Delta’s checked baggage fee to go up: A flawed, unfair practice

While browsing Wallet Pop, I found out that Delta is increasing its checked baggage fee as of August 4. If you don’t check your baggage on-line before you arrive at the airport, you’ll have to pay $20 for that first bag instead of $15.

Okay, people. Okay Delta, who I’m not too pleased with already, enough is enough. Here’s why I think that’s nonsense, and I’m a person who paid $55 total for checked bags without batting an eye. On our Great American Road Trip 2009 that involved flying to Albuquerque to rent a car to get to Montana and back, we checked one bag on our way there and four on our way back to Columbus.

The fourth was because of a flimsy wooden child’s toy bow and arrow set that was purchased at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. More on that in another post. Let’s just say it was considered a weapon by you know who. All four of our checked bags were paid for at the airport. The fourth was after I found out about the bow and arrow.

I didn’t mind paying the $55 one bit. I didn’t mind having to pack the bow and arrow in one of our carry ons and checking it last minute. (The bow and arrow was small enough to fit into a carry on. The arrow didn’t even have an arrow on it. It was a stick–a skinny stick with a suggestion of a point.That’s all I’m writing in this post about it, except this one more thing. Every time I look at it now that it’s home, I shake my head and say to myself. Dumb, dumb, dumb. And I’m not talking about the bow and arrow or me.)

But, I digress. Back to why I think the practice of charging more for a bag checked in at the airport is flawed. The assumption is that everyone has access to a computer when they are traveling. Or Wi-Fi. I spent a good part of vacation traveling for three weeks with a laptop without Internet access. There are places and circumstances beyond ones control. Here’s another aside. If you’re at the Telluride public library using the Internet –kind of–with your laptop, watching paint dry would be faster.

Here’s another truth. Not everyone has access to a computer at home either for that matter. My father doesn’t have a computer, for example. My father works at a place where you are not supposed to do personal business on company time. As much as it’s hard to believe for those of you out there in the world of Blackberries that aren’t fruit, not everyone is wired to the hilt. Not everyone wants to be either.

But back to baggage. So the assumption that Delta is making is that everyone has access to a computer where they can check bags on-line. I’m thinking about those people who can’t because of not having the equipment, or those people traveling under duress, like my mother has done twice this summer because of a family emergency. My mother has a computer but using it for things business related where you have to enter your credit card number makes her suspicious. Plus, under duress one isn’t sure what one is doing at all.

There are people like that who might just say I’m through with flying. I’ll take the bus or the train. I’m retired. I have time on my hands. Why not take transportation where I’m not nickel and dimed to death and treated poorly in the process-like cattle being sent down chutes to slaughter?

So, let’s say someone doesn’t have access to a computer. Or technology is something they’re not that great with. Or a harried family isn’t sure how many bags they need to check for that trip back home. Or whatever reason someone waits until they get to the airport to check a bag. There they are at the airport and it costs them more money.

Or there they are at TSA with their tempers up because they can’t take that jar of apple butter their grandmother gave them that they forgot about until TSA pulled it out of their bag (This happened to a friend of mine), or that souvenir snow globe or that bow and arrow set–the flimsy CHILD’S toy, on the plane, but they happen to have that carry-on and the time to check it. Air travel already gets people anxious. I’ve blogged for two years at Gadling and I’ve read plenty of stories.

In any of these situations wouldn’t it be better to have them be able to check that bag without being even more ticked off or more annoyed that they are trying to turn a bad situation better or be a good traveler by using the check-in kiosk themselves and it cost them more? We checked the one bag before we arrived at the airport in Columbus, but for the return trip checked all at the airport using the kiosk for the first three without any assistance, and the 4th one with the assistance of the check in person because she wasn’t doing anything when I arrived with the 4th bag. There weren’t any other passengers in line either. If the 4th bag would have cost $20 instead of $15, I may have said forget the bow and arrow, it only cost $7.50. The airline would have not made the $15.

Personally, I think airlines are becoming less and less passenger friendly and the people who are working behind the counter or in the airplanes–and that means flight attendants like our dear Heather, are trying to do their best to make flying on their company planes bearable. With baggage fee nonsense like Delta is adopting, flight attendants and check-in folks have their work cut out for them.

Delta is not ready when you are. Not anymore. Not if you’ve only managed to get ready when you arrive at the airport.

Oh, Northwest how I miss you and am not too pleased with your substitute. I can recognize the evil twin.

*By the way, there were four of us traveling, that’s why the last bag could be checked by me under my son’s name.

Great American Road Trip: Ghost towns of Montana: Bannack

Not far from Dillon, Montana is the turn off for Bannack. If you happen to be on I-15, take the trip up State Highway 278. We almost didn’t because of the feeling that we had to be at our destination sooner than later. Instead of paying attention to that feeling, we followed the notion that if we didn’t go to Bannack now, then when?

