The last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time traveling. It certainly isn’t exotic travel to new places, it’s mundane travel! Flights back to Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA and frequently on a bus to Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara to get the best airline ticket price. Also some extreme bus trips up to Guaymas, San Carlos, Sonora. Right now, let’s just talk about air travel.
My last trip to Minneapolis I got the BEST ticket price possible using one of those internet flight booking companies. Odd, but it hadn’t allowed me to book a seat. I logged on with my confirmation code and found the seat assignment page. WHAT? Every seat had a $ sign on it and a price. The economy seats, that would be me, were priced at $3.00 US$. Dumbfounded. Does this mean my seat costs more money? The “better” seats with additional legroom are priced at $40.00 US$. When I finally regained consciousness from the explosion in my head I went ahead and picked seats for the 2 legs of my trip up and the 2 legs of my trip back. I pushed the “checkout” button and there is a problem. What problem? I don’t know, don’t raise your voice, it just says “a problem”. So, I try again. Same error, “a problem”. I tried calling customer service. WHAT? All lines were busy. I can do it tomorrow.
Tomorrow came. I tried again. WHAT? The cheap seats are now $8.00 each, not $3.00. After pounding holes in the concrete wall I washed my bloodied hands and tried one more time. It seemed to work! I was dizzy with elation! I got to the checkout area where I learned that I owed $80.00 US$ for 10 seat reservations. WHAT? Well that’s not right! I start all over. This time I booked seats only for the flight up, not the 4 legs of the round trip. Now the checkout screen showed I owed for booking 12 seats. WHAT? Less than delighted I smashed the phone keys to dial customer service. I explained the problem. She explained that some computers seemed to be retaining the seat reservations from every session. She fixed it. I asked what the ticket price covered if it wasn’t a seat on the airplane. She explained that it was free if I waited until I checked in and they could assign the seat. No doubt those nasty middle seats. Then, in a very serious voice, she assured me that this payment of $16.00 for the two flights was not refundable under any conditions. Delightful.
Flight day was the “normal” bus trip at 12:30am arriving at the Vallarta airport about 6:30am. My flight wasn’t until 12:30pm. There is nothing open. Immigration? Nope. First thing in the morning, 10:00am. Airline ticket counter? 10:00am. Carl’s Jr? Nope. I had music on my phone and a small MP3 player. I had a book. I could manage. I walked to the nearby OXXO.
At 10:00am I was about the first in line. Cleared immigration. Got the boarding pass and checked the bag. WHAT? An extra cost of $25.00! Would have been $20.00 doing it online, ahead of time! Headed to security. Slight problem. The x-ray machine and attendant found I had a small multi-tool that had blades and pliers on it. I forgot it was in there. The security agent notes my dismay. It was, after all, a Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild), 10 function multi tool. She suggested I take it back to the ticket counter. The baggage had already made it to the loading area. No way to get it back. I walked away sadly as one of the airline employees held his new multi-tool. Everyone was laughing. Good times!
At the gate I was giddy as I watched the airline ticket counter employees carefully check out ‘carryon’ baggage. You were allowed one personal item that had to be stored under the seat in front of you. Any roll around bag of correct size could be carried on but the cost was $35.00 US$ per bag. Many opted to have it checked for $20.
As I entered the plane I was totally confused. Like I had into a Halloween display at a big department store. WHAT? There was smoke everywhere. I’m serious as a heart attack. It smelled funny. Turned out it was moisture coming out of the a/c from the outside heat. But it was totally weird and didn’t stop until we were in the air. Walked down the aisle and noted huge signs on the overhead storage bins advising these seats had extra legroom. Yes, an entire 5″ or 12.7 cm. $40.00?
Finally. Safe in my window seat I explored the seat pocket in front of me. No magazine. But there was the card with beverages, amenities and other helpful information. WHAT? There was no free service. Credit cards only. I could have applied for their credit card and gotten 40,000 free miles. A soda, water or juice for $3.00. Actual snacks with cheese etc. were in the $8-10 range. A cocktail at $7.00. WHAT? Did I want mixer with that rum? Only $1.00 for a coke when purchased with the liquor. I could get the little bag of Chex Mix, Potato Chips or M&M’s for $3.00. TV and movies priced at $2.99 for a 2 hour flight; $5.99 for a 2-3.5 hours flight (mine) or $7.99 for flights over 3.5 hours. I passed on everything.
On the return trip the flight out of Minneapolis was great but in Denver there was a problem. There were storms in our path and the airline had to put on extra fuel. The weight of that extra fuel meant that 7 passengers needed to “volunteer” to stay in Denver. WHAT? Oh, by the way, there wasn’t another flight today, nor one tomorrow but you could fly out the day after tomorrow. WHAT? They were offering a $400.00 flight voucher. Two sad folks rallied and took that offer. Now they needed 5 more passengers. Finally a big announcement that they would cover your hotel, meals and you would get an $800.00 flight voucher. That produced the 5 passengers required.
I will never fly that airline again. Ever. Some young employee in Marketing decided it would be easy to nickel and dime folks to death rather than just add $40.00 to the ticket price to cover seats, a soda and the first bag free. About two days after the flight I got a customer survey via email. All kinds of questions about uniforms, greetings, courtesy, prompt service. I finally found a spot where I could write in: “You are asking the wrong questions. I hated your airline because you don’t advertise all of the hidden costs and just want to nickel and dime folks to death!”
Safe Travels! (next month – Part 2)
Manzanillo Sun’s eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009