Monday, August 11, 2008

Overhead Anxiety: Check Your Bag

I have done some traveling over the last couple of weeks, boarding airplanes six times. During this time I experienced a new mental condition. I hadn't realized what to call it until I was on my final leg home. I call this condition Overhead Anxiety. There are 2 factors that have contributed to this phenomenon. The first is that the price of oil has caused airlines to cut back on flights, which means that those flights that are left are generally at full capacity. The second factor is that airlines have begun charging for the 1st checked bag (also because of oil). Therefore, to avoid the charge, more people are squeezing bags into the overhead compartment that they would have been happy to check otherwise . What this means is all out war for overhead space.

I fly Southwest or United. Each of these airlines has a different approach to seating. Southwest seats you based on when you confirmed your flight. You are assigned a number to wait in line for boarding. United, your seats are assigned. When they do their boarding, it is based on seat location, window seats first, followed by middle with aisle seats last. With Southwest, the main race is to confirm your flight so that you will be front in line with overhead space available. With United, if you chose an aisle seat for the room, you are screwed.

As they call each seating, your heart begins to beat faster and sweat flows under your arms. People begin to inch closer and closer to the gate, despite it not being their seating time. And though you are blocking the flow for the rest of the airport, you won't move for fear of losing your position. Once on the plane you look left and right, up and down. "Here's a spot, " you say, but nope, it is just looks that way. As you gaze at the lack of space, you then begin to scrutinize the items that are stowed away. You see computer bags and purses and small bags, all the things the Airline staff begged you to keep under your seat to save space. But those that boarded the plane first only see the feast of space and shove everything they can think of up above. The anxiety has taken over.

Overhead Anxiety works like a type of auto-immune disease. The first time you are exposed, the effects are small. "I can get through this" you say to yourself. But now that you have been exposed, you have created Anxiety antibodies. Future exposure becomes worse and worse and your anxiety attacks your brain. Soon, merely walking in the airport will cause this anxiety to come over you. By the time you are at the gate you are in a frenzy. You can't relax and read a book and wait for your group to be called. The anxiety causes you to size up the people around you, look for open seats closer to the gate, until it eventually culminates with you standing up with bags in hand the second you see your plane pull in. Now you work on jockeying for position with the other Overhead Anxiety sufferers. Full blown Overhead Anxiety could lead to Checked Bag Expense or the even more severe, On Plane Bag Check. Both of which could cause you to pass out.

My advise is to check-in early on Southwest, you can do this 24 hours before your flight, so that you get a good position. You still experience anxiety as you continually refresh your web page at exactly 24 hours so that you can get the best number, but at least you get to do it from home or the office. For United Airlines I suggest a window seat, you will be a little more cramped, but no Overhead Anxiety. You might even find pleasure at watching people go through it. And since you are amongst the first to board, go ahead and put your purse and computer bag up there. There is plenty of room


TheJotus said...

Dead on assessment my friend. However, all of that pails in comparison to the heartburn you go through just getting to the gate. Especially at KCI. The worst airport in American history.

Troy said...

You must not get to Dullus much