Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flying- Through Heaven and Hell

Flying- Heaven and Hell

I've done my fair share of traveling. I have to say, all in all, I've been pretty lucky whether it was trains,

planes, automobiles or even boats. Sure, there have been less than optimum moments. I've had to sleep overnight in a bus station in a country where the language was "all Greek to me" (Greece!). I've had accidents, mechanical difficulties and flat tires in automobiles. There have been train delays and anxious moments when I wasn't sure if I would make it in time. I've seen rough weather in ports and open waters. I've also had an airline snafu in Germany where they couldn't provide my flight, but in that case they set me up in swank hotel for the evening so I can't really complain about that instance.

There is no doubt about it though, traveling is one of those things where the dualistic nature of reality can become blatently apparent. As hard as we try, it's not always possible to keep the pendulum from swinging away from the pleasant, right on through neutral and on to composure trying, pain in the ass, never again instances of "life sucks".

This past trip to and from the Caribbean was one of those examples highlighting both sides of the coin.It all started off well and good. To avoid having to drive up to L.A. I took a short 20 minute commuter flight there from San Diego. From there it was a not so short layover of 4 1/2 hours before my Delta flight to Atlanta. No big deal, I've become fairly adept at killing time.

Atlanta was another story though. What was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour layover was to become oh, so much more! About 20 minutes before we were supposed to board the Captain comes up the jetway, walks to the check in counter, picks up the P.A. mic and states, "Folks I know you all are planing on taking this plane to St. Lucia, but you aren't. There is an airconditioning leak and it will need to be repared. We are looking into either repairing this plane or switching it out for another. The good news is that since this is a Delta hub we should be able to find a replacement jet. I'll keep you posted."

So about 45 minutes later they announce that they have another jet available and they will switch them out. This of course entails a thorough safety check (go right ahead) and then provisioning and transfering the baggage. It's about noon now and they announce boarding. Everyone is comfortably seated and we await push off from the gate when the captain comes on and announces, "Sorry folks, it seems that this plane is leaking hydraulic fluid from the front landing gear. It will need to be repaired. The good news is that the problem is readily accessible and the mechanics say it won't take more than two hours. Sit back for a bit while we sort this out and I'll update you shortly. But I promise I'll get you to the island today."

At this point I start to hear all kinds of mumblings from passengers about how the day is shot and how they are loosing hard earned vacation/honeymoon funds. I myself am wondering if we are indeed going to make it to our destination today or will I wind up once again in a hotel for the evening. A little while later we find out they have decided not to repair the plane and instead swap it out for one coming in from Venezuela. They have us disembark and I for one am glad not to have to sit on the plane for two hours while they repaired it.

So, long story short, the third time was the charm and our 9:40am flight finally left the gate at 4:15 pm! I tried to contact the boat to inform them of my tardiness, but couldn't reach them. I envisioned a very irratated taxi driver sitting at the St. Lucia airport waiting for me and could only hope he was smart enough to check the updated arrival time.

I finally landed just before sunset, found the driver and then made the 45 minute drive to the other side of the

island where the yacht was docked. All in all it was 24 hours of travel time with about an hours sleep and I was really happy it was over. Delta did give us $100 vouchers for a future flight, but I'm not sure I want to use it and risk flying with them again! Honestly, it may not sound so bad, but if I had known all that was going to happen I probably would not have taken the job.

Before I go on to the yin of this yang I'd like to take a few moments to write about clouds."What is the deal with clouds!?" (said in a Jerry Seinfield voice). One can't help but wonder about them when you are looking down at them from 30,000 feet. I asked myself, "What the heck is keeping these things aloft?" Something is amiss and I don't think science has adequately come up with an explanation. Maybe they just don't know or maybe I've just never learned it. I don't know, but here is what I do know, or think I know, or have been told that we know.

1) Clouds are essentially water vapor and particulates such as dust or soot.
2) Gravity is an inevitable and inherrant force on Earth without bias or exception.
3) Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Well I'm sorry, but one of those assumption must be incorrect or there is another force that is acting which science conveniently doesn't allude to or thinks we are all too stupid to comprehend. I may be one of those stupid ones, but it seems to me that neither water or particles are exempt from gravity. There may be some delicate balance of electromagnetic forces coming into play, but I sure don't buy the obvious explanation that convection currents do all the work. Particularly since it's like -200 F degree up there and cloud altitudes are much too stable. So if Gravity is being countered by an equal and opposite force, what is it? Please enlighten this dummy if you have a really solid explanation. (I'm not really interested in a conditioned, dogmatic, regurgitated 10th grade science book explanation.)

OK. So now to the concluding half of this travel saga.

My work was coming to an end and it was time to come up with a plan to get me home. A 7 am flight was booked for me off of Dominica and since we really didn't think it wise to depend on a local taxi to show up at 4:30 in the morning it was decided to get me a room near the airport for the evening. In the morning the guy where I stayed did wake up on time and got me to the airport for my flight on Liat Air to Puerto Rico where I would jump on to U.S. Airways back to San Diego.

We lifted off from Dominica and 30 minutes later we landed in Antigua. I knew damn well that we would be taking that very same plane on to P.R., but of course they made us disembark. Then we had to visit the transit desk and get another boarding pass. Then, even though we just got off the plane we had to pass through security. I think the whole purpose of this exercise was to entice us to spend money at the restaurant and gift shop. Five minutes later they called us for boarding. Once again we had to go through security, only this time our bags were hand checked and we were patted down! And no, even though I might be considered a shady character, it was everyone and not just myself. At this point I was just about to change my attitude from "flying is OK" to "I hate flying!"

Fortunately things were going to get better. But not until after a moment of confusion. I arrived in Puerto Rico and got the "Welcome Home" from Customs. I tried to find a Currency exchanger, but apparently no one has any interest in "Eastern Caribbean" dollars and so I'm stuck with 40 of them. Yes, if I go back I can always use them. That's if I remember to bring them. Aaah, at least they are pretty. So my email confirmation from Orbitz says I'm booked on U.S. Airways and since my phone actually worked once on U.S. soil it was again confirmed by a voicemail message that my flight on U.S. airways was on time.

Naturally I go to the U.S. Airways counter for check in. "Hi, I'm going to San Diego via Washington Dulles". "Not with us you're not, we don't fly there!". "Are you sure?", "Yes, check with United." After a moment of trepidation I found that I was indeed booked with United. Just confirms my suspicions that they are all in cohoots.

Oh, and something to keep an eye on as you travel on airlines these days. United boasts a #1 ranking for On-Time Arrivals. I guess that is something to be proud and boast of, until I realized that on every single recent flight all the estimated travel times were padded. The ticket travel times state for instance 6 hours and every time the pilot comes on and says the travel time in the air is an hour less than the the time on the tickets. So even if they take off 45 minutes late they can still get you there on time! So much for truth in advertising!

Anyway it was at this point that things became honky-dory. From P.R. to S.D. I was booked into first class. And it's true, "It's the only way to fly" unless you have your own wings, feathered or mechanical. There is nothing like a big cushiony chair, hot towells, good food and free drinks to make things more pleasant.

There was also a phone in the armrest with a light that would indicate an incoming call. How the hell someone would get ahold of the phone number for me in Seat 2D I have no idea, but the next time I'm flying first class be sure to give me a ring, won't ya?!