The Travel Adviser: Days of awe and short lists

As the airline industry gets more devious in charging such fees, each of its flagrant activities can be compared to a sin.

Delta airline plane (photo credit: REUTERS)
Delta airline plane
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s that time of year commonly called the High Holy Days – known in Hebrew as the Yamim Nora’im, which translates to a phrase I love: “Days of Awe.”
These 10 days of repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a period that one should spend not only meditating on the subject of the holidays, but more importantly, asking forgiveness from anyone one has wronged.
Repentance is the act of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and resolving to live a more responsible and humane life. The process typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense, and an attempt to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.
Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – only absolves one of sins committed against God; when it comes to sins against another person, one can only gain absolution by making restitution and obtaining the pardon of the offended party.
To all of my readers, clients, friends, employees and loved ones, I resolutely beseech your forgiveness and resolve to do better this year. I pledge to show more humility, to be less cheeky, and to show less insolence in writing about companies and clients whose impudent business practices drive me batty.
However, that will start with my next column.
With every airline transaction, there is a financial catch – be it for a meal, a checked bag or simply a seat. Even though fees on a few transactions may be tolerable, some are just outright atrocious. As the airline industry gets more devious in charging such fees, each of its flagrant activities can be compared to a sin.
Here is a short list of some of the most grievous sins:
Lust is defined as an intense desire for something or someone. In the case of airlines, it is the desire to charge more fees on every transaction. The best example is the extra charge for selecting one’s seat.
Booking a seat is an essential part of any airline transaction, but even that is being abused by some carriers, such as KLM, Iberia, Swiss and Lufthansa. Unless you’re a frequent flier member or are purchasing a very expensive ticket, getting your desired seat will cost you.
Gluttony means swallowing anything to the point of overindulgence. Adding fuel surcharges to frequent flier award seats is one of the best examples of gluttony in the airline industry. Both Air Canada and El Al take a perverse pride in imposing a fuel surcharge on customers redeeming frequent flier miles. Considering that all frequent fliers are loyal customers who provide regular business, this onerous surcharge can only be explained by a desire to squeeze out as much money as the airlines possibly can, even at the expense of their most devoted customers.
Sloth is defined as both physical and spiritual laziness. It can also be defined as the failure to do things that one ought to do. While almost all airlines guarantee their travelers a reserved seat upon purchase of a ticket, Swiss requires its customers to have a little faith that they’ll find a seat closer to their departure dates. Go ahead and purchase a round-trip ticket on Swiss to New York next month. Be generous with your money and pay a hefty $2,644 (with taxes) in economy class. Be told it costs nothing to cancel your ticket or to make a change. Then, after forking out such a large amount, discover you cannot reserve your seat until 24-48 hours prior to your flight. The burden of the airlines’ laziness is thus transferred to their customers.
Wrath, or uncontrollable anger, is one of the vilest sins. In their indignation at being unable to control the majority of their costs, the airlines take the sin of wrath to heart by charging the customer an additional fee for every extra bag – from carry-ons to checked suitcases. Sprint, a low-cost carrier operating in the US, was the first to introduce carry-on fees four years ago. And while some airlines charge only for the second checked bag, US citizens have become inured to the reality that most domestic carriers – with the glowing exception of Southwest Airlines – charge for the first checked bag. Better to wear it or wing it, roll it and raise it in the overhead bin, than to pay the airline to check in your bag.
Envy is an insatiable desire to possess what someone else has, be it their wealth, status or any other traits. American Airlines announced that it would start charging for every checked bag back in 2008. Unable to withhold their envy, most other major airlines followed suit and dumped yet another fee on their unsuspecting customers. Since all of the major carriers were in on the checked-bag bandwagon, every one of them started charging more fees as a result of this competition. From Israel, unless you’re flying business class or are a top-tier frequent flier, you’re only permitted to check in one piece for free. Exceptions to that rule are both Turkish Air and Aeroflot, which continue to permit all of their passengers to check in two bags.
In these Days of Awe, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out some of the sins committed by the flying public over the last year.
There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of pride in your travel accomplishments, but nobody likes an arrogant traveler. No matter how long your travel resume gets and how many adventures you’ve been on, there’s always going to be someone else who’s seen and done more. Tweet away if you must, post on Facebook all you want, but remember that you should be grateful you’re able to travel, and not be cocky.
Traveling is all about losing your inhibitions and letting your hair down, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to turn into a suffering bore. You don’t always need to seize every photo opportunity, sit at the front of the bus, or get the best room in the hotel. Sometimes there are other folks who need it more.
On occasion, while traveling, lust may arise. Generally speaking, it’s okay to pursue it, but there are times when it isn’t – such as on those long-haul flights when your lust is directed at a flight attendant. Based on what I hear from the flight attendants I’ve spoken to, there is no good that can come of acting on that lust.
It’s true that anger never solves anything, and this is particularly pertinent in the world of travel. The very act of traveling lends itself to unplanned, spontaneous and potentially dangerous incidents. Things can go wrong. If you lose your luggage, if you feel ill on a flight, or if a storm delays your departure – just take a deep breath. Do what you can to fix the issue, be extra nice to the personnel you encounter on the ground or in the air, and accept that not everything can be solved in an instant.
Remember in closing that simple axiom: Pride goeth before a fall.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.
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