January 2, 2009

Editor's Opinion - Bon Voyage

Recently I commented on one of my colleagues in “crime” (a.k.a. travel journalism), Ajay Jain, a travel photographer, journalist and a blogger. Jain asked the following question:

“What is a traveler to do with increased security concerns and other woes in the New Year? I am writing a travel column for a leading newspaper in India, talking about concerns travelers would have in the New Year. These include increased security, terror fears and any other woes that come to your mind. What is your opinion on the matter: Will travel get more cumbersome? Will it a big bother? How does one react to it? Cut down travel? Look at alternate options? Take it in your stride? Find humor in the situation? Offer suggestions to authorities to make it easier for all concerned without compromising on the concerns?”

Ajai raised a very good point and concern, which has been a bother for many professional and amateur travelers.

Unfortunately, as inconvenient and tiresome as it became to travel, we all still travel the same deal. The passion for (and the “required-on-a-job”) travel cannot be eliminated with changes in luggage rules, security and fear for terror; it only makes it more time-involving and stressful.

We plan for trip longer - we weight our luggage beforehand (and if you have not yet started doing it already, you better start doing it now), we make sure we only take the things we absolutely need and will use (to avoid additional weight charges and check-ins) and we make sure we don't bring anything with us that might raise concern with the securities, even if we check-in our bags.

Now when I, personally, travel, I make sure I put all the items such as bottles of wine (liquid) and anything "foreign" (like any odd-shaped) objects and souvenirs on top of my suitcase so that when security opens it, they don't have to go through all my things and mess it all up, but see the objects they are looking for on top of my belongings. I also make sure I know all the rules of that particular airline I travel with. Airlines, as it seems nowadays, change their rules all the time and randomly. One day it is 30 kg limit to take with you, another day – it is 23 kg. And no one wants to go through the luggage and toss things away at an airport if you have an over-weight.

The airlines also making adjustments to 'traveling with pets' rules. While not long ago, most of airlines allowed small pets on board in a pet's cage/bag, now not only some airlines require paying a pet's fare for a flight, but some of them don't even allow pets on board. (Go to TripsWithPets.com to learn about pet-friendly airlines. They also give travel tips on traveling with a pet, how to make them happy and safe.)

Moreover, some airlines began to charge even for one checked-in bag, while it was free before. For example, I just flew AirTran from Washington, DC to Houston, TX and it cost me $15 to check-in one bag. AirTran Airways, for example, changed their requirements on December 5th, 2008. I just could not think that the airlines might change their carry-on and baggage check-in policies just two weeks prior my flight. See new policies at AirTran Airways.

Security control has made our travel times longer and more stressful, now we need to get to airports (no matter what time and day we travel), earlier, just so that we leave enough time for security and random additional security pick-ups (you never know if you are randomly picked or not, but it definitely puts you in jeopardy to miss your flight.) This means that for some of us, instead of taking a half day off from work to avoid counting down an additional "holiday day off" taken from your vacation time, now you need to dedicate a whole day to travel.

(Is not it putting fun back into travel? - The courtesy of RyanAir.com)

And of course, when you dress for a flight, we now think twice, whether we can put an extra bracelet or a big belt or boots instead of flying "simple and accessories-off" to avoid additional hassle at a security point. All these adjustments don't seem like a big deal, but when they all add up, they do make a travel experience less enjoyable.

Moreover, it's not even about security concerns, it's about how much worse on-board service has become. My parents just recently flew to Europe via Lufthansa and they had the best experience (even in comparison to same airline experience I had with Lufthansa in 2006): friendly, generous and very attentive service, larger room space, clean and fresh area, great selection of food and drinks (and all for free, including endless amounts of European wine! :).

Versus my recent trip on local American airlines: rude and obnoxious in-flight service, dirty floors and seats, smelly bathrooms, annoying unhealthy snacks such as pretzels (welcome additional carbs, never mind the fact that America is one of the most obese countries in the world as it is, so why not give a bag of carrots and apples instead?) and limited amount of juices and water that they only give out once on a 3-hour trip. You have to beg for another small glass of apple juice after. Not to mention that a person who just endured a long and cumbersome process of check-in, security, overpriced tasteless food-court and public restrooms have to deal with flight attendants who become worse and worse every year – they are now rude, tired-looking and annoyed.

Where are these sunny smiles and warm attentive service of flight attendants that we can now only experience in advertisements and retro movies?

All in all, it depends on your level of personal fear of flight and terror. If you were afraid to fly before, you’d be afraid to fly now. If you were terrified of an idea of a possibility of a terror attack, you’d still be terrified of the idea to fly. However, a thought that if the security became so thorough and detailed, makes it more hopeful that a terrorist would be caught before it gets all dangerous and ugly for the travelers.

I, personally, try not to think about it when I travel, and I did not minimize the amount of my travels. I just try to get tickets beforehand (for a less expensive fare), check all information about airline's requirements online a week or a few days prior the departure (luggage, pet and carry-on requirements), pack a few days ahead and get to the airport comfortably dressed and a few hours before the take-off.

Bon Voyage!

Truely yours,

Alisa Krutovsky


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