Holiday Travel and My 3 Rules for Flying

It’s holiday travel time again.  Whether flying to see relatives, go skiing or escaping the cold to warmer climates, lots of folks will be flying in the next few weeks. Air travel has become so bad so as to prompt articles like the Wall St. Journal’s “How to Survive Thanksgiving Travel“.  Unfortunately it’s gotten bad enough that we use words like “survive”.  They have suggestions that go as far as paying for a day pass in an Airport lounge to escape the madness.  Well, here are my 3 golden rules for air travel:

1. No layovers – now while this sometimes can’t be avoided depending on where you live and where you’re flying to, I find that it’s worth the extra money to fly direct.  Layovers mean exponential increases in likely delays, particularly if you’re flying through cities like Chicago, Denver, Cleveland, etc. in the winter. Also (see #2) if you do check luggage, you’re then vastly increasing the likelihood of lost luggage.  Some people will endure layovers for cheaper tickets or to boost miles on preferred airlines, but other than extreme circumstances, I think direct trumps all.

2. No checked luggage – Now you might think this stems from the recent practice of airlines charging fees, it actually originated with my loss of trust in airlines actually delivering my bag. (United actually lost my luggage (forever) once on a direct flight).  Additionally, waiting for bags when you arrive at your destination is maddening.  Unless you’re traveling for a very long time, you should be able to fit your belongings in a carry-on bag. See below for recent issues related to this point.

3. No Red-Eyes – I get a lot of disagreement on this point, but I feel strongly about it.  The concept of a red-eye sounds great – no wasted daylight hours in airports or on planes, cheaper airfare (usually), and sleep away the excruciating time on the plane.  The problem is that most domestic red-eyes are 5 hours or less in flying time, which means that you’re at best going to get 4 hours of sleep but more realistically about 2 (if you’re lucky).  Now, some people don’t mind that, but that leads me to be non-functional the next day (they are called red-eyes for a reason) and likely get sick soon thereafter unless I actually sleep the next day away which then ruins the whole idea.  Now the obvious exception to this is long, international flights, particularly if you can fly business class and actually have a comfortable seat to sleep.

So these rules have generally served me well. However, recently, rule #2 has become more difficult…

Now that airlines are charging for checked bags, many more folks are following my rule #2 (albeit for different reasons).  This means the overhead bins are filling up and boarding has become a circus. This is compounded by the arbitrary boarding processes being used by different airlines these days. Almost every airline uses a different process and many don’t enforce their own rules. In most cases, if you choose a good seat near the front of the plane, you are forced to board last and may be forced to check your carry-on due to lack of space.  Even worse, airlines have tried to fix the problem they caused by enforcing size restrictions for carry-ons, also arbitrarily and capriciously.  Recently, American Airlines has gone so far as to have a special new role for an employee to stand at the gate and only enforce these size restrictions using the absurd metal demonstrating containers.  Now, we all know these are a joke.  You can fit these whole things into the carry-on space onboard and certainly bags much larger….So now every flight turns into an argument about whether or not one’s bag can/should fit and be allowed on-board.

As usual the airlines have created the wrong incentives IMHO. Instead of (or even in addition to) charging to check bags, they should charge for carry-ons.  I would be happy to pay a fee to bring my bag on board.  This would decrease the amount of bags brought on board and smooth the boarding process. It seems airlines are intent on casting their customers as the enemy and trying to make their customer experience as miserable as possible while extracting every last dime in the process. No wonder we have to look for ways to survive….

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