As I begin my preparations for my British sabbatical, a couple of things have started to concern me about my impending globe-trotting — and remember, I haven’t flown domestically or internationally for about ten years.

A recent New York Times article [no link, fuck ’em] has pointed out that the root causes of the current woes being experienced by hapless revenue providers (fare-paying passengers, to you and me) lie in two areas: the shift in airline management’s emphasis from passenger comfort / treatment to fiscal measures such as pre-tax profits; and the fact that since 9/11, airline staff can treat passengers like nuisances (at best) or as “security risks” (at worst) without too much repercussion.

The airlines, of course, are bleating that all this is being driven by their soaring costs (despite the massive drop in fuel prices), and that in order to maintain any kind of decent profit margins, they have to “unbundle” features like free baggage, seating choice and comfortable seating and turn said features into revenue lines. Thus, when I went online to pre-book an aisle- or window seat for my trip to Britishland, I was hit with a $15 fee, each way. My checked bag (actually a small trunk — I’m going to be Over There for three seasons and some hunting withal) will also occasion an “oversized bag” fee, despite it being within the size / dimensions criteria posted on their website because, as the reservations clerk informed me, “It’s rigid” (i.e. it can’t be squashed flatter like normal bags and suitcases, something you may want to consider in the future when packing those bottles of wine).

By the way: talking to an actual person as opposed to doing everything electronically also triggers a fee.

Of course, because I’m flying in steerage (okay, “economy”) it means that I’m lower than shark shit shadow on the airline’s list of Necessary Evils, so there may well be a “Get off the plane, asshole!” moment in my future.

I do have a frequent-flier account with this particular airline, and have logged hundreds of flights with them in the past, so one might think that I can escape “Involuntary De-planing” (such a nice euphemism for GTFO, isn’t it?) — but sadly, all those flights took place in the distant past, which means that I’ll probably fall victim to the “But what have you done for us lately?” policy. (And if you think there’s no such policy, please direct me to the place where you bought your unicorn.)

Now there’s talk among the Big Four airlines of charging passengers for carry-on bags, something Spirit Airlines (motto: “We Invented Cheap ‘N Nasty Travel”) — are already doing.

It seems that the only way one can even begin to escape being treated like a dog turd on a tablecloth is to buy more expensive tickets (a.k.a. “added profit for not much more service”) in Business- or First Class.

Great Caesar’s bleeding haemorrhoids… what a lovely prospect.

Please note too that I haven’t mentioned which of these bastard airlines I’ll be using to get to England, because I bet that somewhere in their oh-so-tight budget is a line for “Snooping on passengers’ social media in case they say ugly things about us”. Motherfuckers.

And yes: I haven’t even started talking about having to deal with the TS fucking A, yet.

I need to stop now before I get angry.


  1. Earlier in my career in accrued over a million butt-in-seat miles on one of the major US airlines. Mostly pre-9/11, but hardly the glory age of air travel. Still, the difference between the late ’90s and now is appalling. Today I should travel about twice a quarter on business, but send subordinates whenever possible.

    Best of luck in international economy with checked luggage!

  2. Nothing turns me into a hostile, surly S.O.B. faster than modern air travel. My last flight was London to San Diego over six years ago and I intend to avoid the whole stupid, shabby endeavor for the rest of my days.

  3. Have you considered a trans Atlantic cruise ship? The price isn’t that much different and the journey is pleasant with gourmet meals and entertainment.

    1. Forrest,
      Indeed, I’ve considered ship travel. My only “euro desires” so to speak are a visit to Monza for the Italian GP and Spa Francorchamps for the Belgian race. I think my bride would love a ship trip. Hmmmmmm…….

  4. I drive to places I used to fly to whenever possible since 9/11. The more recent airline depredations are just cappers on the shoddy and offensive treatment of passengers by the TSA; Chicago got really bad for a while (though its better now).

    My wife asks (and I pass on without really knowing the cost or viability of the option) about passenger carrying freighters as an option. A cruise ship is quite expensive but maybe there are less expensive options for sea travel (though you would still need to get to a port city).

    Somehow the idea of Kim du Toit on a sea voyage just feels right after seeing some of your bucket list.

