Tag Archives: airports

Lowering the Bar Mitzvah

Detroit Airport

I’m in airports a lot these days. A lot a lot. Getting anywhere from Eastern Washington, in the age of regional carriers means lots of legs to get to my final destination, making air travel something of an airport crawl without the really good beer. I’ve been stuck in Salt Lake Airport on Christmas, stranded in Minneapolis multiple times due to weather or mechanical trouble, on the tarmac in Spokane waiting for an overbooked deicer to get to our plane, and of course there was that time in San Francisco when we were told we’d missed our flight even though it was an hour until takeoff. I continue to stand by my United boycott after that bull hockey. Still, as the 14-hour drive home from SFO pointed out, flying is faster than ground travel. And because I often have faraway places to go (I mean, seriously, everything is far from Walla Walla), I wind up spending copious hours of time in airports. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the more time I spend in airports, the greater the opportunity for unusual things to happen to me while I’m there. Read More…

Some Enchanted Plane Ride

DSC_0011I have a shortish bucket list of places to visit in my lifetime, because I’ve read about different corners of the globe and I’ve always had a hankering for seeing them up close. Patagonia. Paris. Senegal. Lebanon. Hawaii. The trick is, getting there takes some doing. I imagine that for millennia, most people stayed pretty much where they started, with some nomadic peoples making long treks, or some specific folks earning a reputation for exploration and such. Perhaps there’s a wisdom in nesting, because with all of our technological prowess and transportation advancement, venturing from Point A to Point B is still a total pain in the keister.

Ever since we moved to Walla Walla, one of our quieter gripes has been that it takes 2-3 flights and 12 hours or more to get to the East Coast, usually at an expense of $500+ per traveler. At some point Susanne and I toyed with the idea of going to Hawaii instead of making multiple trips home for the holidays. Once we assessed that the prices really were similar, coming here shifted from a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment to a plan. And because we’ve struggled with getting in and out of Eastern Washington so many times now, seeing a three-legged airplane journey didn’t feel like a big deal. What price to pay for paradise, we asked ourselves.

Turns out, a 6-hour flight is no small feat for a toddler. The entire ride, we listened to wailing like I’ve never heard come out of any human being, much less a small child. Thank goodness it wasn’t Emile having the extended purple scream. Sure, he fussed, asking for “down,” and saying “all done” with the jaunt just 20 minutes after takeoff. But he held it together for the most part. Getting to the big island, Emile notched his 12th, 13th, and 14th flights in his new existence. A couple of bouts with turbulence notwithstanding, Hawaii Airlines gave us a smooth ride and a strange meal box. But hey, they have a meal box. It was a step up from the pretzel bag from Delta, and 10 light years better from the three sips of flat cold soda that they serve on United. (I think we all know I will never again breathe a friendly word about United Airlines.) Read More…

To Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines

TO: Jeff Smisek, CEO United Airlines

FROM: Everett Maroon, Mileage Plus Member XXXXXXX

DATE: 9/4/2012

RE: Series of poor service incidents from UA Staff

Please let me begin by saying that I appreciate the challenges present for commercial air carriers in the United States today. Your recent merger announcement with Continental is of course predicated in part on finding efficiencies in both business models and improving the destinations and flight coverage for passengers overall. I can’t imagine what pressure your business must be under regarding the logisitics of such a large merger of corporate climates, staff, benefits packages, strategies for future development, and heck, the terrible cost of jet fuel these days.

