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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 7/19/2008

There are ways to cope with airlines

Last time out we talked about the three basic transport modes that free us up to roam about the country and the world: trains, planes, and automobiles.

Then, focusing on cars, we suggested some of the smart ways of getting maximum mileage from our driving buck.

We quickly discovered that we weren't alone in this. Last week we could hardly pick up a paper or magazine without finding our fellow scribblers weighing in with their own cost-cutting suggestions.

That sorted, it's time for the other two: trains and planes.

The first, unfortunately, is all too easily dispensed with, because we simply don't have significant passenger rail in our part of the country - just two Amtrak trains passing through Toledo at inconvenient times. So, despite the very best efforts of several area groups lobbying for a major expansion of Midwest passenger railway service, it appears highly unlikely that it's ever going to happen, or not for a long time anyway.

The experts' excuse is that we don't have the "population density" to justify increased rail service - millions of cars chugging up and down I-75 and on the Ohio turnpike notwithstanding. For our railway fixes we'll have to go coastal or fly to Europe or Asia, where they fully appreciate their efficient, fast, frequent, widespread, and very green railways.

That's a rather smooth transition, don't you think, to the subject of planes, and flying, and the biggest diabolical mess we've ever seen.

The list of headaches is long: too many planes and too few traffic controllers; airline mergers and bankruptcies; mechanical hiccups; flight cuts (Delta has announced it will pull out of Toledo); downsizing of aircraft and personnel; cancellations; endless security lines, and on and on.

On top of this come the massive fuel surcharges - up to $426 for a single overseas flight - which directly or indirectly have spawned a raft of supplementary fees on domestic flights. There are new fees for checked bags, extra bags, and overweight bags. There are charges for preferred seating as well. Want an aisle seat, pay for it. Want an exit row, pay for it. Ditto in-flight meals and adult beverages, even soft drinks. Heck, we're still mad because they got rid of peanuts (for allergy reasons admittedly) and now we carry our own.

Want to fly your under-aged child, shell out $120 each way. And a pet? Ohmigod, $200!

So what can we do?

We say Scrooge it. Fight it with everything you've got.

Example: If you're expected to pay for that in-flight meal, pack your own and either picnic at the airport or on the plane. You probably won't be alone, and anything you bring will be preferable to the "beef, chicken, or pasta" that the airline is likely to serve. Just remember to hold the fruit and the soup. There's a liquid restriction, you know.

More money for an aisle or exit row seat? Make the best possible seat reservation when you book your flight. Then get to the airport very early and lobby at check-in for the precise seat you want. If that doesn't work, try again at the gate. And then on the plane. Claim bladder problems, wonky knees, agoraphobia - anything! Never take "no" for answer.

Thankfully, we have some control over luggage surcharges. Traveling light is something we've been preaching for more than 25 years.

However long your trip, stick to a single bag, one that you can carry on, if possible. For the allowable size and weight you'll have to check your airline's Web site. You can be sure that the airlines will be making increased use of those baggage size devices to weed out cheaters.

We'll continue to deal with luggage and packing in future columns, but in this Olympic year, when "higher, faster, stronger" is the cry, travelers would do well to adopt "lighter, smaller, smarter" as their motto.



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