    1. Freighter passage is generally more expensive than airlines. They have to feed you.

      1. Understood; I was posting it as an alternative to a cruise ship for expense reasons, as well as flying for dignity and sanity reasons.

  5. Concur with the waterborne option, of course. (layabout sailor, duh!)

    You might try to find an older, long-time travel agent, who has knowledge and experience with the micro-niche of the industry, specifically, booking passage aboard various cargo or tanker vessels. Some still do offer passenger cabins and service, though more rare now than fifty years ago.

    But think about it. How many pulp novels of yore were set aboard passage on a “tramp steamer” as a plot device? Sam Spade in the 21st Century, is perhaps crying out for the ministrations of your keyboard?

    Besides, your fellow passengers and crew would be far better blog-fodder than the screaming baby in seat 37-B.

    Hell, if I want to read from screaming babies, I can always just pick up a copy of the New York Times.

    Bon Voyage, amigo!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  6. Just out of excessive curiosity, I just did some quick searching and found that Cunard Lines offers a seven night transatlantic cruise from New York City to London for $800 US. It would cost me half that much to take the ferry from my hometown of Juneau, AK to Bellingham, WA – and that’s only a third of the distance from NYC to London. And at that price the accommodations on the ferry consist of your sleeping bag and sleeping on a deck chair (which isn’t really all that bad).

    1. In the 16 years since 9/11, I have yet to find a place that I wanted to go bad enough to put up with the TSA and the horrible customer service. The latter was bad enough before but by all accounts hits new lows constantly. Not to mention that the seats are shrinking while I am expanding.

      I have looked into sea travel, specifically freighter cruises but haven’t done it yet. Freighter cruises don’t rip off single travelers the way that cruise ships do. So I drive. There are enough things that I want to see and can drive to that I will probably die before I can do them all.

  7. Global Entry is a good plan if you intend to make more than a couple of trips. TSA Precheck comes with it, so you can skip the pornoscanners and gropings on the US side. Not sure what the foreign hellholes will do, haven’t flown international since Pre-check was introduced.

    It’s one of the reasons I like SWA. Since they don’t have a First/Business class (Business Select doesn’t count, it’s the same damned seats) you can just dress well (meaning, what a normal passenger would wear on a plane 30 years ago, as opposed to what they plan to wear on the beach as soon as they get off the plane) and you won’t get treated like a dog turd, whatever rate you are paying.

  8. Flying is one of those things I will never do again so long as the TSA exists in its current form.

    I know what real airport security would look like, and the TSA isn’t it.

    If I do have a dire need to hop on a plane to go somewhere, I will sign up for Space A with Military Airlift Command. Retirees can fly for free so long as there is room. 🙂

  9. Nodded my head through the entire read. Had to stop and laugh at the “. . .treated like a dogturd on a tablecloth. . .” line.

  10. I’m 64, mostly retired and travel a lot these days, always economy, and really it’s not so bad. I learned that most the discomfort was the normal stress of traveling anywhere. It’s certainly less stressful than when we used to pack two kids, four of their friends, endless toys and or sports equipment into two vans and light out for the territories.

    Arrive early to the airport. Be methodical. Go easy. Don’t panic. Don’t get grouchy. Read the signs. Ask for directions. Never, never rent a car on the first day. Plan your accommodation and local connections well ahead. Take a bus, cab, subway or train. Most local travel and accommodations those can be booked and paid for well ahead of time.

    The security people aren’t so bad. They suggested to me very kindly and discreetly that a dozen .22 LR cartridges in my briefcase side pocket could not possibly come with me. Oopsie.

    I have been using London as a hub for 6 trips in the last two years. We went YYC-LGW in 9 1/2 hours, overnight flight, then via EasyJet and WizzAir to and from Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Prague, Budapest and Barcelona. In a few months we’re off to Rome at a total air travel cost, from Western Canada, for two people of $US1,200.00. That includes some travel miles and bonuses so the cash cost would be more like $US2,000.00.

    At such an absurdly reasonable cost I am hard pressed to complain about much, especially given the absolute delights of London and the various places we have been. Last time we stayed in London for a while was September 2015, in Tower Hamlets on The Narrow Street, walking directly past the Pride of Whitby from the tube station.

