2007-07-26 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

The cost of flying birds
By Sam Bari

An important issue has long been ignored, and I find it inexcusable that the subject has yet to be addressed. It concerns bird rights. The cost of flying birds is way out of control. For years, our flying friends have been treated as second-class citizens, particularly in the area of air travel, of all things.

For eons, air space was reserved exclusively for birds. Then, in 1903, when the Wright brothers made the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, humans began invading bird territory - with impunity. Not one bird has complained. Fly and let fly was their rule of wing. What thanks did they get for their unselfish nature? Persecution at its worst. The cost of flying birds is exorbitant.

The airlines have been discriminating against birds to the extreme by making inequitable policies and regulations that cause hardship for even the smallest of the avian set. The time has come for massive protests to put a stop to this unconscionable practice.

My little bird, Baxter, is staying with friends in Florida. He wants to come home with me to Rhode Island. Baxter is a green American parrotlet, the smallest of parrots. He weighs a mere 31 grams; that is slightly over one ounce.

Like most parrots, parrotlets are quite intelligent, and I might add talented and entertaining. Many have extensive vocabularies, and they can even be potty trained. Baxter is doing well in all areas. He is a charming and adorable little bird. However, he is too small to fly to Rhode Island on his own. I must admit he lacks navigational skills.

Here is the rub. A roundtrip ticket allowing me to fly from Providence to Fort Lauderdale and back, purchased two weeks in advance on U.S. Airways, was $125 plus taxes. If I were to return to Rhode Island with Baxter, a one-way ticket for the little guy would cost an additional $80.

The difference is not just the money; it's the weight. I weigh over 200 pounds and Baxter weighs just over one ounce. U.S. Air is charging more to fly Baxter than to fly me. Is that fair? I don't think so. Transporting 200- pounds at Baxter's rate of $80 an ounce would cost $256,000.

While I was in Fort Lauderdale, I decided to take Baxter home. But I was sure that regulations and probably a token fee would be involved for bringing a pet on board an airliner.

When I called to inquire about the matter, a nice lady answered the telephone and said, "Of course you can take your bird, but he must be kept in a carrier that fits under the seat."

I assured her that Baxter would be in his little carrier that's about eight inches square with a handle. It's shaped something like a doughnut box with windows on the side so he can enjoy his surroundings. It even has a swing perch and containers for his food, as well as a couple of toys to keep him from getting bored.

Then she said, "His carrier will be one of your two pieces of carry on luggage. You can only carry on one other bag."

Okay, I'll go along with that, I thought. That's not bad. Baxter and I can fly together, and he'll stay under the seat during take-off and landing; the rest of the time he can sit on my lap. She then added, "and there will be a charge of $80 for carrying a live pet."

"What?" I asked. "You're going to charge an additional $80 because he's alive? Are you serious? I suppose you're going to tell me that you will forego the charge if he's dead?"

"Yes sir," the lady answered. "That is our policy. There is no need to be sarcastic."

"That is ridiculous," I replied. "Are you trying to tell me that my bird, who weighs slightly more than one ounce, is the reason for $80 in costs to the airline? I don't think his weight would be the cause for a dramatic difference in fuel consumption."

I also suggested that they allow him to continually fly around the cabin for the duration of the flight so his extra ounce would not weigh down the plane and strain it to the breaking point.

I went on to tell her that Baxter wouldn't have a seat of his own; he doesn't require beverage service and has no desire to consume their inedible snacks. "He wouldn't even use a seat belt," I noted. "If he were in first class, the last thing he would want is your allegedly "free" cocktail. He's not even extra luggage," I said. "He's in one of my carry-on bags."

The woman was not amused. She said, "That is airline policy sir, not mine."

"Please understand my frustrations," I argued. "I believe charging $80 an ounce to fly anything to anywhere is a little steep. Baxter only wants to go 1,200 miles."

The woman would not bend. Imagine what the cost would be if Baxter were a 30-pound condor or worse yet, a pterodactyl weighing hundreds of pounds flying at bird rates. The cost of flying an Abrams tank to Afghanistan would be less. I suppose airline policy is just another of many things that make up a system we can't understand.

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