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More Adventures In Travel

If you’re a fairly regular reader of this irregular blog, you know that things never go smoothly for me when I travel. Usually, the issues pop up either at the airport or once on the plane. While both of these happened during my most recent trip, there was a new wrinkle that brought home the fact that people’s jobs shouldn’t be taken over by non-humans. I’ve always believed that, but keep reading for the fun details.

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So, I recently traveled to Texas from SC. I made sure to book a nonstop both ways to avoid all the frustrations that come with hoping your plane leaves on time, hoping that the gate for your connecting flight is in the same zip code as the gate you arrived at, hoping your luggage makes it to your connecting flight (if you have to spring for checking your luggage which I rarely do unless I’m gone for a month – which I haven’t been), hoping the connecting flight leaves on time, and, well, you get the picture. luggage

 

 

When I made my reservation, the only seat available on the flying tin can was a seat in the very last row in front of the restroom. Since I had no desire to pay $40 for a seat a few rows up, I reserved that seat. So imagine my surprise when I finally made my way to the back of the plane and found a rather large, older man firmly planted in the seat. The flight attendant was standing right behind him in the aisle, watching everyone trying to shove their overstuffed backpacks into the teeny-weeny overhead bins. The rest of us who had carry-ons had to gate-check them since the bins on these bus-sized planes aren’t large enough to hold a cell phone, let alone a small suitcase.

 

airplane-seatsAnyway, I very politely asked the flight attendant if I was indeed at the right seat (I knew I was, but didn’t want to rile anyone up – there was no room for riling on this plane). The man said he thought my seat was across from his, indicating two empty seats. The flight attendant asked to see my boarding pass which was on my phone. It took forever to get my phone to access my boarding pass, but once I did, she made a hmmph sound and told me to sit in the empty seat across from the man until she figured things out. She was starting to stress about a couple who didn’t speak English and somehow had managed to board with a huge, quilted duffel bag which was half the size of the plane, which they were trying to cram into the minuscule overhead bin.

Wouldn’t you know it, but the moment I sat in the empty seat, a man made his way to the back of the plane and stood in front of me expectantly. “Your seat?” I asked, resignedly. He nodded and I squeezed into the area next to the restroom in the back of the plane, waiting to see what happened next. The flight attendant made her way back and told me as soon as everyone was on board, she would get me a seat in the front of the plane. I said that was fine since I didn’t really care where I sat, I just wanted to get a seat already. A few more minutes passed when suddenly, the man in what I knew was my seat literally jumped up, popped the overhead bin open and grabbed his cane, and excited announced, “This isn’t 5C!” He then barreled down the aisle to the front of the plane. I stood in shock for a moment, and then calmly reclaimed my seat.

texas-mapI had a great visit in Texas, doing lots of Texas-type things with friends and family. Then came the flight home. First, the line to get through security at the airport was long and snaky. Anticipating this, we had gotten to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I finally got to go through the X-ray machine with my hands in the air, and went to reclaim my carry-on, purse and shoes, when I saw that my carry-on was being held hostage next to the screening person. Fortunately, the TSA guy who was checking things out was young and cute and funny, so I wasn’t too stressed out. After he checked out the shopping bags of the girls in front of me who somehow didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to shove a nearly full bottle of water in their shopping bag to go through security, it was my turn. I asked what they thought they saw. He asked if I had a candle. Why, yes I did. I was very proud of having gotten a great deal at a store at the mall that had everything half price. He opened my suitcase, started undoing the great folding job I had done as he rummaged through my things, trying to find the candle, and finally found it. I toldcandle him it was Vanilla Cupcake which he thought sounded great and I told him which store I had bought it at, asking him not to confiscate it since he could go find one for himself there. Lucky for me, he laughed.

 

 

My plane boarded on time, which was a thrill, and I discovered that this plane was even smaller than the previous one – more like a flying minibus where you had to kneel to board if you were taller than 5’6″. I busied myself looking out the window. After awhile, I realized I had been looking out the window for an awfully long time. Finally, the pilot announced that we were waiting for the first officer. We all looked at each other – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering if this guy had partied too hard the night before and had slept through his alarm. About ten minutes later, the pilot finally announced that the first officer had arrived at the airport – on another flight that had obviously come in late. Great scheduling on the airline’s part. About a half hour later, we finally left.

 

airport-parkingSo we got back to SC about 45 minutes late. I had parked in the economy lot which is a bit of a hike from the airport, but it was a lovely day and I was just happy to be back. I got to my car, pulled out my ticket to get out of the lot, and drove up to the machine to pay. I inserted the ticket in the slot. It shot right back at me. A mechanical voice told me the ticket was invalid. What??? I checked the ticket. It was the right one. It wasn’t bent, it wasn’t damaged. I made sure it was perfectly straight and inserted it again. Same thing. Third time. Same thing. No people in sight, although there are still booths. So I pressed the help button. I heard a ringing sound and then a recording came on telling me I should leave a message. Believe me, they wouldn’t have wanted to hear my message. There is a second lane for credit cards only. Fortunately no one was behind me in either lane, so I backed up and tried the next machine. It spit out my ticket and told me it was invalid just as heartlessly as the first one. So I resigned myself to the fact that I might never be able to leave the parking lot. I backed up, turned around, and parked once again, muttering to myself as I stormed back towards the airport. But then I looked up to see two older ladies in uniform, smoking and yakking in front of the booths on the other side of the street. I had never seen a more welcome sight. I was so busy ranting and raving, I don’t think I said anything intelligible other than the fact I needed help getting my car out of the parking lot. I proceeded to add that the airport had no right to take people’s jobs away by automating things when people still need other real-live people to help them. They thanked me for my concern about their jobs and finally, I was able to leave. The woman did tell me my ticket was damaged when she also tried to insert it. The damage must have been internal.

