The Unamused Traveler

airplane [Liza first published her admittedly snarky comments on the state of tourism-travel in the late 90s. This is the latest update.]

Whoever said “the journey is its own reward” and “getting there is half the fun” never flew on a 21st century commercial airline. Undoubtedly when those words were uttered, travel was both more arduous – perhaps involving camels and cruise liners that had a purposeful destination – and glamorous, in that people actually dressed for the journey. (Even I remember the concept of having a “travel ensemble” as a kid, on the train to Fort Worth from LA Union Station. And my mom had a dedicated suitcase thing just for makeup – heavy enough to kill someone if you wanted to whack them on the head with it.)

No, what we have these days is generally pretty far from that glamorous ideal. The travel part is, by and large, the least enjoyable part of any trip. I’m sure cruises and camel journeys still have a mystique to them, and I love train travel (in Europe). But airlines? Pathetic shells of what they once were. Cramped seats (for which increasingly you have to pay a “seat reservation fee” to avoid being utterly screwed with a bad selection), tiny cheap snacks, lousy food (when you get food) – with few exceptions, but I’ll get to those later. Service is usually barely tolerable, short connections make it undesirable to check bags, and if you do check bags, you pay for it, both literally (more $$) and figuratively (probably will be lost along the way). Rising costs have also finally led me to abandon one of my favorite trip rituals – the airport shoeshine.

wheeled-bigBut I save most of my disdain for my fellow travelers. As travel became increasingly accessible to the masses, the number of clueless people clogging up airports, dressed poorly, wandering slack-jawed through the terminals with vacant stares (and invariably carrying a food item that they clearly don’t need, like ice cream and pizza), smacking people with the bags they drag behind them, has led to a corresponding decrease in my travel enjoyment (at least in the “getting there” department).

Since I intend to keep traveling, and really want to have a good time doing so from start to finish, I somewhat humbly offer my critiques of fellow traveler behavior. Most of this applies to the casual traveler; most frequent business travelers do indeed have a clue. But not all.

Let’s start with…

Arriving at the Airport

Assuming most people leave their car at some kind of airport parking and get a shuttle to the terminal, it wouldn’t kill you to tip the gal/guy driving you in. If they helped you with your bag, give ’em something. (Consider this – they know where you parked.)

If you’re being dropped off by a friend, don’t sit there forever saying goodbye. The shuttle vans will run you over and other buses will side-swipe your friend’s car.

Checking In

Many airlines have automated kiosks for check in. You know, they aren’t hard. You can swipe a card, or enter your confirmation number…just step through the process. They are designed for morons, namely the ones who weren’t smart enough to check in over the internet and print their own boarding pass, so it’s sad so many of you can’t figure out how to use them.

Going Through Security

In the US, and most anywhere else I’ve been, there is a first security check of your ID and boarding pass before you get to the luggage screening area. So please, can you manage to have your ID and boarding pass out before you get to the security person? Waiting to walk up to him and then starting to rummage through the 18 things you are carrying is not amusing.

Secondly, stop arguing about your bottle of water. You can’t take it through, so give up already. Drink it, empty it, do something with it before you get to the security person. And don’t bother arguing with security that you don’t want to pay for water after clearing security. They don’t want to hear it and you aren’t going to win. You don’t want to pay, don’t – take your empty bottle to a water fountain. All the terminals have them. And reusing your bottle makes you look environmentally friendly, anyway, even those of you who really aren’t.

If you were smart and signed up for TSA Pre-check, and actually managed to use the CORRECT ?!#$!$ NUMBER from the back of the card when you made your airline reservation (hint: it isn’t the OBVIOUS number on the card), woo hoo for you, you don’t have to strip (much), or take your laptop out of your bag, or anything like that – unless something beeps.

If you don’t have TSA Pre-check, or something on you beeps…

Take your shoes off. No argument. About the only thing to consider here is whether the shoes are in or out of the bin (varies by airport – ask, or better yet listen to the TSA person who is probably screaming it at you by now, anyway).

Empty your damn pockets. Guys, take off those belts. (If your pants fall down, reconsider your wardrobe or physique.) You shouldn’t have to go through the screener three times because of things you forgot.

And hey – remember those liquids and gels! Take them out of your bag!

Boarding the Plane (aka, Getting Through the Gate and to the Plane)

All airlines, unless you’re on a three-seat prop plane, have the same basic boarding procedure. First the people who need so much help, they probably shouldn’t be travelling in the first place (ask me when I am 80 or so how I feel about this). Then people with kids…sometimes I think babies shouldn’t be travelling either, but we can discuss that later. Then some variation on precious metals or jewels (Platinum, Gold, Silver; Diamond, Emerald, Ruby), status conferred upon people for either travelling a whole bunch, or maxxing out their airline credit cards and thus accumulating insane mileage. (I’ll complain here to American, who only gives you precious metal status for actual flights taken.) Then the masses get to board, either by rows, or by boarding groups.

So…unless you’re one of the anointed special metals, a baby, or too old to be travelling in the first place, please do not crowd the gate area. You won’t get on any faster, and you just gum things up for the people who are legitimately precious metal.

Boarding the Plane
And don’t bother trying to cheat, either. If you are boarding group 6, don’t try to get on with 3. It will piss off the gate agent and hold things up for everyone else. You do not want to piss off a gate agent.

Special note for Southwest Airlines people. Depending on when you check-in, you’re assigned to a boarding group (A, B, sometimes C), and given a number from 1-60. They have nice signs in their gate areas telling you how to line up (1-5, 6-10, 11-15…). So why do so many of you look so blank and can’t figure out where to stand? It’s not rocket science.

Lastly…most gates have a thing for you to check if your carry-on bag (a misnomer if I ever heard one – should be called wheel-on) will fit in the overhead. Most of you people have laughably big wheel-ons. Just because the airline personnel won’t call you on it doesn’t make it right. Try squashing your bag into the checker. You’ll be as unamused as the rest of us.

Actually Getting Seated on the Plane

o-PEOPLE-BOARDING-A-PLANE-facebookOk you’ve walked or stumbled down the jetway and have reached the plane, with your wheel-on, er, carry-on.

At this point, you really need to proceed expediently to your seat, and get yourself out of the way of people behind you. If you can’t figure out what combo of letters and numbers on your boarding pass is your seat number, I am really not amused. There are only one or two truly critical pieces of info on your boarding pass: your seat if assigned, and your boarding group (if not boarding by rows). If you can’t figure out which one is which, then perhaps you’re in that group of people who shouldn’t be travelling. Or you should have asked the gate agent before you got this far.

Do not wait until you get to your seat to unzip your wheel-on bag and start rummaging around for your book or iPad. You should have had that thing pre-staged for quick retrieval.

As for that luggage you brought with you, here’s a big tip. If you can’t pick it up at all, it isn’t a carry-on. If you can’t lift it over your head, you should have checked it. I actually think wheeled bags have done more to ruin travel than almost any other travel development. They allow people to pack more crap than they need, because there’s seemingly no penalty – anybody can drag a bag around behind them. Take only what you can carry, and I guarantee more of you would be carrying a lot less. (I would say hurray to Venice, Italy, for recently (fall 2014) banning people dragging wheeled suitcases behind them – but the story turned out to be false, or Italian authorities caved after a tidal wave of complaints.)

Update 2018: Ok, I have joined the ranks of folks with wheeled bags. HOWEVER, I bought the (current) “international carry-on” size, which is something like 9x14x21, not the gigantor thing some of you still try to take on board. And I can lift it over my head, for now. So there. πŸ™‚

If you have more than one piece with you – most airlines let you take a “suitcase” and a “personal item” like a purse – then they don’t both get to go into the overhead just because you want footroom. Tough cookies. You put both things up there, and the person behind you has no overhead bin space at all. Be polite. (I should mention here too that most people stretch the concept of the “personal item” beyond belief. A personal item is not a second huge wheeled suitcase. It’s a purse. Or a laptop. That’s it! Men, if you don’t want a purse, call it a European Shoulder Bag.)

Once you’ve struggled to put your bag overhead, and have actually sat down, please don’t get up and take it down again while people are still trying to get past you. Think ahead for what you need and be ready the first time.

A tip for the business/first class people who boarded ahead of me. I really don’t care how much your suit jacket cost or how much care you want to take hanging it up. You got on the plane 10 minutes ahead of all the rest of us, and you’re still holding up the line. So wad your jacket up into a ball and stuff it into the overhead like the rest of us have to. You can have the valet at your expensive hotel press it out for you when you arrive.

If you happened to get a bulkhead seat – presumably because you asked for it or wanted the extra legroom – then the price is that you don’t have a seat in front of you to put anything underneath. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t then mean you get to put things underneath your seat, because if I’m behind you, you just took away my under-the-seat storage. You already got extra legroom, don’t be greedy.