    Sitting in the autumn sun in an ancient pub on the banks of the Thames with the house packed, just packed to the rafters, with young men from various teams at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, being able to talk with them, buy them a beer and have them buy us a few was smashing. And the quality of the young ladies attracted to rugby players was also very interesting indeed.

    So forget the silly cramped airline seats, the poor pitiful boobs who must work for the TSA or starve, the fact that travel often has difficulties and inconveniences and focus on the cool, but not cold, pint you’ll soon be having.

    You haven’t become such a raving American that you’ll demand a damn cold frozen bitter, have you?

    1. Fred,
      I don’t drink American beer because it’s too cold. Does that answer your question?
      A room-temperature pint of Wadworth 6X or Fuller’s London Pride (depending on location), and Kim is very happy. Add a steak ‘n kidney pie and a few chips, and I switch to “ecstatic”.

  11. I’ve said it before, in many places, but it bears repeating; The TSA is a natural consequence of public demand that the government “do something” about an issue that doesn’t need anybody to “do something”. After 9/11 there was widespread outcry to “do something” about airport security. Now, I assume that everyone in the Bush Administration realized that the next time a bunch of idiots tried to take over a planeload of Americans, they were going to end up stuffed into the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition. After 9/11, the rules changed. No point in hoping “if we cooperate, maybe they won’t kill us”. You have nothing to lose; go for broke.

    But the public demand that the government “do something” wasn’t going away. So the TSA was formed, and nobody spent any attention on it, because they knew it was useless. As a consequence I expect it was stuffed with cowboys, screw-ups, empire builders, and ever other kind of bureaucratic vermin that any sensible agency wants to get rid of.

    1. So the TSA was formed, and nobody spent any attention on it, because they knew it was useless. As a consequence I expect it was stuffed with cowboys, screw-ups, empire builders, and ever other kind of bureaucratic vermin that any sensible agency wants to get rid of.

      I’ll share a little secret here: Before and after my active duty time I did a lot of private security work, spanning 1983 through 2005. Most of this time I was a college student and single so working security fit my schedule and my solitary lifestyle. I’ve worked everywhere from construction sites to the world HQ of a major building products corporation (and the private home of that corporation’s CEO), to schools, banks, grocery stores, strip malls, office parks, defense contractors (got that one by virtue of a TS clearance from the military), high-end gated communities, and public housing projects. I’ve even done a tour or two as a mall cop. 😉

      The one place I’ve never worked is at an airport. Want to know why?

      Because prior to 9/11 and the creation of the TSA it was well known in the “security community” that airport screeners were the bottom-feeders of the security world. If you had two arms and legs, two eyes and no felony convictions you could get a job as an airport screener (and they weren’t even that strict on the felonies, as we found out after TSA’s creation.) As you can expect, the pay scale matched the qualification level and some of you may be a little surprised to know that your pre-TSA private corporation screeners were probably making only a couple bucks an hour over minimum wage (and in some places, not even that.)

      These jobs were filled with low-IQ morons, petty thieves, illegal immigrants and drifters. The background check was cursory, if it was done at all, and turnover was so high that it was entirely likely that by the time the background check came back, there was a good chance the employee had quit or been fired by then. Anyone with an ounce of skill or integrity quickly found their way to another, better paying job.

      Now, when TSA was created, who do you suppose they hired to fill those slots? If you guessed that they hired the same contract personnel who had been doing the job previously, you’d be right. It was then, after TSA became an “official” federal agency and suddenly had to comply with the rules, that it was discovered how many convicted felons, illegal immigrants and others of questionable background were discovered to have been working as airport screeners for years.

      My point with all this is to say that as bad as the TSA is now, the pre-TSA private contract screeners were at least an order of magnitude worse, the difference was that back then, people didn’t really think or care about it.

  12. Kim, have you thought about looking into Flight Share or one of the other services where you can hop a private jet that has an unused seat?

    1. All my flights have been gifts, or friends using their air miles to get me the tickets.

  13. This stuff is why I generally fly overseas from non-US airliners departing from Canada.

    I get treated like an airline passenger, and not like security-risk cattle.

    1. Next year, I’m going to try to do that — although one still has to GET to Canada…

  14. Things I have when I fly. Howard Leight Electronic Ear Muffs, Kendal with new books loaded, several bottles of water I purchase after security, snack bars and other munchies. I avoid eye contact, act like a hermit and get up and move around as often as possible, aisle seat preferred. And as mentioned above arrive early and smile at the folks working in the airport that have to stay behind while I get to travel.

