2018-09-12 / Opinions & Letters

Economy class

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

The mission was simple. Deb and I were to get to Virginia last week for grandchildren sitting - early Thursday through late Sunday. On the schedule: one soccer practice, two soccer games, two piano lessons and a Girl Scout meeting to get the children to plus a couple lunches to make, several school buses to meet and a master list with other vital details to consult and follow.

My first task was booking the airplane tickets to actually get us there. When we visit our family in Virginia we usually stay longer than the relatively brief four-day, three-night period this assignment involved. Maybe it was the short duration of the visit that inspired me to go short on the cost of the plane tickets, too.

And short I did. I booked two round trip tickets known as “Basic Economy.”

If you categorize “Basic Economy” based on airport boarding groups, you realize how far back in the back of the line you have actually signed up for. Boarding at the gate starts with special needs folks, including those with wheelchairs or small children. Next in priority are service members in active military. First and second class follow and seem to be populated mostly by business folks and senior citizens. The third and fourth boarding groups are primarily made up of those casual youthful travelers and also young families with children.

I can’t tell you who my fellow travelers in the fifth boarding group were. By the time those of us in group 5 were called, the plane was practically taxing down the runway with everybody settled in and buckled up. Last in line in a line that long best hustle and that is what Deb and I did when the fifth and final boarding group was finally called.

We “Basic Economy” folks are pretty nimble and quick and that is because we travel light. To read the “Basic Economy” rules, which I studied in advance, it sounded like we were to appear wearing something on the order of a loin cloth with nothing in hand but a small bag with perhaps a cheese sandwich and a change of socks.

While our other flying companions wheeled behind them a carry-on suitcase, and stow along companion piece plus briefcase, we were allowed a single mini tote which could fit under the seat and which measured a scant four inches wide and squat 10 inches tall.

I got out the ruler and started tossing luggage around. Nothing we owned in the duffle bag type category seemed small enough to meet the rules. At one point I eyed an insulated lunch bag to measure it up before Deb put her foot down. Finally, we narrowed down the two bags we were allowed to an old valise for the laptop and reading material plus a teeny, tiny miniature bag that looked more like a Barbie doll wardrobe than a suitcase.

I am accustomed to checking in for a flight on the computer or my smart-phone many hours prior to leaving for the airport. With “Basic Economy” that option is not an option. The airline, it turned out, wanted to meet us bargain flyers in person before they issued boarding passes. Clearly, they wanted to see with their own eyes our pretend luggage and that we weren’t smuggling a full sized anything along for the ride. Given the size of the bags folks jam into airplane overhead bins these days – I can’t say I blame them for patting down us bargain hunters.

Traveling with one set of underwear, a change of socks and PJs has its disadvantages. I also forgot a belt. Oh yes, and it was hot as blazes the morning we left - so I dressed accordingly. Meanwhile, while we were in Virginia it rained, got cold and I had nothing appropriate to wear half the time. In addition to that, I had to do several very small loads of laundry during the stay.

I should mention Deb wasn’t in on the “Basic Economy” decision. Although a good sport, she did note to me that the economy part of “Basic Economy” didn’t stop with carry-on luggage. When we took our seats on the plane, and went to settle in, she observed that our seat assignments were very special. We were in the only row of seats that could not be reclined.

I guess us “Basic Economy” folks best appreciate the fact they let us buckle ourselves up to something stationary before take-off.

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