Al’s Big Travel Book

Now that I’ve drawn the illustrations for my two latest books, I’m emboldened to try it again for the next one.

AL’S BIG TRAVEL BOOK will tell the story of airline fees in pictures. That won’t be easy because fees are just abstractions until you actually hand over the money – so nobody knows what they look like.

Then there’s this. Once airports became cesspools of human aggravation, I stopped traveling to any destination that is farther away than I can drive; so what do I know about airlines? Ah well, it’s humor.

Besides, it’s not just me. Airlines have a history of troubled relations with illustrators in general. Look at the wretched renderings on their seatback safety cards – walking-stick mannequins jumping out of emergency doors onto canvas chutes, their faces blank and their arms pointed straight in the air. The dregs of the illustration industry.

The airlines probably paid undocumented freelance artists $8 an hour and then charged them easel and palette fees by the color.

But back to the task at hand. The first drawing problem I have to solve is for a tableau that shows all the exclusive benefits of a US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard.

As they teach at summer writers’ conferences, Show – Don’t Tell. So I want to picture myself and four companions “enjoying our first eligible checked bags FREE on domestic US Airways operated flights.” As if that weren’t head-scratcher enough, my traveling companions are on the verge of desertion – sick of striking poses so that I can picture them enjoying their fee-free bags.

Still, the mightiest challenge lies ahead. The most dramatic scenes in AL’S BIG TRAVEL BOOK will show me and two friends reveling in US Airways’ $99 companion tickets.

What a deal! Heck, my kid could illustrate that!

Actually, I have four kids, but this is tough enough without invidious comparisons (“invidious” comes from the Latin for “You can’t make a movie out of that”).

Since the $99 partner ticket offer is the book’s dramatic climax, I want to get it just right – especially the taxes and fees and special charges that have to be added to the $99.

How do you illustrate foreign departure taxes, customs and immigration fees, airport improvement fees, U.S. security fees, passenger facility charges, federal excise taxes, Canadian VAT/GST, and September 11 security fees? Or, for that matter, “additional government-imposed charges composed of a U.S. immigration fee of $7, airport fees of $10, Canada air traffic security charge of $9, and specific fees and charges that vary with itineraries and exchange rates and may be changed without notice.”

Oh, and then I have to draw a picture of 75 blackout dates when the offer doesn’t apply.

After my BIG TRAVEL BOOK, I may do one on mathematics, another subject in which I’m purportedly ignorant. We’ll see about that. I’m going to delineate the mathematical map of a $99 companion ticket, including all taxes, fees, special charges, and whimsical add-ons.

Simple arithmetic suggests a cost for each person of $65,000-plus, so I guess I can’t use simple arithmetic. I’ll have to use calculus, in keeping with airlines’ custom of confusing and ultimately out raging every last passenger. (“calculus” is Latin for the coating of plaque that forms on your teeth if you don’t floss.)

Fortunately, I have those four kids to help me with my homework.

Fran Shea -

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.