Sunday, June 5, 2011


I used to love to fly.
In addition to looking forward to where I was going, usually an interesting destination or, in most cases, a sporting event I was covering, I enjoyed the trip itself.
It was kind of nice to know there was going to be a period of at least a couple of hours where I would be out of touch with the world and could sit back and read a book or do crossword puzzle without the nagging feeling I should be doing something more productive.
Back in the day as well, flights were not so crammed, and there was always a good chance that the middle seat would go unoccupied, leaving me with more room than first-class passengers. (But without the free drinks and real silverware.)
So, yes, flying was fun.
But not so much any more.
I just got back from a trip to Tennessee that is pretty typical of what one encounters in air travel these days.
First, my flight from Miami to Atlanta was late taking off. The flight was going to be about 20 minutes late. Oops. The travel agency had arranged a layover of only 35 minutes for my connecting flight to Chattanooga. It was going to be close.
Once in the air, however, the announcement was made that we were going to make up time and arrive pretty near our originally scheduled time. If we did, though, it didn’t matter. Once on the ground we had to wait for another aircraft to clear before we could move up to our gate.
Once in the terminal, I had something like 12 minutes to get from my arrival gate in Terminal A to the far end of Terminal D. Not impossible, but not easy either.
Fortunately for me, this was one time when Murphy’s Law of air travel -- when your originating flight is late, your connecting flight will leave on time -- didn’t hold up. The time of departure for my flight to Chattanooga had been moved from 1:40 to 1:50, according to the board, and what’s more, the agent said we wouldn’t be boarding for another 20 minutes.
Life was good. Too good, as it turned out.
We boarded pretty much at the time the agent had said, but then sat on the puddle-jumper and waited. And waited. And waited.
I like to wear a sport coat when I travel to make use of extra pockets, and I was beginning to get hot.
Finally, word came that we had to get off because the plane had mechanical issues, and we were to take our onboard carryons with us.
Not a good sign.
It happened that a couple of other writers were on the same flight, and we talked over renting a car and driving up to Chattanooga. Shoot. It would only be about a couple of hours.
But we kicked that aside and decided to wait it out.
And wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally we got the announcement that a new plane was coming in and would soon be on the ground.
It was a bit longer wait for it to arrive than we had been given reason to expect, but soon the plane arrived. They told us that as soon as the crew was ready and the plane was cleaned -- they clean these things? -- we could board.
Still, we waited. And waited. And waited.
Then the agent announced that as soon a lavatory light was replaced, we could board.
Why couldn’t everybody just go to the bathroom now? We’ve had plenty of time.
Eventually, we did get to board, and then we had to wait on the ground again for probably 45 minutes, what for, I don’t know.
Instead of arriving by 2:30, it was around 6 p.m. when we finally landed.
I wish I could say this was unusual for flying these days, but it’s not. In fact, at the end of Terminal D where I was last Thursday afternoon, pretty much every flight was leaving late, many of them delayed for more than an hour. And it was beautiful, clear day pretty much across the country.
My miseries didn’t end once on the ground in Chattanooga.
The next day, after driving a 2012 VW Passat up to Nashville, when I tried to check into my return flight, I couldn’t get a boarding pass. The message I got on the website was that I had to have an electronic ticket to check in via the web.
Of course, I thought I had one. I had my itinerary right in front of me with all the flight details.
When I called the airline, the nice voice at the other end of the phone said my flight had been confirmed but not ticketed. This did not make sense, but I was dealing with an airline here, one that claims it knows why we fly. (Because we are masochists?)
So I called the emergency number for the travel agency. The nice voice at the end of that line told me she would call the airlines and give them the ticket number. She also gave it to me. But I was to wait a few minutes for that information to be processed.
After waiting a respectable time, I went to check in again on the website. Same message.
I called the airline again, and a different voice tried to work with me. During that call I noticed that my name had an error. The voice told me that the travel agency would have to clear that up.
So I called the agency again. After explaining everything, I was put on hold, and I waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, realizing that I had to go change for dinner or miss my transportation there, I asked a friend to take whatever message the agency had for me.
When I saw him later, he said that they had cleared up the issue about my name and should -- operative word here being “should” -- be all set.
According to what I gathered, this all stems from the TSA’s new requirement that airline tickets be issued with passenger’s full names, not just first and last or first, middle initial, and last.
My frequent flyer enrollments, made years ago, had just my first and last name. Well, my Delta also has my middle initial, which is A, and sometimes that gets run up against my first name, so I become PAULA, not PAUL (space) A.
Later that evening I got to a computer and signed on to the airline’s website. I was able to check in, and got my boarding pass!
Things went fine on my return, finally.
But before I boarded, I happened to run into one of the guys who had gone through the Thursday troubles.
We were going to different destinations, but leaving from the same gate an hour apart. I asked him to watch my carryon for a minute while I went to look for a magazine.
While waiting to pay for it, he came up to me with my bag and said he had been called to board. I thanked him, and we said goodbye.
But a couple of minutes later, when I returned to the gate, he was still sitting there. He had boarded his plane, he said, but then was asked to get back off because it had a mechanical problem.
I am leaving for a family trip tomorrow of more than a thousand miles.
I am driving.

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