Monday, July 28, 2008

What I’ve Learned From Booking 12 Different Round-Trip Flights in the Last Two Weeks

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 46 - last minute flight

Let me just get something out of the way first: I am not a big air traveler. In fact, I hate airplanes. It’s not that I’m afraid to fly, because I’m not. You’d have to be an idiot to be afraid to fly while not being absolutely mortified to set foot in an automobile. I just don’t like the idea of airplanes and how they are, essentially, controlled, self-contained people catapults.

For the people who know just how much I dislike air travel, it would freak them out to know that I’ve booked nearly a dozen round-trip plane tickets in the last couple of weeks. This comes after only having booked plane tickets one other time in my entire life (last summer, for a business trip to Colorado). Lest you think I’ve somehow gone plain crazy (plane crazy?), most of those tickets were not purchased for myself. Most of them, in fact, were booked on other people’s behalf. Here’s the breakdown of just who got those tickets:

  • Four out-of-town co-workers. At a recent business conference, several of my co-workers located in other states asked me to help them get interviews at our locations in the Washington, DC area. And since I helped them get those interviews, I also volunteered to help them order their plane tickets (paid for by the company, of course) so as to avoid busy travel times and other retarded features of flying into and out of our nation’s capital. All four got round-trip tickets there and back; two are coming back in the next week or so for another interview while two others have or soon will be taking a one-way trip to the area to start their new jobs. (Oops, I fibbed about all 10 of those tickets being round-trip.)
  • One out-of-town co-worker and close friend. I became good friends with one particular co-worker who managed to turn a separate three-day finance conference in the DC area into a fun-filled week-long orientation to her soon-to-be new city of residence. But because her plans changed several times, we ended up going through three different round-trip itineraries (and the associated change fees) just to accommodate her conference and her interviews.
  • One round trip for myself. Lucky me, I just found out last night that I get the wonderful pleasure of doing some traveling myself next weekend. Yay.

So in about half a month I’ve gone from not knowing the difference between an e-ticket and standby to knowing all 37 different ways you can get from Denver to Dulles on a Thursday afternoon. But that’s just one of a few lessons I’ve picked up from my ticket-purchasing spree of late. Here are some of the other things I, an air travel novice, have learned about going from point A to point B via giant winged metal monstrosity.

  1. Flying is actually not that expensive. It only runs about $250 round-trip to come up here from Orlando and go back… if you don’t mind flying on a discount airline. Considering you’re going about 1700 miles in less than five hours, that only comes to about 15 cents a mile—about what you’d pay for gas alone if you drove instead.
  2. Flying is expensive. Considering that traveling economy class on a discount airline is about half a step up from packing yourself in a cardboard box and shipping yourself to your destination, it sure does cost a pretty penny.
  3. Changing a flight is expensive, a pain in the ass, and expensive. In one case, the itinerary change fee was almost as much as the one-way trip itself. By 2020, I imagine the average round-trip flight fare will still only be $250, but you’ll pay $3,000 in “because you breathe oxygen” fees.
  4. Frequent flyer miles fail if you don’t freaking fly frequently. After saying that three times fast, I’ll just note that frequent flyer plans aren’t like credit card rewards where even schmucks who just buy a few items here and there can still get something for their trouble. Even after booking a dozen flights with my own frequent flyer numbers, I still don’t have enough miles on a single airline to get me off the ground! Oh, and why do they say you have “15,000 miles” if they’re really only good for a flight that’s 500 miles? I guess inflation has hit the airline industry harder than everyone else.
  5. There’s never a plane flying when you really want one to be flying. So you want a flight that departs Denver for Washington sometime between 2pm and 6pm? Okay, we have flights leaving at 9am and 8pm with available seats. Or you could connect through Chicago and Atlanta, but we can’t promise that your baggage won’t end up in, say, Dublin.
  6. Cheap airlines are cheap for a reason. As if no food service was bad enough, some discount airliners thought that a great way to save money would be to introduce negative leg room. Yes, worse than 10 inches of leg room. The next guy’s seat actually starts before yours finishes. Hopefully you have detachable feet you can store in the overhead compartment.
  7. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity are great. You use them to find the flight you want across 50,000 different airlines; then you go to that airline’s website and book it directly with them instead of paying Expedia or Travelocity’s stupid fees.
  8. Two of the three DC-area airports are not public transportation friendly. In a way, planes are a form of public transportation. Okay, in many ways because they freaking are. So why DC doesn’t do a better job of getting folks from all points in DC to Dulles or BWI Airports on public ground transportation without having to transfer at least twice on Metro and then take an hour-long bus ride is beyond me. Sure, there are plans to build Metro lines out to Dulles one day, and DC residents typically don’t give a crap about BWI anyway, but whoever planned the placement of these airports relative to the rest of the area really didn’t take into account that, hey, everyone lives 30 freaking miles that way.
  9. Airport food is expensive. Three bucks for a bottle of water? Fifteen dollars for a crappy sandwich at the airport restaurant? I fully expect that we will soon see airlines purposely delaying arrivals so that passengers disembark so famished and thirsty that they’ll gladly pay the $42 for a piece of baloney and a packet of mustard.

There’s one thing I learned from all of this recent air travel planning that deserves to be kept separate from the rest of the list: Arrival gates are one of the happiest places on earth. Seriously, anytime you’re feeling down in the future, just take a trip to the nearest airport’s arrival gate for a couple of hours. You’ll witness a steady stream of tearful reunions that’ll really cheer you up and renew your faith in humanity.

Your faith in the airline industry, on the other hand, is now departing from Gate 15A on a one-way trip to Never-Never Land.

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