United: Plane stupidity

I don’t like to fly. I’m not afraid of it; I just hate it. As a result, I’m generally not a nice person to fly with. I have rules.

Rule 1 is sit down and shut up. I prefer a window seat because I know I will not have to move unless I want to. But in exchange for this, I rarely bother the other passengers in my row. I don’t climb over them to get to the bathroom. I don’t fight over who gets the armrest. I try not to even reach over them to get stuff. And I sure as hell don’t feel the need to engage in awkward social banter. I’m traveling with a laptop, a DS, an iPhone, an iPod, and mutliple magazines. I’m fine.

Rule 2 is keep your crap to yourself. Whenever possible on business trips, I pack everything in one bag — my big blue messenger bag, my “murse.” All of the above electronic doodads go in there as do things like Advil, earplugs, a Clif bar, and hand sanitizer — not to mention fresh underwear for the trip. That way everything is at my feet; I am self-sufficient for the entire flight. I am not one of those people who constantly fishes around in the overhead bin for things.

Rule 3 is check your motherfucking bags. Seriously, this is one of the things that annoys me the most — people who bring overstuffed roller bags onto the plane that just cause congestion problems for everybody else. I don’t expect everybody to have the security dance down (take off your shoes, take off your coat, put your laptop in its own bin, hop around on one foot) but I do expect them to understand that there’s a skinny little aisle in the middle of the plane and barely enough room for the people, let alone the luggage. So maybe you shouldn’t bring yours on board. Just because they tell you that you CAN does not mean that you SHOULD. But hey, you cry — if I have my bag with me, the airline can’t lose it! True enough. But more often I get the feeling that it’s a sense of smug entitlement. I look at them causing a 15-person backup as they tug at their bag, tring to unjam it from the overhead compartment, and recall when they got on the plane with a look on their face that said “I’m the exception.” I never and will never offer to help one of these people. It’s your bag; it’s your problem. Learn from your mistakes. You should have checked the son of a bitch.

United — they who have delayed and cancelled and generally fucked up 70% (NOT an exaggeration) of the flights I’ve had the misfortune of booking with them — apparently thinks Rule 3 is bullshit. I arrived at the airport to check my bag only to find that I was being charged for excess baggage. Standard baggage is now…none. Seriously. It’s an on-site charge of $15 for the first bag, $25 for each additional, and no baggage check is included in your ticket price. I was so pissed by this, I just laughed. The baggage handler looked at me funny. I told him I knew it wasn’t his fault, but it was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen the airline do, and it fed directly into the biggest complaint I have when flying.

Maybe someone thought it would encourage people to pack more efficiently. Maybe this is a way to simply squeeze a little more money out of each and every customer. But what it’s really going to do is make people think “Fuck it, I’m not checking my bag — I’m carrying it on the plane, where there’s no room and I can inconvenience up to 200 people with it. And I’ll save some money in the process.”

The very basic rule of business is that customers are motivated by price. Note to the airline: The reason we’re flying United is that it’s cheap. And the reason the passengers will not check their bags is because they are cheap. I would have thought that the space in the CABIN was more valuable, but I’ve got it all wrong. I was expecting a $15 charge for anybody who DIDN’T check a bag that clearly needed to be checked. Let’s start charging for gate checks, not encouraging them. Fucking asinine.

I don’t have issues with JetBlue or Virgin America or even Southwest, believe it or not. United is singularly wretched, and I hate living 10 minutes from its west coast hub. “We know that you have a choice of airlines when you travel and we thank you for letting us prove to you why United is the last on the list.”

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