Category Archives: Air Travel

A Field Guide to Animals on Airplanes, Including Fraternity Members

The growing number of animals on airplanes has made it necessary for travelers to be able to identify them quickly. Because you never know when medical treatment, legal action, or adoption proceedings might be required.

Animals on airplanes can be divided into two broad groups. There are pets, which include service and emotional support animals. And there are pests, which include scorpions, spiders, snakes, and members of certain college fraternities.

In the first work of its kind, BobCarriesOn.com has put together a field guide identifying them all.

Dogs

Description: Dogs are distinguishable from other animals on airplanes by how some adult humans talk to them in a way that can cause even three-year-old children to cringe. Also, other than monkeys and members of certain college fraternities, dogs are the only flying animals likely to try to dry-hump the flight crew.

Sightings: The frequent flyers of the animal world, dogs can be found on almost any flight operated by airlines whose destinations have a large population of a certain type of couple. Which is the duel income no kids type who have never been comfortable talking with other adults except through a four-legged intermediary.

Field Notes: Demographic studies show that dogs flying as carry-on pets, for which the airlines can charge a hundred dollars or more, are most often in business or first class. Dogs flying as service or emotional support animals, which are required by law to go for free, are usually found in coach.

Animals on Airplanes Cat
                                                                                                                       Big Stock Photo

Cats

Description: As coach passengers board a flight, cats are the animals that glance at them with even more feigned indifference than do the passengers in first and business class. The other identifying characteristic of cats, of course, is that they don’t bark.

Sightings: The thing to know about cats is that you usually do not see them unless they want to be seen. Which was the case of a cat named Jack who deplaned himself from an American Airlines flight at JFK and lived there for 61 days before being found. It had all the makings of a funny story, except that Jack died.

Field Notes: If a passenger claims that a cat is an emotional support animal, you know they are lying. No cat has ever cared about anyone but itself. 

Birds

Description: Birds are most easily recognized by the feathers left behind if a cat on board gets out of its cage. Usually, the birds are pets, but sometimes they are wild, and young, and desperate to know what it is like to fly at 500 miles per hour.

Sightings: Falcons, in particular, are common sights on Middle Eastern airlines. Including a recent flight on which a Saudi prince flew with 80 birds in the main cabin, each with its own seat, and passport.

Field Notes: In the U.S. most bird species are among the animals on airplanes that can ride in the cabin. Some airlines have made an exception of the cockatoo, however, which has a reputation for unruly behavior. Including talking back to flight attendants.

Animals on Airplanes Monkeys
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Monkeys

Description: Among all the animals on airplanes, a monkey can be the most difficult to tell from humans. Often, the only difference is that the monkey is causing the flight attendants less trouble.

Sightings: August 2007. A spider monkey rode under a passenger’s hat from Lima, Peru, to New York LaGuardia, via Ft. Lauderdale. The passenger claimed he didn’t know anything about it.

Field Notes: With the possible exception of the 2007 sighting, if a monkey is on an airplane the monkey is most likely a service animal. Some see this as an abuse of a system meant to help people who count on service dogs for aid. To which one simply need respond: Can a dog pick up a dropped cell phone? Or turn the pages of a book? Or push the flight attendant call button?

Deer

Description: A deer on an airplane looks like any other deer, or at least any other deer that is mounted on a wall. That is to say they are usually trophy racks.

Sightings: Most commonly, trophy racks are found on flights returning from Alaska, or Hollywood.

Field Notes: Delta, American, and United are among the airlines that allow trophy racks, for an extra fee. To lessen the objections other passenger may have, the racks are usually wrapped in plastic to look like a package containing a small child.

Miniature Horses

Description: A miniature horse on an airplane looks much like a dog, except that it is less likely to become agitated by the discovery that a cat is aboard.

Sightings: 2003. One was seen on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago. It was flying in first class, as you might expect, because the horse and his travel companion, a blind man, were on their way to appear on Oprah.

Field Notes: Along with dogs, cats, monkeys, pigs, roosters, tortoises, marmosets, and kangaroos, miniature horses are among the animals that have been allowed to fly in the cabin of a passenger jet. They have all been categorized as service or “emotional support” animals. This may sometimes be a ploy to get pets on board that would not otherwise be able to fly, and may serve only, in the case of the horse, to give passengers an unfair speed advantage when making a dash for a lavatory. As flight attendant Heather Poole, author of Cruising Attitude, was quoted as saying in a story on NBC News, “I can spot a fake emotional support animal a mile away. It’s usually growling or barking at other support animals. That, or it’s dressed nicer than its owner.”

