It's not even funny anymore that people have to fight for the right not to be treated like caged, starved, mangy dogs when flying what has become the not-so-friendly, never-ready-when-you-are skies.

I used to find the tales of abuse-by-airlines humorous--after the fact, of course. Since my last trip in the air, I'm not laughing anymore. Like many other airline passengers I'm fed up, frustrated and ready to start a revolution.

Dare I use the word "boycott"?

My last flight was the last straw. You know you're in trouble when the flight attendants start out by warning you that it's going to be a full flight. The minute that phrase comes out of their mouths, you just want to go, "Oh, my God!"

That's how a recent trip to Denver began--with that warning at the check-in gate. Sure enough, the flight went down from there.

For starters, I had a middle seat. I ended next to The Hulk. He was huge and had the hairiest arms I've ever had the misfortune to touch. He felt like a gorilla in a fur coat. The airplane seats were typically tiny, so the poor guy was struggling to get some elbow room. The problem was, he was stealing my space and in the process his big, hairy arm kept scraping against my bare arm for the whole three-hour flight. Ewww.

I spent the entire three hours trying to twist out of his way, which you know you can't do because the seats are too small. When I got off the plane, my left arm felt scraped raw. I shudder just thinking about it.

On a recent flight to Chicago, I endured a two-hour delay with no explanation. The gate attendants kept promising every 20 minutes or so that we would be boarding soon. Like nice little passengers, we just kept waiting. But if you dare show up late as a passenger, they sure will shut the door in your face.

I used to love flying. Now I dread it. I hate the delays. I hate the food. I hate standing in the long lines. I hate the surly so-called customer service representatives. Just try to get an answer to a question without one of them answering in it in a contemptuous way.

And don't get me started on the food. On that Denver flight, when the flight attendants brought us our meals, we unwrapped the main course and just looked at one another. "What is it?" my seatmate asked. "Maybe it's some kind of meat," I said, eating the unidentifiable substance anyway. Shoot, I was hungry. After sitting on that plane for hours because of all the delays, I would have eaten my cushion.

I'm not the only airline passenger to be dog-tired of the abuse the airline industry heaps upon us. But let's face it. We are on our own on this issue.

Congress isn't going to help--it just backed off of the proposed Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. Instead, lawmakers opted to let the airline industry voluntarily fix its clearly broken service record.

The airlines faithfully promised to inform passengers of the lowest fares available, return lost baggage within 24 hours, provide prompt ticket refunds and tell customers of known flight delays and cancellations.

Okey-dokey. Why does Congress expect us to believe that the airlines are going to rush right out now and correct consumer complaints they've ignored for years?

I know the airline industry says it is trying to provide passengers with the cheapest fares possible in this post-deregulation environment. But there is such a thing as being too cheap and treating your customers too cheaply.

So what should we poor, pitiful passengers do?

Stop flying.

We should do what my friend does. Whenever he can, he drives. An eight-hour car trip is nothing to him. He's been conducting his own boycott of the airlines for years. I say we join him.

If other consumers begin looking for alternatives to flying, the airlines will have to respond. We don't need to pay good money to be mistreated.

If we stand up for ourselves, I predict the airlines would cart in planeloads of consultants to determine how they can woo us back. But until things improve, I do have an urgent appeal to hairy-armed men: Before you take your next flight, for goodness' sake, shave your arms. Or at least wear a long-sleeve shirt.

Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations. She will be talking about this on the "Insight" program with Herman Washington tomorrow at 6:40 p.m. on WHUR (96.3 FM) Her e-mail address is singletarym@ Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.