A s a kid I always hated going to the dentist and had a similar loathing for getting my Beatle mop shorn at the barbershop. But, both those experiences were relatively short - the drilling and filling took a half hour of pain and the hair always grew back.  

These days I don't have to worry about too much hair, and a trip to the dentist is a non-event. Now, I find the thing I look forward to with the greatest trepidation is any kind of domestic travel that cannot be undertaken by car.

It's not just the airlines that are to blame it's the entire supporting cast: airports, security, airport food, weather, and increasingly, fellow passengers.

Take my trip this week (please!).

What should have been a simple hop from New York to Miami turned out to be another unforgettable experience for all the wrong reasons.

Everything started out swimmingly. It was a sunny afternoon, traffic was surprisingly light for a holiday Monday and I even found a vacant parking space as close to the terminal as one can get without actually taking the car inside.

With my trusty wheelie at my heel and home-printed boarding pass in hand, I made my way to security, noticing en-route that my flight was showing as an on-time departure.

I think this is what meteorologists call "the calm before the storm".

At security I stood shoelessly for twenty minutes while the lone TSA screener tried to disable something that was clearly a threat to airport security in a fifteen year-old girl's purse.

Then it was my turn to come under the microscope and I too was found to be harbouring threatening materials in the form of an aerosol can of shave gel that was over the 3 oz. legal limit.

I wouldn't have minded so much if they'd just confiscated it and let me go about my business, but clearly Richard Reid must have used the same brand or something, as my weapons of mass distraction were laboriously dissected.

My GPS went un-noticed while my toothpaste, deodorant and vitamins were sniffed and shaken. Has there ever been an exploding Vitamin E capsule?

When I finally made it to the departure gate I found a ten minute delay had been posted which was no big deal. Unfortunately almost two hours later the same ten minutes was still showing on the screen and we were still in the departure lounge. I won't name the airline, other than to hint that it has something in common with an alcoholic abstinence movement.

Anyway, it was a full half hour before the gate agent finally announced that the ubiquitous "they" had a weather delay and the inbound aircraft was expected on the ground "shortly."

Shortly turned out to be ninety minutes and we started boarding a little over two hours late. On board what once upon a time was a fairly orderly ritual, has now evolved into an ugly territorial battle for every square inch of overhead and underseat stowage space.

Much as I agree with airlines charging for checked bags, they really have to do a better job of policing the resulting shift to carrying it on at all costs!

When the passenger next to me finally conceded defeat in his strenuous effort to squeeze his cabin-trunk-sized-carry-on into the bin above my head, he then tried to fit into the even smaller space under the seat in front of him. When told he'd have to "gate check" the offending bag, he exploded that there was no bleeping way he was going all the way back to check-in.

Maybe "door-check" would be a less provocative expression?

Once off the ground things only got worse. As soon as the wheels came up, the dimensionally-challenged female passenger in front of me crashed her seatback into full recline.

I hereby take back everything I said about Spirit Airlines and their "pre-reclined seats", in retrospect I think it is a wonderful concept!

It wasn't so much the knee-numbing recline that was the problem it was the intrusive head of hair that came with it. She had a veritable explosion of curls that hung over her seat back and seemed to hover literally no more than six inches from the tip of my nose. I felt like I was being attacked by a racoon!

Unfortunately there wasn't an empty seat on the airplane so there was no escape other than holding my Kindle at eye level as a shield and enjoying the complimentary scotch I was plied with by a sympathetic flight attendant. Needless to say by the time the service cart got to the back of the airplane there wasn't as much as a bag of peanuts left for purchase.

We finally came to the gate in Miami a full three hours late with the final straw being a thirty minute gate-hold - at midnight?!

The deplaning process took almost as long as boarding and the advertized "every fifteen minutes" hotel shuttle bus arrived a mere forty minutes later.

By the time I finally got into my room (I was only fourth in line at reception) I was looking forward to the 24/7 room service menu - at least until I saw that a $15 hamburger was subject to a 22% Service Charge, plus a $5 "In-Room Dining Charge", plus 9% tax, which made it a $25 hamburger. No matter how hungry I was, the Scot in me took over and I simply could not go through with such a purchase.

I checked and found the morning wake -up call was (for now) still free, so I ordered one, shut my eyes and was soon dreaming of how travel used to be.

This “Best of Tait” was first published 03 June 2010

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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his weekly columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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