Ripped from the wires ... Barbara Shelly envisions the not-too-distant future of commercial airline flight:
By Barbara Shelly
Diary of a future flyer:
Arrive at airport three hours early, as required for a domestic flight.
Notice heavy security in the terminal. Travelers look grim, anxious or resigned. Some are pulling clothing and sundries from their baggage, handing items off to grinning people with shopping carts.
Proceed to weigh-in, where an overhead sign with the airline logo proclaims: Your pounds are your problem.
Wait in long line. Hop on giant scale with suitcase and carry-on bag. Watch the scale settle on a number. Think, "Why did I pack that extra pair of shoes? Why did I say 'yes' to that doughnut?''
Exit scale and hand over credit card. Weight surcharge is $1 per pound. Receive receipt itemizing how much of the offending poundage is attributed to checked baggage, carry-on luggage and me personally.
Procure boarding pass. Check weighty suitcase. Remove shoes, jacket, wrist watch at security check. Wish I could have removed all that before weigh-in.
Proceed to counter of boarding area. Plunk down $5 to pay for a seat while I wait. No such thing as free seats anymore.
Settle into cushions just in time to hear disembodied voice announce flight is delayed for an unspecified period. Later, will discover delay is due to a brawl at plane's point of origin. Lots of scuffles at the airports lately.
Read the newspaper. Get bored. Get hungry. Think about buying a sandwich. Remember final weigh-in necessary before boarding. Decide not to eat or drink. Opt instead to pace around the boarding area, hoping to work off a pound or two. Sorry now that I paid for my seat.
After two hours, and approximately 6.5 miles pacing distance, hear announcement that plane has arrived. Get in line with boarding pass. Hop on scale with carry-on bag. No change since last weigh-in.
Squeeze down aisle. Try to stuff carry-on bag overhead. No go. Too big. Receive dirty look from flight attendant. Surrender bag, to be passed overhead from passenger to passenger, to front of plane. Wonder if I'll ever see it again.
Exhale and wedge body into seat. Regret not paying extra for "full-sized'' seat, which actually is a regular seat.
Discover I am sitting on seat belt. Decide not to worry about it. Am wedged in too tightly to be jarred by turbulence.
Flight attendant materializes. Tells me to buckle my seat belt. Does not smile. Smiley flight attendants cost an extra $10. Kinda wish I would have paid that.
Sit. Sit some more. Pilot comes on loudspeaker and says there's been a delay. Does not apologize. Apologies cost extra.
Pass time examining the back of the seat in front of me, only two inches from my nose. Am jealous of seatmate, who pops a pill upon boarding and zonks out immediately. Am grateful when plane takes off, four hours and 54 minutes late.
Unsmiling flight attendant forces way down aisle holding round tray with bathroom-size cups filled with soft drinks. Says, "That'll be five dollars.'' I pass, even though very thirsty. Also forgo the postage stamp-size bag of pretzels, available for $3.50.
Nature calls anyway. Curse, exhale, pry myself out of seat. Lurch stiffly down aisle. Get to back of plane. Curse again. Remember that coins and/or credit card, needed to enter lavatory, are in carry-on luggage. Pivot. Lurch back up aisle. Heave myself into seat, banging hip on armrest.
Commiserate with seatmate, who has woken up. Out of principle, refuse to comply with orders to fasten seat belt for landing. Engage in glaring contest with flight attendant.
Plane touches down. Feel giddy with joy. Follow other dazed passengers out of plane. Collect carry-on bag. Line up for final charges.
Examine bill: $25 for special storage for carry-on bag; $50 fine for refusing to buckle up; $5 deboarding fee, charged to all but first-class passengers.
Fold arms and demand to speak to a supervisor. Am informed that if I have a problem I can fill out a form. In any case, must pay or return to the plane.
Cannot contemplate so awful a fate. Hand over my credit card. Think of it as the price of freedom.
Contact Shelly, a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board, at firstname.lastname@example.org.