13 September 2012 - It’s been a tough year for us both.
With my Mother’s passing in January, along with Peter’s various health issues and decimated share portfolio, a plethora of new challenges seemed to rear their heads the moment we felt we were getting a handle on the current ones. So by the time September came around, we were hanging out for our annual trip to Maui.
Why Maui? Well, cuz it’s just ‘our’ place. It’s calm, it’s healing, it’s laid back. We have our little routine and favorite places to go to. And the holiday starts the moment we check our bags in at the Check-In counter at Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney, make our way to the Qantas Lounge for the obligatory drink and hors d'oeuvres before the flight, and finally, settle into our Jetstar Premium Economy seats for the 10 hour flight to Maui.
The Jetstar Premium Economy seats had been perfect for our Hawaiian leg for the past six years - not as expensive as Business Class seats, they nevertheless afford us the extra seat width and leg room, with Business Class service and menu to boot. And this year, we really needed the extra room. Peter was delicately managing a hematoma that developed on his right calf after an arthroscopy to his knee, which could easily develop into deep vein thrombosis if he did not exercise and stretch out the leg on the flight.
Settling ourselves into our seats, something didn’t feel right. The staff were delightful, as always, but the movies were extremely limited and old -- but that wasn’t it. Our meal arrived, along with the wine selection; while it was not as varied and interesting in comparison to previous flights, that wasn’t what was bothering us either. We just couldn’t put our finger on it.
After dinner, I needed to use the loo - while I’d been able to comfortably squeeze past Peter in previous years to get to the aisle, I couldn’t this year. With my 5 ‘2” frame, this should have been a breeze. For the remainder of the flight, we tossed, turned, and tried every which way to find some comfort, to no avail. Our backs were killing us and Peter’s leg had started to throb.
“The seats are smaller, Vicky”, Peter said.
“What do you mean they’re smaller?”
“I’m telling you, the seats are smaller. And they’re cheaper seats too - these ones have no support at all.” He was right. Seven hours into the flight and we were counting the minutes to arrival time, something we never did before.
When Peter finally broached the subject with one of the stewards in the cabin, his suspicions were confirmed. Jetstar had added another 2 rows to their existing Premium Economy section, squeezing more profit out of this sector with more bums on seats. And yet we still paid the same price as the previous year, when the quality of the flight was immeasurably better. We felt cheated and made a mental note that it was time to look for an alternative airline for our Sydney-Honolulu leg.
More Cost Cutting In Honolulu:
Fast forward to Honolulu, where we went through US Customs, picked up our luggage, and proceed to another section of the airport where we would catch our connecting Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui. Where had all the Check-In counters gone? In place were these ATM-looking contraptions with metal scales on the side. All around them chaos reigned, with passengers with luggage tripping over more passengers with luggage.
“What’s happened to the Check-in counters?” Peter asked Stephanie, an airport attendant.
“They’re gone, sir, you’ll need to check yourselves in with one of these.”
“Are they a recent development?”, I asked.
“Yes, Ma’am, they are. If you’re not familiar with them I can take you through them.”
“Yes, please!” we mumbled in unison. We were exhausted, sleep deprived, and bleary eyed from our Sydney-Honolulu flight.
“Okay, here’s where you add how many pieces of luggage you have; you need to pay $17 per piece.”, Stephanie said.
“But we’re international passengers. We’ve never paid per luggage piece before.”, I said.
“You do now, Ma’am.” Stephanie said. “Plus your luggage must not exceed 50 pounds. Otherwise, you pay extra.”
Putting our bags on the scales, we waited in silence for the weight to register. They both contained 6 weeks worth of apparel and shoes for Hawaii and Chicago/ New England/ New York, where the weather would be considerably cooler. Each bag exceeded 50 pounds by 10.
After much to-ing and fro-ing with Stephanie, we worked out that it would be far more economical to check in a third bag rather than try and check in 2 bags that exceeded the weight limit. Thankfully, we had an extra fold up bag in one of our suitcases for some extra shopping that we were planning to bring back home with us. All up, we paid $17 x 2 + $25 for the extra bag.
We shook our heads in exasperation. While Stephanie was the picture of patience and graciousness at all times, we couldn’t escape the airline and airport cost cutting measures, all designed to lessen the human experience of travel and making the process more mechanical. As travel becomes more competitive, airlines still need to make a profit. And so jobs are lost as machines take over, and quality of service suffers as dollars are shaved off the little luxuries we used to enjoy.
And this is just the beginning, so get used to it, baby!