A graduate of flying in these times

Posted 6/15/22

Making it easy, my daughter Diana sprang into action as soon as I said I would love to attend Natalie’s, my granddaughter, graduation in Jackson Hole, WY, on Friday.  

How could …

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A graduate of flying in these times


Making it easy, my daughter Diana sprang into action as soon as I said I would love to attend Natalie’s, my granddaughter, graduation in Jackson Hole, WY, on Friday.  

How could she make this happen? Knowing Diana is quick at putting things together, I had no doubt using American Airlines miles she’d get me on an airplane. I just wondered how I’d get to Jackson with the airport closed. The alternatives were Salt Lake City or Idaho Falls. Idaho Falls was closer – about a two-hour drive – but there weren’t many flights and evening bus service to Jackson was nonexistent. 

“Dad, I’ll pick you up,” she offered. The schedule she planned had me arriving at close to 9 p.m. Thursday. It could work. Barely a week later, she had a better plan that routed me through Phoenix and put me in Idaho Falls at 2:30.  I was ready. Diana emailed me the flight reservations with the American locator code.  

“Scan it at the airport kiosk and print out your boarding passes,” she said.

It was all coming together and it all looked so easy until Wednesday morning when I got out my passport for the 6:06 flight the following morning. I haven’t used my passport in at least three years and to my alarm it expired in 2020. My license worked for voting, so surely it could work to get me on a flight. But then I recalled that only real ID drivers licenses would be accepted by the TSA.  

I went into panic mode, even contacting Jim Langevin’s office to see what they recommended. The solution was obvious and one I should have thought of – go to AAA and get a real ID license. By 8:45 a.m., I was in line outside the new AAA office in the Saw Tooth building in Apponaug waiting for it to open. I didn’t have an appointment but that didn’t matter to the man behind the counter. I explained my dilemma. He was sympathetic and asked for my license. Then he said the deadline for real ID drivers licenses had been extended and while I could get one then and there, if I waited and applied with my license renewal I could save about $30. That was a plan. 

Carol dropped me off at the terminal at 5 a.m. I had my carry-on, no need to check luggage. I fed the number into the kiosk and it spat out a boarding pass to Philadelphia. I waited for additional passes for each of the three legs of the trip. Nothing.  

An attendant looked over the schedule. She checked with a couple of attendants behind the ticket counter who clicked away on their computers. They had an answer. It wasn’t good. The flight to Phoenix was cancelled; however, they could make it happen on Friday. I would miss the graduation. 

It was my introduction to air travel today. It’s chaotic, but there are people who want to help. You just have to find them. 

I made the reservations anyway, then called Carol and gave her the story. 

Manny – I didn’t get his surname – who had been working the computer called me as I was prepared to leave the terminal.  

“I can get you there today through Dallas,” he said.

Anything to make the graduation. I didn’t hesitate. Fortunately, I caught Carol before she left the house to retrieve me at the airport. Now, I had my boarding passes all the way to Idaho Falls and I was feeling confident of making the graduation. There it was all laid out. What I was about to enter was an environment filled with people in many cases hopelessly caught up in the system.

Every flight I took was packed. Fellow passengers shared their tales of canceled flights, forced to spend the night far from their destinations and missed events. The woes were blamed on weather, insufficient staffing and higher fuel costs. Higher fuel costs were the theory of one traveler who also faced a layover in Dallas. It went like this: If a flight was only partially filled, the airline would cancel to fully load the next flight and save on the fuel costs of two flights. With gas bumping $5 a gallon it made sense. 

With a 7-hour layover in Dallas, I had plenty of time to find my gate using the Skyliner that links the terminals. And there was time to talk. Dallas has a cadre of volunteers who help passengers. In fact, prior to the pandemic they numbered 500. They have been returning and are about three quarters of their strength, one of their members told me. She was in her 70s, retired and looking to do something to be useful and put her in touch with people. She wasn’t lacking for attention with a steady stream of travelers seeking to find their way. She sympathized with their stories of canceled flights and informed them of using the Skyliner that makes its rounds of the Dallas terminals every two minutes.  

For me it was a long wait with a book and fellow travelers buried in their cell phones or laptops. Some chose to wait it out -- sleeping curled up on the floor. Finally, the boarding the flight to Idaho Falls started and I was on the last leg of the trip.  

The trip home offered another revelation – the missed connection or canceled flight and what airlines will do to make it right. 

My return flight had me arriving at Green after midnight, but overall would have saved me about eight hours of travel time. It depended on good timing. 

Idaho Falls is much smaller than Green and it seemed little could go wrong with the flight to Dallas.  But by the time we boarded, the schedule was off kilter presumably because the plane had been delayed in arriving.  Another issue arose once we boarded.  An attendant went through the cabin opening overhead compartments looking to space for carry-ons.  The captain explained they didn’t have the space to get all the luggage aboard and some travelers would be required to wait for their bags to arrive in Dallas.  It was an agonizing 10 minutes – you knew everyone was hopeful of their bag making it - before the captain reappeared to announce they’d found the space. Applause broke out and we were on our way, albeit a half hour later than scheduled. It made for a race through the Dallas airport that by now I knew better than I cared to catch the flight to Charlotte.

I squeezed onto the plane in time thinking this was all going to work as planned.

But we sat at the gate and sat and sat. 

The captain apologized. He stood in the aisle to explain that a switch to a rear compartment wasn’t functioning properly and a crew was working to fix it.  When we got off we were behind schedule. The captain said he would try to make up for lost time; however, it didn’t look promising.

He was right. By the time we reached the gate, I had five minutes to catch the flight to Green.  Another passenger looking to make the connection raced in front of me. I found him out of breath and spitting expletives at an empty gate. Together we joined a line of at least 60 people who were similarly faced with spending the night in Charlotte. I checked my phone to find the airlines had already booked me on a late morning flight to Green -- how thoughtful. When I reached the counter I asked if there was space on an earlier flight. There was. By the time I had vouchers for a hotel and transportation to get there and back it was after midnight.

On Monday morning, I gave myself plenty of time to get back to the airport or so I thought. I was ready to leave the hotel at 5:30 for a flight at 7:44. The man at the hotel counter placed a call for a cab only to report nothing was available until 7 a.m., which meant I would miss my flight. He tried another cab company. Nothing. Ground transportation is also strained. I turned to Uber but my request was rejected because of my credit card. I tried another card and the result was no better.

Would I end up stuck at the hotel? 

The man at the counter said he would take me to another hotel with airport shuttle service once he got off his shift. It would be tight, but it might work. Again people were prepared to help. Then another guest at the hotel appeared. She said she was waiting for a cab to the airport. I had a ride, but another race to get to the gate. Boarding had started by the time I got there. I had a seat in the very back of the plane…thankfully. 

It was a beautiful day for flying and when we touched down at Green, I called Carol. 

“You’re early,” she said. She was right, nearly 30 minutes early. It was a first on this trip. But Natalie’s graduation made up for all the scrambling between layovers.

This Side Up, editorial


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  • mthompsondc

    Fear of flying, indeed!

    Saturday, June 18, 2022 Report this