Buzzing Through the Friendly Skies

So far, this has been a long haul. I’ve been away from home for work for nearly two weeks, and more than two to go. I’ve been making noise about travel being taxing and tedious and tiring, but in the end, you know, and I know, I must like it or I wouldn’t continue doing it. I have plenty of other options, career-wise, but this is a great opportunity. For now.

Today is a big travel day; Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles in a single flight, then a short flight to Sacramento where, if the airline gods are working with me today, I will have enough of a layover to meet my son, pick up an item I left with him for the next leg of the journey, re-pack my suitcase from the trunk of my car in the economy lot, perhaps have some lunch, maybe even a beer. Then I’m on another plan for Portland, Oregon and, eventually, Anchorage, Alaska. It looks like about six thousand miles and I will have been awaking and in some sort of motion for over twenty-four hours.

In my conversations with people over the course of this trip, and there have been many, because I’m chatty, like that, I have heard nothing but complaints about air travel. The delays, the cancellations, weather woes, airline woes, luggage woes. Road warriors love to compare notes on airlines and travel trauma. I have commiserated a little, I do have my share of stories. And as this day approached, I tried not to worry. The weather forecast for Newark predicted thunderstorms up until about the time I was to board my flight, which would be a valid reason for a weather delay, throwing the first of four flights into a figurative tailspin. I don’t usually like coast to coast flights, I prefer a stop in the middle, O’Hare or Denver, perhaps Houston, where I can get off the damn plane and stretch my legs, use a bathroom I can turn around in, drink a mimosa with my breakfast, etc. But, with so much riding on good connections today, I figured I could endure a six-hour flight to make it across the country without the chance of a weather delay or mechanical complication in the mid-west. Oh, coach, or even “economy plus” for six hours is a stretch – not.

As the week wore on, I kept hoping to see the “complimentary upgrade notice” arrive in my email inbox from United. It usually arrives a day or two before my flight and is almost like winning the lottery. I spoke with some of my co-workers earlier this week and they all mentioned they just weren’t getting as many upgrades as they used to, and, believe it or not, they have even more annual miles than I do (they vacation abroad, I don’t. Yet.). On my trip east a couple of weeks ago, I got upgraded on three of three flights with United, my airline of choice. Okay, so they were red-eyes, but it was much appreciated and Scarlett misbehaved with free red wine from coast to coast. Today, a weekday, hence a business travel day, I figured I wouldn’t stand a chance. And, I never did receive my “complimentary upgrade notice”. I was doomed to fly economy plus for six hours. However, when I checked on some details with my flight on the United iPhone App last night, I noticed a little green checkmark in the lower right hand corner of the screen, it read “upgrade processed”. I DID get a first class upgrade, for free! Joy! I didn’t want to jinx anything by gloating on Facebook, so I just expressed my silent praise and gratitude and pushed that positive thought energy towards the weather gods. Who, apparently, got the message. I arrived at the airport under gray skies, but no rain, and the clouds were high. The predicted thunderstorms seemed either to not have materialized, were over with, or were yet to come.

With a long trip, and time to shop in New York, plus working with two different clients, teaching a total of six different classes, all requiring different training materials, and one class a considerable number of props, I was quite overburdened with stuff. Stuff that would not fit into the two suitcases I brought. I considered shipping some stuff home U.S. Postal Service Flat Rate (love), but didn’t have time, or the energy, to hunt down such amenities in New Jersey where just getting gas is a major fiasco. In New Jersey, you can’t pump your own gas and must wait for the single attendant who is servicing twenty cars on no less than five islands, then warily hand him your American Express card while you eye the prison tattoos on his neck. My solution to the excess crap; buy another suitcase and pay to check the third. I don’t do carry on, plus I already have my fifty pound laptop bag with two laptops, Kindle, iPad, nuvi navigator, digital camera, helmet camera and all the peripheral cords and cables necessary for sustained operation of said devices, and my purse, also stuffed to capacity with all required to travel the six thousand miles and survive without home/hotel amenities for over twenty four hours and manage to meet my boyfriend at the final destination looking smashing. A third checked bag was a necessity, and could, actually, be expensed as part of my trip. I found a small suitcase at Target in Jersey, one of the Brunswicks, I think. I hit them all by golly, South Brunswick, North, New, Old, First, Last, Middle, Forgotten, Unknown, and one named Charles, maybe, I think, or not. If it was a Brunswick and it was in Jersey, I drove through it yesterday. I paid an extra ten bucks for a suitcase that had four “spinner” wheels, I consider that a requirement, I don’t do a tip and tote, you can’t slalom with them like you can with the spinner wheels. Can you imagine three roller bags, and the backpack and purse as described above? I must have looked like a circus act, or a very well accessorized gypsy. I somehow managed to get all of this luggage to my room, in two trips from the rental car, then stayed up until 1:00 AM packing everything very strategically. Sometimes my tendency to organize deprives me of life’s necessities, like sleep. My alarm went off at 3:30 and I was up, ready and trying to figure out how to get all that luggage, now heavily loaded down, downstairs to catch the shuttle to the terminal, in one trip. Somehow I managed, and even got it all to the terminal and to the “priority” check in line. My first class upgrade also got me my third bag free! And no thunderstorms, yet.

