Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Miracle of Air Travel

Some people do this multiple times a week, and do it for years. Perhaps having everything on expenses moderates the pain? Maybe after a while having to partially strip off and participate in the security theatre starts to feel no more undignified and annoying than paying a bus fare. But for me it still feels like the rehearsal for the inevitable Iron Heel style dictatorship that is currently being implemented. These changes don’t happen overnight. Much like roadworks; they can take so long that you forget what it was like before the cones and diggers were part of the landscape.

But this is now, and we are currently only in the advanced stages of capitalism. Also, I’m white which means I’ll get a longer stay of execution before they discover my thoughtcrimes.

Advanced capitalism provides minor annoyances, a bundle of which have been getting on my tits today. For example, I bought a flight with British Airways and only today I discovered that it will actually be an American Airlines flight. Many years ago they used to try this on in London: you bought a train ticket and they led you out the other side of the station and onto a bus that said “rail replacement service”. I never fell for this though, and instead would go back to the ticket office and ask if they were taking the piss. Usually they would give a defeated “doh” sound and refund my ticket, at which point I’d go and get a bus that only cost a bus fair and didn’t take me on a surreal “train line on roads” route.

But you can’t do that with air travel. You just have to suck it up.

The increasingly baffling necessity of “on-line check-in” has also been “improved”. The seat selection process has been converted into overt extortion: you get shown the worst seat on the plane and told that it’s yours unless you cough up $100. If you’re flying as a couple or group, the seats are deliberately set far apart as an “enticement” to pay. There was also a weird bug that result in them trying to make me pay to check my single bag!

So arriving at the airport I approached the American Airways attendant with the intention of dropping off my bag and heading over to security hell. But instead of a lovely fake smile and a greeting, all that the attendant was willing to offer was a weary, dismissive instruction that I need to check my bag in “over there” before approaching her majesty.
Being a good citizen I complied, and did battle with a user interface that was as well designed as it was functional. After it failed to read my passport for about 10 minutes it asked me the same set of questions as the BA staff used to ask and printed my baggage ticket, only it too asked me for 60 fucking bucks to check my bag. So that wasn’t a bug in the check-in software after all. I check with the humans at the desk whether this was correct. “If you want to argue about it you can…” she started. “I don’t want to argue about it,” I interrupted, ” I was just checking.” It’s almost as if she was used to dealing with customers who wanted to argue about it. Already my brain had run down the path of planning my revenge, but that would be later. I returned to the digital extortion machine and gave it my credit card. It cheerfully responded by printing my baggage token along with instructions on how to attach it to my bag (something BA staff used to do for you). But with this token at least I would be granted an audience with the human!. I excitedly approached her with my bag and sticker. She observed me faffing about with the long, ungainly, sticky, token and offered some advice on how to correctly apply it to my bag without casualty. Once the token was attached and my bag was on the conveyor-belt she told me I was free to waste my time with the dignity removal service offered by the TSA.
Clearly the whole idea of adding another layer of bureaucracy was based upon the good capitalist ideal of removing unnecessary labour by replacing it with “smart machines”… much like the self checkouts in Supermarkets. And as with the self checkouts they simply cost a great deal more money to do the same job, and the staff numbers stay the same but the staff are relegated to working around the problems created by the crap programming, rather than actually being human and helping people. That’s progress.

In the old days you would take your passport, ticket and bags to a human who would swiftly and professionally check them, register you and accept your bags. Now you have to endure a flaky on-line check-in that frequently involves not being able to process payments and forces you to retype all your details in multiple times (normal humans don’t possess the handy passport reading tools available to the check-in staff and so have to type the whole lot in by hand, leading to inevitable transcription errors). After the on-line check-in you need to go through more digital persecution by another badly designed piece of hardware at the airport, and then need to go to a member of staff who essentially acts as tech support for the machines and bag-straightener on the conveyor belt.

After my vacation, the time to check-in arrived again. Despite my anger at having to cough up another 60 bucks to take my bag back home, I resolved to pay up front, on-line so as to make the boarding experience less painful. But I had forgotten the golden rule:

Everything is bollocks and nothing works properly

I tried a British credit card, an American debit card, and PayPal, with the poxy BA check-in software and none worked. Each time I was kicked back to the start of the process and had to reenter all of my details including passport and green-card number by hand from scratch. Eventually I gave up and accepted the seat assignment of 42E (middle seat in the middle column, at the back of the plane next to a man that was unfamiliar with the concept of soap. It didn’t actually say that last bit at the time, it just turned out that way.) This time I was going to be arsey.

After a particularly good cab ride with a driver as optimistic about the future of society as I was, I arrived at the BA desk and went straight for a human. I told the lady that about the failed payment attempts, the crappy software and then remarked at how bloody outrageous it was to have to pay to check a single bag on a transatlantic flight. Her response was not what I expected. She started to give me the company line, with odd interjections of the form “I’m not saying I agree…”. But as she talked she became increasingly agitated with what she was saying and eventually switched to “what do I care? I’m leaving soon! We all are. BA have lost the plot! Haven’t they?” she asked her colleague, who nodded in woeful agreement. At this point I genuinely felt like she had more to be bitter about than us passengers and so let her take my money and went on my way, resolving to get my money back in the form of free drink on the ride back. I managed it too.