“You know what I hate about flying?” my friend D. once told me. “Knowing that the stranger sitting next to me paid half as much as I did for my ticket. Or a fifth. Or a tenth.”
Pricing, and practically everything else about air travel, has become so convoluted and mystifying that it’s hard to tell fact from fiction any more. What ever happened to cheap stand-by fares? Are we any safer at the airports that make us remove our shoes than at those that don’t? Why do I have to take off my belt before passing through security? Do they think I’m going to hang myself if there’s a bottleneck and I miss my flight?
I can’t clear up all all the confusion, but I have stumbled across hidden truths about three common air travel myths. Perhaps you’ll dismiss them as the rantings of a conspiracy nut (cue X Files theme music) but I think I’m onto something here.
Myth #1. Fluctuations in airfares are driven by random market forces and the Byzantine algorithms of the airlines; they have nothing to do with you.
“When you’re shopping for tickets online,” my friend D. said recently, “have you noticed how those great prices you saw at the start of your search aren’t there when you go back to buy? That’s because when you’re browsing several sites, you’re leaving little cookies behind; that lets the airlines know you’re really interested, so they boost the prices. You think I’m being paranoid? Next time it happens, try emptying your cache of cookies.” (As you may know, cookies are the little trackers left on your computer after interactions with certain websites, letting them welcome you back by name, and, say, recommend books you may be interested in today.)
The very next time Rich was booking a domestic flight, he noticed that the original price quoted had, after he’d checked competitive rates, gone up by $10. He emptied the cache of cookies (here’s how to do this) and the price instantly went back down to the original amount. Coincidence? I think not…
Myth #2. You absolutely, positively have to have a photo ID to get on a flight.
Rich once went to present his ID at the San Francisco airport and discovered he’d left it at home. Obviously there was no way we’d get on our flight to LA, but in a Hail-Mary move, we appealed to security personnel. They bucked and snorted a bit, did an exhaustive examination of all the cards in Rich’s wallet and the contents of his suitcase, and subjected him to a body search that stopped just short of requiring that he strip naked on the spot. But they let him on. And it was obvious that they’d been through this rigmarole many times. It was routine.
Myth #3. Ryanair wants to make passengers ride standing rather than sitting, and will begin charging for use of toilets during flights.
Ryanair was a pioneer in the field of making airline travel more annoying and uncomfortable, with seats clearly not designed by or for humans, and enticingly lean airfares that are soon bloated by extra fees for such transgressions as failing to print your own boarding pass in advance. But the recurring rumors about pay toilets and stand-up flights are, as near as I can tell, nothing but publicity stunts designed to provoke outraged articles that go viral in minutes, earning the penny-pinching airline tons of free publicity. Yes, I know, and here I am adding to it!
When it comes to 21st century air travel, there are no guarantees. Did you ever think you’d have to pay for a glass of water on a plane? Watch fellow passengers travel in their pajamas? Have your legroom reduced – again? And there’s no telling how much worse it will get. Am I going to have to eat my words someday, when we all find ourselves flying standing up and paying to use the in-flight restrooms? If so, you’ll definitely be hearing more about that in future posts.
3/2/2014 08:48:17 pm
Thanks for the tip about the cookies. Did not know that one!
3/3/2014 07:27:40 am
Yes, it was such a surprise for me, too!
The first time I realized there was a big price difference was on a flight to London with Ryan Air, for which I had paid euro 9 (yes, nine euro) and then the American next to me and I started chatting. I was making fun of the soggy sandwiches they offered for euro 3.50 at the time and compared it to the price of my ticket. Needless to say, the American was outraged, because he had paid euro 250 (return) for the same ticket.
3/5/2014 07:01:53 am
Wow, 9 euro vs 250 euro! You're right, Maria, those airfare price differences are insane! And the cookies trick is just one part of it. It takes SO much time just to book any flight these days; as a consumer you really have to research each and every purchase. And people wonder why I prefer train travel...
3/6/2014 08:10:43 am
Yes, we were totally shocked as well. Who would have imagined that there would be some wiggle room in that regulation? Makes you wonder what other stuff we take for granted is not quite so set in stone...
I only fly when I need too, and what's really ironic is, I panic more often than not when I'm driving out of town and on long stretches. The fear of losing control of my car hits me like crazy while I'm "hypnotized" while looking at the road.. it's a very scary feeling. I rather fly now, even if I have to go a block!
4/20/2014 01:40:34 am
I'm with you, Michael, driving and flying are both pretty scary. That's why I've arranged my life to favor walking and train travel as much as possible. When I do need to drive, I remind myself that I've been doing this since I was fifteen and a half, and really do know what I'm doing behind the wheel! Sometimes it helps. Good luck with your journeys!
Hi Karen, thanks for the tip about clearing my cache of cookies. Never thought of that but it makes a lot of sense. To be honest, I think I've run into similar challenges when booking rental cars - using the Europcar website, specifically - the prices change depending on the time of day that you book!
2/4/2016 01:47:31 pm
I hadn't thought about rental cars, but as you say it makes sense. And it makes me wonder how other cookie caches are affecting our online purchases!
8/7/2019 12:50:57 pm
Not only air travel. The procedure that we must follow to start with an air travel itself is an experience. I have my own experience, it happened with my passport.
8/7/2019 04:45:18 pm
I know what you mean, Sarah. These days they are quite strict about perfectly matched ID, My last name, McCann, sometimes gets an extra space after the Mc — and then I have to work to prove who I am! So annoying, even though it always gets straightened out in the end.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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