When I reached security, I was directed to the “Premier” line, which is cool, and, frankly, expected. When I got to the premier line I was directed to another line. I found myself in a security screening line where you don’t have to take your shoes off, you don’t have to remove your laptop from your bag, you don’t have to remove your cardigan. You just throw your crap on the conveyor and stroll through the “old-fashioned” X-Ray machine. I didn’t know this until I was half stripped and I was told to put my shoes back on and put my computer back into my bag. Right?

I found Vino Volo closed, so my dream of a mimosa before the flight was squelched. I got a coffee at McDonalds and went to my gate to wait for boarding. As I waited, I received an email from United stating there were likely to be delays in the northeast due to extreme weather. I glanced out the window, my plane was where it should be and the clouds, though gray, and moving in the wind, were still pretty high and not too dark. Weather gods? Work with me.

Boarding time came and went without a hitch and here I sit, in first class, and in my preferred aisle seat, no less. I was handed a menu, and actual paper menu, by the flight attendant. They didn’t have those last week. Last week, on my longest flight between San Francisco and Chicago, where breakfast was offered in first class, our flight attendant, who had the demeanor and hospitality of an army drill sergeant, brusquely listed the two choices off and you had roughly a half a second to state your decision both loudly and clearly before she walked away assuming you wished for nothing. This week, the flight attendants, in their new and updated uniforms (saw that in an email from United earlier this week, too) have been very gracious and hospitable.  I opened the menu and was reminded of a menu my dad took from one of his United flights to Chicago for a Schwinn Bicycle function back in the 1960’s. I always marveled at it when he brought it out to share, an actual menu with food choices and beverage choices, from an airline. Those were the days, when flying was a real treat. Today, it has become a necessity and is more like the Greyhound Bus. Until today. A paper menu, with choices for breakfast. And, much to my delight, on the drink menu, mimosas! I’ve had four. I’m a little embarrassed to ask for another, I think I can survive without. And I just was offered a snack, I chose the Toblerone chocolate. And this after my breakfast, which, by the way, was also much improved over last weeks. Same menu items, better prepared and much better presentation. Last week’s first class breakfast gave me a first class stomach ache, and all that goes with it, that lasted a full day. I swore I’d never eat that stuff again. But I did. Every bite. And it was so much better.

So here I sit, buzzing through the friendly skies, a couple more hours left in the first of four flights for the day, on three different airlines. I am loyal to United because of all the airlines, they’ve treated me the best. I know everyone has their own preference, for their own reasons, but I have always appreciated United for reasons I consider important; extra leg room between first class and coach for a small fee, or for free if you have status, free entertainment on many flights (used to be on all flights, but the merger with Continental has left some marks). I also appreciate being given the entire can of soda instead of twenty ice cubes and a splash, I can refill and enjoy the entire twelve ounces if I choose. All these little things add up and I feel like they’re really trying to earn my business; last week’s flight attendant and breakfast being the only recent exception.

I can only hope that all the good travel jou jou thus far today carries me through the remainder of my journey. I don’t really believe in “jinxing” things, but I did consider holding off on writing this article until I got where I needed to be, but then, I won’t have the time or the wherewithal to write. So, here I am, gloating, or tempting fate, but at least the longest leg of the journey has been champagne and chocolate infused!

A menu on an airplane! Just like the "old" days!
A menu on an airplane! Just like the “old” days!
A menu on an airplane! Just like the "old" days! Mimosas!
A menu on an airplane! Just like the “old” days! Mimosas!
A menu on an airplane! Just like the "old" days!
A menu on an airplane! Just like the “old” days!
First class breakfast, upgraded presentation.
First class breakfast, upgraded presentation.
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!
Mimosa!!

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