Monday, June 13, 2011

On Buying Plane Tickets

While I'm busy complaining (yes, this is another rant about something which has annoyed me), I mention that I have spent hours this afternoon buying plane tickets. Every time I make a journey by air it gets worse. What with nearly being arrested the last time I'm tempted to give up the whole business but I like to travel and I have family in England so it has to be done.

Some of that time was spent comparing offers. The sites that claim to do it for you compete mostly (I advance the suggestion from my experience) by varying the way they distribute their charges. Those that lower the notional price of the flight per se, will increase the charge for a suitcase, and will charge more for paying by credit card (up to 40 pounds, I have seen, and you can't pay any other way, of course) so in the end there is little difference between them.

What they do do is give you, and the airlines themselves, information about what other airlines are doing, which has the effect of keeping prices down. This is good and if I want to waste an hour in order to save €50 it's because I think it's worth my while. Also, I can fly to England for rather less than I used to pay when I first came to Spain in 1988. In real terms, i pay a third or a quarter of the price I paid then. I love the free market.

But the rest of the time was wasted filling in forms with personal information, including email and phone numbers. The airline wants it, the booking company wants it, and the government wants it. If you don't give it, you don't travel. Some of it you could lie about, but there would still be enough to know exactly who you were and when and where you travelled.

I don't mind too much that companies want and trade with my details. The fact that they can make a living that way is what gives me cheap flights and other goods. I don't have to deal with them, if I choose not to. What i dislike is that governments will use any excuse to control what we do. It has nothing to do with security. My giving those details has not made anybody safer because I have no intention of damaging the aircraft or anyone on it. But if I had been Achmed the Sane, my pockets filled with phials of untraceable but deadly and airborne poisons, and with plastic pistols disguised among my marker pens, they would know that someone of my name was planning to board a plane. It wouldn't be my real name, of course, and it would tell them nothing, and I would plausibly explain away any little discrepancy, and despite all the security, the time-wasting, the ritual humilliation and contempt which we must suffer at airports these days, the plane would come down.

If someone could come up with a way of stopping murderers taking planes I would be delighted to see it in place. In the meantime, I would be grateful if they would just let us get on with our lives.

"Good morning, I wish to fly to London." "Yes, sir. Smoking or non-smoking?"  "Thank you, sir, you will find your plane at the end of that corridor, follow the lady with the red hair and the purple leggings." Does it really have to be any harder than that?


Vincent said...

I get tickets over the Net from Expedia. The latest thing, with EasyJet anyhow, is that you print your own boarding pass, and if you have just carry-on baggage of the right dimensions, it doesn't get much simpler. And in Lisbon, you don't have to queue to have your passport looked at. You go to a kind of turnstile, put your passport into a scanner, look into a camera and then the turnstile opens to let you through. We didn't know how to do it of course, but there is always a first time.

But the best was when I was working at Eurotunnel, a year before the opening. One option if I had to spend the day at the Calais offices was to fly from Biggin Hill. You would sit in the lounge drinking coffee till your Captain came to collect you, then you would walk out to the 6-, 7- or 8-seater. And if you forgot your passport, there would be a tut-tut don't do it again from the combined immigration/customs man.

CIngram said...

In some ways it's getting easier, yes. The airlines are finding ways of shortening the queues they can control by effectively eliminating check-in, and the time spent comparing prices and the discomfort of the usual hour's delay while standing in line waiting to board are the price I pay for wanting to travel much more cheaply than 20 years ago. That's fair enough. What i object to is the constant personal intrusion, the repeated excuses to demand information and to control every aspect of your movements. It could all be much simpler.

Clearly I should have worked for Eurotunnel. Now that is what air travel should be.

CIngram said...
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