Because of these oft-reported limitations and tensions, I have been willing to put up with a certain level and number of inconveniences as a frequent traveler–the disappearance of the in-flight meal (they weren’t very good anyway), and later, of the small bag of pretzels, the addition of checked bag fees, and the changing, increasingly invasive security process, which I understand is not under the control of the airlines. Along with these shifts I’ve seen consequences for how I travel–I head to the airport much earlier than before, I plan for snacks ahead of time, I bring only certain bags that are within weight limits or will fit in such-and-such an overhead compartment. I have rejiggered my traveling strategy because now I have a 1-year-old child, and I acknowledge that my customer experience expectations have evolved because of all of these changes from the airlines, the world we live in, and my personal life. Read More…

Tips for Traveling Based Solely on My Last Experience

flight attendants wavingThis is my second head cold in a month, so I’ve dipped into our hard-to-acquire stash of Sudafed, which I know from Breaking Bad is the item purchased by “smurfs” to make crystal meth. Thank you, AMC, for expanding my culture reference set. Based on when my left tonsil puffed up like a blowfish, I figure I was exposed to whatever virus this is on one of the three plane rides over to the East Coast. It could have been the 3-year-old two rows behind me who practiced his raspberries for 45 minutes. Or the lanky guy who slept next to me for 4 hours and insisted on sticking his feet under the seat in front of me (I thought I was the fat space hog). Maybe a flight attendant passed it to me along with my half-ounce of cracker party mix, who knows? But if I could relive the experience that day, I would do the following, and I’ll note right here that I did know these things before May 17, 2012.

1. Bring hand sanitizer with you. You may not have time to wash up in the airport rest room between flights, and you’ll probably need it more frequently than every three hours, especially if it’s during flu season. You may even be tempted to splash some on your neck, like cologne. This is not necessarily a bad idea. Read More…

By Hook or by Crook: Traveling with Baby

Susanne and I like to think we are seasoned travelers, people who move around continents with ease and without flinching. I know before I get to the security line how many bins I’ll need for my stuff. I know which planes have a great bulkhead row and which will cause me to wrap my legs around me like an experiment in human origami. Southwest trains their employees to present all information as a jolly delight, so I’ve learned to cut through the tone to get to the actual substance. Delta, after its merger with Northwest, has a lot of sullen, underappreciated staff at the till, so I make sure to smile when I talk to them and then I get slightly better service. I’m a gate-checking madman, avoidant of baggage fees, and I most recently am grieving the loss of the tiny bag of pretzels, because it seems even that microscopic luxury of flying has now vanished.

When people told me that everything would change once the baby arrived, they failed to bring up air  travel. Not a single person in the 8,374 instances of “Your life is going to change, you know,” that I heard before Emile’s birth finished the sentiment with “especially when you try to get on a plane.” I recognized that life would shift, but I didn’t think about flying. Read More…

Boom in the Night

Quantas airplane in flightLet it be known that I fly a lot, especially now that I’ve moved to this dusty corner of the country. It just isn’t possible to drive everywhere I want to go, certainly not with $4.00 gas staring me in the face at the station. Most of my trips originate not at the lonely Walla Walla airport, which hosts a few flights a day to and from Seattle, and which will bump up the fare anywhere between $400 to $1,000. So I trek out to the Tri-Cities, an hour away, and go from there. It’s a Planes & Automobiles adventure every time. Read More…

Delta, Delta, Delta

It is a grave disservice to a human being, this whole daylight savings time, especially since this particular human does not work in agriculture, and deprived of an hour’s sleep, has considerable trouble envisioning how the indirect benefit of farmers’ labor applies to him. But the usual strain of shifting forward one hour has just been exacerbated by the supreme offense of the delayed flight/missed connection combination that only modern air travel affords on a regular basis. It’s one thing to be in a later time zone for 78 minutes during an afternoon layover; it is an entirely different thing to have to wake up at what feels like 4:15AM to catch a final leg home. And when one has not planned for that extra pair of fresh underwear. Such injustice in the developed world. Read More…

Trajectories of Death

Just call the iPad the gift that keeps on giving…for a price. My latest little obsession is Angry Birds, a deceptively simple game that features a slingshot and birds on one side, and evil green pigs on the other. I played this game for the entire first leg of my flights to Arkansas, where I am now, baking cookies for the holidays with my mother. (Keep your jokes to yourselves.) It all becomes about aspect and pitch and when to time that explosion, as my brain decided, delirious with giddiness at the comical nature of the app. But the game was fortunate because I’m sure I avoided a painful conversation with the man in the middle seat, who had a terrible case of halitosis. Life Note #29: Always travel with mints, not always for oneself. Read More…

