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Flying With Kafka

Franz Kafka, frequent flyer (Pe3k/Shutterstock)

I finally made it home to Baton Rouge this afternoon. Before I approve the day’s comments, and write about Jeff Flake, I’ve got to get something off my chest. I genuinely do not understand how the airline industry works, and I am hoping one of you can tell me.

Earlier this year, I booked a round-trip flight from Baton Rouge to Paris, to coincide with the publication of my book in France. Some time later, I accepted an invitation to speak at John Brown University in Arkansas around the same time. I would be flying out of Fayetteville on the same day I was planning to leave for Paris.

The BR-Paris flight took me from BTR to DFW, then on to CDG. As it turned out, the BTR-Fayetteville flight was also routed through DFW. Hey, I thought, why don’t I just stay at DFW when I fly in from Fayetteville, chill there for seven hours, then catch my flight to Paris? Makes more sense than flying to Baton Rouge, waiting two hours, then flying back to DFW to catch the Paris flight.

Yes, it made more sense … but that’s not how the airlines work. American Airlines told me that if I didn’t catch the Baton Rouge flight, I wouldn’t be able to pick up the Paris flight. The entire itinerary would be cancelled.

“But that’s really inconvenient to me,” I said. “Besides you can sell the seat on the Baton Rouge to DFW flight that I won’t be using.”

Doesn’t matter, the airline said. That’s our policy.

“So I have to do all that extra flying because your formula requires it?” I said.


So I did. And it was stupid.

Which brings us to last night. This summer, I booked a November 9 round trip from Baton Rouge to Houston (IAH) on United, to speak at a conference there on November 10, returning that evening. I recently agreed to fly to Atlanta to speak there on November 9. Last night I made the flight reservation, and saw that it was much more expensive and difficult to fly from BTR-ATL on November 9, then from ATL-BTR on November 10, especially given that I would have to turn around and fly to IAH the same day.

Oh look! Expedia has a much cheaper and easier direct flight from ATL to IAH on November 10, at 3pm! I booked that last night. I like to use Expedia because it has a 24-hour cancellation policy. Surely, I thought, United Airlines has a more sensible policy than American.

Nope. Long story short: United told me today that if I didn’t take the BTR-IAH flight, my entire itinerary would be cancelled. I wouldn’t be able to take my Saturday flight home from Houston.

I protested, but it did no good. Policy is policy. And if I tried to change the flight in any way, it would cost me an additional $200.

I cancelled the ATL reservation at no cost (thanks, Expedia), and rebooked it. The cheapest flight available out of ATL on November 10 was $120 more than the ATL-IAH direct flight, and instead of leaving at 3pm, I now have to leave now at 7:30am. Here’s the kicker: I’m flying on United out of Atlanta, which means I fly ATL to IAH that morning, then connect to BTR … where I cool my heels for five or six hours, then fly back to Houston.

I could stay in Houston that morning, but that would mean missing the BTR-IAH flight, and forfeiting my return on Saturday. But you knew that.


What sense does any of this make? Not only do I have to do a lot more sitting on airplanes, but in both cases, the airlines could have sold those unused segments and made more money.

Why do things work like this? Man, I hate air travel.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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