David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Travellers fly into clouds of misery

Share
Related Topics

This year I have joined the ranks of America's weary air warriors. I have not totted up all the flights I have taken since the first of the Democratic Party primaries at the start of January, but I know that the wheels on my trusty suitcase are falling off and my ears are in a state of permanent pop.

I don't mean to moan. The number of US states I have seen since coming to the US has just hit 49 after a dash to South Dakota – the other Dakota being the one still missing – and all those trips translate into healthy air-mile accounts. And that means sometimes being put up front.

It is silly how much pleasure we get from a mere upgrade to first class. On domestic US flights the service is rarely worthy of the name. Oh, but the joy of taking your seat early and sipping a cocktail (albeit from a plastic glass) while the cattle struggle through to the main cabin behind.

Flying within the US these days is as much fun as a visit to the dentist. It has become utterly gruelling. If the upgrade doesn't come through and I am in a middle seat aft of the wings, my blood pressure rises faster than mercury in Hell. The misery will only deepen. Flight attendants get more sour-faced because they know their employers are having their balls deep-fried by the ever-rising cost of oil and therefore aviation fuel. Now some US carriers are preparing to charge even for the first bag you check in.

The chief executives plead for understanding. Their fuel costs have tripled since 2000 and their business model has come apart. They have to squeeze us for more cash somehow. But making us pay to check baggage is a public relations own-goal. Now everyone will try to haul their bags on board, and fist fights, I predict, will break out for space in the overhead bins.

More insults are to follow. Forget about food. (Continental boasts it still feeds us but its microwaved sandwiches are foul.) US Airways will soon be charging for soft drinks, and Northwest, hunting new ways to reduce weight, is to ration water supplies in the lavatories. Not flushing? Can't wash hands? Hey, walk next time if you care so much.

It gets better. A federal aviation official spilt the beans this month that among other nifty revenue-raising options being pondered by airlines is introducing a fare structure pegged to the weight of the passenger. Madam seems a little puffy today; that will be a $200 surcharge.

They haven't figured out yet how they will enforce the rules for the size of bag you can take on board. American Airlines says spotters to the security screening area will pull aside passengers lugging too much baggage. Getting through security will be more of a nightmare than ever.

My worst mishap so far this year was at a security gate. This, was in South Dakota in the tiny airport at Sioux Falls. Scrambling to keep up with Hillary Clinton, I had bought the ticket at the last moment, something that instantly pegs you as a high-risk traveller who must suffer additional screening. They patted me down and swabbed my computer for traces of explosive dust.

No big deal, at least until I arrived in Minneapolis for a three-hour wait, time I had set aside to write on Hillary for the editors in London. But guess what? I open the computer and it is not mine. It looks like mine but, best I can tell, it belongs to a wind energy engineer on his way to a sales presentation. He presumably was opening mine. No presentation, just pictures of my pug.

So, some advice: if you fly frequently, remember the blood-pressure pills, and attach something bright to your computer and bag to avoid mix-ups. I actually got rather to like my wind guy's laptop, which was a few models up from my own. But eventually we tracked each other and our much-travelled machines have returned to their respective owners.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
Iraqi soldiers trained by the US were routed by IS’s smaller force  

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

Patrick Cockburn
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015