I’ve got to concentrate, concentrate, concentrate

We’re leaving on a jet plane for Denver in a few hours, and I’m excited in part because Denver is a city I’ve only seen once, a long time ago, but also because I love writing from hotel rooms. Nice TV on in the background, bed at easy access for naps or when I need to ruminate, broad desk and lovely view of somewhere else for quality pondering time. I can get some take out and type away over lunch. There’s something appealing to my creative side about writing from Somewhere Else, which is what we had in mind when we made the short-term move to Seattle. So a trip out of town is now a kind of hop to Somewhere Else’s Somewhere Else. And I quite enjoy that. Read More…

Cookies from hell

First, a brief round up of my first writer’s conference:

  • One request for a partial and one request for my book proposal, both for the memoir
  • One request for a partial of my science fiction satire
  • Several new writer contacts—mostly sci fi and fantasy folks, who duh, are the best
  • One silly picture of myself shown on a screen in front of everyone
  • Many, many fantastic conversations about writing and creating
  • At least half a dozen drinks at the bar—they had good hefeweisen, for which I am always a sucker
  • Two great dinners in Seattle—Ethiopian and sushi whore in West Seattle
  • Two ridiculous airline experiences

I’d grumbled and snarked about the demise of airline service here and over on I Fry Mine in Butter, and apparently the universe or something took notice, because wow, getting back to Detroit from Seattle was a fiasco.

The initial flight out of Seattle, a red-eye at 1AM was bad enough—taking a red-eye, I knew, would throw off my internal clock, because it has every time before—but I also had a connecting flight out of Memphis. I’d been okay with this at booking because I had a nonstop to Seattle for my outbound flight, and I’m not choosy in this brave new world of airline service. Choosy is something I reserve for potato chip flavors at the Target Superstore.

Memphis’ airport has seen better, happier, less stinky days. I had to really eyeball which chair I sat in as some had lost a considerable percentage of their stuffing to some other quadrant of the facility. I figure there’s a room in the basement somewhere with bags of chair fluff. I just need to sort out why. I made my way to a Starbucks and procured a mocha and a cheese danish because I was pretending it was breakfast time. It was, in fact, 7:20AM local time, but my stomach didn’t know that, so I gave it some cues. Here, stomach, coffee. Here, stomach, danish!

Busying myself in my ebook—Patricia Cornwell’s latest, and she sounds like a cranky old lady writer these days—I did not initially notice that the monitor displaying my departure time had changed. 9:45 quietly became 10:20. At some point I lifted my head, probably because I saw movement on my horizon, triggering the lizard portion of my brain to make sure there weren’t any predators on the savanna. Fortunately, there weren’t, but I did see the slippage in my takeoff time. I called my in-law’s house and left a message alerting them to the delay, and went back to my book. I wasn’t too concerned about a small delay, but I really needed to figure out who was after Kay Scarpetta.

At the next gate, a flight to Minneapolis, people starting piling up. I could tell it was a big and full plane. Then the steward made a strange announcement:

“So folks, we’re going to have  a delay here as we have a mechanical issue with this flight. We need a really big, strong spring for the tail rudder. I’m sure you remember that flight that crashed a few years ago because of the tail. So we take these things seriously. Unfortunately the part needs to be flown into Memphis here. We’ll get you all moving as soon as we can. You can scan your boarding passes over here to receive a $6 breakfast voucher from Delta for any food vendor here in the airport.”

Did someone just say flight and crash in the same sentence? Did someone from an airline just say flight and crash? That’s like yelling “bomb!” in the security line!

I looked at the monitor for the flight. Originally scheduled: 8AM. Now expected: 4PM. I noticed as a wave of uneasy crashed over me and my ebook.

