Tuesday, August 06, 2019

come fly with me

I am back in Barra de Navidad.

In truth, I have been here since Saturday afternoon, but it has taken me some time to straighten out things at the house to give me writing time. I now have time.

How are you doing?

I have a friend who lives here in Mexico who has not been on an airplane for over a decade -- if I correctly recall his tale. Today's essay will undoubtedly elicit a comment that it will be another decade before he flies again.

It is true that airplane travel can be a bit frustrating. Its greatest advantage is getting people somewhere quickly. Airport waiting lounges may look like bus stations of yore, but taking a bus and taking a plane are two different worlds when it comes to saving time.

The biggest complaint I hear from flyers is cramped seats are and scant in-flight services. Of course, we have brought that state of affairs on ourselves by demanding low airfares. And the market has responded. American fliers are blessed with some of the lowest air fares in the world (if you ignore those governments that subsidize their favored national airlines).

But I would agree the result is rather Spartan conditions on-board. Most passengers have learned to accommodate by bringing their own food and entertainment along with them. If that is not sufficient, there are seats in the front of the aircraft that are on offer to afford a more comfortable flight. If you want that type of service for the fare you pay in economy, you must be an American voter.

What we passengers cannot buy at any price is time. And that is what happened on my trip from Redmond to Barra de Navidad this last weekend.

At one point, it was possible to get up early in the morning in Bend and be in my Barra de Navidad house that same afternoon. No longer.

Alaska Airlines cancelled that early morning flight. The drill is now to fly out of Redmond on an afternoon to Portland or Seattle and then connect with a flight to Los Angeles where I spend the night. I usually try to get in early enough to see a little of Los Angeles before going to bed and getting up refreshed the next morning around 6 to catch my flight to Mexico.

That was the plan. If you hear God laughing, you know my plan did not survive its first engagement with the enemy.

When I checked into the Redmond airport, the clerk told me my flight would be delayed about an hour. That was a problem because I only had 45-minutes to catch my connecting flight in Seattle. But there was time enough in the day to catch the next Los Angeles flight. Or so I thought.

My telephone informed me that my connecting flight in Seattle would also be delayed. No need to worry.

The Seattle airport looked as if it was a refugee hub in Istanbul. All of the chairs were filled with glum-faced flyers. Milling passengers blockaded the walkways between gates. No one looked as if this was a fun day at the state fair.

It was a fair that was the problem. Seafair, to be exact. Seattle's summer festival that clogs its streets. And that clogging meant that, for the entire day, flight crews were unable to drive to the airport on time -- just as if they were passengers.

The result was the first flight of the day was late, and it had a cascading effect. When, I arrived in Seattle, my afternoon flight had already been delayed over an hour.

Money cannot buy time. I said that earlier. And the first-class lounge proved it. The place was packed with surly folk. There are few things more dispiriting than hanging out with self-important people whose entitlements have not been satisfied. So, I left.

Mexico has taught me several techniques to deal with these rich-world frustrations. The first is patience. I had no control over the circumstances and I certainly had no lines in the scene. All I had to do was wait for my name to be called.

Because there were no seats to be had, I re-discovered the joy of walking in airports. Even with my 40-pound backpack of electronics looming over my shoulders like a Quasimodo prosthetic, I walked just under 7 miles. Even then, I still had to wait another hour for the boarding to be announced.

I bet you can already guess what happened next when we boarded. After waiting for almost another half-hour, a clerk came on board and removed a passenger who should not have been on the flight. How did he get on board in the first place?

But there was more. The baggage crew now needed to unload the just-loaded luggage to find his suitcase -- and to be certain he had not left behind his pipe bombs -- or, even worse a bottle of shampoo over 4 ounces.
Fortunately, I did not need to catch a connecting flight in Los Angeles. And most of the passengers sitting around me had long ago missed their flights. An Australian Air Force pilot sat next to me. He now needed to kill 20 hours at the Los Angeles airport.

This type of story always has an unexpected, but inevitable twist. While I was sitting at the Redmoind airport, I put my time to good use by booking a room at the LAX Sheraton Four Points. Or I thought I had.

When the shuttle dropped me at the hotel where I usually stay, the clerk told me I had booked myself into a similarly-named hotel four miles away. A cab (with an interesting Armenian driver) whisked me over there. At 2 AM, I slipped into bed -- just an hour earlier than the time I would have gotten out of bed in Bend on the old flight plan. If you did not hear God chuckle, I did.

In a couple of weeks, I will be heading back north for a few days. I was very smug with myself that I would avoid Seafair this time.

I was smug until I noticed I had booked a flight on Labor Day weekend. That is not going to happen.

At least, I can buy a bit of time to change that flight.  

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