Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Friend “Bill”…

I have to admit that I dread many of my trips…most likely because they can be too frequent and when things go awry, it creates extra stress on top of an already semi-stressful situation. So when I awoke Monday morning I did so with a sense of gloom slowly filling my head, despite the fact that I was home and not scheduled to travel this week. It is simply a habit. It should have been short lived but as winter continued to keep its grip on our weather with cool temps and thick clouds my mood continued to dampen. Then I opened an email from a friend and co-worker who does basically the same job I do and travels just as much…if not more. Seems he had a bit of “bad luck” as he started his travels the night before and sadly, it brightened my day. To protect the innocent I will call my friend “Bill”. This is his story…

This past Sunday evening “Bill” made his first mistake…he embarked on a business trip. I do my best to avoid Sunday travel for a couple of reasons. First, it simply ruins your weekend. Whenever I have to travel no matter what time of day I depart, I spend most of the day waiting to leave. I don’t start a new project or enjoy a relaxing seven hours prior to departure because I am incapable of doing so. You will recall that despite multiple backup alarm systems I still awake roughly every two hours the night before a flight if it happens to be an early departure. The same holds true for late departures...I watch the clock. The second main reason I avoid Sunday travel is because the flights on Sundays are always full. They are always full on Mondays too but on Sundays you have more “rookie” flyers. Those people who are heading home after a week or a weekend away, who possibly have acquired “things” on their little trip that don’t fit in their oversized unchecked bag and that they now want to jam in the overhead bin even if it means moving your bag that just moments ago was resting comfortably. The same people who don’t check in over the airlines website who now find they are sitting apart and ask (very publicly) if you would be willing to switch to a middle seat so they could sit together. The same people who basically bring camping gear on the plane in an effort to have a more comfortable flight. It doesn’t work…for them or anyone else. It is for these reasons that I avoid Sunday travel if at all possible.

Bill’s second mistake was going to West Virginia but that is an entirely different blog topic. Anyway, Bill starts out from his home in sunny Florida in what I imagine was a pretty good mood. You see, even though he was traveling on Sunday he had been upgraded on his “Status” Airline * so he was at least in for a comfortable seat, more personalized service and he would be segregated from the returning weekend hoard. Most likely about the time he mentally switched from “home” mode to “travel” mode he heard an unsettling sound. His steering wheel also felt “heavier”. The sound? A thump whump, thump whump that coupled with the heavy steering wheel meant two things. First…Bill had a flat tire. Second, someone else was going to sit in Bill’s First Class seat, drinking Bill’s Bombay Martini with blue cheese olives. Bill was going to miss his flight. I can honestly say that I have not had a car “issue” either on my way to or upon returning from a trip that caused me anything more than “concern”…but I will now add it to my list of worries.

Ever the optimist, Bill starts to attempt to change the tire…on I-95…this country’s closest thing to the Autobahn. If you haven’t driven on I-95 south of Richmond, you shouldn’t. It is flat…and straight and almost never gets least not in Florida. Nearly everyone who is on I-95 appears to be in a near panic hurry or they may have just robbed a bank. Either way…they fly down that road. It is scary enough driving there let alone changing a tire. As luck would have it, this is Bill’s first flat tire in this car so he has never changed a flat for it before. And he still hasn’t. After about twenty minutes of fruitless efforts he begins to see his first class seat being given away so he calls AAA…he is a member after all. Actually, it turns out his wife is a member and he gets a “rule abider” who refuses to let him use his wife’s membership. So he has to buy his own…which he does. Then he has to contact a local tow company which is always a treat but even more so on the I-95 raceway. Over the din of tractor-trailers doing 80 they say “Someone will be there shortly”…which means an hour. To add insult to injury, Bill is dressed in business casual attire while his “representative” looks like he starred in Saw 5.

Finally back on his way, Bill’s flight is long gone. He has to re-book with a “non-status” Airline.** He knows he is lucky that he even got a seat but he is in the middle and in the last row which has the added “bonus” of being near the restrooms. Prior to boarding though Bill gets in the security line. He is a frequent flyer so he is now part of the new TSA “Pre-check” group and promptly enters that line. Here too you are treated with dignity, respect and it is so much easier getting through this line than it is in the “regular” TSA security lines. There is just one catch though (and I have inquired to the TSA about this “hitch”). Just because you are on TSA Pre-check with one airline does not mean you are with another airline. And getting on with other airlines is time consuming and there is no guarantee they will grant you the status. As luck would have it, Bill wasn’t “pre-check” for this airline and he is summarily rejected by the TSA agent after standing in what was a very long line (more people are pre-check every day so it is losing its luster). Bill now has to do the “Walk of Shame” past “real” TSA pre-check participants who now wonder if he is a terrorist or “just another rookie flyer”. When he finally makes it to the metal detector he forgets to remove his shoes (his second infraction within 30 minutes) and is nearly detained. He does make his flight (a connection 300 miles north of the city where he had a direct flight booked earlier) but not before they snag his bag and $25 to check it…the final insult of the day.

I never did hear if he made it to his destination that night but given that it was West Virginia…I might never hear from him…generally, I’ve had a pretty good week…thank you Bill.

* Status Airline means they treat you like they want you as a customer. They are friendly, offer assistance, occasionally throw you a “bone” in the form of a free snack or beverage and, if you get really lucky, they upgrade you to first class where life is actually tolerable.

** Non-status Airline means they treat you as if you are a carrier of TB or SARS. No question is acceptable no matter how gently asked and they go out of their way to make you check your bags and you board the plane last, usually having to operate the jet bridge before you get on.

Don’t forget you can get The Middle Seat Volume 1 (essentially the first six months of this blog) for your e-reader at…it’s FREE.

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