Well, something was off with my flight, too. We still weren’t boarding, even though I heard one employee tell another customer that we’d leave by 10:10. My phone buzzed with a text from Susanne: Delta Web site says you’re not due to depart until 11.

Those lying bastards. Now I was annoyed, and I had a good amount of caffeine from my mocha to fuel my anger. I asked the woman at the counter how we were leaving at 10:20 if it was 10AM and we had no plane at the gate? She gave me an uneven frown, as if both halves of her brain were in conflict: this guy is pissing me off, must be nice to customers. I felt badly for causing her distress. I blamed my Starbucks mocha.

Around 11 we actually got on the plane, and then the story takes a downturn. I was seated next to the most talkative, no boundaries, yammery guy I’ve ever had the fortune to sit next to. He just wanted to know my whole life story, this guy. It was one of those times when I considered revealing The Trans just to see if it could shut down any more conversation, but I feared he would just explode with 20,000 questions I didn’t feel like answering. For those of the non-trans status, questions no transgender person wants to answer include the following:

  • What was your name before?
  • What’s it like to see things from the other side?
  • Did you get surgery?
  • How did your family deal with it?
  • Quick, let’s go to the rest room so I can see your winky!

Okay, that last one isn’t a question, though it is a kind of request, I suppose. And yes, that last one has been asked of me. See, this is why my memoir needs to find an agent and a publisher, because the world needs to know that people make these crazy remarks! Notice how I went from memoir to publisher to world? That was nice, right?

Mr. Never Stop Talking rattled on for so long that I hardly noticed we’d been on the tarmac for a while, but sure enough, they hadn’t closed the boarding door and it was 11:30. Still on plane, at gate, I texted Susanne, because her drive to the airport and this flight took about the same time. I didn’t want her hanging out at the airport if I was delayed. Which, okay, I was already significantly delayed. I’d originally been scheduled to land at 12:15.

Delta Web site says you’re not departing until 12:30, she texted back. And here the pilot had just announced we’d be delayed another 5 minutes. Five minutes my ass. Five minutes in sea tortoise time. The stewards came down the aisle with glasses of water for us. Thanks, Delta.

Twelve-thirty came and went. We were having some kind of issue with the fuel line to the plane. Terrific. One rudderless crashing wonder to Minneapolis, and one exploding bombshell to Detroit. How’s that merger working out for you, Northwest?

They asked us to open up our air vents and close our windows to keep it cool inside. Mr. Talky Talk went on about people getting stranded on the tarmac for four hours just the day before. Sheesh, Mr. Never Shuts Up was just one happy story after another.

At some time after 1, way way way later that 9:45AM, we took off with the fuel line attached. Just kidding. We took of all fixed up, and I was confident that Susanne knew exactly when to leave for Detroit.

In the air they did the usual beverage service, only this time they gave us the can of soda and not just the plastic cup. I asked for the accompanying cookies.

“Oh, we’re out of cookies.” Three hours at the gate and nobody could stock the cookies?

“Of course you are.”

“Just for that,” he said, “I’m going to find you some cookies.”

“Great,” I said. I presumed this meant he’d find some crumbly bits ground into the carpet from the last 3-year-old’s temper tantrum and press them into my palm with a smile. But 20 minutes later, he handed me a package of the now-infamous Biscoff.

“Lucky you,” said the woman across the aisle from me, who’d been reading at a copy of Laura Bush’s memoir for the last hour.

“I can share,” I said, breaking one cookie in half. I handed her one piece and Motormouth to My Left the other half.

“Wow, it’s kind of cinnamony,” he said, still chewing. “You think that’s cinnamon in there?”

“Yup,” I said.

“That is a damn good cookie.”

“It’s the best thing about Delta,” I said, and I heard the steward sniff, displeased. “After their amazing staff, of course.”

“Of course,” said the steward.

I slept for four hours as soon as I got back home. My stomach is still not sure what the hell time it is.

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