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Millie Kerr Headshot

Travel Woes: The Airline Edition

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Babies are screaming at every pitch. A high school music troupe is attempting to harmonize from somewhere behind me, and I'm beginning to think that my gangly legs will have to be checked to my final destination. When, precisely, did I begin suffering from claustrophobia?

For approximately four minutes, my neurotic thoughts are interrupted by a flight attendant whose incoherent ramblings dominate the PA system. This is a woman who likes the sound of her voice: she addresses every irrelevant detail about our flight but fails to quiet the symphony of musical mediocrity and now-screeching infants. I suppose I can't blame her: speaking into that tiny microphone is her only respite from wrestling cumbersome luggage that every traveler except for me insists on bringing into the plane. Are bags lost that often? Is travel actually more relaxing when you carry your grand piano through the airport?

From this place of elevated irritation, it's hard to imagine that I ever enjoyed, much less tolerated, air travel. There was a time, not long ago, when I recorded trips in a small notebook, so naïve and easily amused was I by my time in the sky. Years later, I enjoyed business class while traveling for work, which forever spoiled me. When I stepped back into coach as a freelance writer, I noticed smaller seats, fewer amenities and bizarre arrangements that allegedly bring airlines more income.

Economy Plus is one of them. For a meager $20 or $30 or $90, you can pay to sit in a seat you formerly occupied for free. How's that for a deal? On several occasions, I've submitted to upgrade curiosity, but I always feel stupid for having shelled out the extra money because Economy Plus isn't an upgrade at all.

For one thing, Economy Plus seats aren't separated from economy the way first class is sequestered from the rest of plane, the flimsy navy curtain representing an unconquerable partition. This allows shrewd travelers the chance to poach empty seats. Try sneaking into first class, and you'll be kicked off the plane. Play musical chairs in Economy Plus and suffer no consequence.

Now fully aware of my airline claustrophobia, I booked an Economy Plus seat in an empty row during my recent flight home, but my upgrade didn't last long. A bickering elderly couple abandoned "disjointed" aisle seats to take the two empty Economy Plus slots beside me, so angry was the wife at her husband for booking adjoining aisle seats. "What should I have done?" he patiently asked. She fumed and hissed and took over my armrest, inwardly wishing she'd married someone able to rejig a three-seat row into a cushy loveseat.

The inequity I suffered, albeit slight, irritated me almost as much as paying to check my suitcase only to hear flight attendants repeatedly insist that passengers keep small bags beneath seats instead of using overhead bins. Why should I minimize the space available to me when I'm one of the few people who pays to have luggage on my flights? Don't get me started on early boarders who preemptively deposit their luggage or those who intentionally bypass checking bags only to have them stored for free while boarding.

The best part? They complain about a free service that some of us pay for, using flawed logic that sounds something like: I don't understand these new fees, so I will avoid them however possible even if it creates discomfort for my fellow passengers. If they are "stupid" enough to pay said fees, that's their problem. This rationale is akin to breaking the law because you don't like it. You think you're sticking it to The Man, but you're actually creating problems for travelers, yourself included.

Although we may not fully grasp the challenges facing the airline industry, it's fair to say that we travelers are legitimately frustrated by extra fees, longwinded security protocols and flight attendants who consider themselves in-air guardians. Ever-changing regulations that defy logic don't help either.

Why do we have to remove laptops for security but not iPads? Why can we use in-flight Wi-Fi provided by airlines but not connections for which we already pay? Powering down electronics? That's mandatory, of course, unless you're watching TV powered by the plane.

As fun as it is to gripe, I'll leave you with a few suggestions for how to voice your concerns to the industry itself. You may file a complaint with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the US Department of Transportation by clicking here. You'll probably find swifter recourse by directly calling the airline on which you traveled, but don't expect much. Psychology Today published a helpful article on how to complain about air travel; you may access it here.

What are your complaints and/or suggestions?