Animals-On-Airplanes-scorpion
                                                                                            Big Stock/Hayati Kayhan Photo

Scorpions 

Description: Even setting aside their distinctively curved tail and stand-your ground attitude, scorpions are perhaps the most easily identified animals on airplanes. Just listen for fellow passengers to shout, as one did on a Calgary-bound flight mentioned below, “Oh my god, that’s a scorpion.”

Sightings: 2015. A woman was stung on an Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. April 2017. A man was stung on a flight from Houston to Calgary, Canada. In both cases, officials acted immediately, by pointing out that the planes had started their day in either Mexico or Central America.

Field Notes: A number of conclusions can be drawn from these incidents: Picking up a scorpion by its tail, as the man on the Calgary-bound flight did, significantly increases your chances of being stung. And if there were some kind of impediment to keep scorpions from crossing our southern borders things might be, according to one point of view, greater all around.

Snakes 

Description: Some 450 snakes, including a 19-foot python, were used while shooting the 2006 action film Snakes on a Plane.  But in real life nowhere near that number are found in the air on any given day, on any given flight. And the ones that are usually measure no more than five feet in length.

Sightings: March 2017. A four-foot snake was found behind the seat in the last row of a Ravn Alaska flight from Aniak, Alaska, to Anchorage. November 2016. A five-foot viper dangled from an overhead bin on an AeroMexico flight from Torreon, Mexico, to Mexico City.

Field Notes: To the great relief of litigators, the AeroMexico flight was captured on video. On the Ravn Alaska flight, a young boy sitting in the row where the snake was found said he didn’t know anything about it. 

Tarantulas

Description: Fanged, aggressive, and often appearing to be in need of a shave, a tarantula can grow to the size of a dinner plate. Although hopefully not a dinner plate with a flight’s last beef entre on it. A tarantula’s bite is seldom fatal, making an encounter with one a disappointing experience for passengers thinking in terms of an out-of-court settlement.

Sightings: May 2016. Two tarantulas were on an Air Transet flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Montreal, Canada.

Field Notes: Presence of the tarantulas on the flight was verified by passengers who “screamed and stood on their seats.” Officials believe the tarantulas escaped from a carry-on bag while being smuggled into Canada for sale by a trafficker who very likely decided that next time it would be easier just to stick to cocaine.

Insects

Description: Insects spotted on airplanes have included cockroaches, crickets, Japanese beetles, and june bugs. Sometimes, they are seen in the company of insect-eating lizards, such as geckos or the more aggressive Geico.

Sightings: September 2011. Cockroaches were videotaped crawling out of an air vent and overhead bin on an Air Tran flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Houston, Texas. The incident resulted in a lawsuit by a North Carolina couple.

Field Notes: Motives for the lawsuit were brought into question when it was observed that the people least likely to be disturbed by the sight of cockroaches would be from North Carolina.

Rodents

Description: Of all animals on airplanes rodents are most similar in appearance to U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, except with ears that protrude less.

Sightings: April 2016. Rodents were sighted three times in one month aboard Air India flights, although it was unclear whether it was three different rats, or just one, using frequent flyer miles.

Field Notes: Passengers who are disgruntled over the fact that discovering rats aboard often results in an emergency landing have perhaps yet to fully consider the effect on an airplane in flight of having a section of its critical wiring chewed through.

Animals on Airplanes Parthenon Frat Members 

Description: This two-legged species exhibits some of the characteristics of all the other animals found on airplanes. Which makes them — except for the beer they will be demanding more of — sometimes difficult to distinguish.

Sightings: If you find yourself surrounded by cattle, sheep, racehorses, gorillas, or killer whales, all of which have flown, check your ticket. You have probably boarded a cargo plane by mistake. If, however, you are surrounded by Greeks who associate Athens only with the University of Georgia, you are probably on your way to a city hosting a major college sporting event or infamous for its goings-on during Spring Break.

Field Notes: Roll Tide.

Bob Payne is the editor-in-chief of Bobcarrieson.com, although his dream job has always been chief entomologist for McDonald’s.  

 

How to tell a child there is no lost luggage heaven

We’ve all had to tell a disconsolate child that his or her bag was the one chosen to go to lost luggage heaven. The experience can be painful, especially when the child blubbers, “Why couldn’t Daddy go instead?”

But using lost luggage heaven as a way of softening a child’s grief when their bag fails to come off the carousel only works until the child is old enough to start asking probing questions. Such as, “If it’s such a good place, why are those other people whose bags went there using so many bad words?”

That’s when it’s time to begin explaining lost luggage insurance.

Often, a good way to start is: “You know how you get presents from Santa?”

