When Did Travel Become Survival of the Fittest?

Travel used to be something fun. You remember vacation, right? That time you earned to go and get away from it all. What happened? The fun and excitement of getting away from it all has been replaced by fear and loathing (sorry Hunter S. Thompson).

The entire process of getting overpriced tickets, checking in, and getting to the airport feels like one big colonoscopy prep. There is nothing remotely fun about the search for a parking space five and a half miles from the terminal. I’ve come to the realization that all this misery is by design, to prepare you for what you will face once you enter the terminal building. I hope you have some extra time on your hands, because you’re gonna need it.

The TSA recently recommended that you arrive two hours before your flight. That is so you can fully enjoy the experience. After you’ve waited in line to check luggage with your airline of choice, the next piece of your adventure is the hour-long wait in the security screening line. Every time I take my place at the end of the line, I recall the opening scene from Joe Vs. The Volcano, where the Tom Hanks character joins his co-workers as they slog to the doors of their soulless factory jobs. A place where all hope goes to die.

Joevsvolcano

The person in front of you in the security line forgets to remove their studded leather belt and metal fashion accessories, requiring multiple passes though the metal detector. When it’s your turn, you must look suspicious from trying to hide that hole in your sock, because you have been selected for supplemental screening. The quick patdown is bad enough, but the TSA guy must have just come back from his lunch break because I can tell he had a salami and onion sandwich.

TSA Screening

TSA Screening

Your flight is delayed and two gate changes later you get the boarding announcement. Since I’m a general cheap ass, I ticketed through a low budget airline without assigned seating. The process feels like a cattle call with all the jostling for position. Dude, we’re all getting on the same plane and with your C-60 boarding pass, you’re getting a middle seat anyway. The only thing missing are the cattle prods to move the line along.

Low Budget Air Travel image by jaspardo via flickr creative commons

Low Budget Air Travel
image by jaspardo via flickr creative commons

I know it’s not my imagination, the seats are closer together and narrower than they used to be. Okay I admit I’m not as narrow as I used to be but, come on…

The guy next to me will not shut up for the entire flight. My sound canceling earphones aren’t working because I forgot to change the battery and you can still hear his droning on about his love for NASCAR. I leave them on and hopefully he’ll get the hint to STFU.

Finally the flight lands and if you’re at LAX or DFW, you have another 30 minutes of taxi time before you find a gate. I guarantee that on your next flight you will have that one person — that one olympic sprinter in training who will run from the rear of the plane when it comes to a stop so they can be the first one off. The other type of traveler you’ll encounter is the one who seems confused on which way to go. There is only one door, bucko and it’s not behind you. Go into the light…

Baggage claim sounds simple. After a Bataan Death March distance hike from the gate to the baggage area you and all of the other airline refugees are held in containment until the bags dribble in from the bellies of the steel beasts. With all the extra baggage fees extracted by the airlines, you’d think ALL the bags would make it to their destination. There’s always a single traveler holding vigil at an empty baggage carousel. Sacramento International Airport knows the baggage pickup is a joke, so they erected a baggage sculpture to mock you.

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Beaten, bruised, broke and broken, you have arrived at your destination. Thank you for surviving. Now wasn’t that fun?

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8 comments

  1. You forgot about the joys of getting a rental car!

    1. There is an entire circle of Hell reserved for rental car experiences.

      1. Absolutely!

  2. I would rather drive from one coast to the other, spend one day at my destination, and drive all the way back just to avoid air travel. Sadly, I live in Washington state and my family is based in Hawaii so I have to fly. I pick the earliest flights that most humans find ridiculous to book and pray that my first class ticket will pay off in a smaller security line and baggage arriving at destination.

    1. I’ve made the 13 hour drive from Sacramento to Phoenix – through the desert- in 100 heat to avoid the flight hassles.

      1. And I bet you get better food!

  3. LOL — Now, imagine you’re traveling internationally. There are some airports in the States that were hell even before the extra layers of security (MIA and JFK being two that come to mind…) Even direct flights have their versions of nightmare. And if you’re returning from abroad to the U.S. add the confusion about what you can and cannot get at the Duty Free. (“Sorry kiddo, but i had drink that bottle of tequila before stepping on to the flight — apparently, liquor is a threat to national security.”) … 🙂

    1. Customs at MIA is a nightmare. You’re right about the additional trauma that comes along with international travel. Thank you for your tequila sacrifice in the name of national security.

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