Wings Magazine

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Purser: Travel Nonvelocity

The older you get, the more you still have to learn as an air traveller.

January 31, 2008  By Richard Purser

purser“You cannot help but notice the increased security features at air terminals around the world,” Rob Seaman writes in his column in this issue (see page 16). Alas, how true. But by now most of us should be reasonably used to it, and for aging, retired gents like me who travel light – no liquids, sharp objects or electronic gadgetry in our hand luggage – it’s all pretty routine. Take off your shoes, put them in the bin, pile your jacket on top of them, slide the bin and your carry-on bag through the machine, walk through the detector, retrieve your stuff and continue on to your gate. I have noticed one improvement personally: since the Transportation Security Administration took over inspections in the US, my metal belt buckle no longer sets off the alarm. I have passed through five TSA inspections lately, and have never had to undo my belt and hold the buckle away from me for a wand check (Canada) or take the belt off and walk through the dectector again while holding my pants up with my hands (US).

The main question is how long the line is going to be before you reach the checkpoint. Added to this are concerns about the check-in line and about what the traffic may be on the way to the airport; the only conclusion is to allow yourself plenty of time! I do, and so usually wind up with spare time on the far side of security. Given this and the absence of meal service for us steerage passengers, one of my indicators of a good airport is the presence of an honest, sit-down, table-service restaurant on the airside. These may be rare in the age of the food court, but they exist. Has anyone tried to catalogue them?

While you’re waiting for your plane, you might take out your e-mailed ticket confirmation and take a look at what you’re paying for. Here’s the breakdown for a recent round-trip Canada-US flight (Calgary-Houston, Air Canada): Air fare $417; Navcan & surcharges $15; US transportation tax $28.36; Canada AIF $20; US agriculture fee $4.70; Canada security charge $7.94; Canada GST $27.60; Sept. 11 security fee $2.35; US immigration user fee $6.57. Total $529.52. The add-ons increased the fare by 27%. And for a shorter US domestic flight (Houston-New Orleans, Continental Airlines): Air fare $145, passenger facility charge $4.20, tax $10.90, flight segment tax $6.40, security service fee $4.60. Total $171.10; the add-ons increased the fare by “only” 18%.

If you find your plane ticket painful to read, try taking a look at that little bit of paper that spills out of the hand-held computers wielded by the car rental check-in guys. A couple of paragraphs earlier I mentioned concern “about what the traffic may be on the way to the airport.” Well, I hit a traffic mishmash in Houston early in December and was just one hour late getting my car back to National’s post at the Car Rental Center at its huge Intercontinental Airport.


Here’s what my little slip of paper told me: My one-day rental was $79.90, but my one extra hour cost $39.95 – rather a bit more than 1/24 of $79.90. And since I took the Collision Damage Waiver at $22.99 per day, that extra hour cost me the entire $22.99 as if I had driven for the entire second day. There were other odd charges, as there are for everything: a “customer facility charge” of $6; a “busing cost recovery” charge of $4.49; a “concession recoup fee”  of $13.64; a “vehicle licence recover” fee, at $1.48 per day, of $2.96; a “motor vehicle rent tax” (10%), of $19.29; and an “HAR sport tax at 5%, of $9.65. I think HAR stands for Harris County, where Houston is located, but I have little idea of the meaning of the rest of this gibberish. My total for what turned out to be a 25-hour rental was $221.86, a figure the like of which I had never encountered before.

By contrast, I had just spent six days in New Orleans with another National car. Complete with CDW at the same price – and with a couple of other bizarre charges, but different from those in Texas (AP concession fee recov $25.29, Auto RTL EXC TX @ 13.75%, $53.74) – the total charge was $444.57, or only just twice what I paid for one day plus one hour in Houston.

The gods of car rental work in mysterious ways!

RICHARD PURSER is the senior associate editor of Wings.


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