If you read last week’s column then you know I had, as they say, some “family issues to deal with” since we’ve spoken last.
I had to fly up to Philadelphia, Philly, for my sister’s funeral.
And yeah, this could be a column about the experience of the funeral itself (it was, after all, a striking event) but, ah, maybe some other time. I’ve learned things over the years, and one of the things I’ve learned is you can emotionally exhaust yourself. Certainly you can do so writing from the heart about emotional events.
At the same time there was a tangential experience to share. I flew commercial to Philly.
And again, I’m pretty sure I can write up that experience without taking the train to hack-columnist town. (“And what’s the deal with those peanuts they hand out?” No, no I won’t.)
I used to, in a previous version of me, fly a lot. Well sure, I’m an airplane guy, pilot’s license and all that, used to skydive a lot – in fact my first trip to this part of the world was flying a load of skydiver’s up here for an event. But some time after that, and before today, I was a business guy who flew around a lot, a whole lot, at the airport several days in a month.
It was, I used to joke, a good way to stay annoyed, and I wasn’t joking much. My peak business-person air travel years were the time between 9/11 and late 2007. During that time I piled up frequent flyer miles and hotels point like – well, not the best of ‘em, but like some of the other annoyed people waiting for a ride at the rental car counter while either going to or coming from a sales presentation.
And then this past Friday I find myself back in that soup all over again, flying out of Little Rock for the trip to Philly. Figure a 12 year gap give-or-take between Joe Frequent Flyer and this past weekend.
In some ways it’s the same old thing: Wait in a line, and when you’re finished with that line sit in a space, then, when you’ve done that long enough, wait in another line, rinse, repeat. After you’ve done those things in some predictable order you get to step outside and get some fresh air.
But there’s been some changes.
Good news: TSA is no longer the militant band of crotch grabbing clipboard wranglers of times past. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re serious (my penknife is now in a trash can somewhere near a body scanner) (sleep well, America) but they’re not quite so … oh gosh, quasi-military. Now they’re less prone to shouting, more prone to eye contact and, sunufagun, have less people with clipboard watching the other, presumably lower-ranking, people do the work.
The boarding and bag-carrying thing, that’s changed. Of course I was flying on the budget plan over the weekend, last to board, but the carry-on game has been updated since my frequent time.
Now they just tell you, if you’re in a later group getting on, that they have no room for your bag and (to borrow the term from stock car racing) check it or wreck it.
What was interesting was you could check the bag on the front end, as soon as you get to the airport, but that costs $40. (I’m aware not all airlines do things quite this way. At the same time I don’t want to name-check the airline because I’m not in the free advertising business. Adding here that the airline I traveled on was the same one I used most frequently in my frequent years.) Now, you’re the one who lugs the thing through security, then you check it. Cuts down on labor cost, right?
Seating, if you wanted to pick your seat (me and my knees either sit on the aisle or in pain) that cost. The point here being that whatever you’re doing, or however you’re doing it, it’ll cost you.
Then it was book the flight, take your bags, pick a seat, board. Now it’s book the flight, do you want to board early enough where you can carry your carry-on? That’ll cost. Seat? Yeah, choice comes with a fee. (Good seat, an exit row? It’ll cost a lot.) So when you book your flight, your tickets are not necessarily what the flight will cost you, only what permission to get on the flight will cost you. Carrying stuff and sitting somewhere costs extra.
An interesting business marketing model, this incremental pricing thing. (I could go on; I actually date back to a time when flying was sport coats and silverware – and empty seats in the cabin – but heaven’s knows them days are way way over.)
All this said, I was still very happy to make it home Sunday night after my trip. Got in the living room and put my feet up, relaxing after the travel.
Felt like old times.
Alex Kienlen is the editor of the Van Buren County Democrat.