Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grounded Again: Why a Travel Writer doesn't want to Fly

Enjoying the clouds of northern New Mexico from the ground!
Each time I have one of these experiences, I swear off flying. Now don't get me wrong, I love Southwest Airlines. But stormy skies, both from New Mexico to Florida and return, coupled with rude passengers, led me once again to ground myself.

I won't bore you with the TSA process. Enough said in previous rants about disrobing only to be forced into a scanner that could see everything anyway!

Cattle Call
At some point in my life, I realized that I could no longer lift a full carry-on into the overhead bin without bopping a fellow passenger on the head. I put most of my travel clothing into my checked bag (Southwest doesn't charge for either of two checked bags) and carried on my purse and computer... that's all.

So when we lined up for the usual cattle call, I looked around. Passengers were wheeling elephant-sized bags, close to exploding garment bags, strollers and carrying huge purses. And two of those, they believed, counted as their carry-on luggage. There was so much luggage going into that plane that it was difficult to get in line!

Along with the unruly toddlers, tired moms and huge guys with huger carry-on luggage there were those important cell phone calls that we all had to listen to: "Mary, I swear he was so drunk I couldn't get him up this morning... I was all... John... wake up you b_____d!" "Yes, tell the staff to draw up a contract and fax it to me in Houston... and I expect it when I land." "Oh really... he said that?" "Well, I'm at the airport now in line but last night I puked my guts out so I'm not feeling all that great."

You get the drift... TMI!

Finding a Seat
Armed with my A boarding pass. I knew I'd find a window seat fairly easily. But it wasn't until we all waited for those women my age to find kindly assistance jamming their full, and very heavy carry-on luggage into the overhead bins. I quickly scanned the seats to see where the children were sitting and found what I hoped was a quiet aisle in the plane. I sat down to survey the continuing mass of people looking for places to stow their household goods. Well, that's what it looked like anyway.

The Flight
I watched out the window during the smooth take-off and soon noticed some clouds were building. I also noticed the associated turbulence and was rather happy for the short stop in Houston. Ahh land... and muggy land at that! Soon, after enduring yet another cattle call I boarded the flight to Florida and hoped that we would leave the storms behind.

A group of giggly young Texas girls got on and seated themselves behind me. They were busily finishing what seemed to be inane phone conversations. I was tired and had hoped for a nap. But no, they spent the entire flight getting to know each other, commenting on what brand they were wearing and continuing a three-way inane conversation. Given their mentions of college I surmised that they were not pre-teen girls after all. But the conversation sure fooled me!

And wait... there's more! Read Irene Levine's article on inflight nuisances.

Diversion #1
As the pilot kept skirting the building cloud formations and the young women chatted on... and ... on, it got rather turbulent. I couldn't tell whether or not the plane was making a beeline for Florida or not. As the landing time came closer and closer, the plane wasn't descending. I should have known.

When we did land and I wearily disembarked, a half hour late, my son, a private pilot, met me and showed me on his iPhone the route my plane had taken. It had been diverted way north in order to avoid storms. He knew I would be late. I had no clue. But, I was happy to be on the ground and heading home with my family for a visit. That night it rained but I was safely on the ground and sleeping well in the guest room.

Diversion #2
After an enjoyable visit with my family and a farewell luncheon dockside at the Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant, it was off to the airport. I was certain that the tough flying was behind me. I hadn't checked the weather although I did hear something about winds in Albuquerque where I was headed.

What ensued was yet another storm-filled turbulent experience. This one was laden with danger but our Southwest pilots knew just how to handle the situations as they arose. We ended up circling Albuquerque which was filled with dangerous winds and dust storms, turning suddenly and heading back to Texas through a hail storm. (I've never experienced icing on the engines!). I shared the entire scary tale in my article High winds divert flights from Albuquerque Sunport: The experience in the air.

So I have indeed grounded myself. As I gaze at the building clouds over northern New Mexico I see only beauty. As storms hover overhead, I am happy just to enjoy them and am thankful, for now, that I am not flying.