  15. I picked up the habit of boxing up what I want to bring on a trip and shooting it on ahead by a few days via UPS.

    You can bring more stuff, it makes the airport time less of a hassle, the price is about the same if not cheaper, and it’s more reliable than expecting the plane to drop you and your stuff at the same place.

    1. That is an absolutely astonishingly good idea. Do you ship straight to your accommodations? I am going to try it next trip. Thanks.

      1. You can ship to where you’re staying – hotels will hold packages pending your arrival – or you can specify that it simply sit at a local UPS facility awaiting your pickup, and then send a cab after it once you’ve settled in. You can also pre-pay for a label returning that same box or container to your home (assuming the weight stays the same) whenever you give it back to UPS.

        No airline searches, no thefts, no getting squished in the hold, and you don’t have to decide between the blue shoes and the pink shoes – pack ’em all.

        1. This has been an interesting learning experience for me.

          I own a lot of UPS stock so was quite keen to follow through. The UPS website is impenetrable corporatese, screw the consumer, “we will tell you nothing, nothing, until you open an account, and pull down your pants so we can look at you genitals and grab them”. Or maybe it’s buried in a menu tree 8 levels down. Or maybe they are too stupid to design a website to assist stupid people like me. I don’t care, screw them, the ignorant, stupid or uncooperative bastards.

          All this in a simple attempt to find out the cost to send 20 or 30 pounds from YYC to Rome. I ride motorbikes, book bike tours on vacations, and my helmet, boots and rain gear are always a pain. I hate dragging them around airports, buses, subways etc.

          I declined to tell UPS anything, sent them some hate mail, and expect a flack to email me and politely tell me I’m a jerk.

          The UPS Store I deal with, I have a post box there, is run by an East Asian gent of the usual hard working, incredibly efficient and cooperative persuasion. I know I could ask him and he’d tell me the amount in about 3 seconds. But he doesn’t run the Corp.

          UPS is toast. I’m selling my stock tomorrow.

          1. Well, as long as it went well . . .

            Dang. Never had a lick of trouble with them, but I don’t do it online. I go see the old guy who runs my local facility.

    2. I was going to suggest this as well. I’ve done it a couple times when traveling by motorcycle and it worked well.

      If you’re packing stuff for three seasons you should be able to get a cheap plastic trunk (“gorilla trunk” on Amazon) and ship it over in that–this is what a lot of contractors and soldiers did when I was over in Baghdad.

      Which leads to the second thing–if you know any soldiers or contractors over in MoE who’d be willing to accept it, you can ship it to their APO box for MUCH less and let your tax dollars fly it across the pond.

  16. I’m in DFW, having begun my annual pilgrimage from PNG to Florida.
    I must say that overseas based traditional airlines (British Airways, Qantas, Luthansa) tend to be a bit nicer to those in cattle class- complementary food, plus a gin and tonic.
    As for TSA, you pretty much get the same shuffle around the world.

  17. I can definitely recommend Global Entry. You get to bypass the lines to the surly customs agents who grudgingly say: “Welcome Home” and go to the line used by the aircrew. Stick your passport in the machine, lay your palm on the reader and you’re done with significantly shorter lines.

    Another recommendation I will make is to do all your transfers in Europe. I.E. Never land at JFK with a transfer; you are almost guaranteed to miss your connecting flight.

  18. I’ve flown about 15 times in the last 2 years, including one flight to and from Amsterdam.

    All domestic flights included checking a handgun.

    Not ONE of them was problematic. Even when the TSA agent found a expended 9mm casing in my carryon. “Who’s the shooter” was the question. They swabbed the bag extra good and I was off.

    Show up at the airport a bit early, well dressed, follow the stupid rules, don’t give them lip and you’re fine. Oh, and the second things start to go sideways, turn your smart phone on and record everything. Just double down on polite and reasonable once you do that.

  19. KLM has some decent flights from Boston Logan to Heathrow. I had a layover there on the way to Schiphol last august. I would sure rather fly KLM than United, but hey.

    One way or another, hope your trip goes well and you post updates from behind enemy lines.

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