Flying A La Carte
At a time when air travel is making Amtrak look efficient, the airlines have decided to price their fares the way car dealers price their new vehicles: Would you like tires with that Dodge Durango? How about a gas tank and steering wheel? Suddenly, all of those air-bound features we mistook for necessities are being sold to us as extras with swanky names such as Coach Choice (aisle and bulkhead seats), Snack Pak Delights (dehydrated pretzels), and Live Navigator (the pilot).
And this is only the beginning. Flying will soon become a customized experience: Will you be needing a snack table? ($3)? A reading light? ($4.75) Overhead luggage bin? ($11) A seatbelt? ($22.50) A seat? ($59) In the event of a sudden change in cabin pressure, will you be needing oxygen? ($71) Do you need to land within walking distance of the terminal? ($84.50).
Certainly, no industry is more entitled to exploit us than our skyway hosts, the same enterprise that showers us with award miles not just for flying but for routine expenditures like hotels, restaurants, car rentals, bail bonds, and Botox for your Beagle. But is there any such thing as a free flight and have you tried booking one lately? If you plan your itinerary 14 months ahead while avoiding weekends, weekdays, and blackout dates (September 15 through Labor Day), you just might snag the one-and-only seat allocated to frequent flyers located in the freight section under the luggage and kennel cages, on a red-eye from Atlanta to Denver with changes in Chicago, Seattle, and Newark—in that order. Not that it matters. Your flight will be canceled long before your departure date, assuming the carrier is still in business.
But truth be told, what the airline industry really cares about, besides figuring out how to operate in the black, is our comfort. This is evident in the seat pitch, the 31-inch distance between your seat and the seat in front of you, based on the square root of a maximum-security cell, upper bunk, and the reason you can’t feel any sensation below your knees after a three-hour flight. When the passenger ahead of you is fully reclined, this amenity is known as a Coach Vice. (No extra charge.)
Their other concern is for our safety. This is evident from the length of time it takes to pass through security, based on a multiple of three times the length of the flight. But at least we can relax knowing there are no toothpicks onboard. And that when we customized our reservation we purchased a little extra called Passport to Relief (the key to the lavatory). ($36.50)
Copyright 2006 Patricia Draznin