I’ve been on the road for Dollars & Sense for a week and a half now, and it’s made me realize a few things about the costs of travel. Not the grand environmental and social costs, which would be fodder for a Dollars & Sense article, but more nitty gritty, blog-worthy stuff.
First: differential hotel pricing. High-end conference hotels have a captive audience, and they know it—and charge accordingly. While in Chicago for the Allied Social Sciences Associations conference, I stayed at the Chicago Hilton Towers. (The re-named Conrad Hilton, where the Chicago police made such a sorry spectacle of themselves by attacking protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.) The Hilton: high prices, haute gauche décor, host to the Labor and Employment Research Association’s meetings—and determined to nickel and dime their guests (or their guests’ expense accounts) as much as possible. The guest rooms have wireless—available for $3.50 an hour. The package room can receive shipments—for $25 per package. Luggage carts are available—under the supervision of a bellman, who must be tipped.
Cut to Memphis a week later, where I’m attending the National Conference for Media Reform and sharing a cut-rate Comfort Inn room with three other people. It lacks the history of the Chicago Hilton, certainly, but I can’t say that the furnishings are any tackier. And its guest rooms offer high-speed internet—wired, but free. Luggage carts are available—for use without a bellman. And there’s the free breakfast…
Second: someone is profiting from airport security. I don’t mean in a grand corruption sense—though I don’t doubt that—but again, by nickels and dimes. The most obvious example: in-flight meals used to be free; now there’s a charge. Or, one was once allowed to take drinks through security; now one must buy them in the terminal. And the one that prompted this post: Curbside baggage check used to be free; then it was too dangerous to be allowed; now, American Airlines charges $2 a bag for the service.
Not to mention that not allowing coach passengers use the first class toilets is now considered a security issue, according to onboard announcements. I always did suspect that class was a matter of national security.
And speaking of toilets, I’ve also had plenty of opportunity to ponder how much water, electricity, and paper public restrooms waste. Auto-flush toilets, push-start and motion-sensing sinks, motion-sensing paper towel dispensers, electric blow dryers… I suspect that the motion-sensing devices are supposed to protect us from germs by allowing us not to touch fixtures, but it just seems like such a waste of resources. (Okay, I guess that was one remark about the environmental costs of travel. Just don’t get me started on how I’ve been eating out all the time.)