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8 Questionable Air Travel Tips

by Sarah Katin Apr 28, 2014
How to beat overweight baggage fees

So your bag is overweight. If you’re like me you probably saw this coming. I’ve seen other people, not like me, painstakingly pack and subsequently weigh their luggage in advance before arriving at the airport. That’s probably a good idea. But I’m not here to give you good ideas.

As you place your bag on the scale, carefully maneuver your knee behind it so that some of its weight is resting on your leg. You might be thinking: Doesn’t it look kind of strange that I’m standing so close to my bag? Luckily, the airline has no right to judge who or what you want to stand close to. Besides, they won’t even notice because you’ll be too busy implementing phase two. Immediately upon placing your bag on the scale — and discreetly balancing it on your leg — distract the check-in person by unleashing a deluge of questions. I usually pick a theme. Either focusing on the in-flight entertainment or death. Here are some sample questions to get your started:

Do we get our own TV?

What’s playing?

Does the captain get to watch the movie?

Do the interactive games have backgammon?

Can I play play backgammon with the captain?

How many times has this airline crashed?

When was the last crash?

How many people died?

I don’t want to die.

Between punching your information into the computer, fielding your queries, and wanting you to go away, the check-in person isn’t paying too much attention to your overweight bag.

How to change your flight date and avoid paying the penalty

This one has a very low success rate, but I’m like one of the slow mice in the self-help book Who Moved My Cheese. It worked once, so I keep trying.

When the customer service rep informs you that it’ll cost a ridiculous sum of money to change your flight, you happily say, “sure.” Next she will ask for your credit card information. This is when you politely explain that you don’t have a credit card. She will think you’re weird for not having one. Just accept this. You probably are weird. Then she’ll try to get you to use a friend or family member’s card. Calmly explain that you have no friends and your family is all dead. She will now think you’re a weird loser with a dead family, but try not to let this get you down. Remember, it’s not real. Unless it is. In which case that sucks, but at least you’re not a liar.

Eventually, whether the customer service rep suggests it or you “inception” her with the idea, the solution will be to pay the change fee in cash upon check-in at the airport. Now you have a very slim chance that when you check in at the airport there will be no record of this exchange and you will pay nothing. If this happens you will feel really good. If it doesn’t happen, well, you were going to have to pay that damn fee anyway.

How to score an aisle seat when there are absolutely no aisle seats available

Tell them you have diarrhea. It makes everyone uncomfortable and nobody asks for proof. I simply explain that while I understand there are absolutely no aisle seats available, I’m going to need to make frequent trips to the lavatory. I don’t mind sitting in the middle, but I can’t make any promises that I’ll be able to crawl over my blissfully unaware, sleeping seatmate in a timely enough manner. The last time I employed this tactic, the disgusted check-in attendant miraculously found me an entire unoccupied row.

I like to go with diarrhea because it works for both men and women. Also, if you don’t think about what it means, “diarrhea” is actually a pretty word. It’s got the same fun cadence as “Mama Mia,” and that was a hit song. I bet you’re saying “diarrhea” now and contemplating its beauty.

How to get bumped to first class

There are two ways to get in. You can be rich and actually buy a ticket, or you can be late to the airport. I tend to implement the latter strategy — it takes a lot of time to lug around my overweight bag. If you do hit this flying jackpot, you won’t have to worry about the overweight luggage fees anymore. Your bag can weigh as much as a large elephant. There are no restrictions for the better people in first class.

This is how it works. Airlines like to make a profit, so they overbook flights with the knowledge that some people just aren’t going to make it. On the off chance they do all make it, the airline finds itself in a bit of a pickle. This is where you come in. Late. They have nowhere to put you, and there’s no time to choose a more worthy passenger, so you get the sleeping pod and welcome aboard champagne. Congratulations. You’ve made it in life.

Potential risks:

  1. You actually miss your flight.
  2. There are absolutely no seats left, even in first class.
  3. You get stuck with a shitty middle seat.

