There isn’t much to pack for this trip. It’s less than a week, and so I grab a few things on the way out. I have plenty of room, I think to myself. A book? Ha ha ha, I laugh, I’ll take two!

I check in with United and then learn the terrible truth: my ticket allows for only one “personal item.” No overhead baggage allowed.

I step away from the counter and take inventory, and I realize that were I to check a bag as luggage I’d be checking like half a bag. Had I left the books and a few other such items, I would have easily managed walking on the plane with nothing more than a “personal item.”

I decide that I’ll make it work. I’ll slam, cram, or otherwise stuff my stuff and take my chances. It is risky, I’m told, because if they deem that my “personal item” is actually a “carry on” then they will — oh yes they will — charge me the checked baggage fee and on top of that add another fee (the “just for spite” fee).

So I go to the restroom and take all of my clothes out and put them on. Then I stuff my pockets full, mostly with fruit and snacks and whatever else, then I get in line. I carry the two books in my hand, to make the backpack look even smaller, and I put my tickets in one of the books (the books I so foolishly had brought and now fully and absolutely regret bringing), the better to appear as though I’m just one of those careful kind of guys who doesn’t want to wrinkle his ticket. You know, the kind of guy who would never try to pass off a “carry-on” as a “personal item.”

When it’s my turn, the lady scans my ticket then looks at my backpack and hesitates. She says “Uhm” and kind of draws it out, weighing in her mind whether or not to make me pay n and all the hassle that this entails. It’s a long moment, at least for me, but finally she sighs and hands me back my scanned ticket.

I’m in. No fees. I win, but only kind-of sort-of, because in truth my problems are just warming up. Well, it would be more accurate to say that I’m warming up, because by the time I step onto the plane I’m feeling the great, man, sweating beneath the five layers I’m wearing. Walking onto the plane I feel like I’m exploring another level in Dante’s inferno.

Somehow I managed to squeeze my skinny ass into the narrow seat, then I gulp at my water bottle for a few, long and beautiful seconds. I pause and tilt my head up to the air stream, but it’s more like a trickle than a stream, no matter how many times I twist the knoby thing, but so be it — I’m desperate for whatever I can get of the fresh cool air.

Then I scan the faces around me, as I work at shedding all of these extra layers. Everyone on the plane has a grim expression, even the flight attendants. Everyone is talking about how hot it is, and this from folks who are wearing short sleeved shirts.

The guy next to me tells me not to say anything or “you’ll get a beat down.”

“What? Sorry, did you say a beat down?”

This is United, he says, smiling, where a passenger can get beat up.

“Ah yes, ” I say, I think I remember hearing something about that, something about a passenger getting beat up, but I can’t entirely recall.

“Damn, ” I say, “flying United feels a little like being in a strange and sketchy neighborhood.”

The guy laughs and I settle in. It’s a red eye flight, and I took half of a sleeping pill. I take the other half, hoping to knock myself out for the five hour flight.

 

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