Friday, September 25, 2009

Another* flying story

No, this isn’t another case of me wailing about delays and other assorted kinds of airline inflicted pain. In this story, although the airline ultimately irritated me, my complaint lies largely with my fellow passengers.

Here’s the story. Dallas / Fort Worth to Newark; the 5:45 pm departure. I’ve taken this flight many times and it often lands promptly at 10:15 in Newark, which puts me home and in my bed before midnight. Not great but not horrible. The horrible times are when it’s delayed in Dallas and lands around 1 or 2 am in New Jersey.

This week was not one of those late nights. In fact, our flight landed at 9:30 pm. Yes, 45 MINUTES early. I don’t get it. I’m guessing the pilots follow the same flight plan every night from DFW to Liberty International but who knows. It’s obviously that weird airline ‘time warp time’ that makes no sense to me: a three and a half hour flight really takes just two hours and forty-five minutes. Except when it doesn’t. Okay, fine. That must have been some tailwind.

Two things are starting to get to me these days, every time I board a plane. First: what’s with the passengers who decide to store their bags nowhere near their seats? This makes no sense to me. I’ve watched many men – it’s always been men in my experience – store their bags above row 5 or row 6 or row 7 and then walk back to row 20 or row 21 or row 22 – passing empty aisle after empty aisle - to take their seats. Then the people seated in row 5 or row 6 or row 7 get aboard. They look around and despite no one sitting in their rows, the overhead bins are full. Is this a power thing? A guys-taking-charge thing? Whatever.

But this week, I guess I was extra tired or something. As is customary these days, once the first class passengers boarded the flight, the Elite, Silver Elite and Gold Elite passengers were invited to board. I’m not kidding: nearly everyone stood up and clustered around the gate. (Here’s where I started to get aggravated.) Once they had checked in, that left about 20 people in the gate area, including me. (My Elite status has somehow disappeared or expired despite numerous trips on this airline annually. I can’t explain it.)

As the Elite passengers handed over their boarding passes, I couldn't help but size up the various pieces of luggage they carried with them. Very few met the height and width “requirements” Continental displays front and center at each gate. They were nearly all huge suitcases, mammoth garment bags and over sized soft-sided luggage. And I thought: this is annoying. Why does an airline bother having a “your bag must fit here” display if they refuse to enforce it?

The best news of the night was that as the rest of us walked down the jetway, one of the gate attendants joined us and announced she had to tag and check all our bags. (Our bags that fit within the stipulated requirements, by the way. I know. I looked around when she said she had to check them.) Surprise! The overheads were full. Well, I wasn’t at all surprised. I saw the size of those 100 bags those 100 Elite passengers carried on board. Everyone left at the gate could have told them they were too big for the overheads. It’s not that they didn’t fit; they did. But each one took up two or three spaces. Super.

So, I had to do what I NEVER do: check my bag. And then wait at the carousel for it to appear, while I watched all the Elite passengers on my flight walk by, nearly every one of them carrying a bag the size of an ottoman.

I called Continental the next day and voiced my complaint to a lovely passenger service person who listened politely. She agreed that especially in very full flights, attention should be paid to the size of the luggage accompanying passengers on board and promised to convey my displeasure to the gate crew in Dallas.

Will she? I don’t know. I don’t think it will make a difference anyway. Apparently, Elite passengers follow different rules than the rest of us. But as I said, I take this flight regularly. I’m sure I’ll get the chance to find out.

* You may want to read two other in-flight adventures, here and here.

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