about how they know the other people in the car and whether their arrangement is sufficiently inconvenient.

    No, because it’s the efficiency of the travel that matters. And you’re just as efficient with people you know as you are with people you don’t. Environmentalists don’t want people to be inconvenienced purely for the sake of it. Please!

    TRiG.

  250. Dude, you’re the one who said sharing with someone you knew and who was going to the same place wasn’t carpooling. Don’t lecture me about what environmentalists want.

  251. @carpooling — I think it’s partly a regional dialect thing. I don’t have a car, so I often end up hitching rides with people I know to events. I tend to call it “hitching/mooching a ride” if it’s a last-minute thing, and “carpooling” if it was set up in advance. The use of “carpooling” goes up with both number of people in the car and distance traveled.

    Then again, I may just be weird ;-)

  252. And I was talking about who can use the carpool lane and why and at least part of the reason any two related or unrelated people can use the carpool lane is enforcement issues. I don’t think that really warrants a condescending comment.

  253. And I disagree. I don’t think it has anything to do with enforcement. Even if the police/highway authority/whoever could easily and reliably determine which cars were filled by friends or family travelling together, and which were filled by an organised carpool, I see no reason why they’d want to keep the former out of the carpool lane.

    TRiG.

  254. Some states designate it as a “carpool” lane and others designate it a “high-occupancy vehicle” lane. Speaking of dialect! But I think this is partly a function of legal designation vs. colloquial language. For a while my husband and I worked at the same place, and if the subject came up, I would say something like, “We drive in to work together [colloquial], since we’re both working here. It’s nice that we get to use the Carpool Lane [legal designation].”

  255. Oh, and one thing that makes the carpool arrangement “special”– at least in my experience, when I’ve lived in cities with carpool incentives such as HOV/ Carpool lanes, it was VERY rare to know someone who (a) lived near you, (b) worked near you, AND (c) worked the same hours as you. That simply was difficult to find– there was no “city center” where most people worked, or anything like that.

  256. Even if the police/highway authority/whoever could easily and reliably determine which cars were filled by friends or family travelling together, and which were filled by an organised carpool, I see no reason why they’d want to keep the former out of the carpool lane.

    Because you’re not actually encouraging a husband and wife who only own one car to car share (they would be anyway) and you are clogging up the carpool lane, making it less desirable to people who are organizing car pools specifically to get that incentive?

  257. @Lynn – LOL, should anyone feel that writing about what works for me is the same as saying everyone should feel that way, they can bring the criticism on! :-) (BTW, not everyone is able to use a wheelie bag either. Even I find them uncomfortable to use, despite being more or less able-bodied. That’s another reason why I don’t like to use them myself, but I know that other people feel otherwise)

  258. LilahMorgan,

    What you’re saying makes absolutely no sense to me. But let’s leave it at that, as the entire carpooling discussion was something of an aside.

    TRiG.

  259. I have an almost identical rant about health care. Just replace “airlines” with “insurance companies” in that second-to-last pp.

  260. What you’re saying makes absolutely no sense to me. But let’s leave it at that, as the entire carpooling discussion was something of an aside.

    Ooh, I love this. “You’re an idiot, but we’ll leave it there now that I’ve got in my parting insult.”

  261. Re: Greyhound vs. Bolt Buses- Although the Bolt Buses tend to be a lot more comfortable, I have experienced totally shitty customer service from them as well. Since I don’t have a printer, I usually just write down my confirmation number in my planner. As I was getting on the bus once, I gave the Bolt employee my planner with the page open to my confirmation number. But after he checked it, he wouldn’t give it back. He continued to thumb through the other pages of my planner as I kept saying, “Please give me my planner back,” and when I went to reach for it, he actually pulled it away from me. Finally, trying not to get seriously agitated, I asked for it back again, and he gave it back but he had to throw in, “I’m just messin’ with you, boo” and winked at me. !@$##^%#%#(%Y# Another Bolt Bus driver spent the entire five-and-a-half-hour ride singing with the radio. I kid you not, singing. Loudly. It was more like wailing, though, because he was awful.

    I’ve found a lot of travel employees like to “mess with me” during critical moments. When I was flying back to New York from Los Angeles, I only had my passport as ID, and when I was getting ready to go through security, the guy said to me, “Your passport’s fake.” And although I know it’s not fake, I was so sleep-deprived and caught off-guard I was like, “I’m sorry, what?” and he goes, “Nah, I’m just messin’ with you.” AIRPORT SECURITY SHOULD NOT BE MESSIN’ WITH YOU. I can’t wait until they replace everyone with robots.

  262. LilahMorgan — among other things, by letting a married couple who only owns on car drive to work together in the carpool lane, you’re encouraging that hypothetical couple to only own one car.

