Thursday, May 22, 2008

Catch 22

Startling news from the world of flying:

"If you plan on packing more than a carry-on and are flying AA, plan on paying $15 for your first checked bag as of June 15. ... United has already indicated they're considering making this move. What's next? Charging for using the in-flight bathroom?"

Those who know me are aware of my hate/hate relationship with the airlines (no offense to my friends who are pilots - you guys do a great job). But from the lousy customer service to the dismal on-time record to the ever-mounting fees, I just hate to fly. Now we have what appears to be the "figure skater surcharge." That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Since your skates are considered potentially lethal weapons, they are sometimes, but not always (it depends on the phase of the moon and the mood of the TSA screener that day), banned from your carry-on luggage. This means that unless you plan ahead by getting to the airport extra early to stand in the security line for 45 minutes only to be told to go back and check your skates, you might as well check them in the first place.

Checking skates poses its own problems because as we all know, airlines lose things. We also know skaters' law #1: skates aren't interchangeable. Skates aren't like tennis rackets or golf clubs! You can't buy a decent pair of skates at your local sporting goods store. Many of us have custom skates which have to be ordered months ahead of time. Even stock boots have a long lead time. And of course it takes weeks, sometimes months to break them in once we get them.

Just ask any competent ice dancer who has tried rental skates. There's no way I'd let go of the barrier if I had to wear those dull-bladed, floppy, ill-fitting brown skates with the red numbers on the back. Just ask world-class ice dancer Brent Bommentre, whose skates were lost for SEVERAL DAYS by the airlines en route to the world figure skating championships and who had to skate in brand new skates. (Kudos to Brent and Kim for skating so well under the circumstances with no whining - a true class act).

For the rest of us who may not have a brand new pair of skates just waiting to be broken in at home, arriving without our luggage to a competition would be a major disaster. Just think of it. An entire year of preparation. Giving up vacations and holidays. You and your partner spending a ton of money on lessons, ice time, and travel costs just to go to Adult Nationals. Then to arrive sans skates. It's not just the thought of all that time and money down the drain (although just thinking about THAT brings a tear to my eye). It's the heartbreak of not being able to do what you've trained so hard to do; it's the indifference of the airlines ("Ms. Levine, I'm sure that the pro shop can sell you a pair of skates and you'll be just fine!"); it's the agony of watching everyone else skate while you mope around Grand Rapids or Dallas with nothing to do but sit in the "curse and cry" area reserved for you and others in the same position.

And now, to add insult to injury, since we skaters are pretty much required to check our skates lest they be used, along with all that toothpaste and deoderant they are so worried about, to hijack the plane, the airlines are going to start charging us to do so, with no additional guarantee that they are not going to lose them en route. I'm no fool; I know that the airline is trying to incent me to carry on all of my luggage, hoping I'll bring less so they will save on fuel costs but also because they make more money selling the cargo space to commercial ventures. I hate hassling with checked luggage and I'd really like to be able to comply. Except I can't, because I am carrying skates. If I weren't going to a skating event I wouldn't be on the plane in the first place. And if the skates don't arrive when I do, the whole trip will be a really expensive waste of time. Soon, $15 more expensive. For those good at math, that's $30 round trip.

As someone will surely point out, lost skates are not a catastrophe on par with earthquakes and cyclones and other natural disasters. Lost skates are not as important as preventing terrorist attacks on airplanes. Please don't take me out of context, dear readers, as I can certainly assign lost skates to the appropriate category in the hierarchy of world problems. But lost skates are a problem with potential remedies.

Allowing skaters to gate check skates, for example, so they are securely on the plane and a potential terrorist can not access them. (I know, I know, the airlines are already understaffed and this sounds like another logistical nightmare, but I'm just proposing a possible solution.) Meanwhile, I've seen so many other items carried on that could be far more dangerous than skates ... Lighters? Glass bottles? Umbrellas? Why are those allowed?

Let's face it folks, if someone wants to hijack the plane, they aren't going to look through everyone's bag until they find the ice skates they just know are in there somewhere. That plastic fork in first class is much more obvious and easily accessible.

My advice -- start saving your pennies for those surcharges coming soon to an airport near you. And use your kicker check to invest in a backup pair of skates that can be overnighted to you whenever needed. If that doesn't stimulate the U.S. economy, I don't know what will.

P.S. - Happy anniversary to Perry, the best skating husband in the whole world. ILY!


Lisa Hoberg said...

But Terri - isn't that why you have the Ultima Matrix system - so you can carry on the boots and ship out the blades separately?

Nice post, by the way.

TnT said...

It's a solution for me because I like this type of blade, but many people don't. Thanks, Terri

Gordon said...

I'm sure more people will consider just Fedex-ing their boots to their destination. Of course there are all kinds of problems with that as well :-(.