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My kids think this is so funny. They watch it over and over again. “Yes!” they mutter to each other.

Brian Regan’s description of the cattle call boarding of modern airlines may make seasoned travelers chuckle. (Note: this clip is long and I don’t care if you skip it, although the kids won‘t sympathize. The part I’m referring to is around the 5 minute mark, as I recall) You know how, when the airline personnel says, “Rows 35-49 boarding; if your seat is in rows 35-49 please come up now” and Every. Single. Person who is even in that terminal, much less actually getting on your flight,  surges forward and crowds around the poor flustered airline person? That’s what he’s referring to.

We flew Easy Jet (a misnomer) to Madrid last weekend (okay, so it was the weekend before last if you want to be technical). Easy Jet is a cheap, no-frills airline. It keeps prices down by, among other things, not assigning seats and not including any checked luggage with your ticket. (Aside: this works and their prices are really cheap. Which begs the question–why, then, are so many American airlines now not giving out free snacks or allowing checked luggage while keeping their prices so high? Protest, people, protest. It’s the last resort of the consumer)

We arrived at our gate in the Casa airport and immediately went to stand in front, having been warned by experienced easy-jet travellers. (It’s a cattle call, was how they put it) The woman waved us back, rather irritably. “We board by sections,” she told us. “And the plane is late. Go sit down.” We obeyed, but others didn’t. They crowded round and pushed against each other, until finally we decided to join them.

I have written before, several times, on how much Donn and I are working on being able to elbow our way into crowds and cut people off. We’re really improving, and I’m proud of us for being able to shed our inhibitions, our “oh-this-elderly-woman-was-here-first-and-is-fragile” concerns, our politeness-instilling upbringing. While we still are somewhat reluctant to cut people off ourselves (I actually haven’t managed it yet at all, to be honest, but I’m doing my best!), we are doing well at not being cut off ourselves.

But I was so proud of Ilsa. My tiny daughter just pushed her way into the throng, slipping through tiny gaps and elbowing her way to the front. “Go Ilsa!” I told her, thumbs up. Obviously I had to follow her, couldn’t leave her alone, and people let me through. So we ended up not far from the front of the maddening crowd.

And the lady was right. They did board in sections. Our section was second (first are the people who pay extra for the privilege), because we were traveling with children. And our flight was fine; one might even say “easy.”

I mentioned before the bomb that exploded in Madrid the day we were to fly out. No one was hurt and all it did was snarl traffic and blow out some windows. I assumed that security at the airport would be tighter, but it was still much simpler than, for example, buying a latte at JFK.

Our first glimpse of an easy-jet personnel showed someone in a bad mood. He sized us up and narrowed his eyes at my purse. According to him, I had two carry-ons. I would have to pay.

No problem. I unzipped my carry-on and put my purse in it. He was still unconvinced, and made me put my tiny case into the orange metal grid, where it totally fit although I had to maneuver the handle a little bit. He passed us on through, somewhat unhappily. He was short and snippy, but I chalked it up to stress because of “la bomba.”

Then we went on, through security and everything, up to our gate. (We had a long wait; the plane was late again) Suddenly, everyone sort of rushed the gate, so we joined in. Following an announcement and flashcards, we sorted ourselves into sections. We were in a different section this time (general boarding), but towards the front of our group. The line stretched out behind us.

When we arrived at the front of the line, the woman was curt. She glanced at us and announced that our cases were too big. Without even measuring them, she labeled them and made us hold up the line (you know how you love being the ones to do this) while she fussed about printing out luggage tags. We tried to argue, but to no avail. Our cases were whisked away from us into the bowels of the plane.

We boarded the plane unhappily. How could our carry-ons suddenly be too big, when they weren’t too big before? They were the same size as they had been two days earlier. Not to mention that we were without all the travel amenities we had planned for the flight–my bottle of water, Ilsa’s headphones, book and chewing gum. Another American woman living in Morocco, who ended up sitting behind Donn, had just had the same experience. The easy jet woman was very rude to her and said, ‘Can you read English?’ when the American woman protested that her case had not been a problem two days earlier on the flight. In fact, the easyjet-woman insisted she get out her credit card and pay for the bag then and there, before she would allow her to board.

They ended up not charging us for checking our bags, but it was still a hassle. And it didn’t make sense. If on one flight your bag is fine and on the next flight that same bag is too big, how can you plan? If boarding easily is dependent on the mood of the person checking you in, how can you avoid being “that family” that holds up everyone else? And, should easy jet change their name? If so, to what? Complicated Jet springs to mind, but perhaps “It Depends” Jet would be better. “It Depends on my Mood” Jet? What do you think?  And what would they do for a logo?

February 2009

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