  263. But let’s leave it at that, as the entire carpooling discussion was something of an aside.

    Yes, LET’S LEAVE IT AT THAT, where the carpool discussion is concerned. Thank you.

  264. I was like, “I’m sorry, what?” and he goes, “Nah, I’m just messin’ with you.” AIRPORT SECURITY SHOULD NOT BE MESSIN’ WITH YOU.

    I KNOW RIGHT. I was flying out of Paris two summers ago — nineteen years old, didn’t speak the language, by myself — and the guy checking my bags pulled out a box of candies I’d gotten for my friend and said, “You know I have to take these, right?” I was all wide-eyed and WTF, and he said, “Yeah, you got these for me, right?” I laughed awkwardly, then he put it back in my bag and said, “Just kidding!”, like I was being really gullible. Then he kept making flirty comments about me buying him candy. Way to pick the easiest target EVER, guy.

  265. I’m sorry for dragging the carpool issue out. I’m a tad sensitive about transit related things because I spent twenty hours on a train with a bruised tailbone this weekend. How a train bruised its tailbone, I’ll never know…

  266. I guess I’m in the minority here. I don’t have much agita over security, too much carry on luggage, airline policies, etc. I’m easy to please–if the plane takes off and lands, (in one piece) it was a good flight. The rest is minor.

  267. The only time I ever got any unsual attention from security was when I had unwittingly put on the exact same outfit and jewellery as in my passport photo and done myhair precisely the same way. The airport security man said “Ahh, you really don’t need to dress up as yourself to fly you know.” Oh…Number one idiot of the day prize to Paintmonkey.

  268. On security: When I went to the US with my partner, about 9 years ago, I had to fill in a little form on a bit of card. They gave us the forms at the end of our 14-hour flight, which was after a 2-hour check-in time; if time in the airport counts I’d been travelling for about 19 hours by the time the little cardboard thing arrived. There was, on one side, a BIG BLACK LINE saying “Do not write below this line,” and on the other side a bit saying to complete all sections including section [whatever number it was] which was the one below the line. I figured the safest thing to do was not fill it in, since filling it in at the desk would be easier than unfilling it.

    It took about an hour to get through the airport to the immigration queue.

    Then we got to immigration and were asked if we were travelling as a family; Yes, we were. Were we married? No. Then we couldn’t travel as a family. My partner went through first, with our suitcase. Then my turn. First, where was my luggage? Er, there with my partner. Not an acceptable response, apparently. Why hadn’t I filled in the form? Because I wasn’t sure whether “Do not write below this line” meant that or something else. Was I stupid? Yes, clearly. Also, by this time, crying. And still had “no luggage.”

    After we got out, we concluded that the guy in question just liked making people cry. And that there’s a central department of governmental form design specially so people can learn to do things like that. And that I was never going to share a suitcase with someone else while going through US immigration again.

  269. If it didn’t take SO much longer to drive than it does to fly, I’d do that more often. But when you want to take a weekend trip from NorCal to SoCal, the 1.5 hour flight (plus the couple of hours before and after it to get in and out of the airport) is a lot shorter, and gives me more time to do stuff on my weekend. It’s annoying, but it beats getting home at 3 a.m. Monday morning and having work at 8 because we drove.

    (Can you tell I’m pondering doing it again?)

    I like train travel, but it’s still long, and every time a freight train goes by my train gets pulled aside to wait for it. If you need to be on time somewhere, don’t even think about taking the train, because god only knows how long you’ll take. Taking the Amtrak Bay Area train is pretty on time, but anything else I’ve taken, holy jesus, no. I used to get in around anywhere from midnight till 3 a.m. when I went from Stockton to Sacramento (leaving around 7:30). And from what I’ve heard, the longer the train route (i.e. sleeper cars), the worse it gets.

    So…yeah, nothing that can be done, really. Except have scientists work on beaming people up.

  270. @LilahMorgan – I’m blogging about that right now. What I “love” about that story is the tacit assumption that elderly passengers need assistance and young ones do not. Because it’s socially unacceptable to look like you’re leaving someone’s grandmother to get around under her own power, and it’s socially unacceptable to look like someone’s granddaughter and not be able to get around under your own power.

  271. I was like, “I’m sorry, what?” and he goes, “Nah, I’m just messin’ with you.” AIRPORT SECURITY SHOULD NOT BE MESSIN’ WITH YOU.

    I hate it when people do this to complete strangers. Especially tired/exhausted/sick/frazzled strangers.

    Hate haaaaaate hate fiery hate.

  272. Ooh I fucking hate when security guards do that flirting with women who’re a captive audience thing. Cops do it too, all kinds of men in situations where they know the woman can’t tell them to fuck off. A few weeks ago a security guard did it to me at a concert – accosted me when I was taking pictures and told me that I needed to “be nice” to him if I wanted “access”. I’m a journalist, asshole, not a groupie – I’m not required to kiss your ass. It’s particularly bad when it’s cops or airport security because you know that they can in fact ruin your day if they feel like it, and they know it too, and are relishing the opportunity to harrass women with no repercussions.

