THE AIRLINES AND THE NOVICE
Call my attorney! At least that was my first thought. Then, realizing I didn't have an attorney, I considered buying a gun. I guess I was naive, but I prefer just to call it lack of experience. Anyway, it all began as a simple desire to book a flight. My dog and I were planning on driving from Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio to visit my sister for Christmas, although my dog didn't know it at the time. Then, after New Years, I wanted to fly round-trip to Dallas and visit some friends for a week while my sister looked after my dog. Now, in retrospect, it seems so innocent.
I am a computer user in much the same fashion that addicts use cocaine, so I logged on to the Internet and began my search for the lowest airfares. Keep in mind that I have never before booked a flight using my computer. In the past I have simply called a travel agent, and she took care of it. (Sorry guys, but I've never called a travel agency and talked to a man.) I quickly found this great web site that allowed me to type in my departure and destination points, along with dates of travel, and, ta da - the lowest fares were instantly on my screen. Well, not quite instantly, but close enough.
The absolutely lowest fare was $187, offered by the only two airlines that flew between Columbus and Dallas. Was this a coincidence or what? I had a vague recollection of a price-fixing scandal in Dallas years ago. But still, $187 was better than I expected, so I wasn't going to complain - not for a few minutes anyway.
Next to the $187 was the word "Rules," so I clicked on "Rules." In hindsight, I should have stopped right there and called a travel agent. The rules consisted of 1482 very small words that had to have been written by a team of deranged personal injury lawyers. There were rules for maximum stay, minimum stay, day/night restrictions, ticketing restrictions, seasonal restrictions, blackout periods, transfer restrictions, stopover restrictions, penalties, rerouting, combinations, and something called Co-terminals, which I never did figure out.
I soon discovered that if I only paid $187 to fly to Dallas and back, I was not allowed to stay there more than three days, but I could stay there up to 30 days if I paid $354 for my ticket. Why the airlines should care how long I stay in Dallas is beyond my comprehension. They obviously don't want people to stay long. Perhaps they are having a feud with the hotel/motel industry and wish to discourage travelers from giving those folks too much business.
The rules also told me that I had to buy my ticket no later than September 30th, regardless of when I planned to depart, but that I could only depart on a Saturday between the hours of 2 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. As for returning to Columbus from Dallas, I could depart Dallas anytime as long as it was on a Monday or a Tuesday. But then there was the minimum stay restriction, which stated:
"RETURN TRVL IS VALID ON THE 1ST MON AFTER 12:01 A.M..MEASURED FROM DPTR FROM ORIGIN TO DPTR FROM THE FARTHEST GEOGRAPHICAL POINT."
Huh? Perhaps this was some sort of trick. I clicked on the "refresh" button of my web browser hoping that it would clear things up. It didn't.
If you think the minimum stay restriction is confusing, the restriction on "combinations" is much worse and is 20 lines long instead of only two lines. It began as follows:
CARRIER / RULE / FARE CIRCLE OPEN ROUND BASIS TRIP JAW TRIP SAME / SAME / SAME C C Y SAME / SAME / DIFF C C - SAME / DIFF / SAME N N - SAME / DIFF / DIFF N N - DIFF / SAME / SAME N N - DIFF / SAME / DIFF N N - DIFF / DIFF / SAME N N - DIFF / DIFF / DIFF N N - Y / PERMITTED N / NOT PERMITTED - / DOES NOT APPLY C / SEE TEXT FOR CONDITIONS CONDITIONS APPLICABLE TO CIRCLE TRIP/SINGLE OPEN JAW -
Who is the target audience for this verbiage that contains no verbs? Obviously they are not trying to communicate with anyone I know. I think it is either code for alien eyes only, or it was written by aliens.
Some stopover restrictions prevented me from staying anywhere short of my destination for more than four hours, but since the flight was non-stop, I wasn't too concerned about it. However, if we had to divert to another destination due to bad weather, I might be in trouble. There were a number of other miscellaneous rules that referred to unlisted rules by rule number. One of these rules indicated that if I occupied two seats I had to abide by RULE 6020, DFR3. I have no idea where I would find this rule, but probably allowed me to eat two meals as long as they were identical. By far the largest rule was the one called REROUT. It was one huge paragraph consisting of 60 lines of gibberish that even aliens couldn't decipher.
By now it was obvious to me that I could not fly to Dallas round trip for $187, so I had the stupid idea that perhaps I could just fly one way. (I think they call it a brain fart.) The lowest one-way ticket was $587. Gee - that makes sense. So I was stuck with paying $354 to fly to Dallas from Columbus. But wait - I still need to check the rules for that fare.
I could always make the 10-hour drive back to Philadelphia where the fare was $33 less and the flight was an hour longer. I started browsing through every fare option available and discovered that if I didn't like my $354 fare, or its rules too restrictive, I could pay as much as $2496 for the same round-trip ticket and have fewer restrictions. I 'm not sure what else you get for the additional $2142, but it had better be good. I have some suggestions.