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Left Coast / Right Coast: Air travel isn't what it used to be

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Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

Okay, let me start right off by saying I’m no longer a fan of air travel. Why? Simply because in the past 15 years or so, they’ve managed to dehumanize the entire experience.

Let’s start with getting to the airport. Unless you’ve spent the time and money to obtain a “known flyer” certificate, which allows you to go through security in a “special line,” supposedly faster and more convenient. If you are simply a member of the general travelling public, you have to endure the long lines. You have to take your shoes off, remove all metal from your “person,” then go through a full body scanner which shows your body, sans clothes in all its glory, to a nameless faceless person or persons whom you can’t see.

If you listen carefully, you can actually hear these people laugh out loud as they view your body with all its lumpiness. I’ve found one needs to allow at least an hour for this process just to insure you will get through security and still catch your plane.

Next, getting to the airport: I challenge you to find a relatively low cost parking lot near Sea-Tac airport. Plan on spending at least $100 or so for a week of parking. Worse than that, the parking lot – via a disclaimer on the check-in ticket –absolves themselves from any and all responsibility for anything that happens to your car while there.

Of course, you can decide to use a high-end valet parking service – which drops you off at the terminal, then delivers your car back to you at the arrival level. However, that can cost $50-$75/day or more.

So let’s assume you don’t want to leave your expensive car at the airport, where I’m convinced the attendants at these lots call “friends – who pay them off” who then can have a “go at your parked car.

The alternative is to use an airport limo service or far worse, a taxi. From Mill Creek, a taxi would cost near $75 plus tip. A limo service (airport shuttles) requires you to get picked up at a ridiculous hour before your flight. That’s because they may make another stop or two on the way to the airport. So if you have, say, an 8 AM departure, plan on being picked up at about 3 AM. (As we all know, going south on I-5 at any time from 5:30 AM to 10:30 AM is always iffy. Although the taxi or shuttle can use the HOV lane, it is guaranteed that it will not be much faster.

Once past security and on the plane: First, as was written about in today’s Seattle Times, the seats are constantly being made smaller with even less space between you and the seatback in front of you. Many times, the seatbacks no longer recline (as was the case on a recent trip on Spirit airlines).

Then, you probably have to pay to use the over-head bin. If you are willing to shove your carry on into your “foot space” (and I use this term carefully), you can probably get the use of this for free.

It always seems to be the case that I get a somewhat over-weight passenger on one or both sides of me. So you have to be careful not to breathe in too deeply for fear of poking your neighbor in the ribs. (Guaranteed to be exactly just as they put a hot beverage to their mouth – spilling it all over your lap.)

If you are taking a red-eye (overnight) flight to the east coast, forget about getting any sleep. You are sitting bolt upright, with zero space to spread out and attempt to relax.

Want a meal on the flight? Forget it. If you’re lucky, you may get a three ounce glass of soda and a tiny (under an ounce) bag of pretzels or some other inedible substance.

I fondly remember flying coach on Air France and Sabena (the now-defunct Belgian airline). Even their coach meals were something to savior.

Forget about trying for a connecting flight at any time in the late afternoon or evening. Why? Because all the inevitable delays will, no doubt, cause you to arrive too late to make your connection. At that point, you are at the mercy of the airline (worse if your connection is with a different airline). A number of airlines have had cancellations due to insufficient staff to fly and service the planes.

Last point. You are certain, I’m sure, to recall the recent story about an airline that overbooked its flights. One of them resulted in security guards physically removing a passenger from his seat and dragging him off the plane.

Thinking about all this “service” and the absolutely maddening promotional material you get via unsolicited e-mails saying stuff like: “You are the most treasured part of our service.” I for one, would rather spend time in a Guiana work camp. Sometime watch the Dustin Hoffman movie "Papillon," about his incarceration on a prison island. You can then compare the experience I’ve described above with this other one.

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