Budget Airlines in Asia and Other Fantasies by Colin Cotterill

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So, anyway, I was thumbing through the Bangkok Post and I saw an ad featuring unnaturally loveable girls in tight uniforms telling me in speech bubbles that I could fly from Thailand to Australia for two dollars fifty if I booked on-line. It was a ONCE ONLY PROMOTION to mark the birthday of Ivo Mit, the man who invented sick bags. Who could pass up such an opportunity? Certainly not me.

Upon arriving at the Air Stratosphere homepage I am welcomed warmly in trendy young person language and shown a graphic of how pleased multiracial families are to have chosen this service. In small print I am reminded that by accessing this website I have agreed to pay the modest five dollar ‘log in’ fee. It seems quite reasonable. By agreeing to key in my name, address, social security and credit card numbers I am allowed to access their data bank of flight times together with the HOT TICKET DEALS OF THE MONTH. It appears that I have been unreasonable to expect to fly for two-dollars fifty as that particular flight leaves at four A.M. and transits via a small land-mined airfield in Cambodia. Instead I am offered many more fare deals which are, unfortunately, in the vicinity of forty dollars and upward. But I have begun this internet journey and I am determined to complete it.

I notice that every time I click ‘continue’, four dollars is added to my ongoing ‘shopping cart’. I assume this is the normal cost of surfing the web and I do not complain. By the time I arrive at a date and time that fit my itinerary, I am already seventy two dollars in arrears. There is no button that allows me to cancel the transaction so I make the mistake of clicking ‘book’.

Thence appears the list of optional luxuries. It turns out that it costs extra to 1. SELECT A SEAT INSIDE THE AEROPLANE.  2. CARRY ON ITEMS SUCH AS CELL PHONES, PARTICULARLY SODDEN HANDKERCHIEFS, or BOARDING PASSES. 3. SPEAK WITH A FUNNY ACCENT and 4. BOARD USING THE COVERED GANGWAY.

There are small nominal charges for leg-room, overhead locker use, obesity, seat belt buckles, flotation devices without saliva marks around the nozzle, window, aisle, or middle seats, turbulence survival, dry ice effects from the air-conditioning unit, and seat padding.

There is also a surcharge of eighteen dollars if I happen to have an in-flight magazine without torn out pages or a non-completed Sudoku. If I am traveling with a companion, the airline charges an extra twelve dollars if he or she is human. There are also additional costs with regard to the service I can expect from the hostesses.

1.     FIVE DOLLARS IF ANY OF THEM CATCH YOU CALLING THEM ‘HOSTESSES’

2.     A FLAT RATE OF THREE DOLLARS FOR A WELCOMING SMILE AS YOU BOARD AND A CHINESE NEW YEAR SPECIAL OFFER OF FIFTY CENTS FOR EACH SUBSEQUENT SMILE. (Sixty cents if the steward is gay and particularly jolly).

3.     A SERVICE CHARGE OF FIVE DOLLARS WILL BE APPLIED ON TOP OF THE COST OF SNACKS OR BEVERAGES NO MATTER HOW INEDIBLE. TIPS ARE OPTIONAL BUT TIPPING WILL BE ADDED TO YOUR MILES (One meter per dollar) IF YOU TRAVEL WITH THIS AIRLINE AGAIN.

A live message from the pilot giving me information I really don’t need to know unless I was planning to go for a stroll outside (height, outside temperature, what’s below you) will be provided free of charge, but emergency messages such as “Hell, I can’t keep this thing up.” will be deducted from my credit card should the plane make it to my destination.

Unless I am a despicable, anti-social world hater, I will no doubt be delighted for the airline to add fifteen dollars to cover my carbon footprint. If I foolishly decided NOT to pay this I will spend the next fifteen minutes looking for the tiny I DO NOT WISH TO SAVE THE PLANET button and my on-line booking attempt will time out.

There is also an option to donate ten/twenty/a hundred dollars to starving, handicapped children with speech defects or starving, handicapped whales whose speech difficulties have been addressed by the generosity of previous passengers.

After forty minutes I can feel the end in sight both of my booking and my savings. The airline charges a fee for me using my own credit card then makes further deductions for typos and poor grammar use. But, halleluiah, there is the confirmation: CONGRATULATIONS, COLNI, YOUR APPLICATION HAS BEEN GROOVILY SUCCESSFUL. Australia here I come. The final tally is $342 which is thirty dollars more than the national carrier which would have given me roast beef sandwiches and unlimited alcohol free of charge (and enough space between the seats to allow me to take my knees with me) to make my journey more pleasant. But I’m so proud to have fathomed out the booking process that I consider the modest two thousand percent add-on increase only a minor annoyance.

Sadly, since writing this, I have been arrested by the Homeland Security fraud squad as my credit card details were stolen by a disgruntled Air Stratosphere ex-employee who used the information to procure shares in a brothel in Guatemala and fund terrorist activities. So I won’t be free to enjoy my two dollar-fifty trip to Australia and, as there’s a 110 percent cancellation fee I won’t be getting a rebate. Sometimes I wonder whether technology was designed by the young in order to cull the old and infirm.

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