How to counteract risks:

  1. Think of this as a Final Destination moment and you weren’t meant to be on that plane. It’ll probably crash. This will cause you to realize something important about the frailty of human life or something spiritual. You write a book about it and are invited to give a Ted Talk. Your Ted Talk goes viral, making you an internet sensation. You no longer feel bad about missing your flight.
  2. Same as above, but you also get flight vouchers and a free night’s stay at the airport Marriott.
  3. Please refer back to “How to score an aisle seat when there are absolutely no aisle seats available.”
How to make other passengers jealous

So you’re not in first class. You can still create a class divide by ordering a special meal in advance. These always get served first. The other passengers will watch with envy, wondering why you’re so goddamn special. It’s because you had the foresight to preorder the disappointing vegan (strict) vegetarian option. Good for you. Enjoy those carrot sticks.

What to do when your assigned seat is not to your satisfaction

Only once I was bestowed the seatmate of my dreams. A Mexican diplomat’s son on a red-eye from Fiji to Los Angeles. My personal TV was broken so we shared his, cuddling under the scratchy airline issued blanket. This was clearly an anomaly, because most of the time my seatmates are unattractive people with bad breath. If this is the case just move. Don’t ask permission.

I repeat: Do not ask for permission.

The flight attendants have only one programmed response: “Please stay in your seat, miss/sir.” The truth is they don’t actually care where you sit, they just want you to sit the fuck down.

You’ll be surprised to discover that while some rows are entirely occupied, others are completely empty. I have no idea why they fill up planes this way. I’ve been told it’s for equal weight distribution. I can’t make any promises, but you’re probably not going to throw the plane off course.

Okay, you’ve found a new seat. Now what? I like to stare at the passengers still boarding, willing them not to stop at my new seat. If they do I get unreasonably annoyed and make a big show of gathering my things. (I know. This makes me kind of a dick.) Quickly find another seat while avoiding the flight attendants. They will demand to see your ticket in the facade of helpfulness, and send you back to your assigned seat.

If the flight is full, and you ultimately do end up back at your original seat, console yourself with the fact that at least you got to stretch your legs. Stretching helps to prevent blood clots.

Note: If you are thinking, Just wait till the doors are locked and nobody else is getting on and then switch seats to avoid all that hassle, this will not work because of people like me who have already stolen all the good seats.

How to save the really expensive cream in the over-3.4-ounce container you accidentally left in your carry-on bag

I don’t understand how they came up with 3.4 ounces. From what I’ve surmised, it’s some kind of complex equation like this: 3.4 ounces = safe toothpaste. 3.5 ounces = potentially dangerous toothpaste. I once tried to explain that the suspect tube I was carrying wasn’t full. It had only about 2.9 ounces left, maybe 3. The official promptly chucked it in the bin with all the other sad, unused, over-3.4-ounce products. Therefore, the amount of toothpaste inside the tube appears to be inconsequential. The real issue is with the container.

When flying from Korea to Japan, I discovered I’d left my pricey coconut body lotion in my bag. It made me smell like a freshly baked macaroon. There was no way I wanted to part with it, especially because it was winter and Japan’s very dry in the winter. Then I remembered: They don’t care how much pricey coconut lotion I’m taking to Japan, they just don’t want it contained. I squeezed the entire bottle into my hand and carried it lovingly through security. On the other side, the security official gave me a Ziploc baggie for my lotion. They have these. Just ask.

What to do when your customer service rep is an asshole

Sometimes you’ve got to call the airline. When this happens you might find yourself talking to an unhelpful asshole. Here are some signs that you are talking to an unhelpful asshole.

Sign one: The customer service rep — let’s call him Gary from Atlanta — will claim there is no possible way to help you. Then he’ll say he’s sorry, but he won’t sound sorry. Gary won’t sound sorry at all.

Sign two: After reiterating that there is no possible way he could ever help you, like ever, he will ask if there’s anything else he can help you with. Now he’s just messing with you, but the robots who monitor the call for quality control purposes are unable to detect irony. Gary will be rewarded for his valiant attempts to assist you.

Sign three: After 45 minutes of not helping you, Gary tells you to have a great day! Translation: Go fuck yourself.

When this happens, I call Japan. Every major airline will have an office in Japan. Every office will have a nice person to assist you because customer service is a matter of honor. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not flying to or through Japan, they will still help you in a polite and time-efficient manner. Here is a sign that you are talking to a customer service representative in Japan.

Sign: The customer service rep — Hoshihiko from Tokyo — will help you in a polite and time-efficient manner. Remember Gary and your ridiculously impossible-to-solve problem? Hosh has already taken care of that.

Arigato, Japan. This article originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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