And that was my trip in a nutshell. I await the day we can get beamed to our location without need of airports or airplanes. Although with my luck, my molecules would end up scrambled and I’d have no way to complain to anyone.

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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

 

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home

Do you remember the days when you actually looked forward to traveling? The sense of adventure, the excitement about the new experiences awaiting you? Traveling by car or train might not have been all that thrilling, but traveling on an airplane was the height of wonder. You were greeted by stewardesses in classy uniforms, sometimes even by the pilot. You couldn’t get over the wonder of soaring above the clouds in a vehicle that seemed much too big and heavy to stay airborne, but there was so much to keep you occupied, that question stayed way back in your mind. There were movies to watch, music to listen to, food (albeit, usually pretty awful food) to consume.

I know I’m writing this through fairly strong rose-colored glasses, but I remember roomy seats, being able to stroll up and down the aisles with little problem, and civilized behavior by both passengers and crew.

Civility and amenities started eroding slowly enough that their loss wasn’t immediately noticed. Seat sizes began to shrink as well as the availability of snacks, entertainment, and services that were still free. Aside from the now-expected checked-baggage fees, there are also fees for seat location, even advance seat selection, talking to a human being when making reservations, and on my most recent flight, fees for even that little bag of pretzels or cookies! Depending on the length of the flight, the menu (!) indicated which snack options would be available, with that little bag of cookies or pretzels starting at approximately $4! Seriously!

And, of course, I understand the need for security, but I was somewhat puzzled when, on the first leg of my flight, after going through the full-body scan  – “wave your hands in the air like you don’t care” – I was asked to show the agent my right arm. I got no explanation what he was looking for, but I was relieved not to get the full body pat-down that my husband received! On the way home, I was told I was going to get a full-body pat-down (random selection), but there was no female agent available, so instead my hands were swabbed with some unknown substance, I got the all-clear, and I was allowed to proceed with the next leg of my flight. My husband did not have any problem this time, and I realized I will no longer go ahead of him after this.

tango-weather-storm-outline-mdOK,  now comes the fun part. Due to insanely high ticket prices for direct flights, we had to make connecting flights in the midst of major thunderstorms up and down the East Coast. Thunderstorms that have formed on pretty much a daily basis since spring ended and that are causing very serious consideration of taking an ark-building course. So, while we had high hopes of our flight actually leaving on time since we boarded and left the gate right on schedule, the captain then announced that he had thought we’d make it out on time, but just got the word that the Charlotte airport was closed and we’d have to wait on the ground – on the plane – until further notice. Luckily, all systems were on, including the air-conditioning. Not so luckily, but certainly predictably, I was sitting next to the only shrieking baby on the plane. Believe me, I have tons of sympathy for the parents of shrieking babies – I lived through this phase of parental torture myself, many times. It’s just that it didn’t help my quickly-developing migraine, or my blood-pressure level, that’s all. Surprisingly, we were only on the ground for an hour and then we took off for Charlotte. Since we were originally scheduled to have a 2-hour layover, we expected to make our connecting flight home.

So, we arrived in Charlotte, made our way to our gate which is in a corner of the airport where several gates usually are reserved for quick hops to various destinations in South Carolina, therefore you’re put on a vehicle the size of a can of peas. No room for carry-on luggage, or even food on these planes. So there were people for all different flights sitting around us in this little corner of South Carolina. Even though there was an LCD display at the check-in area that our flight was leaving on time, when it was 5 minutes before our flight and we still hadn’t boarded, we started getting a bit concerned. Finally, an announcement was made. You might think we were told that due to the weather our plane was delayed coming in from somewhere else. That’s what I expected. But that wasn’t it. No, we were told that our flight wouldn’t be leaving on time because… they couldn’t find the crew! WHAT? Yes, that’s what they told us. For pretty much the next 45 minutes. And they got very annoyed when any of us dared to question them about how this was possible! So we all began speculating that perhaps the crew had to get bailed out, as the day before had been a holiday. Or maybe they overslept. You get the picture. We all got very chummy, sitting there at the gate.

sodapop02But then things got even better. Because one gate to our left was a plane heading to Virginia. And  then there was an announcement. I guess the young lady making the announcement was trying to lighten the mood. So when she announced that this particular flight had a broken “lav,” she didn’t leave it at that. She then advised people that if they needed to go “Number One or Number Two” they should plan to do that “now” since they would be unable to do so on the plane, due to the nonfunctioning “lav.” The man next to us was on that flight. He looked at us in disbelief. My husband advised him to hold onto the soda bottle he had been drinking from, in case of emergency. What could we do but laugh? We were still waiting for the ghost crew; he was wondering if things might actually come down to him needing that soda bottle for something he hadn’t even dreamed of when purchasing his drink.

Eventually, we all took off, our pilot, flight attendant, and I presume there was a co-pilot (my husband insisted there had to be one, but I honestly never saw this person), showed up and we did make it home. Just before the next deluge.

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved