Up in the Air.

Saving money on airline tickets is a real game. I carefully scrutinize Kayak for the best prices, determining whether it is worth the value to leave before the crack of dawn or take a later flight that might be nonstop. While I am seeking the best bargain, I often forget about the hidden fees and extra specials items for which I might be shelling out more bucks .

Last week I flew to St. Petersburg, FL to attend my son’s graduation from Galen College of Nursing. I booked a flight with a bargain airline, knowing that my son has flown many times with them and has had successful journeys.

As I waited at the gate for my flight to arrive, the attendant at the counter made an announcement that each individual may bring one carry-on item. No problem, I thought. I have one. I observed a gentleman carrying a small duffle bag. He measured his bag carefully and went to the counter to let the attendant know that he had one bag that was not noted on his ticket. Nonchalantly, she said he would have to pay for the bag. “How much?” he asked.

She answered so calmly, “$40.”

The man went apoplectic. “How much?” and again she repeated the amount. He was positively in shock, as was I. I watched many of the people around me in the waiting room, who seemed completely un-phased by the charge per bag. Most of them threw their small duffles over their shoulders and handed the attendant their tickets and went right into the plane. I followed suit.

Upon entering the aircraft, I noticed that the two rows of seats, right and left, had three seats in each row. My immediate thought was that this airline squeezes as many people as they can into this tin can. I finally found my assigned seat,  nearly the back of the plane (see my blog on the trip to Vegas). A young girl sat in a middle seat. I rejoiced. I had a window seat and no one else in the row. I don’t mind the window seat unless two very large guys are spilling over into my space.

As the plane ascended into the air,  a woman plunked herself in the empty seat across from us. She stopped the flight attendant and wanted to know if she could move farther forward in the plane. As I listened to conversation between her and the woman next to her, I discovered that the seat in which she currently sat was not her assigned seat.

What is that about? She had to have an assigned seat. We all did, but this woman just randomly sat in an empty seat until she could find something that suited her. The flight was still ascending when this woman began to fuss about her seat and demanded to move. The attendant patiently explained that when the pilot turned off the seat belt signs, together they would find a different seat. Nope, not good enough. The woman picked up her stuff and moved to the seat in our row. Rats, there went our extra space.

As I began to situate myself for the three hour flight, I observed my surroundings. The seats are made of hard, unyielding plastic, and no thick padding covers the seats, the cushioning being about the weight of two-ply toilet paper. Nor do the seats recline. The fold-down table is the size of an iPad mini. I tried to balance my coffee cup on it, and it did not fit.

I laughed out loud when the flight attendant announced that only one person may stand in line outside the lavatory. Wow! Now we have rules for going to the bathroom. Soon after, the flight attendants carefully wheeled the snack cart down the aisle, announcing snacks and drinks “for purchase,” explaining the all purchases must be by debit or credit card. I’m wondering how much we passengers are actually saving when we fly these economy flights.

Our flight arrived in Tampa twenty minutes early. The landing was perfect, barely a bump on the runway but watching the passengers exit the plane was really entertaining. I watched a guy, wearing earphones and bopping his head in time to the music, jump out of his seat, shove past some of the fliers to pop open an overhead bin. He dragged out a small duffle bag that was so heavy he could barely manage to hold on to it. As it came down, the bag conked a passenger on the head and walloped another one in the back. That guy was getting as much in his one bag as he possibly could; heaven help the person who received a concussion when it came out of the bin.

Babies screamed while harried moms tried to placate them by jiggling or giving sippy cups, and cheerios. One lady was climbing under and over the seats looking for her glasses that had fallen off the top of her head and under the seat behind her.

I am thankful for the safe landing and the brief visit my son,but I can’t help but wonder about the hidden costs on economy flights. In the end, by the time you add up the fees, you can fly on another airline for the same price, and by George, you get padding on reclining seats, tray tables wide enough on which to lay a book, a free water and soda with pretzels. Wow! What a deal!

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