On a recent trip to Ireland I packed a large bottle of my favorite Irish whiskey in my carry-on luggage. I know, it sounds a little strange, taking Irish whiskey to Ireland but not if you knew that it costs anywhere from four to six times more than it does in the States. Upon checking in at the airport, the United Airlines employee informed me that I was three and a half pounds over weight. When I told him that I thought I carried it rather well he was not impressed. "That will be $150 sir."
Over the years I have learned, much to my chagrin, that it doesn't pay to argue with people in uniforms. In fact they get a special pleasure in letting you know what omnipotent power and authority comes with their fashion statements.I enjoy my Bushmills on occasion, it's a wonderful stress-reliever, but to be honest it's not quite worth $150. Regretfully, I had to surrender my little bit of liquid comfort. On reweighing my bag I was now .3 lbs overweight. "That will be $150 sir." Where's the compassion? Whatever happened to the "Friendly Skies"?
All of this got me thinking about how the travel environment has changed in recent years . . . especially air travel. The following are some observations from this particular persons "flight deck." While they may not have the usual humorous spin that I like to cast, they are nonetheless factual and downright mind-boggling.
Flying from LA to Oklahoma, a certain airline (you know who you are) only accepts credit cards when purchasing one of their culinary delights or liquid refreshments. Ironically, on the return flight they only accept "cash" for those same much sought-after goodies. Help me out here folks!
Last week I flew Santa Barbara to Seattle, a lovely flight. They weighed my check-on luggage, always a moment of great concern and anticipation for me. On the return flight the same bag was not weighed. Why not? I felt deprived. After all the careful culling of heavy clothes and other luxuries just to stay under the limit, they didn't even give me the satisfaction of rewarding me for my diligence. Frustrating. Do you know that I was carded in the Seattle airport (I am 58 years young)? Normally, that wouldn't bother me; I am used to it by now. What really pissed me off was that I ordered a "glass of water." Helloooo deeeeary!
Earlier this year I flew to Philadelphia. Prior to departing for the airport I weighed my check-on. Since I don't like surprises I was happy when I weighed in at a nice fighting weight of 47 pounds, three pounds under the limit. The UA scale posted a hefty 54. "That will be $150 sir. And oh, by the way, we need another $20 for the bag." I'll leave you to figure out how I felt.
On my onward flight from Philadelphia to Memphis, the same bag that left Santa Barbara was minus two lost Titleists that now weighed 42 pounds. I guess everything is lighter on the East Coast. Flying home from Memphis, they never even weighed the bag. So much for the reassurance that the right hand knows what the left is doing. Isn't it nice to know there is uniformity across the board in all these regulations.
In European airports you don't have to remove your shoes. I think you can thank the French for that. Have you ever been in the Metro? Also, removing computers from their containers is not always a requisite. I flew from NYC to Dubai. The in-flight attendants were young, attractive and happy. Wonderful food and liquid refreshments were plentiful. Returning to the West Coast from NYC, the attendants were not so young, attractive and happy. On a five-and-a-half-hour flight on an airline we shall not mention (but you know who you are) we were served a glass of water and two saltines. I am sure I could have ordered something more substantial but I was embarrassed to ask whether it was a "cash" or "credit-card" flight.
These days the airlines charge for everything. In Europe they even charge you extra if you didn't check in at home. It's $19 to get a window seat or $29 if you need more leg room. Why don't you just take that $48 and go to the airport bar, have a couple of your favorite adult libations, save a few dollars and you won't even give a s*&t where you sit.
Some airlines charge $7 for a "Crudweiser." Others want $5, and some even give it away free. Now that last one makes sense to me, give that stuff away. It costs $920 to travel 365 miles/52 minutes (Santa Barbara to San Francisco), but it costs only $680 to fly 7,000 miles/10 hours (LA to Dublin). To quote the words of a well-known comedian, "How come they call them apartments when they're all stuck together?" Sound familiar?????
A couple of weeks after 9/11 I was in a security line behind a gentleman who was asked to empty the content of his pants pockets. He had a couple of golf tees and was promptly told they would be confiscated because they were considered a "potentially dangerous weapon," Only if you put an old skuzzy Slazenger on top of them! Needless to say we were served our meal with a regular knife and fork. At what stage did we completely lose sight of basic common sense?
What purpose does it serve to ask a 93-year-old grandmother to show proof of her age when ordering a small glass of Chardonnay? Why charge me $5 to watch a movie? Hide it in the price of the ticket and then I will think you are a wonderful airline because you are giving it to me gratis. Duh!!!!!. Why do airlines think they can now charge us $10 for the same crappy food they used to give us for free? I'm puzzled.
I realize that this is a forum to discuss golf and photography, but all of these incidents and many more occurred on the way to and from photographing a golf course. I promise to throw in a little more levity in my next yarn.
Despite all this doom and gloom, there is one consistent bright spot in these airline tales. The very fact that I can regurgitate all these incidents to anyone who is still awake, means that the pilots have done a marvelous job bringing their magnificent flying machines safely back to Earth. For that I am eternally grateful. Did I ever mention to you that my mother used to tell me that I was very good at everything in life that was totally unimportant? God bless her.
In closing, a quick story to end my ramblings. Despite all my observations, complaints and grumblings about the airline industry, without them I couldn't do my job.
Case in point: At 7 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day I was in an Irish Bar in the Lisbon Airport. The waiter was not aware of the day or its significance. Six hours later in the Newark Airport a bartender from Dublin put everything back in perspective. Another five and a half hours across the continent and the bartender at LAX was dumbfounded as to why people in Chicago would put green dye in the river (I have a problem with that myself). Midnight West Coast time I closed my favorite tavern in Santa Barbara. As I walked out the door, Tony (my good friend and bartender to the stars) said, "In the time that I have been here today, keeping everyone happy, you have been through four different airports, on two continents, in three different planes, and some 7,000 miles. You are a lucky fellow."
I guess Tony is right. I am a lucky fellow. All of the above is part of everyday life when you choose to "soar in the clouds." How we interpret these events has a tendency to color our perceptions of people, places, and yes . . . even airlines. Difficult as it may be at times, try to choose the lighter, brighter side. Take a deep breath and relax. It's easier on the blood pressure. Flying is the only way I can get from one adventure to the next, so I try to see the humor in the anomalies that I encounter on a regular basis.
Until the next time, safe travels and don't forget to show them your ID when you order water in Seattle.