I never fly United. Not because I fear a couple of guys will suddenly wrench me out of my seat, knocking out a few teeth and putting an overall damper on my traveler-as-livestock experience. I never fly United because the nearest airport to where I live is a Delta hub and I’m a sucker for hoarding that airline’s frequent flyer miles so I can be treated like a Holstein by that carrier without paying for it. I tell you this to establish the fact I have nothing personal against United Airlines, so when I comment about that airline’s recent spectacular PR fails I do so without any baggage, thereby avoiding additional exorbitant fees.
Actually, I’m not going to pick on United. I’m going to pick on the basic business model airlines operate under. They sell more tickets than seats available as insurance against no-shows. If everyone shows up they’ve got to figure out a way to placate the pissed-off passengers for whom a seat isn’t available. Their first tactic is to offer a small bribe that gradually escalates in value until they get enough volunteers. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In United’s case, they needed to make room for their employees and not paying customers. So they made the perfectly logical decision to wrench a paying customer from his seat, mashing his face and providing fodder for a hugely embarrassing video that would go viral within moments of it being posted. The passenger will most likely sue for a much larger amount than United would have had to pay to convince him to change flights.
I’d like to propose another way to reward air travelers for the regular abuse they suffer. Introducing TLS Rewards. TLS being an acronym for Treated Like Shit. Each time a passenger submits an instance of being treated like shit by an airline, they accrue a number of points that’s in proportion to the abuse. Lost bag? 100 points. Whacked in the head by a passing beverage cart? 150 points. Hoping for those yummy Biscoff cookies but all they have is peanuts with your coffee? 50 points. Grabbed from your seat by a couple of security guys and your head bashed into the armrest resulting in lost teeth? 10,000 points and first class seating for life with the firm promise that once seating you won’t be brutally un-seated. Plus unlimited Biscoff cookies. When you accrue enough TLS points you become entitled to various rewards such as the chance to chase baggage handlers with the Jetway, unlimited vouchers for that all- Slim Jim snack box, permission to use a pillow to suffocate the guy hogging both arm rests and the chance to use the plane’s PA system to entertain the other passengers with your impressions of indecipherable gate agent announcements. Perks like these would seem to be just the type of mood changers that could offset the otherwise unpleasant aspects of flying, while not compromising safety. You can still earn free flights and upgrades through existing frequent traveler programs. Under TLS Rewards, you can also earn fun opportunities for revenge…and everyone knows, that’s what we all really want.
I get the reason United Airlines didn’t let two legging-wearing young ladies aboard one of their planes, but let’s think about this. Indeed, my wife and I had just such a discussion during our recent trip to Florida. We recalled a time when travelers got all gussied up for air travel, not only to impress the other travelers, but in hopes the flight attendant might comp them a scotch on the rocks, or move them up to first class. Nowadays you can pretty much wear a sack and flip flops when jetting from A to B. Have people simply become slobs or too arrogant to care how they appear in public? That may be part of the answer, but I believe what’s really going on is we’re dressing for duress. During those days when air travel was considered something special, a privilege, a treat, passengers were treated as such. Airlines cheerfully checked our luggage as part of the price of a ticket and the boarding process was orderly and humane. There was plenty of overhead bin space in which to store one’s coat or brief case. One barely broke a sweat.
Air travel now? I’d rather get caught in the middle of the stampede during Free Depends Day in Delray Beach. Dress up? Are you kidding? The exorbitant fees to check a bag mean added incentive to schlep it through the airport, onto the plane and wishing and hoping for some precious overhead bin space into which you can wrestle it. I’m already schvitzing thinking about it.
Then there’s the whole process of simply getting on the plane. Because overhead space is such a premium, passengers who were either too cheap, too stubborn or simply couldn’t handle the bag check fees, crowd to the frontlines of the battle, ready to elbow, body check or step on the feet of fellow competitors who just want a spot to store their bag. It’s a contact sport, baby, and formal wear is not the uniform!
When you’re finally on the plane, if not fortunate enough to be sitting in the relative luxury of first class, you’re stuffed into a seat roughly the width of a toothpick. You squeeze yourself in as best you can, wishing you had three knees per leg so as best to adequately fold them into the stingy space in front of you, then play to the death that game of “the arm rest is mine, sucka!”
So it’s no wonder fliers choose to wear clothing more appropriate for battle on land, seat and air as opposed to the sky salons of the past. I personally don’t care if you wear leggings, leotards or liederhosen as long as you act like a human, haven’t drenched yourself with Axe, don’t try to hog both arm rests and never, ever, ask me “so..whatcha gonna do when we get to Cleveland?” I’ll explain the terms of my parole.