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Tuesday
Jul082008

The Sheer Awesomeness of Mass Transit 

Nick The NASA Poobah and I recently discussed piloting a bit, and due to time constraints--there were very serious discussions of barfing in microgravity to get to-- we didn't have a chance to touch on issues of modern air carriers, namely, the airlines' recent fuel price edict that multiple checked bags are subject to extra fees. U.S. Air is charging for the first checked bag.

You know who is loving this new development? Flight attendants. Because this means that every tool in America is going to cram eight weeks of clothes, his unicycle, and a portable anvil into one of those wheelie bags and try to shove it into an overhead bin. Bin Wars (open overhead, SHOVE, slam shut, watch door bounce back at ceiling) were bad enough before this went down, but now there's going to be bloodshed in the exit aisle.

And United charges a hundred bucks if your bag is over a certain weight. I found this out the horrible way en route to grading the Great Stack; the gate agent informed me that the bag was ten pounds too heavy, then wanted to know if I wished to rectify the situation with check, cash or credit card.

Ninety-five percent of the time, in that situation, I would back away quietly and collapse into a blonde little ball of inertness. But this was Great Stack Time, not vacation, which meant I had entered the airport pre-pissed, pissed enough to push me to the five percent of my personality in which I actually don't bow my head and thank the deli clerk for the slimy, incorrectly sliced pile of turkey in my hand.

I dropped my carry-on, unslung my purse, and placed my hands on my hips. "You," I said, "have got to be kidding me."

We had a five second eye-contact standoff while the check-in line built behind me. He broke first. "Go ahead," he said, waving me to the security line. "For you, just this once." It was a hollow victory; I'd pre-fussed my way out of a hundred dollar surcharge, but I'd also possibly angered The Envelope, and nobody wants that.

And then there's the pending humiliation of those who might find themselves kicked off of flights due to obesity. Holy crap, we've been dignity-stripped enough at the airport. I have to go unwatered into the terminal and put my socks in contact with the airport floor (People who fly in flip-flops? You are another post entirely.) I cannot imagine waving, or being waved, into the Fatty McFatser Rejection Chute, turboloaded wheely carry-on bouncing merrily behind.

This is already happening at Busch Gardens; signs near the coasters, both of the sane and "Oh hell no" variety, gently suggested that "guests with chest measurements greater than 54 inches may not safely experience this attraction." Fine. However, there's this mock-up of the coaster seat at the front of the line, which in and of itself isn't a bad idea... but then it's raised like a vomity throne above the general populace, affixed to a platform so that that one & all may ascertain the BMI of their fellow guests. I should have taken a picture, and nailed it to my fridge, and hunkered down for the pending lawsuit.

candy anyway at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (12)

All Hail Southwest Airlines!!! NO charging for luggage, NO charging for snacks or drinks on the plane, and NO kicking people off for obesity. However, I can not be so kind to Allegiant Air. Not only do they MAKE you choose a seat in order to purchase a ticket online, they then charge you $12 for the privilege. They also charge $10 for the first bag EACH WAY!!!!!
I did manage not to have to purchase a second seat (that's what Allegiant does to the "passengers of size"). I consider that a major victory. Never mind that I can actually fasten the seatbelt without the extra attachment.
I guess I won't have to worry about them anymore, though. They have cut their service to Phoenix from Indiana. Another victim of.....what exactly? Poor customer service???
LOVE Southwest. I'm sure they have issues of some sort. They just pale in comparison to what some of these other airlines are doing.......

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemmingAZ

Recently flew on AirTran. SInce I was traveling with my 12 year old niece, I wanted to be sure we sat together so I chose our seats ahead of time at $6 per seat and since it wasn't a non-stop flight, $12 per person one way. When I checked my bag, they measured it and it was like a milimeter too tall but she let me go with a warning. Uh, when did they make THAT rule? Wasn't on their website, never had an email. The airlines are getting so ridiculous. Waited for an hour IN THE PLANE in 95 degree weather in Atlanta for the pilots to show up (Delta flight. I HATE Delta!). Flight attendants have gotten mean and most "gatekeepers" are not very nice either!
Ok, I've said my piece. Have a lovely day and thank you for flying with us! Buh-bye!