Then remind your kids how Santa cannot always bring them everything they want, because the elves have switched the tags around, or even taken all the good stuff out for themselves. And remind them, too, that to make up for your disappointment Santa sometimes leaves gift certificates.

Most kids are quick to grasp that lost luggage insurance works the same way. Except that instead of gift certificates you get an insurance settlement, which is usually about 15 percent of what you think it should be.

Eventually, of course, your child is likely to come right out and ask you directly if lost luggage heaven is a real place. To which as a parent it is your responsibility to answer, briefly but honestly, “Only if you count the overhead bins.”

Some children, though, will remain unconvinced, and will want to know only, “Is there a bad place luggage goes, too?”

That’s when its time to begin explaining Newark.

When travel humor writer Bob Payne is not serving as editor in chief of BobCarriesOn.com, he works as a grief counselor in the baggage services division of a major U.S. airline.

BULLETPROOF: Best Carry-on Bags For When Things Go Bad

Practically all the new carry-on bags claim to be as smart as a phone, or a watch. Some tell you how much they weigh. Some follow you through the airport. And some let you know your spouse is in Miami, not Milwaukee.

But the truly useful innovations are found in carry-on bags that are at their best when things go bad. Especially impressive, for instance, are the bags that can provide cover in case of gunfire.

A British firm, Terrapin Technology, produces bulletproof carry-on bags as part of their “Go Ballistic” line. For best results, you hold the bag up to your face and chest, as if in a cowering manner. A barrier of “military grade” ballistic-resistant material then helps protect you from 9 mm bullets, knife thrusts, and, if your day has really gotten off on to a bad start, “shrapnel from a bomb blast.”

Man riding carryon bag scooter
                                                                                     Micro Luggage Photo

Carry-on Bag Luggage Scooter

Travelers who routinely fly out of smaller, regional airports know that getting a good seat often requires a dash from the gate to the plane. Increase your odds of being first to arrive by using a luggage scooter from Micro Luggage. An extendable aluminum handle and kickboard allows you to ride your carry-on bag in a style acceptable to even the youngest teens in your party.

Woman on motorized, ride-able carry-on bag
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Rideable Carry-on Bags

Need more getaway-speed than scooter-style carry-on bags can provide? What if, for instance, you have just used an emergency evacuation slide to exit an airplane you’d like to distance yourself from as quickly as possible? Then you might be ready for the Modobag. Billed as the world’s first ride-able, motorized, carry-on bag, it can reach speeds of up to 8 mph. Which is faster even than a man who has just noticed jet fuel leaking all over the tarmac can run.

Fire resistant Cardinal Bag Supplies Briefcase
                                              Cardinal Bag Supplies Photo

Fire-resistant Carry-on Bags

If you anticipate not being able to make a quick getaway, fire-resistant carry-on bags can be a good investment. Cardinal Bag Supplies makes briefcase-style carry-on bags that are fire resistant up to 2,500 degrees. It is necessary to point out, however, that if the bag is within your reach, temperatures much above 200 degrees will make the investment of interest primarily to your heirs.

Man blowing up floating carry-on bag
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Carry-on Bags That Float

What happens should your plane’s pilot misjudge, for example, the length of an aircraft carrier? You’ll want carry-on bags that are leak-resistant or, better yet, designed to float. Among the best we’ve found is the EL 22 Elite Carry-On, from Pelican, which has “passed submergence tests for an hour at a depth of one meter.” (Which is an industry standard, but, admittedly, didn’t impress us much, either.) More impressive is a line of bags from a new company, Capsula Bag, which actually float. You have to blow up an inner chamber, but we assume that given the right circumstances — such as an offshore current or circling sharks — most users would be okay with that.

Pelican submersible carry-on bag
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Impact-resistant Carry-on Bags

Ultimately, when things go bad the best of the new carry-on bags are those that are old-fashioned tough. Among the toughest, we have already mentioned the submergible EL 22 Elite. With double walls that won’t buckle under loads of up to 1,500 pounds, you could practically drop the Elite from cruising altitude without having to look for pieces.

Which would have made it a good choice for legendary, almost mythical, hijacker D. B. Cooper when he bailed out of a Boeing 727 somewhere over the Pacific Northwest in 1971. Unfortunately for Cooper, who was never heard from again, they found some of his $200,000 in ransom money scattered along the banks of the Columbia River, suggesting that his bag, at least, did not survive the jump.

 

BobCarriesOn editor-in-chief Bob Payne has never jumped from an airplane with a carry-on bag, containing ransom money.

 

Pat down other passengers? How much extra would you pay?

