Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

18 March 2016

How Much I Hate Flying On The Airlines

As you know, I officially live in Florida but spend half my time in Washington State. I prefer to drive up and back when I can.  But it’s a 3,000-mile, four-day road trip and sometimes circumstances dictate that, as much as I hate to, I fly. 

Heading up for the 2014 season two years ago I had to fly.  Grudgingly I booked passage on American Airlines.  Of course you have to connect through a hub on any airline flight these days; in my case the routing was PNS – DFW – SEA – EAT.  (KEAT being the code for Wenatchee, Washington, the closest airport to Brewster.) 

The flight left at a reasonable eight a.m.  The recommendation is that you arrive at our conveniently-located, hilariously-named Pensacola International Airport two hours in advance of your flight, which I thought was excessive.  I mean, come on, our little dinky airport is hardly JFK.  No, me being Mr. Smart Guy, I thought that one-hour would be sufficient.  I was almost very, very wrong.

The day of my departure turned out to also be the day when American did an “equipment change,” meaning that they because of the demand they put a bigger airplane on that flight.  Instead of a horribly-uncomfortable 90-seat regional jet, I’d be traveling to Dallas in style in an MD-88 which is actually just the latest/greatest version of the venerable Douglas DC-9. 

And here’s where we all made our mistake: Instead of just 90 passengers, the MD-88 holds 149.  And of course the flight was full.  American had not counted on the time it would take to check-in another sixty passengers and had not put on any extra counter staffing that morning.  Oops!  But neither did I account for such a possibility.  Second oops!

I got to the terminal a full hour before departure.  I had checked-in online but because our printer was out of ink (big surprise, right?) I had not printed my boarding pass.  I figured I’d do that at one of the little kiosks that the airlines so thoughtfully provide. 

To my dismay I saw that the check-in line was literally out the door.  I tried to get my boarding pass from one of the kiosks, but for some reason it would not work (I don’t remember why).  I had a big suitcase I could not carry on, so I got on/in line – and I was last.  And it was moving slowly; there was no curbside check-in for bags and everyone in front of me had tons of luggage.  As the line inched forward I felt every tick of the clock echoing like a sonic boom.

Finally up to the front, the CSR (customer service representative) punched my name in and hit “Enter.”  My boarding pass began printing.

“Oooh,” he said as he examined the document before handing it to me. “That was close!”

“Why’s that?” I asked, puzzled.

“The TSA mandates that we close-out the flight thirty minutes prior to departure,” he said.  “You made it with about a minute to spare.  If you came up to me..."
he looked at his computer screen, "...right...now I wouldn’t be able to check you in.”

Wow.  The gravity of that sank in: thirty minutes prior to departure, the flight gets locked-out.  I was relieved.  But given how screwed up airline travel is these days, I didn’t give it too much thought.  I just thanked my lucky stars and headed for the gate, filing that bit of knowledge in my brain for next time, if there is one, which I hope there is not.

Recently, Brian Fung, a writer for the Washington Post newspaper got caught up in a similar situation as me, only he wasn't as lucky.  He’d booked a flight on American and had actually checked-in online but neglected to print his boarding pass.  He got to the airport less than thirty minutes prior to departure and they denied him boarding.  He was so steamed about this policy that he decided to write an article about it.

My advice if you absolutely, positively have to travel by airline?  PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS!  That way, even if you have to stand in line and check a bag you won’t be locked out of your flight.

You can read Brian Fung’s whiny article HERE.

This year, in a little over one month, thank Jesus, I am driving up to Washington.


Anonymous said...

My advice? Don't fly American. There is no TSA "mandate" about checking in. And don't show up an hour before your flight with a bag to check and no boarding pass. Even after checking you bag and getting a boarding pass, you still have to get through security. Why would you only give yourself one hour to check your bag and get through security. Was this your first time at an airport? I fly several times a month and never have a problem.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Thank you, Anonymous for your generous input! I always appreciate hearing from such an authoritative, nameless, experienced airline flyer/internet warrior as yourself, especially when his sage advice is offered in such a warm, non-condescending way!

As you correctly surmised, I travel on the airlines very little, as little as possible - maybe once every couple of years. I've hated airline flying since the inception of the "Every Passenger: A Potential Terrorist" policy. Here at our sleepy little podunk airport where all of the (four) airlines share a common ticket counter, one-hour is usually plenty of time to get checked-in and through security. We don't get 747's here - in fact, AA discontinued service with the 149 seater and went back to a 90-seat RJ, leaving only Delta and SWA with "big jets." And it turned out that American did get everyone including me checked-in on time, so arriving two hours in advance wasn't (and isn't) necessary here, perhaps unlike the large, sophisticated, bustling portals through which you travel, Anonymous. You probably don't often get to places like Pensacola, do you? We're not exactly on the beaten path of the movers and shakers of this country.

Oh, by the way it matters not one little bit to me whether AA's policy of closing-out a flight 30 minutes prior to departure came from the airline itself or the TSA. I was merely relaying what the agent told me and did not feel the need to grill him on the subject. However I do disagree with you on American Airlines; they treated me very well that day, even though weather caused me to miss my original connecting flight to Seattle.

Anonymous, I'm sure you're a very important person, traveling as much as you do to very important places on what is surely very important business. But hey, one of these early mornings, when you get to the airport two hours prior to departure and have nothing to do, as you sit there reading the online version of the Wall Street Journal, perhaps the thought might cross your mind that there is at least one person on the planet who thinks you should go fuck yourself.

Have a nice flight!

Anonymous said...

You are a thinned skinned little fella, aren't you?

Bob said...

Oh my I think I was as entertained by your exchange w Anonymous as by your post! I'm with you on the airline flying and do it as little as I can. The fact is I love to travel, as does the wife, and sometimes to faraway destinations to which I don't have time to drive. At such times I just suck it up. Did not know that about closing a flight and guess I've been lucky as I have cut it very close at times! One thing I dislike more than flying is sitting around an airport!

Anonymous said...

I just have this strange feeling you made the whole story up.