If you’re a baby, please don’t sit near me, unless you’re an exceedingly happy child. If I’m near the front, I hope you’re in the back. Or vice versa. And parents…I know you sometimes don’t have a choice and have to travel. And I know some of you are immune to your child’s shrieks. But most of us aren’t. Can you at least pretend like you’re trying to calm them down, instead of letting them cry to the choking point? They won’t cry themselves to sleep, you know, and if you think you’re teaching them a lesson, well that’s about as effective as me teaching my cat not to jump on the kitchen counter.

Finally, The Doors Are Closing

The flight attendants are closing the doors and are running through the safety briefing…the ones they have memorized, and most of us do too. You’ll make them happy by looking like you are paying attention, because they know most of you aren’t. You’d think they could simplify some of it. (To quote Jerry Seinfeld, they show how to work a seat belt, in case you haven’t been a car since 1965. And why, in Denver, did I get told what to do in case of a water landing? WHAT WATER?!)

But I digress. The big problem at this point is that some of you still aren’t in your seat – park it. And why are your phones still on? Turn the darn things off before the flight attendant bashes you over it. You really shouldn’t have to be reminded five times at this point.

Yay, We’re Taxiing to the Runway

Stay seated! Do not get up to retrieve your iPad or whatever from overhead storage!

Take Off!

Please wait until we level out before you recline your seat into my lap. Thank you.

Airborne

Ah…now we can relax and just pass the time until we land. Right? So this means…

If I look like I’m ignoring you, I probably am. Really, about the only person I want to talk with on an airplane is Robert, or a flight attendant. Or a friend if one is on board, and only then in low tones. I only want to talk to a stranger if you appear really interesting, and most of you aren’t. (Active duty military are an exception – they’re usually very interesting, call me “ma’am” and probably wish I would shut up, but are too polite to say so.) I don’t really want to know what your business is, or that this is your first plane trip ever, or that you’re going to see your niece’s second cousin’s first step-grandbaby whose parents were Coptic Christian but converted to Scientology. [I mean, hey, good for you, good for them, but for me? too much information.]

A corollary to this is, if you are travelling with a friend or spouse, please don’t talk loudly the whole flight. The rest of us really don’t want to hear your conversation. Besides which, the more you talk, the more dehydrated you get. I’m really just thinking of you now.

If you’re listening to music, I don’t want to hear it, use your earphones and adjust to minimize escaping sound. If you’re watching a movie on your laptop, also use and adjust your earphones. It is distracting enough seeing a half-visible movie (half-visible because most laptops need to be seen straight on) without having to half-listen to it as well.

Here’s a real pet peeve. If you’re in a window or aisle seat, YOU DON’T GET BOTH ARMRESTS. In a three-seat configuration, most people feel the middle person should get both because the outside people have either a window or an aisle. (Of course, in a four-seat or five-seat grouping, I guess the middle people get to duke it out.) Also, keep your elbows in your personal space, not mine; not to mention your legs should stay under your own seat. (Robert, you’re exempted from this.) No matter where I sit, I always seem to be squeezed by someone who thinks that they can spread out – voluntarily or involuntarily – at my expense. KNOCK IT OFF.

Drop your drink on me, and you die. πŸ™‚

Special note for night flights…if everyone around you is trying to sleep, turn off your darn overhead light!

Lastly, if you happen to be outbound on your honeymoon, can you wait until you get there before you start making out. (Stupid couple on a Hawaiian Airlines flight, if you read this, you know who you are. You damn near broke the seat by managing to get both of you into it, and you reclined into my lap!)

On-Board Bathroom Etiquette

Ok, we all have to go sometime. Could you please not make a mess. Guys – hit the toilet and not the floor! Everyone flush! Wipe off the sink! If you’re this much of a pig in the airplane, what does your bathroom at home look like? I don’t want to know, actually. And for heaven’s sake, don’t stay in there for 10 minutes or more. (Special wrath for people who decide to freshen up in the loo after an overseas flight. We all stink at this point, and our teeth are all fuzzy, you don’t get to monopolize the facilities. Move in, move out, go back to your seat.)

Arrival!

Yay, we’ve landed! And before you can say boo,150 cell phones are chirping and dinging, and 95 people are talking on their cell phones announcing self-importantly, “I’ve arrived!” Well, no you haven’t arrived. You’re on the tarmac taxiing for 5-15 minutes (depending on airport size) to get to the gate. And nobody wants to hear you blab on the phone. So either wait until you’re in the terminal (when you can actually accurately tell someone you’ve arrived and give a valid ETA), or learn how to text.

Next, you actually have to wait until the seat belt sign is off to get up. Seriously.

