Travel Stress #37

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Travel stress: A threat to mental health?

Travel stress can make you feel crazy!

While my usual writing topics focus on the mental health-mental illness spectrum — specifically eating disorders, and even more specifically binge eating disorder – I believe the stress factors related to travel could trigger any of these.  In fact, travel stress can make you feel crazy!

Several days ago, my return NYC to Toronto flight presented an unusual surprise. To join the growing trend of squeezing every penny out of their customers (and by penny, I mean nickel and dime, since the Canadian penny is now defunct), my favorite airline, Westjet, now has a $25 fee for each checked bag (plus tax, I assume). No more free rides for your first suitcase, unless you carry it on the plane.

A careful read of the Westjet website’s travel advisories led to one unfortunate conclusion: only two, repeat two, carry-on items were allowed on the plane. This meant judicious packing and anxiety-provoking decisions: what to pack, what not to pack, and so on.

Despite the countless American customs checkpoints to wade through, the Toronto-NYC trip went off without a hitch. Hitch-free is what you want when you travel.

Hitch-free is what you want when you travel! 

Hitch-free is stress-free!

However (and you knew there would be a however), what looked like a two-inch space between knees and the seat in front brought a scowl to my brow, as I realized how things had changed since my last flight. Those were the days when you got maybe three or even four whole inches of knee space. “C’est la vie,” I sighed, in true Canadian bilingual fashion.

Travel stress #37 occurred on my return LaGuardia to Pearson flight, where some passengers literally got zoned out. First to get on the plane: Zone 1, pre-boarders who needed assistance or who forked out an extra $60 to sit in the first three rows, which have much more knee space than the rest of the plane. (A bit of a downer that Westjet, who never used to have a class seating system, now discriminates this way. )

Then, starting at the rear of the plane with Zone 2, the rest of us boarded. My sixth row seat put me in Zone 4, the last to get on. To put a positive spin on the situation, I told myself, “Last on, first off.”

However. (There it is again, to prepare you for not-so-good news.) As we Zone 4 folks lined up to show our boarding passes once again before trotting along to the gangway, I spotted a young man a few feet ahead with three, repeat three, carry-on items. Admittedly, I let myself get into a bit of a huffy snit about this. (For me, lining up sometimes facilitates a return to a somewhat childlike state, and this was one of those times.) “He’s got three bags, and we’re only supposed to have two,” I whined silently, hoping the Westjet checker would spot it. He didn’t. So the three-bags-full guy sailed through. Baa, baa!

By the time I finally stepped onto the plane, a huge holdup blocked the aisle. Apparently, no room left in the airplane - whatbaggage compartments. What? Travel stress #37: would there be room enough for my carry-on?

The folks ahead, including the three-bagger, had used up all the space. Really? Yes. So when someone pointed out a bit of room above the first row, I heaved my bag up there quickly. Phew!  Lucky for me, but not so much for the rest of my Zone 4 compatriots, whose carry-ons were carried off to Westjet’s checked luggage cargo section. For free, I assume. Irksome indeed.

Travel stress #37:  Would there be room enough for my carry-on?

Once seated, the fellow across the aisle and the chap behind told me their stuff was scattered all over the plane. How psychologically uncomfortable. Both men linked the new checked luggage fee to the current lack of carry-on space. Travelers who might normally check their sole suitcase for convenience didn’t, due to that extra cost.

That carry-on storage overflow has probably happened before, and is likely to continue. Extra stress for passengers, extra stress for airline staff. Extra stress all around.

Admittedly, with all the troubles in this world, this seems like pretty small potatoes indeed. However, it is part of a growing systemic disintegration of respect for the customer by large corporate interests, which translates into a decrease of service for us ordinary folks, i.e., who can’t afford to fly first-class or to pay more for ordinary comforts.

Is there any limit to what airlines (or any service company) can inflict on their customers? Is there any limit to how much we, the customers, will accept? Is the sky the limit here for what airlines will do to make money?

Travel stress:  part of a growing disintegration of respect for
the customer by large corporate interests, which translates into a decrease of service for us ordinary folks

Soon, travelers might have the option of seat-free flying – especially for shorter trips. We could stand, while holding onto a strap or rail, like we do on the bus or subway. Or we could be seat-belted in around the waist. They’d be able to pack more people in that way. The possibilities are endless.

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