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If you have nothing good to say about U.S. travel, come sit by me

In transit at the dreaded airport (courtesy sheilaz413 at flickr CC)

I am disgusted.

I am a U.S. traveler with multiple transportation options, and most of them are awful.

After a week spent flying from Texas to Virginia to Chicago back to Texas, my verdict is official – air travel is simply wretched. Unless you have the money to decamp to first class, which I do not, it is a soul-sucking, annoying, tiring disaster (and I was traveling alone, without having to worry about wrangling young children.)

I am not clueless about the current high price of fuel, so I understand why the airlines (except for Southwest, which actually planned for a fuel price increase) think they must nickel and dime passengers for every mangy pillow, blanket, sandwich, suitcase and inch of legroom, but I’d rather just pay for a somewhat higher-priced ticket and not be treated like a fee-ridden pest in coach.

I’m your customer, Mr. Airline.

I’m dealing with your dinky seats — I’m not obese nor am I tall, so I can handle crummy seat pitch although if you squeeze it much more, I won’t be able to fit.

I’m dealing with no food — I buy my own sandwich from some random nasty, unimaginative, overpriced food joint in your rat-filled airports.

I check in online, print my own boarding pass and try to arrive early, so you airline jerks can’t involuntarily bump me because you overbooked flights that you knew would be full.

I’m dealing with your rules about checked luggage and I refuse to let you lose my suitcase and have it end up in your Alabama warehouse — I traveled for a week with everything in my wheelie Travelpro carry-on.

I am not clueless about terrorism (co-Honor Graduate of my US Naval War College class should count for something) but I fail to understand uneven enforcement of various draconian TSA security rules that have dubious anti-terrorism benefit.

Example: the great 3 oz liquid flail, wherein my little baggie of appropriately-sized liquid toiletries sailed through checkpoints at Austin and Washington Dulles but TSA suddenly decides at Chicago O’Hare that the bag’s too big….except it was a quart-sized zip-top bag that I picked up from TSA last October when they were handing them out at the Albuquerque airport.

FAIL.

Give me a break.

Let’s not even get into how unwelcome visitors to the U.S. feel, thanks to our screening procedures.

Here’s my beef: we don’t have any other significantly better travel options in the U.S.

  • Unlike Europe and many other continents, we don’t really have a viable passenger rail system in the U.S. that can provide an efficient, well-priced alternative that runs on time, other than a somewhat functional Amtrak grid in the Northeast. I did find a family who rode the rails roundtrip Tucson-Chicago, but don’t expect to adhere to any schedule. Hope springs eternal, since May 10 is National Train Day, for what that’s worth (and I’m the granddaughter of a railroad engineer, so the demise of U.S. rail is painful.)
  • Would you take your kids and “go Greyhound?” Bus systems are starting to respond better to the needs of budget travelers (check out Megabus and BoltBus) but how well do those funky downtown bus stations work with children in tow?
  • Gas is pushing $4/gallon, and it seems wasteful for individuals or families to each load up a car and hit the road, rather than use mass transportation.

Where does this leave the family traveler?

The best (but less planet-friendly and more expensive option, when you include hotels) is to drive yourself, and that’s what I plan to do with my family this summer.

To heck with it.

We will explore our own backyard near Austin, and perhaps take a few short road trips to East Texas and maybe to a Bandera family dude ranch (wish me luck convincing my city kid teen to do THAT one!)

I’m not paying another dime to the airlines until I can figure out how to fly with my kids fairly comfortably, without feeling like I’m in a game of cat-and-mouse to avoid tyrannical air travel policies and price structures.

I’m smarter than that, Mr. Airline. You lose.

(My post title is a riff on a favorite saying by Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter and a noted curmudgeon.)

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