    Hate.

  273. CassandraSays: I think ascribing malice to the actions of the security guards in Lucy’s anecdote is not a fair interpretation (though the one alabee described definitely sounds creepy, and I’m obviously not questioning your interpretation of the events you experienced). Sounds to me like they’re just trying to be friendly and cheerful – and perhaps cheer up obviously unhappy travelers – in the best way they know how. I agree that that’s not an appropriate way to be friendly and is definitely not inclined to cheer anyone up, but I really don’t see where you’re getting “relish the opportunity to harass women.” It sounds way more thoughtless to me than malicious. Which is obviously not an excuse, nor am I suggesting it is.

    Alexandra Erin:

    Because it’s socially unacceptable to look like you’re leaving someone’s grandmother to get around under her own power…

    Oh how I wish that were true. My grandpa’s almost 92 and about as able-bodied as you can be at that age, but when he flew to my college graduation a year ago we set him up with a wheelchair with United. He’s old and moves incredibly slowly and we wanted to make sure he’d get to us ok. We were supposed to meet him at the baggage claim for his flight, where a United employee was supposed to bring him. It took us over an hour after his flight landed to locate him, and my hand to God, he’d been left alone at the wrong baggage claim. Lucky he’s the world’s most jovial man and was totally cheerful about the whole thing. My family was considerably less cheerful.

  274. @sara l – I’m getting it from years of being a feminist and observing the way men interact with women? Honestly, I’m not sure that conscious malicious intent even really matters (though I stand by the interpretation that it’s often there – I got all kinds of “flirtatious” harrassment as a teenage girl travelling alone, and that particular sort of “friendliness” was notably absent any time my father was travelling with me). What matters is the results, and if men’s privileged cluelessness leads to them being “friendly” in a way that makes women uncomfortable, well, they need to not behave that way, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to stop and think about the position they’re putting women in when they “flirt” with women who’re a captive audience and unable to tell them to stop without risking getting themselves in trouble. With power comes responsibility, etc, and I’m not a fan of letting men off the hook because they just didn’t know any better. They should know better.

  275. I agree that that’s not an appropriate way to be friendly and is definitely not inclined to cheer anyone up

    DAMN RIGHT.

    but I really don’t see where you’re getting “relish the opportunity to harass women.”

    She’s getting it because they probably wouldn’t do the same thing to “attempt to cheer up” a man. I’ve certainly never seen anyone “messin’ with” a guy. And I’m sorry- taking my belongings out of my hands and not letting me have them back? That’s not fucking friendly.

    My definition of friendly customer service is someone who does their job quickly and efficiently, and answers any questions or concerns I do have in a helpful and pleasant way. It is not someone who tries to flirt or make jokes or conversation with me, ESPECIALLY not in an airport, where security and efficiency is paramount. That’s why I love El Al- they actually have signs up that basically say, “If you joke around while we’re questioning you, we WILL detain you. So just answer the questions and shut up.” Which means that in turn- gasp- no El Al employees joke or flirt with you. They just do what they’ve got to do and get you through to your flight, and save the dumb-ass quips about fake passports for situations when, you know, SOMEONE REALLY HAS A FAKE PASSPORT.

  276. For most of human history travelling required MONTHS and was so expensive as to prohibit all but the most wealthy from participating in it. Even those who were wealthy enough to afford travel, often paid for it with their LIVES. How can people who live in the era of fossil fules fail to marvel at the amazing availability and affordibility of modern travel? Incredible.

  277. I want to add to this a bit late to the discussion – last time I flew I tried to help the lady in front of me struggling with carryons, stroller, small child getting upset at having her shoes missing get her things at the conveyor belt and ended up being screamed at by security for touching someone else’s bags while they watched her struggling.

  278. Okay, wow, it’s actually really validating that people find the comments from that employee really inappropriate. A lot of people think that kind of thing is ‘flattering’ and ‘funny’. Bah, no.

    Another story! I was maybe . . . 18? and showing my driver’s license for a domestic flight. The photo on it was taken when I was sixteen, when I looked younger and, frankly, much more awkward. The thirty-something guard raised his eyebrow at me and said, “Ah, you aged nicely.” WHAT NO. NO NO NO.

    Okay I will stop with the stories now. I know I’m hardly the only one with such experiences.

