This past Friday I traveled from JFK to Bogota to Medellin, Colombia. It was a ticket from last year that had to be used before it expired. The timing was good because work here was calling. The trip reminded me of some of the quirky air travel consequences we live with:
Checked baggage. We’ve all gone through this; to check or not to check. The reason for not checking is obvious. You don’t want to loose your stuff, it’s far more expedient especially at destination, and now most carriers charge for checked bags. In most airports, when you check a bag, the airlines weigh it, tag it, and take it. At JFK’s terminal 4, they weigh it, tag it, and give it back. It’s your responsibility to drop checked baggage off to the baggage screening station. Sometimes the line to drop off a checked bag is longer than the checkin or security line. So at JFK terminal 4, you queue up to checkin (even if you checked in online from home), if you have one, queue up to drop your checked bag, and queue up for the strip search. Real (not) customer service. Duh.
Carryon. If you checked all your stuff, it really would not matter when you boarded. But most people have loads of carryon because the airlines have promoted that behavior. Hence, there is always a rush to queue up once they announce the boarding process will begin in ten minutes. Most people are hyper to get on the plane, like they are afraid it will take off without them. Getting on board early though, is about protecting your overhead bin space. Most people stuff their stuff in the overhead bin while the space under the seat goes unused. Bottom line, if there is no space left in the overhead, your carryon becomes checked baggage.
That (almost) happened to me earlier this month coming back from LA to NYC. My flight to JFK was delayed three hours. As I was strolling around United’s LAX terminal, I noticed another flight to Newark that was finishing the boarding process. So I asked if I could change to that flight and because I had only carryon they said yes. I was the last person to board. However, when I boarded a flight attendant told me there was no space for my carryon. I found plenty of space in the first-class cabin overhead but the attendant said no. She said some people might sit there and need the space. I wanted to say but you are ready to close the door, no one else is boarding. But I didn’t. It’s not nice to argue with flight attendants. So smiling, I politely said no problem, I’ll deplane and switch back to my original flight (because I was not checking my bag). She seemed flabbergasted. I wasn’t. The checked bag would have meant up to an extra hour at destination and by that time of night I knew the trains from NJ to Manhattan would not be working (especially given limited service after Sandy). I left the plane resigned to taking the original later flight. However, I could not walk back up the jetway unescorted because it was against the regulations. The person who came to get me was the one who changed my ticket. I explained why. He went onboard, found the same ample space in the first-class overhead bin and asked if I would be OK putting my bag in first-class bin and grabbing it on my way out. I smiled again, thanked him, and said of course. Duh.
Animals and small bags. I’m good with animals traveling. I once was on a flight in Pakistan with chickens onboard. On Friday’s flight, the airline bumped me to forward cabin on the overseas leg. I was duly gratified. In those larger seats, there is no typical space under-the-seat in front of you, rather a little cubby space. I put my small backpack there on past flights with no issue. However, on this flight the attendant told me I had to put the bag in the overhead and could not keep it in the cubby spot for takeoff/landing. The guy next to me had a dog in a dog case (about the size of my bag) in his cubby spot. When I looked at the dog, the attendant told me that animals were the exception. I asked why. She proceeded to explain how unsecured bags or items could be thrown around if there was an emergency and create a hazard. But if there was an emergency, she explained that the attendants would grab the animal.
The picture in my head didn’t compute. During a take off or landing emergency, the attendants would unstrap themselves from their jump seats at their own peril to grab any unsecured animals that might be thrown about the plane. Duh.
A woman on the other side of the same row had a large purse sitting in the same spot. She was told she could keep her purse next to her on the armrest. Purses on the armrest evidently don’t get tossed around during emergencies. Duh.
Safety videos and instruction. Do we still need to be told and shown how to operate a seatbelt every time we fly? Or is this a devious plot to convince ourselves that we are dummies? Airlines may want to protect against lawsuits but must we stoop to dumbness? (Maybe cars should be programed not to start until we watch a seatbelt video each time.) On both flights, the video also included instructions how to lock the lavatory door. We were told it was important to watch this video. And of course, there is no smoking on the flight especially in the lavatories. Duh.
Bogota International. Arriving at the Bogota airport Friday was like arriving finally to the 21st century with the newly finished international terminal. However, if you have a connecting domestic flight (most people) you must go to the domestic terminal. So after immigration and customs you file into a long hallway and wait for a bus. The wait for a bus was longer than the very long wormy immigration line. The bus wait/transit time was longer than it would have taken to walk. Moreover, a walk would have been refreshing. But there is no walkway. One step forward, two back. Duh.
Bogota Domestic Terminal. This is always a busy terminal. Lots of internal flights for the second most populated country in South America. As in all terminals, there are arrival/departure boards showing flight times and gates. What is relevant for most travelers is their departure gate/time. There are many. But the boards display this information for just a couple of seconds before the screen changes to show all the items prohibited from carrying on board, like cans of lighter fluid, hatchets, firearms, or nail clippers. And this notice is filled with words too small to read as most of the screens are hung from the ceiling. This screen remains for at least 30 seconds. So if you could not find your flight gate within a couple of seconds, you’ve got to stand there like a dummy waiting for the screen to return. But be quick, you only have a couple more seconds. Duh.
Short flights. The flight from Bogota to Medellin is no more than 25 minutes in the air. During that time, the airline serves drinks. Subtracting take off and decent time, it’s all they can do to get the drinks out and garbage collected before the plane lands. Forget using the lavatory on this flight because there are carts in the aisle during almost the entire flight. Years ago I flew semi-regularly from Sao Paulo to a city in the south of Brazil. On this flight they served a meal in those 25 minutes. You eat fast. For 25 minutes, really. Why bother. Duh.
There is a plethora of air travel quirkiness (nonsense) we run across. In an effort not to bore readers with dumb logic, stopping here may be prudent. This is one of the trips that I’ve checked a bag as I’m toting a bunch of samples. But I’m content now that my bag just arrived after it spent a day and a half longer in transit than I did. Duh.