James on a plane

I’m sitting on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Chicago.

It’s my last big Canadian border crossing of the year, and i’m elated to think that I’ll be anchored at home for the forseeable future.   As my plane launches itself over an Asgardian cloud shelf, high above one of the Great Lakes, I have a few travel thoughts:

1)Duty-free. I’m not clear on the concept at all. As best as I can understand it, if I feel a burning need to stock up on cigarettes, Remy Martin, perfume, or Toblerone for when I cross an international border, I should stock up at the airport to avoid taxes. Do people really do this?

2)The airlines. Tired old point, but air travel sucks out loud. Regardless of how United hypes Economy Plus, the issue has never been about legroom–it’s about width. I’m currently crawling into the window,trying to avoid further elbow contact with my armrest-hogging neighbor.  Speaking of which…

3) My fellow air travelers.  Here’s a list of things you can do to make life better for us all:

-Leave the middle armrest up for grabs. The unwritten rule is we each get one armrest in Economy.  Personal space is at a minimum, so any encroachment into my space is akin to an act of war.

-Food.Do you really need to bring it on board?   Yeah, I know paying for airline food sucks; but, really, how hungry are you? That jalapeño pretzel you’re gnawing on is about to smoke me out of the cabin.

-Entertain yourself.  The past few flights I’ve been on have found me next to passengers who haven’t brought anything on board to help pass the time.Instead of a book, magazine, iPod, or iPad, these flyers fidget and fuss for the entire trip, nervously pawing the complimentary in-flight and SkyMall magazines.  Grab one of those Stieg Larsson books from the airport bookstore and settle down, sport.

4)zzzzzz. I have friends who have no problem sleeping on planes.  I can’t understand how–I can never get the neck/head and hand/arm positioning right. 

5) In-flight free sodas  C’mon, sister…give up the whole can of Diet Coke. I don’t want to make a scene.  

6) The notion of flying. Whenever I look out the window on a clear day or night, I’m amazed that flying actually works. Visions of plummeting back to the earth seconds after takeoff rush into my head as my body is sped into the air, aimed at a 45 degree angle away from the planet.  It’s always a delightful surprise when the plane stays aloft and I live to fly a new day. 

7) Manowar has no place on my iPad, even less so while I’m flying.

8) The Handsome Family, however, does.  I love “W
eightless Again.”


9) Kids on a plane.  Trickier than snakes or maggots. I’ve yet to fly with my kids, and feel deep empathy for those parents wrestling their progeny in and out of security checkpoints, customs, and airport restrooms (where human atrocities are committed every 60 seconds).

10) Mileage clubs. The whole thing is a scam.
Along those lines, here’s what I blogged about on 1/15/10 (Years of my blog entries have yet to transition to ChicagoNow; they exclusively live in my home computer for now):   

I haven’t seen or read “Up in the Air” yet, though I have every intention to do both.  For the purposes of this entry, the aspect of the story that captured my attention was the lead character’s quest for frequent flyer miles. 

Not unlike a Scientologist’s goal of reaching “Clear,” many have tried and failed in their attempts to achieve the seemingly-mythical highest level of air traveler status.  I know in my case it’s been a fool’s errand.

I travel enough for my status to be considered “regular,” though not nearly enough to be considered “frequent.”  Depending on need and cost,my travels are spread across a handful of dependable airlines. Because of my schedule and impossible-to-lock-in loyalty, I can never make it to the Clooney-esque ranks.  In fact, I’ll never make it out of economy.

The appeal of a higher status is made painfully clear when you fly United. First Class and “Premier” members don’t merely preboard; they walk a roped-off red carpet to the jetway.  As my laptop-heavy,over-the-shoulder, Timbuk2 bag forces me to shift the weight back and forth between my feet, all I can do is stand and bitterly watch as the mileage masters march the goosestep of the privileged.  

Stayingwith United for the sake of example, according to their site, “When youearn 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) or 30 Elite QualifyingSegments (EQS) on United in a calendar year, you attain Premier statusin the United Mileage Plus program.”

30Elite Qualifying Miles means 15 round trips.  That’s more than one tripa month on United.  As it stands, I average 1 1/2 business trips amonth.  In order to hit the Qualifying Miles goal, I’d need to make sure that every flight taken between now and December 31 was on United.  In doing that, though, I’d have to sacrifice better fares and departure times offered by other airlines (Southwest, for instance).  Not worthit.

Dismissing the frequent flights angle, the alternative route to United Premier status would be to fly really, really far on United a few less times. I exclusively travel within the U.S. and Canada, and my average distance flown is 500 miles.  In order to reach Premier status based on Qualifying Miles, I’d need to fly 25 round trips on United this year. Impossible.

People who achieve higher status in airline affinity programs do so without even thinking about it.  Those of us who have time to think about it will never get there.  See you in the 27th row.

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