When you do get to get up, could you please have some sympathy for the person in the back who has a tight connection, and let them through? And if you don’t have a tight connection, how about waiting your turn to get off the plane? It bothers me when I’m patiently waiting to get up, get my bag out of the overhead bin, and some bozo from three rows back with no actual need to hurry insists on moving ahead of me. It’s just rude, people.

When you’ve passed through the plane door and on to the jetway, keep moving. If you’re waiting for a gate-checked bag, get out of the way! If you aren’t waiting, you should be moving, not taking 5 minutes to figure out how to wheel your bag. Similarly if you exit the plane and have to walk down stairs to the tarmac, keep it moving. (I think stairs should make a comeback. Forces more people (who have no mobility issues) to have to carry their bags instead of wheeling them. But I digress.)

What’s the first thing everyone does when they get off the jetway and into the terminal? Besides standing around slack-jawed and staring vacantly that is. The ones that aren’t cluttering the gate – interfering with other exiting passengers and people waiting for the next flight – are headed for the bathroom. I can’t speak to the men’s bathroom, but the women’s are usually a mess. Just like on the airplane…more of you need to learn how to wipe off the sink. And hey, if the toilet doesn’t flush automatically, would you please flush it? Do you leave yours at home hoping it will magically flush? I don’t think so.

Customs

350px-Global_Entry_Logo_Negative.svgOne of the joys (not) of returning from international travel. Yes, it’s necessary, but it’s not fun. At least, it wasn’t fun until we got our Global Entry cards. Now there’s a government program that is quite helpful. Walk up to the kiosk, swipe your card, let your fingerprints be scanned, and out you go. Woo hoo goodbye long line! So the people who can’t figure out how to print a boarding pass will have trouble with the system, but mostly they aren’t frequent international travelers anyway. Mostly.

Miami customs used to be particularly bad but they improved their facility sometime after 2010. One thing we learned – don’t stand in the line that says “US Citizens AND Residents”. Go find a line that is for US Citizens. It goes much faster. And to the gal there who took my 4 oz bottle of Jamaican jerk sauce away from me – ok ok it was over the 3 oz limit, yes I was wrong to try – I hope you enjoyed it, or choked on it, or both.

The victory is somewhat short-lived as you probably still have to stand around in Baggage Claim, though. On the other hand, there’s a quick way out of Baggage Claim in the major airports for the Global Entry card holders. Woo hoo again.

Baggage Claim

baggage-claimThe people that were either smart enough or stupid enough to check their bags, depending on your point of view, this is for you. First of all, you don’t all need to stand right against the conveyor. Enough of you do that, then the rest of us can’t see, and worse can’t get to our bag when we see it coming. Stand back a little bit!

Second, they’re not kidding when they say most bags look alike. So please make sure you have the right bag. Put something on your giant black wheeled suitcase to make it stand out from the 95 other giant black wheeled suitcases. (Mine is teal and unwheeled, by the way.) Those baggage claim tags? A joke. Nobody will check as you leave baggage claim to see if you have the right bag, it is up to you. I think my baggage tags were last checked at LAX in about 1985.

If your bag doesn’t appear, good luck to you. I had a bag get lost between Dallas and Alexandria, LA (I was going to Ft Polk). They promised I’d get the bag within three days, and it was a three day trip. I got it in time to check in for the return. So if you’re smart, you will have stuffed some underwear in your actual carry-on, and can go buy whatever else you need wherever you are going.

Exit the Terminal

Thank goodness…I can get away from all of you now…at least until the return flight. Which is usually when I’m returning a rental car, so I can move on to…

Rental Car Return

AIRPORTS, LISTEN UP. PUT A !#$!@#$! GAS STATION NEAR THE RENTAL CAR RETURN! Newark, Tampa…the rest of you…you know who you are. You funnel us to the airport on an airport access road that gives you NO CHANCE to go buy gas once you’re on it. If you have the time you can loop the airport and drive back out, and start on the search and rescue. Help us out here. You can own the stupid gas station, charge more than stations 5 miles away, and keep us happy…everybody wins.

In Conclusion

Most of the above probably makes you wonder why I travel at all. Despite all of the annoyances, the fact remains that I want to make excellent use of my time on the planet and see as much as I can. But the journey is no longer the reward – being on the ground somewhere is, seeing new sights, appreciating different cultures, etc. Of course, the way airlines these days are jerking customers around with extra fees for basic services, perhaps the flights will clear out pretty soon.

Additional Reading

Which airlines do we like / avoid?

Airports of the world

Tour companies we like and recommend:

Last update: 21 December 2014

…cycling, birding, and more!