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Ann Brenoff Headshot

Home for the Holidays, At Any Cost

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With the exception of those who have their 25-year-olds back living in their childhood bedrooms and their mothers moved into their guest rooms, getting everyone together for the holidays is difficult. Yet the notion of "going home for the holidays" is the gold standard of holiday happiness. Your holiday will not be complete if each and every living blood relative and then some aren't gathered under the same roof. It's what we are supposed to do at all costs. And I do mean at all costs.

Seriously, have you tried to book a flight anywhere during the end of December? Aside from fuel surcharges, carry-on baggage fees and fees for talking to a human being -- oh wait, my mistake, that's my bank not my airline -- we've entered the realm of the absurd.

The joy was long ago sucked from airline travel anyway, what with security stripdowns and demands that you go shoeless because one time, one guy on one airplane tried to make a bomb out of his sneaker. And what about the part where we have to carry a week's worth of toiletries in a clear plastic sandwich bag or stash it in our checked luggage which will cost you $45 to check and you can pretty much guarantee that your eye makeup remover will leak and ruin your cashmere sweater. And don't try and wrap any gifts either; you'll just have to unwrap them in front of a sadistic TSA worker in whose stocking you'd like to put a lump of coal.

Crowds, long lines, overheated terminals with screaming children, having your toes rolled over a few times by spinner suitcases and your ears boxed by overstressed airline workers who long ago lost sight of the fact that their jobs were to help you -- well, you get the picture.

And then there is the cost.

My friend, Amy Pyle, lives in San Francisco and has two boys in college in New York. And as crazy an idea as it is, she would actually like to see them during their month-long winter break. Being an organized person and hardly an innocent when it comes to the vagaries of airline travel, she pounced on the computer to book their flights the very minute their finals schedule was set three months ago. She forked over $561 round-trip for each ticket, about $150 more than the usual non-holiday travel rate. But the real holiday-spirit moment came when she tried to rebook one flight. It was going to cost $521 for just that one leg of travel. So much for flying the friendly skies.

And here's a little insult to the injury: According to her son, Kenny Durell, who is a University Senator at Columbia University clearly on his way to occupy the White House one day (remember, you read it here first), an effort was made to change Columbia's calendar so that students could finish up their classes before the insane holiday week airline prices kicked in. But the idea was shot down because faculty members didn't want to come back to work until after Labor Day. New York City public schools don't start until after Labor Day and the change would have necessitated that faculty parents pay for three extra days of child care if the university opened its doors earlier in order to move up the semester's end. So all those thousands of Columbia U students get to pay hundreds of dollars more for travel home so that faculty members can avoid three days of child care bills. Righto, and a big old "happy holidays" to them too.

When it comes to travel around the holidays, nobody seems willing to cut the little guy a break.
You could take Amtrak from New York to Washington DC on Dec. 23 for about $150 one way, a mere $80 if you agree to leave at 4:40 a.m. The best deal we could find was a Greyhound bus leaving New York on Christmas Eve at 12:30am that will take you straight to Bally's Casino in Atlantic City for $34.50 roundtrip. It gets me depressed even to think about it, and it sure doesn't feel like going home to me.