THOMPSON: Air travel isn't fun anymore but you definitely need a sense of humour | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon News

THOMPSON: Air travel isn't fun anymore but you definitely need a sense of humour



If you’re like me, going to the airport to fly somewhere has all the charm and excitement of showing up for a colonoscopy. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I relished every aspect of flying, even packing for a business trip to New York, Los Angeles or Toronto. Every flight brought smiles to my face, it was fun.

Of course, if you didn’t fly 50…even 40 years ago…you have no benchmark for comparison.

But, trust me, flying isn’t what it used to be. Airports today are the Greyhound Bus stations of the 1960s. Actually, people taking the bus 60 years ago dressed better.

Even so, like bus stations of yore, you’d never go to an airport today if you or someone you know weren’t coming or going on a jet. Crowded. Bad food. Bureaucratic red tape in the name of safety.

From the time you enter a terminal, you face roadblocks…things that make the experience…un-fun. For example, today there are self-service check-in kiosks that sometimes work to print boarding passes or luggage tags. Sorry, if I wanted to work at the airport, I would apply for a job…and get paid.

No one wearing a neatly pressed, crisp uniform with the welcoming smile of a homecoming king or queen is ever within sight at today’s airport. Back in the day, women and men making your reservations, checking you in and handling your luggage were…not just attractive…they were pleasant.

Today, if you get lucky and find someone in uniform that works for your airline…often their Clint Eastwood curled lip might make you pass on conversation for fear of hearing, “Go ahead, make my day!” or “You've got to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

Pity the infrequent flier…left to follow the cattle - sorry, other travellers - who they believe might know where they’re going.

The folks working security at Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) or Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the U.S. aren’t there to make your life miserable…it just seems that way.

I really would like to see a news story about some security officer saving the day…finding a bomb…or thwarting a terrorist. Instead, these poor souls are more our last line of defence against tubes of toothpaste bigger than 3.4 ounces…and bottled water.

Depending on the airport…you might have to take off your shoes…your belt (in case you were thinking about hanging yourself?). I’ve been tempted to strip to my skivvies on occasion…just to see if anyone might notice…and blindly let me go through the metal detector.

I’m sorry if you hate the monotony of your screening officer job with TSA or CATSA, but I don’t believe you’re entitled to say things I’ve heard: “If you don’t place your belongings onto the belt, you’ll be considered abandoning your property at an international airport, and that’s a punishable crime.”

Obviously there are plenty of good CATSA and TSA employees, but honestly I don’t seem to come across many of them. Travellers concerned about what some CATSA or TSA worker - or just some passerby - sees might be surprised that scanners at some airports can detect tampons on a female body scan image.

Security looks at everything in every carry-on of every passenger…as if you might be the next Unabomber. However, no airline inspects every checked bag on a flight. The security at airports - CATSA or TSA - is good PR…it gives the appearance of safety.

A few words about carry-on luggage…actually, more than a few. I checked 62 different airlines the fly in and out of Canada…54 of them have different size restrictions. WestJet allows a bag that’s 21” x 15” x 9”…no other airline allows those exact dimensions. Air Canada lets you carry on a bag that’s 21.5” x 15.5” x 9”.

How much can your carry-on weigh? Well, it might be 11 pounds…or 15 pounds…or 18 pounds…or 22 pounds…or 25 pounds or 35 pounds…or you might not have any weight limit…as is the case with 13 airlines.

Air Canada’s policy is that there’s no weight limit but you have to be able to lift it to the overhead bin. I have this mental picture of some old lady…variously being cheered or jeered…as she pumps her luggage skyward.

Personal items…not to be confused with carry-on…can go under the seat…and some airlines dictate dimensions for those items, like purses or laptops…but most don’t. You have the option of crushing those items with your feet until they more or less fit.

Every flight I’ve ever been on for as long I can remember has included at least one passenger - oblivious to the obvious - who squeezes, pounds and threatens their too-large roll-aboard into an overhead bin. I have been tempted to offer my help…unzipping the case and throwing everything from underwear to socks out until the soft-sider suitcase fits.

My best travel investment in the past 15 years is not some over-hyped gadget from an in-flight magazine or a 1.75-Litre bottle of Hendricks Gin from the Duty Free Shop…it’s my NEXUS Card. My wife Bonnie, and I, paid $50 US and we save headaches and hours going through Customs and Immigration. I recommend them heartily.

Airline de-regulation started in 1978…and the public was told it would be better. It is not. Just about everything that was once convenient and comfortable…from seat sizes and padding to what passes for meals…is godawful today.

The best airlines lose the bags (at least temporarily) of six of every 1,000 passengers. Some lose the bags of eight to nine of every 1,000 passengers. I know of no one who flies often who hasn’t been stranded without their clothes for at least a day.

I have no real answers to the plight of flying today. Keep a sense of humour. I was behind a business traveller in Washington, D.C. once and overheard this:

Traveller:  “I’d like to fly non-stop to Los Angeles, but I’d like my luggage to go to San Francisco.”

Airline Employee: “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that!”

Traveller: “You did last week.”


— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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