Imagine driving without traffic to an airport, parking for one dollar an hour in short-term parking less than 100 feet from the entrance, and sauntering up the counter with no one in line. Imagine friendly desk clerks who are actually anxious to be of assistance. Imagine luggage checked for free. It is virtually impossible to fly to any destination outside of Texas without first going to Dallas or Houston. All of these facts combined make Killeen airport a slam dunk travel choice for me.
Up until a few months ago this was Killeen Airport. To the computers, GRK. Killeen airport is just about one hour or so from my home and as such is much more appealing than the one hour plus drive, depending on traffic, to the airport in Austin. All of these 1958 accouterments described above are still available in Killeen – except free luggage. The last time I flew out of Killeen I arrived stress less at the counter, presented my luggage to be checked and was greeted with a solicitous, “Which credit card would you like to use?” In my naiveté I responded, “Credit card for what?”
Deadpan trained reply: “It is twenty dollars per checked bag.”
Astonished: “Oh, since when? Because the last time I flew from here there was no charge.”
Forcefully: “It’s always been that way!”
I realized that whatever argument I could present was; 1) not worth twenty dollars and 2) about to fall upon previously-inured-by-the-same-arguements ears. So I simply said I would carry on and gate check. Snicker. At GRK every airline must have an attendant collect carry on bags at the entrance to the plane and check them there, free because only small commuter planes fly out of Killeen. My bag’s size fulfills the standard carry-on size requirements but the planes at Killeen do not, so every bag larger than a child’s lunch pail will not fit into these overhead compartments. In fact at my unremarkable semi-tall height, I must stoop and keep on stooping until I sit down otherwise I will hit my head on the ceiling. Shaq size not. The toilet requires contortions beyond my ability. Thirty minutes to Dallas, forty minutes to Houston. No problem.
Okay I was somewhat irked, my perk was gone. Killeen is primarily used by military so I suspect GRK had a blanket bag check policy since military baggage is always free. I hate to carry on. Seems senseless. Why schlep bags through terminals and scramble for limited overhead space, when someone else will take it from you and deliver it to you on the ground floor less than 100 feet from your car? Then there is the spite factor. No one wants to pay twenty dollars for something that was previously perceived as “free”. Everyone carries on. Frequently there isn’t near enough room even if everyone had regulation sized luggage which they don’t. Overstuffed aisles, overweight people huffing and puffing to lift overweight oversized luggage into already overstuffed compartments. Bags bouncing off shoulders. Older people and children struggling to lift their regulation sized underweight luggage over their heads. Attendants trying to clear the aisles for take off, pilots announcing “Clear for take off!” Didn’t some attendant prematurely exit a plane last week with a beer in each hand for this very issue?
I wondered about the ratio between utter frustration and revenue. Most likely it was some low-level number cracker who discovered this bleeding turnip. Desperately seeking advancement in the arboreal jungle, he proudly proclaimed this income stream to his superiors, who eyeing another source of revenue, promptly rescinded the blanket bag free policy. So the question occurred to me, why would an airline set up this self-defeating procedure for such a small sum of money. There could be only one answer – it is a game. Ah, but if there is a game, there must be two players. Mother told me it takes two to tango, and I believed her. So I thought about who represented the opposition and found it is us. We – you and me. Today’s travel agent is the internet. We spend many unpaid hours using multiple engines searching for the cheapest airfare. Airlines compete to disguise low prices – often failing to mention charges that are automatically included into every ticket price, like taxes and unavoidable airport usage fees. All to present the lowest price attempting to catch the fleeting attention of the shopping traveler who would donate his dog to the Iditarod Race for the opportunity to boast about the price of an airline ticket to colleagues and friends. Ever since Ronnie’s deregulation, airlines have been marginal businesses continually dreaming up ways to convert previously “free” perks into cash. So, wouldn’t it be better if the airlines just added a few dollars to every ticket and advertised “free checked bags”? Doing so would relieve the frustration and over crowded overhead compartments and raise revenues since nearly everyone would check. Problem solved. Cash flow resolved.
Oh I forgot to mention the great deal I got on my ticket to Paris.