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSara N

Restricting passengers and riders of "too large" size isn't discriminatory--it's just a safety thing. Those seats are created with a bunch of engineers figuring out how much force/weight they can take in call kinds of situations and directions. There's a limit on those things for a reason. Think of all the kids' toys that have weight limits on them, like PowerWheels. Of course I was sad when I was "too large" for mine, but when I sat on it anyway and heard the little battery-powered gears grinding away, I realized there was a reason for the weight limit.

That said, airlines should start charging extra for PASSENGERS over a certain weight limit. You're telling me that a 10-pound overage on my BAG makes a difference in how much jet fuel you need? How about the extra jet fuel needed to carry the passengers who weigh twice or three times as much as me?! If they can bring on 300 pounds between their bags and butts without an extra charge, I should too.

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

MB, I can't wait for your post about taking off your shoes at the security checkpoint! I might be one of the bigger germ-o-phobes out there, but I kept a pair of socks stashed in my carry-on so I could slip off my shoes, slip on the socks-for-airport-floor-contact-only, walk thru security, then remove them to put my shoes back on post-metal-detecting. And, of course, I folded them up dirty side in to put back into my carry on bag....

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Southerner

The space educator in me totally understands your argument, j.s., but the other part, the non-confrontational melty girl, dies inside for the people who have to be told just a thing-- not to mention the people doing the telling. I can't imagine!

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

The production designer in me would argue with your argument j.s., for we were taught that when designing something we should always keep in mind the 95 percentile—meaning that if I design a door, it should be wide and tall enough for 95% of the populaton to pass through comfortably. The problem is the airlines think first about profit, and then about their costumers. Ergo: the more bodies you can cram inside, the better.

(But I do admit with you that there's a global tendency in weight increase that's pretty scary; in fact I'm part of it)

Mark my words, some day they'll be charging on how many times you use the plane's BATHROOM ;-)

Oh, and you might want to read http://www.washingtontimes.com/weblogs/aviation-security/2008/Jul/01/want-some-torture-with-your-peanuts/#again" rel="nofollow">this little article, about a neat idea being considered to "improve" the safety of airline passengers.

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

RPJ, that was just...crazy. But then again, ever hear of stun guns? It doesn't seem that far removed...

AS, I just wear the socks with my flip flops. Why? Because my feet get cold on the air plane anyway. Besides, I think I'm still just young enough to get away with the "Sporty Chic" look of socks and flip flops right now, as long as they're color-coordinated. Dread the day I wear black socks and sandals though...

MB: Kudos for standing up to the airlines!

In reference to the general line of discussion regarding larger passengers, I'm surprised someone hasn't mentioned being tall as a problem on the airplanes. I had to sit next to a 6'4" young man for 12 HOURS once. Elbows and legs were everywhere! Let me tell you, being tall and squeezed into narrow rows on an airplane is just as bad as being larger and stuck in a small seat on an airplane. Frankly, airlines are really not meant for people outside of the "normal" size range--in either direction.

July 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCollegeGal

I'm 6' 4" myself, CollegeGal.

I'm never going to be able to visit Europe :-(

July 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

RPJ, I would never fly again if they implement that. Never.

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

MB - good for you for staring down the $100 charge for 10 lbs of overage. We fly Southwest because they're nice and no duct tape on the peanuts.

RPJ - I'm beyond appalled at the fact that someone thinks they have the governement-funded and Homeland Security mandated right to tag our wrists with mini stun guns while we fly the "friendly skies." Even more appalling - they use the excuse of "terrorist hijacking situation" to make it sound plausible.

Are Ghettos and Gulags next?

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCA Sailing Lady

"Are Ghettos and Gulags next?"

Not if you guys decide to do something about it, and remind those people in the big offices that they work FOR YOU.

July 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Sooner or later, airlines are going to realize that what's keeping people away isn't the ticket price due to the rise in the cost of jet fuel. Because no matter what, flying is always going to be the most efficient form of travel for any trip longer than a few hundred miles. It's that the airlines are one of those class of businesses who honestly seem to believe they can offer terrible service in the quest for higher profits and then get sympathy when their profits wind up in the blue water. (See also: companies, cable.)

When I just went to Las Vegas, I travelled with only one carry-on bag, because I'm a guy and I can. I managed not to have a fight over overhead compartment space, though on the return connector from Minneapolis to O'Hare I had to stow it about four rows in front of where I actually was.

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