  279. You know, I actually used to quite like air travel. I live in Australia and fly both domestic and international for work quite regularly, and while there are occasional small disasters at the airport (I was waiting at the gate that time a Qantas jet’s oxygen tank exploded, for instance…) and things are, naturally, woefully overpriced, the staff have always been friendly and accomodating, clearing security and customs is almost entirely painless, and the one time my baggage was lost it was found for me again promptly. I’ve flown to London, Paris, Helsinki, Singapore, and Tokyo, and aside from occasional language barrier problems, it’s been universally pretty great.

    Aaaaand then I flew to America. I won’t be doing that again if I can avoid it. The state of the airports there is an absolute nightmare, and every experience I had was a nightmare. (The one exception: the Qantas staff, who were all trained in Australia, and all snarked endlessly about the American airlines.) Major highlight: one security person who tried to arrest me for having a dual citizenship, as clearly such things cannot possibly exist and therefore every piece of ID I’d produced was fake. He didn’t even have the excuse of coming from a country that didn’t recognise dual citizenships, for chrissakes… thankfully the only airline employee with a brain was within earshot and sorted it out.

  280. I’d just like to add my two cents on the “harassing women” bit — let’s assume, for a minute, that the men in positions of power at airports and elsewhere really DON’T think they’re harassing women. Let’s assume that they think they’re just being friendly, trying to cheer people up, etc. That may even be true in some cases. As Lucy pointed out, this would mean that they would engage in similar behavior with men. EVEN IF THEY DID, what they’re doing to women still counts as harassment. No matter what their intentions were. No matter whether they think they’re just being nice. There are men out there who genuinely think that street harassment is flattering. That doesn’t make it a compliment when they ogle me. Harassing women makes them assholes. Not thinking it’s harassment doesn’t undo that; it just makes them clueless assholes.

  281. I think the security guy who pinched by bum as I bent down to put my carry on bag through the scanner thing at JFK probably did know he was harassing me. One of my more startling air travel experiences!

  282. I have utter sympathy with “the terminal was so crowded that I felt uncomfortable.”

    I have zero sympathy with “the terminal was so crowded WITH TACKY PLEBES, SOME OF WHOM WERE LEGAL MINORS that I felt uncomfortable” which seems to me to be what Smith is saying here.

    An overcrowded terminal is uncomfortable even if it’s full of Nobel Prize winners or movie stars or winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor or whoever it is that Smith thinks of as the finest exemplars of humanity. The problem is not with the fashion choices or ages of one’s fellow passengers; the problem is with the corporate and government entities that think it’s OK to treat paying customers like crap.

  283. (Did I mention that the last time I passed customs, the official accused me of causing the obesity epidemic? It was clearly meant to be a joke and he did follow it with Just Kidding but argh. I’ve just been on a plane for ten hours, I’m tired, I’m really pissy, and you can lock me up if I say a word wrong. DON’T JOKE WITH ME ASSHOLE.)

  284. “No-one has mentioned body-scanners – is that only from Europe to the US? I am not happy about body scanners.”

    It isn’t only Europe to the US. When I flew from San Francisco to Los Angeles in March, I went through one. You didn’t have to go through it–they also had the regular kind, which had a long line of people waiting. The body scanner one didn’t, so I went through that one.

  285. @Emmy….(Did I mention that the last time I passed customs, the official accused me of causing the obesity epidemic?)

    Heavens, what an assmunch. He was lucky not to have had your luggage inserted into his baggage-hold at high speed for that one. After a long flight I would have found it very hard not to go medieval on that one. Sounds like you actually held it together and then some – serious respect to you.

  286. I don’t see why anyone would care if carry-on luggage has wheels or not. There are problems with not having enough room for everyone’s bags, but I don’t see what wheels have to do with that. Carry-on should be an easy issue. Airlines should determine the volume for carry-on storage, and divide that by the number of passengers. They should then choose the size based on the planes that have the smallest ratio. They need to have either stricter guidelines or more room on board for storage. I don’t see how wheels factor into this at all.

  287. I don’t see why anyone would care if carry-on luggage has wheels or not.

    No one does. As has been well covered upthread, there is a specific type of bag, which happens to have wheels, that technically counts as a carry-on but won’t fit at all in the bins of some smaller planes and won’t fit on bigger planes if a majority of people are bringing them on. The problem is not wheels, it is these specific wheely bags.

    And with that, I’m gonna close this thread, ’cause I think the topic’s pretty well exhausted. (This time.)

  288. Before wheels, you either had to carry the full weight of your bag or rent a luggage cart. So, most of us checked our bags. Wheels made it practical for every passenger to bring all their luggage to the gate and skip the delights of baggage claim. So, most of us now stuff all our luggage into an overhead bin.

    Personally, I’d taken to checking my bags. I found I’d rather spend some quality time with the baggage carousel than haul a week’s worth of clothes up and down the aisle of an airplane. But with this new fad of charging for baggage check, I think I’m going back to all carry on, all the time. I hate getting nickel-and-dimed.

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