by | Feb 24, 2019 | The Writer's Life, On writing | 8 comments

S. Lee Manning: Every day, I check my e-mails and Facebook. And, every day for the last month, they pop up: ads for amazingly cheap flights to Paris. Now, I know why those ads are showing up in my e-mail and my Facebook feed – because a month ago my husband and I chatted about a trip to France in the spring– after all – isn’t that where all writers go – and I researched flights. Google knows everything I do on my computer– which means Facebook knows –  et viola– quicker than I could down a croissant, the ads started appearing.
Will take aim at Google and Facebook another time. This is about booking a flight.
So, there it is – that appealing price for a flight to Paris. ROUND TRIP FOR UNDER $300!  We can afford that. I yell to my husband  (or I did the first time I saw one of these – I’m wiser now), “Hey, we’re going to Paris.”
Then I click on the link.
It’s a site called something like Low Low flying or CHEAP CHEAP AIR.  I put in dates and watch the flight possibilities appear. For the low low advertised price of a round trip to Paris for under $300, there will be one flight from the Newark Airport (my preferred departure spot). It’ll leave at midnight, have three stops: Chicago, Dublin, and Barcelona, and we’ll arrive in Paris fifteen hours after departure. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. Poetic license.)
So I think about how exhausted we will be on arrival – but it’s still cheap – right? Under $300 – round trip – each. For $600, we can visit Paris. Imagine my excitement. The Marais. The Seine. The Left Bank. French pastries. French crepes. French croissants. Can’t wait. So I click on the sole $300 flight out of Newark. Then I am directed to select my return from Paris. I scroll down the flights. Every single flight adds additional cost to the alleged $300 round trip fare.  The return three stops in Chicago, Dublin, Barcelona  adds $200 onto the price – which means that there is no such thing as a round trip for $300. It was just a lie.  For a direct flight instead of the scenic route– add on $350. For a flight that doesn’t leave at 6 a.m. but maybe after 9 a.m. – add on another $200.
For the hell of it, I click on the return through Barcelona, Dublin, Chicago. My price for two round trip tickets – has skyrocketed to approximately $1200 – or double what I thought it would be. Much less affordable. Maybe doable – if we cut back on eating out in Paris – although the whole idea of Paris – is somewhat diminished if you don’t eat out. 
Still, not ruling it out yet.
Then I realize the sad truth. The not-so-bargain fare for a flight to Paris with stops in Chicago, Dublin, and Barcelona – is something new –  the fare is for BASIC ECONOMY.
It sounds like a freshman university class on the workings of the economic system. It’s not.
In Basic Economy, you have to pay not just to check a suitcase but to use the overhead bin. I mean, I know how that works on domestic flight – since airlines for years have charged to check suitcases – you just stuff two pairs of jeans, three shirts, underwear, and a sweater into a carry-on. Not no more. That carry-on is no longer free. If you happen to be Jack Reacher (a nod and a wave to Lee Child) and you just buy clothes as you need them, that’s okay. I consider that option. I mean, it’s Paris. I can just buy clothes over there and toss them when they start to smell – like Jack Reacher. Or, being myself, I could ship them back. But any of those options still adds on to the costs.
OK, what other delights are in store with Basic Economy?
You can’t choose a seat ahead of time. Well, yeah, you can. You have to pay for it. Otherwise, you have to wait until you get to the gate to board and then you get assigned a seat. Maybe on the wing? The outside wing? After all, who needs a seat?
Can’t cancel or change your ticket for any reason. You’re the last to board. I imagine you’re also the first to be bumped – although they don’t advertise that fact.
Seat size is the same in economy and basic economy – both of which mean risking deep vein thrombosis on a long flight. Both of which mean either staying awake for fifteen hours or risk drooling on a stranger’s shoulder – if I happen to lean in the wrong direction and not towards my husband.
I tell my husband all of the above. He says Vermont is lovely in the spring. It’s not, the spring is mud season, but I agree.
The Marais. The Seine. The Left Bank. French pastries. French  crepes. French croissants – will still be there next winter when fares will be down. Maybe. And if not, Vermont is lovely in the winter.  
Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Lisa Black

    I hear you! I swear when my husband and I flew to Europe in 2012 it was about $600 pp (yes, basic economy, I have not yet had the funds to spring for more—we flew 17 hours to Australia in coach). When my two sisters and I went there in 2013 it was $1500 pp. Wha????

  2. Gayle Lynds

    I used to love to fly, but nomore nomore nomore! I do a lot of dodging to make sure I fly as little as possible. Yep, it's the lies about price, and it's the misery of the flight itself. And the sense of entitlement that airlines have — your job as passengers is to make us huge profits and raise our stock prices so we can buy more mansions. Whatever happened to responsible Capitalism? Oddly, one thing seems to have gotten better is the humaneness of stewardesses and stewards. Despite the horrors some passengers have experience and have been reported in the news (and the courts), my experience has been uniformly improved from 5 years ago. Thank you, people! Now to move that on to the boardrooms and executive suites!

  3. S. Lee Manning

    I drive most places in the United States – except California where my daughter lives – but domestic flights aren't quite as bad. The flights to Europe are insane. I was there in 2016 and 2017 – and love to go back – but it's just so expensive.

  4. Robin Burcell

    Yes. I took my three daughters to Europe in 2017 and looked at many of those flights. When I started adding up costs for luggage, meals, bin space, I realized it was not the bargain I had hoped for. (And I just can't do those little seats with no leg room longer than a few hours.

    It's one of the reasons I frequently fly Southwest as much as possible. No hidden fees. Sometimes the flight is a bit more, but not after you add up luggage, bin space, etc.

  5. S. Lee Manning

    I do appreciate the kindness of the flight attendants, but for those of us who are tall or overweight, flying has just been torture – requiring twisting into unbelievable positions. Then add in the price – and hey, I'm driving to Florida. I still fly to California to see my daughter- just a little too far to drive- although I've actually considered it. Europe? There's that ocean.

  6. Patricia Stoltey

    Driving to Quebec City might be a great alternative. Just check the weather for various months first. We went one year in May and it was very, very rainy.

  7. Jamie Freveletti

    "Vermont is lovely in the Spring." Love that sentiment!

  8. Chris Goff

    I've been flying a lot lately, so I got myself a mileage card for our hub airline out of Denver. The one great thing is the ability to check luggage without a fee and to upgrade to extra legroom. Plus I've managed to earn a few airline tickets by using my card for everything–from a $5 purchase at the local 7/11 to groceries to airline tickets. I've found it's often as good a value as Southwest. That said, you still get hit with the cancellation fee if you change your flights, so… And, Vermont is lovely in the Spring!