Bannack is one of Montana’s ghost towns with a rough and tumble past that is linked to Montana’s early mining history and statehood.

Back in 1862, a group of men led by a fellow named John White found gold along the banks of a creek where Lewis and Clark had passed by earlier. These fellows didn’t know a thing about Lewis and Clark’s visit, or that Lewis and Clark had named the creek Willow Creek. Because grasshoppers were everywhere, White and his fellow prospectors named the gold rich waters Grasshopper Creek.

While we were slapping away the relentless mosquitoes as we wandered in and out of the abandoned, weathered buildings, I thought Mosquito Creek would have been a good fit. But, back to the gold.


Not long after news got out that gold had been found, people rushed to the area. Four hundred had arrived by fall and by spring, 3,000 people were looking for their fortunes.

As the population of people eking out a living swelled, so did the types of ways people made money. The buildings still there show the range of lifestyles and wealth. A hotel, boarding house, stores, a school house, jail, a church, a bootlegger’s cabin and miners’ cabins are some of the buildings that still line the boardwalks on either side of the dirt main street and wind up the hills and down towards the creek.

One of the great aspects of this state park is that you can meander in and out of buildings on your own, and at your own pace. Structures vary as to how intact they are which adds to the sense of abandonment and mystery.

The gallows up the narrow grassy path in back of the hotel add to the aura of just how rough life in a mining town can be. To add to the shudder effect, whoever stayed in the jail had a view of the gallows as a reminder of what might be in store.

In 1863, for example, Bannack’s sheriff, a guy named Henry Plummer was the ring leader a group of criminal cronies called “The Innocents.” They had a habit of terrorizing people. In January 1864, sick of the nonsense, a vigilante group formed to capture the sheriff. He was hanged from the gallows. So were his crooked pals.

On a more upside note of the law, the first governor of Montana, Sidney Edgerton, along with his wife and children arrived from Ohio to set up a residence in Bannack.

While I was talking with the state park guide at the visitor’s center, he told me that Europeans are quite interested in the history of the American west. According to him, this is because so much occurred in the United States in such a short amount of time. In a place like Bannack, it’s possible to see the life and death of a town that occurred in not much more than 100 years. For Americans, a trip to Bannack is a way to find out what hard scrabble means and appreciate part of U.S. history that is being kept alive by people who continue to tell the story and keep the buildings from falling apart entirely.

Although we didn’t camp here–ours was a two-hour visit, there are lovely camp sites that are first come, first serve. It’s also possible to learn how to pan for gold. We bought some in the gift shop in the visitor’s center. It was easier and faster.

[Gallery photos by Jamie Rhein. Others from State Park Web site]

Great American Road Trip 2009: The fly and drive combo New Mexico to Montana and back

For the past seven summers, ever since we moved back from India, we’ve embarked on a Great American Road Trip. The first was the mega version that put 10,000 miles on a new Ford Taurus station wagon in three months. Mind you, this was in 2003 with a 10 year-old and a 1 ½ year old-and without video games, computers or a DVD player.

This year’s version is a fly drive combo. Three months for tootling around between the Atlantic and Pacific is harder to come by-three weeks, doable. Without a burning desire to drive through the Midwest to get to Montana from Ohio like last year when I waxed poetic about Wisconsin’s cheese curds, we flew on Northwest Airlines (aka Delta) over those endless corn and soybean fields to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sure Albuquerque is no where near Montana, our main destination, but there’s a reason for the detour.

I used to live in Albuquerque. So did my husband. Between us, we have loads of friends we haven’t seen since that first road trip. Besides, Albuquerque is a budget destination with cheap flights to get there and inexpensive car rentals for heading out on the open road IF you rent away from the airport (more on that later).

When planning a Great American Road Trip, I highly recommend the fly then drive option. One year we flew to Denver and drove to Montana. Another year we flew to Seattle. With a limited time frame, the flight cuts out the parts you don’t necessarily want to see and provides the time to see those places that you do. If you’re going to be renting a car when you reach your main destination, why not head a few states away for the opportunity to explore the bounties in between?

For us the bounties might be a national park, the largest metal sculptures in the world, a mom and pop restaurant with regional food, or a town that a highway bypassed. Sometimes we know where we’ll stop before we head out, or one of us notices a point on a map and says, “Let’s stop here.”

In the next few weeks, as we’re traveling in a Toyota Sienna van through New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana, where the landscape and people have a flavor so unique I could return again and again, I’ll fill you in on the places we’ve stopped and give some Great American Road Trip how-to suggestions.

We passed by Arches National Park a week ago. It’s been a busy week. Stay tuned. Ghost towns, neon and great eats on the way.

[The first photo was taken two years ago at the parade at Flint Creek Valley Days in Philipsburg, Montana where I am now. The second photo was taken last year at the pheasant family sculpture, part of the Enchanted Highway, on the way to Regent, North Dakota.]

Great American road trip: Choteau, Montana, Letterman’s hangout is a gem of a town

Choteau, Montana where David Letterman married last week at the county courthouse is a gem of a town–the type of off-the beaten-track that beckons people who might be passing through to pull into a parking lot and stay awhile.

When we were on our Great American Road Trip to Montana and back last summer, we pulled into the parking lot of the Old Trail Museum for just “45 minutes” and stuck around for three hours with thoughts of returning some day. This was after staying with friends who live near the base of the Rockies twenty miles from town.

The Old Trail Museum is one of those types that tell unusual tales of western life. There’s the noose that was used for the last hanging in Choteau, for example. I hadn’t seen an actual noose used in an actual hanging before. It catches your attention. The noose is in a display with other artifacts and details about the murder that sent the guy to the gallows.

There are also exhibits about Native Americans, cattle ranching, medical care and whatever else you can think of that has to do with life in the west. One gallery is dedicated to the dinosaurs that once roamed the region.

Along with the main museum are other buildings with a variety of themes. There’s the taxidermy grizzly bear, the cabin dedicated to a Danish pioneer family and an art studio of a prominent Montana artist. I could have spent hours here poking around.

The museum also a great place to pick up books with a Montana theme. Fiction, non-fiction and kids’ fare fill shelves in the gift shop. Here you can buy items made by Blackfoot Indians who live in the state. I went a little nuts with the buying–a problem of mine. But, then again, anything one can do to keep the economy following.

We also helped the economy flow at Alpine Touch, across the street from the museum. Alpine Touch is a brand of specialty spices made in Choteau. While we were buying bottles of the Lite All-Purpose Seasoning, we tossed in several bottles of huckleberry body lotion and huckleberry jelly–also Montana-made.

Chances are, you won’t run into Letterman if you head to Choteau, although people have seen him there. The saucy older woman who is a volunteer at the visitor center mentioned giving him a chuckle when she let Letterman know that he is on too late for her to really know who he is. Who cares who Letterman is was her take, although she did offer that he has been very kind and generous to Choteau.

The great thing about places like Choteau is that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can have the same great glorious time whether you don’t have more than a few nickels to rub together, or you’re a millionaire.

That’s one of the things I thought of when we spent an afternoon wandering around in Sun River Canyon located in the Lewis and Clark National Forest with the brilliant blue sky overhead. Hiking along the trails is free. You can pick up trail maps at the Rocky Mountain Ranger District Trail office in town. We were lucky enough to come across a beaver just as it ducked into a stream to head to its dam.

Before we left Choteau, we would have shopped more, although we did have just enough time to grab some ice cream at the ice-cream shop that’s part of the museum complex. It cost more than a nickel, but it didn’t break the bank.

For anyone looking for a low key fun place to go with families, consider here. It’s only 50 miles from Great Falls, another Montana destination I’d like to have more time for one of these days. One place you might consider staying is the JJJ Wilderness Ranch. We walked around the grounds hoping to snag a horseback ride, but you have to be a paying guest. Next time we’re in Choteau, I’m finding a horse.

3 men, 1 van and 48 states in less than 120 hours

This morning, when there was one woman (me) in one car (a Toyota Corolla) going along 3 streets in 5 minutes on my way to teach a class, I heard about these 3 guys who are in a car traveling this week to all 48 states in the continental U.S. They’re not traveling through each state, but are at least crossing borders to say they’ve been in each one.

One of the guys, Joshua Keeler, was being interviewed on the radio about the trip. Originally, years ago, this was going to be his father’s trip. His dad, James, had mapped out the journey, but James’ mother’s death kept him from going. Joshua got hold of the maps and corralled his two friends Joey Stocking and Adam Gatherum to go along with him on this journey they are calling, “The Great American Road Trip.” There is an attempt to break the Guinness record for a similar trip, although, Guinness no longer keeps such records for road safety sake.

This morning the trio was in South Dakota. They started in Vermont on Sunday, and tomorrow they will end their trip at Four Corners, the spot where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet. You can see the path these three took and get more details about them at their Web site

Keeler said they are eating a lot of cold canned soup and snack packs. There really isn’t any time to stop except for gas and to use the toilet. They’ve noticed a 50 cent fluctuation in gas prices and have found that their 2005 Toyota Scion is perfect for the journey.

Here’s the route they’re taking.