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  • Jan Flynn

Welcome to Clickbait Air

A polite rant about a budget airline

Let me be clear: I am not dumping on all commercial air travel

In fact, I’m a fan. Whenever I look out an airplane window and see clouds dancing below me, I marvel. Here I am, sitting in a chair 30,000 feet in the air, traveling at a speed my great-grandmother would have been convinced was impossible.

True, the seat may be cramped, my knees may be jammed against the back of the seat in front of me and a shrieking toddler may be thumping the back of mine with double-barrel kicks, but still. Air travel is a miracle.

So I’m not carping about all airlines. Just one. Stay tuned.

My husband and I live in Boise, Idaho

It’s a lovely place to call home if you can overlook the screwball politics (about which nobody on either side of the divide seems happy — only more divided).

Hubs and I refer to Boise as the Goldilocks city. Not too big, not too small, despite the whinging by old-timers about all the damn Californians moving in.

Our not-too-big, not-too-small house is in a sweet neighborhood near the river. It’s also only a ten-minute drive to Boise’s delightfully accessible airport.

Which is a good thing, because Boise is also far. From anything.

And by that, I mean any other major, or even semi-major, burg. The closest is Salt Lake City, and that’s 340 miles away. It’s 430 miles to Portland, Oregon, just under 500 to Seattle, and 815 miles to Denver, where our adult children live.

That makes us frequent flyers

Luckily, one of my sons is a captain for one of the major airlines with flights in and out of our regional airport.

“Does that mean you get to fly for free?”

I get that question a lot. The answer is not entirely — we still have to pay taxes on what would be the full fare — which is still a real steal.

Considering how much that kid’s father and I shelled out for flying lessons back in the day, it seems only fair.

But our pilot-parent passes only apply if we fly standby.

Flying standby means that if the flight is full and all the paying passengers show up, you don’t go. Same if another flight gets canceled and its passengers get redirected to yours.

This is true no matter how far in advance you make your reservation. And if you have connecting flights in your itinerary, that easily doubles your chances of watching your plane pull away without you aboard.

It’s happened to us enough times that we rarely try to use our standby passes when both of us are traveling.

Also, Boise is a regional destination, not a hub, which means there are limited destinations we can reach nonstop.

So we are still always on the lookout for travel bargains

Recently, a new-to-us airline announced flights between Boise and Santa Rosa, California. We were thrilled. Flying into Santa Rosa would put us only a 45-minute drive from where we used to live and where we have friends we want to visit.

Better yet, the introductory fare for its first flights in May was only $69 one-way! The two of us could fly round-trip for just under $300!

We were on the phone with our NorCal buddies right away. Come on down, they said! All we had to do then was jump online and book the flights.

Now, we knew that this is what’s called in the industry a “low-cost carrier” — aka, a budget airline (which shall remain nameless in this story because I don’t need any legal tedium but I will say that it is NOT one of the better-known ones like Spirit, Allegiant, or Frontier).

Therefore we expected fees for anything extra — meaning anything beyond delivering ourselves and maybe my purse from Point A to Point B. But who cares? It’s a short hop and we can pack light.

We weren’t wrong. This airline’s definition of “extra” is so broad as to encompass everything from carry-on luggage ($43 for a small rollaboard) to an additional charge that applies to each seat depending on its location in the plane, even though there is no first-class, business, or even economy-plus section.

Whatever. We kept going and were deep into the labyrinthine booking process when we discovered there was another extra for which we’d be charged:

The SEATS.

That’s right; on this airline, the seats cost extra

The term “fare” apparently only denotes the cost of transporting your physical mass from here to there. It does not include a place to sit your mass en route.

Up until that moment, we’d always understood the term “extra,” when used in a context like air travel, to mean something you don’t have to have in order to make the trip.

We could, after all, endure a less-than-two-hour flight without snacks, beverages, wi-fi, or more than eight inches of legroom. We could even figure out how to get by without luggage for a four-day trip.

But seats? On a passenger plane? Seats are not extras. But on this airline, they cost extra. So much extra that they are more than the fare itself.

Assuming the airline would not allow us to crouch in the aisle or duct tape ourselves to the wings, the effective price of our tickets amounted to more than double what was advertised.

We didn’t buy the tickets

We felt duped. Suckered into a deal that was too good to be true. And like all victims of a con, the experience made us feel stupid and as though it was somehow our fault.

Here’s the irony: even with all the absurd “extra” charges, the total sum for what we wanted wasn’t unreasonable. If it had been offered at that rate up front, we would have paid it.

It wasn’t that it was too expensive. It was too dishonest.

Just so Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants Airlines (not its real name) doesn’t win, we will still make the trip. We’ll fly our son’s airline into San Francisco or Oakland. We’ll pay more and we’ll drive farther in our overpriced rental car.

But we won’t be supporting a slimy business practice. We may be bargain hunters, but we have our principles.

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