Following the TSA’s recent announcement of “enhanced security measures” that include a more invasive pat down, the media has responded in the strongest terms possible. Which is to say that the National Public Radio show Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me has issued an enhanced put-down.

Asked to name the next change that will make air travel even worse, a panelist on the show predicted:  “Buyers of the new super saver economy no-frills tickets will have to pat down each other.”

Now, it may just be us, but we think many fliers would consider the opportunity to pat down other passengers a perk. One that  might well encourage them to choose the most no-frills option over others, and more than make up for having to pay for access to an exit row in the event of an emergency.

Perv Perks, the class could be called.  Which is certainly more respectable sounding, in the airline world, than Basic Economy.

Of course we also think the airlines would soon enough see Perv Perks as a new add-on fee opportunity, and start charging extra for the service.  No doubt, there would be a fee scale based on the level of invasiveness allowed, perhaps with the most expensive option — Perv Premium — permitting you to keep any weapons or other objects the pat down uncovered.

What do you think? How much extra would you pay to pat down other passengers?  How about if it were gloves-optional? Would you pay extra to have another passenger pat you down?

And what can you imagine as the next thing after more invasive pat-downs to make airline travel even worse?

Bob Payne, who is the editor in chief of the travel humor site BobCarriesOn, is often considered to be ahead of the curve on all travel-related issues. In fact,  he has already been reprimanded twice by TSA authorities for attempting to pat down fellow passengers.

Our stand on charging airline pilots for cockpit seat selection – a BobCarriesOn editorial

 

It is increasingly clear that the main role of the airline industry is no longer to provide air transportation but to identify ancillary fees that can become profit centers. The inevitable result, some industry observers believe, is that airlines will soon begin charging pilots for cockpit seat selection.

BobCarriesOn is opposed to this possibility.

By tradition, commercial airliners typically have two or three qualified pilots in the cockpit: the captain, who sits in the left-hand seat, the first officer, who sits in the right, and — if one is aboard — the flight engineer, who sits wherever is convenient should a flight attendant need help getting a malfunctioning overhead bin to close.

This seating arrangement is based on seniority, and because it clearly indicates where in the cockpit the most experienced pilot is to be found, it has long served the flying community well. However, fee-based seat selection would mean that any cockpit crewmember could claim the role of captain simply by booking early, and being willing to pay the extra fee.

We believe the safety issues that cockpit fee-based seat selection might raise far outweigh any bottom-line benefit to the airline and should be avoided except in special cases, such as when an airline’s profitability sinks below a level acceptable to its board of directors.

We have listened to the argument of supporters of cockpit seat selection. Which is that with the increasing level of aircraft automation, and the rising cost of aircraft operation, it makes economic sense to charge an ancillary fee for seats whose occupants no longer have any real role other than to act as authority figures until land-side law enforcement can arrive to remove disruptive passengers from a flight.

Our concern, though, is that if cockpit crewmembers are not treated with the respect they feel their seniority and experience have earned them, it will be disruptive pilots that law enforcement is having to remove.

 

Airlines introduce Mind Your Own Business Class

 

Desperate to discourage chatty fellow passengers? At times, not even responding to every attempt at conversation with, “Want to buy my toothbrush?” is enough. But help is on the way, as airlines introduce a new category of service. Mind Your Own Business Class

The premium-tier service offers the expected amenities. Among them are eyeshades, noise-canceling headphones, and monogramed airline socks primarily meant to serve as gags to quiet offending passengers. (In the event of an emergency, apply the gags to adults first, and then to children.)

But early users of Mind Your Own Business Class say there’s one thing they most appreciate.  The peace of mind that comes with knowing that specially trained members of the cabin crew are standing by to sew shut the lips of any especially annoying seat-mate.

“For an add-on fee, the cabin crew will even perform the operation on themselves,” said Bob Payne, head of surgical procedures for Air Bob, one of the first domestic carriers to introduce the service.

Payne said Mind Your Own Business Class is proving very popular with Air Bob passengers. So much so that some have begun arranging to fly with the more loquacious among family and friends just so they can surprise them with the lip operation.

The success of Mind Your Own Business Class has been so great, said Payne, that Air Bob is looking into the possibility of creating a similar economy class service.

“The only difference would be that in order to keep costs down, as each economy class passenger who opted for the service boards the aircraft the cabin crew would be standing by in order to surgically remove the tongue of passengers sitting around them,” said Payne.

When not performing surgery for Air Bob, Bob Payne serves as the Editor in Chief of BobCarriesOn.com, the travel humor website that has been offering travel news and advice since before Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock.