Joco Opinion

Rolling the dice on a discount airline

After a long gig in the hospital, my once-monkey-owning godmother in Vegas needed some help at home. She called me with her confirmed discharge date, so of course I promised I’d be there.

First, though, I must address the lead sentence above. It’s a bit jarring, even if the Vegas factor somehow normalizes it. Here’s the logic: A) If your godmother happens to live in Vegas, then B) It is imperative she once had a monkey for a pet. This could even be a law. Beyond that, nothing about planning a last-minute trip is normal. Nothing.

As soon as I knew the exact day I was needed, panic set in. I was going to Sin City, but with less than a week to make travel arrangements. I checked my favorite, flexible, gentle airline. With such short notice, the non-stops were either sold out or a billion dollars each way. Worse, connecting flights were map-wacky. I have learned that if I fly in trapezoids to get somewhere, I invite trouble.

It was time to tap William Shatner on the shoulder and see what he would negotiate. I tried a bunch of travel sites, to be sure. My computer screen became one of those Magic 8 Ball toys from childhood. “Dear Magic 8 Ball, which airline should I take?” One carrier kept floating up on the screen. It offered reasonably priced non-stops.

This wasn’t a discount airline. No, not at all. It was an “ultra-discount” one. I’m a skittish flier to begin with, but I realized I’d likely have to do a personal unthinkable — hop on an unfamiliar carrier with suspiciously low prices.

But before officially throwing the dice, I contacted a bunch of people who might have flown “Duct Tape Airways,” or had at least heard of it. A globe-hopping friend immediately responded to my text with a live call. She instinctively sensed an urgent landline dispatch was in order and put her travel guru husband on the phone. I was deflated to learn the man who flies every airline everywhere had never stepped foot on the one in question.

But. He had talked to people who had tried DTA. He informed me I would, indeed, save money. From what he had heard, I’d get smacked for many extras — even carry-on bags, but I’d still come out way ahead of the game. He even suggested I print my boarding pass at home — not at the airport. Wow. A boarding pass printing charge.

My wheels were spinning. What if I land one of those roller coaster pilots and succumb to motion sickness? (Yes, breakfasters, it has happened.) If a flimsy 5x8 boarding pass costs a 10-er, I calculated an airsick bag with a twist tie seal would shake me down about 29 dollars, or 15 bucks for the budget fold-yourself-bag.

I discussed this particular airline with other friends. Rumors were flying about seats that do not recline and check-in agents who weigh suitcases with mass spectrometers. I had visions of a windowless 1940s military transport plane with metal folding chairs and tattered rope for seat belts.

I was freaking out, but my always logical husband nudged me to seek my inner swashbuckler. He said, “Vegas is weird. May as well travel there weirdly.”

The gamble was on. Time for an adventure! As soon as I got serious on the website, the promise of an escapade arrived on a silver platter: The only nonstop return flight that would work with my schedule boarded at 1:10. Not just any 1:10. No, no, no. We’re talking 1:10 A.M. — the very special 1:10 that occurs 70 minutes after midnight. Viva Las Red Eye!

So how did it all turn out? Who knows? I filed this column just before takeoff. If you’re reading these words today at dawn, my return flight is touching down just about now.

Let’s hope the airline splurged on brake fluid.

Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at On Twitter: @DeniseSnodell