Flying on the cheap is costly

KEVIN COWHERD

August 21, 1992|By KEVIN COWHERD

Isee where the airlines are engaged in another price war, which means you can fly from Baltimore to London for about seven bucks now and, as an added bonus, the three surviving members of the Beatles will greet you when you land.

By now we're all familiar with how these price wars work.

One airline slashes its fares 30 percent and everyone gasps"Ooooh! That's not bad!"

Then another airline says: "Oh, yeah? Not only will we match thaticket price, but we'll let you bring all the carry-on luggage you want. You can bring your TV, pots and pans, refrigerator, whatever you feel like."

Then a third airline says: "Oh, yeah? Well, we'll let you bring faranimals on board. Horses, cows, pigs, it doesn't matter to us. Come to think of it, you want to bring your tractor, hey, that's fine, too."

Then a fourth airline says: "Farm animals, schmarm animalsLook, we'll even land the plane in your back yard and pick you up, save you a trip out to the airport!"

Pretty soon, of course, air travelers have been whipped into suca ticket-buying frenzy that they're jetting off to places like Salt Lake City, Madagascar, the Falkland Islands -- not because they want to go, but because they feel compelled to go since it's so cheap.

My only concern with these price wars is how the airlines makup all the money they're losing. For instance, I don't want to see them laying off any mechanics. I don't want to save 150 bucks and then watch my plane plummet 30,000 feet into the North Atlantic, just because there was no one to check that bolt on the No. 2 engine.

I don't want to see any skimping on pilot salaries, either, if yocatch my drift.

In place of the 20-year veteran making $200,000 who wasupposed to pilot my flight, I don't want them bringing in some guy named Wayne who was flying crop dusters in Nebraska two days ago and is now drooling at the prospect of pulling down 40 grand a year flying a commercial jet.

I'll tell you a true story about the last time I flew during a pricwar.

We were hurtling down the runway ready to take off whesuddenly the pilot hit the brakes and we came to a screeching halt.

I thought I handled the whole thing pretty well, at least until I raup to that nun and started screaming: "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!"

Anyway, the pilot quickly came on the intercom and said: "Uhfolks, we had a warning light come on for one of the engines. We're gonna have it checked out, just to be on the safe side." Which was fine with me, of course.

Any time you want to be on the safe side with me in your planeknock yourself out. Take as much time as you need, that's my motto.

Anyway, we taxied back to the hangar and now I was expectinto see a team of ace mechanics in crisp white uniforms swarming all over the plane.

I was expecting to see computers hooked up to the engines awell as sophisticated electronic equipment.

Instead -- I swear to God -- this one old guy in dirty overalls camshuffling out of the hangar. Under one arm, he carried a folding ladder.

Over his breast pocket was written the name Hal.

Apparently, Hal was going to fix our plane.

The thing that should be pointed out here is that I was sitting in window seat, directly across from the engine evidently causing the trouble.

This meant I had a clear view of exactly what transpired nextwhich was this:

Hal set the ladder under the engine. He climbed up four stepsHe took a big wrench out of his back pocket. He banged the wrench against the engine a couple of times.

Then he climbed down, folded up the ladder, and shuffled bacto the hangar.

Sure enough, 10 seconds later, the captain came back on thintercom: "Uh, ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we've got that engine problem corrected and we'll be on our way shortly."

I couldn't believe it! Needless to say, I started waving franticallfor the beverage cart right away.

A couple of other passengers had also witnessed this entire littldrama with Hal, and seemed equally shaken.

Attempting to make small talk, I said: "We haven't got a prayerThat engine'll fall off into some farmer's corn field in a matter of minutes."

I think I saved $200 on that flight, which seemed a small price tpay for the three years it took off my life.

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