Cross Currents

A cross cultural blog
DECEMBER 14, 2009 7:29AM

Welcome to Holiday Hell!

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Most airlines have reduced the limit of checked baggage to one bag per passenger. Additional bags can be checked only with a fee. For a long-haul flight between Europe and the US, a typical fee is $50 to $60 per bag. Land’s End is selling a wheeled carry-on at the maximum size (22”) for just under $60. I could buy two for about the same price as one extra bag checked round trip.  I travel with two kids who do not use their full carry-on allowance. 


Overhead bin space is always cramped. Encouraging passengers to load up on carry-on at the expense of checked baggage is dumb. I can be sure of finding space in the overhead bins because of the airlines’ next innovation in nickel and diming.


On BA, to reserve a seat in advance costs $15/seat for a short haul flight and $30/seat for a long haul. I’m flying two legs each way. That’s 90$ round-trip. The total for my family $360 for the privilege of sitting together in cramped economy class seats that are not too near the toilet.  So, I anticipate that I will be sitting in the back of the plane, hence will board before the people who paid to near to the front of the plane. We will have the opportunity to fill up the overhead bins with our 2 or 3 new rolling carry-ons.  


The other consequence of deciding not to pay $360 for assigned seats is that we may not end up sitting together and we may end up sitting in middle seats. If that happens, you can be sure that I and my husband will be climbing over the people in the aisle at regular intervals to check on our kids. Our kids will be undersupervised and, if sitting alone there will be no one to let them know when their behavior is out of line (kicking the chair in front, yelling to each other, etc).  They are not badly behaved kids, but sitting still and behaving for long flights is a challenge that they manage better with parental reminders. They will also be clambering over the person in the aisle seat very, very frequently. 


I’m sure that many families are going to make the same decisions. If my kids don’t descend into unsupervised hooliganism (and I will do my best to make sure they don’t), someone else’s will. Whenever I fly to the States, my flights are full of international families going home over summer or Christmas vacation. That’s a lot of extra carry-ons to fit in those bins. That’s a lot of undersupervised kids. 


All the major airlines waste space on their websites trumpeting how important customer service is to them. These new fees may not be changing how the airline treats passengers, but the decisions passengers make in response to them will have a net result of making air travel significantly less pleasant. 


Enjoy your flight!

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For all those flying home for the holidays.
The next fee system on flights will include a coin slot on your seat which will require a quarter for every five degrees of incline.
Welcome to the friendly (and ever more expensive) skies Malusinka! Despite all of it, I hope your trip goes smoothly:)
Actually, Nan, this year fares have been lower. We bought four tickets this summer for the same price as three the previous year. For this flight, if we had acted fast enough, we'd have had the same fare.

But even if the price is a hundred dollars a ticket lower than before, I'm still not going to shell out a hundred bucks for a checked bag when I can carry two on for free. Nor am I going to pay 90$ for pre-assigned seats.

The crowning touch to this is that BA is might go on strike the day after we leave. As long as the weather holds, we'll be okay. A snow delay and we'll be spending Christmas in an airport. And I don't know how easy it will be to come home.
Actually, that's not an idea I'd mind -- as long as there's a cheap bastard in the seat in front!
Back in the day when the rear of international flights was reserved for smokers and when beer and wine flowed freely, I personally descended into "unsupervised hooliganism" with some burly oil-rig workers returning home from a 6-month stint on the North Sea. One of them was actually detained at O'Hare and AA refused to let him go further on one of their planes. Tell your fellow passengers they are lucky that it is only children running amok!
I bet you have some stories to tell!

JK and Nan: thanks for stopping by. I'm off today (and I sure hope I make my connection, it's snowing). We'll see how it is. Maybe all economy class passengers are cheap like us and won't pay.
how did it go this year?
Kathy, thanks for checking in. The flight to the US was smooth. We got the seats that had been requested for us . I guess the bulk of BA's passengers passed as the opportunity to pay for reserved seats. We missed the two snow storms and the strike.

The flight back was delayed by snow storms in England, although the BA website didn't admit it, therefore didn't allow us to correct our to-be-missed connection and their phone line was overwhelmed by the number of callers, so they couldn't even put me in a queue to listen to Muzak while waiting for help.

I wrote a polite e-mail informing them this was awful service. They rebooked my flight, giving us business class on the short haul leg. Business class over the Atlantic is really, really nice. B-class within Europe is just nicer than economy. However, the B-class upgrade for one leg of our flight got us the b-class luggage allowance for the whole flight.

On the whole, the flight went well. Coming home was another story. A valve in a hot water tap broke while we were on vacation and hot water spewed on the ceiling of the third floor of our townhouse until water running out of the basement door caught the eye of our compound's security. We were called and arranged to have someone with a key be there so the water could be pumped out.

The bathroom ceiling collapsed, the living room ceiling collapsed, the den/study had 7 centimeters of water. Even our insurance agents were stunned by the size of the catastrophe.

The only good news is that we rent, so repair is the landlord's problem and he thinks we are great renters, so he's very motivated to keep us. The bathroom's already repaired.