Virtue & Mischief: Wonderful world of air travel


A week ago I made a business trip to Phoenix, Arizona. I was there for less than 24 hours, spent one night in a posh hotel in Tempe, wore a suit on the plane and carried on my laptop computer and one overnight bag with one change of (casual) clothes, and traveled alone. No family, no checked bags, no one else to be responsible for, no problem. Well, almost.

Oh, there was a little stress. My first leg departed from Dayton and landed in Chicago, and I had only 20 minutes to catch my connecting flight. As luck would have it, my next leg was leaving from another terminal and I had to sprint through O’Hare like O. J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial. I made it just as the United Airlines attendant was announcing the final boarding call. Whew!

So I strolled onto the plane, stowed my overnight bag, and settled in my assigned seat. If all went according to plan, I would land in Phoenix, grab a quick lunch at the airport, and take a cab to my first appointment with a half an hour to spare. As the plane charged up its engines, I pulled out the in-flight magazine and started one of the crossword puzzles. The engines revved. And revved. And revved. After 20 minutes of revving-but-sitting-motionless, a toddler behind me grew impatient and started wailing. “Folks,” the captain finally announced, “you’ve probably noticed we haven’t left yet [he emitted an uncomfortable and forced chuckle]…turns out, we’re having some sort of an issue with our hydraulic system. The maintenance folks haven’t figured it out yet, so they’ve sent for an expert from downtown Chicago. After he arrives and takes a look, I’m confident we’ll be up-and-running in no time. I’ll do my best to keep you informed every step of the way. Thanks for your patience, lean back, relax, and we’ll be on our way in no time, I’m sure!”

Relax? RELAX?! I called my contact in Phoenix to tell her of my dilemma and ask her forbearance. “No problem, Tim! Just get here when you can and we’ll rearrange things if we need to. We’ll track your flight from here so we know when to expect you. No worries!” Whew, again. As it turned out, the maintenance expert arrived in short order, fixed whatever needed to be fixed, and our wheels were up within an hour of our original departure time. I landed safely in Phoenix, found a cab within a minute or so, and arrived at my first appointment with about 30 seconds to spare.

Yesterday, I returned to Arizona with the kids and Krista. We decided to bring the amigos over Christmas break to the Sonoran desert area and show them some of Krista’s favorite haunts from the time she spent here as an Air Force captain/optometrist while stationed at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The travel experience was significantly different, to say the least.

First, we had to plan the clothing and other needs for five people for a nine-day stay. This meant thinking through all sorts of possibilities and permutations—what’s the weather forecast? How many pair of shorts? How many sweatshirts for the cool evenings? Two pair of shoes? Flip flops for the pool? Don’t forget the swimming trunks! What about electronic devices and books? Where will we keep those so they’re accessible on the plane? We’re flying Southwest Airlines—what happens if/when we all get separated (horrors!!) since we don’t have assigned seats? How many tennis rackets? Should we pack them separately in a tennis bag or stuff them in our suitcases? What about leaving space for any Christmas presents we acquire while we’re there? Do we need birth certificates for the kids to prove they’re under 18 and therefore don’t require picture ID’s for the TSA folks? Don’t forget all the necessary rechargers—for our cell phones, the laptop, the Nintendo DS’s, the (infamous?) Ipod Touch! Should we implant microchips on the kids so we’ll be able to track them in the event they get lost or accidentally board a plane for Katmandu? On and on went the assessments and packing and hypotheticals. It reminded me a little of the process NASA engineers went through as they attempted to land a man on the moon.

We awoke at 4 a.m. Saturday, rushed to shower and finish last-minute preparations, and climbed in the van for the drive to the Indianapolis airport. Tick, tock. We arrived, hauling four large suitcases, a toiletries bag, a laptop, and a tote for the kids’ electronic devices. Half asleep, yet keenly aware the hands of the clock were moving inexorably toward the appointed time of boarding and take-off, we took our place in an enormous queue to check our luggage. Thankfully, the line moved steadily and we finished our task within 25 minutes or so. Tick, tock. We proceeded to the security checkpoint. Tick, tock. Krista’s and my nerves were beginning to fray. The pressure of traveling with three high-maintenance amigos was mounting. We barked a couple of times for reasons I can’t even remember. We caught some luck with the TSA—the young man checking our boarding passes and faces clearly detected our growing exasperation and worry and quickly motioned us on. His colleagues even allowed us to move through the screening system without removing our shoes or the laptop from its case. We sped through the terminal to our gate, wolfed down some overpriced Starbucks’ breakfast items, and eventually ambled down the jetway to the plane. We were going to make it!

As we waited on the airbridge to board the plane, Krista exhaled deeply. “Oh, man,” she exclaimed. “I am a different person when we’re traveling! All that tension and anxiety!”

“Yeah,” I replied. “We kinda noticed.”

“Umm, mom,” Abby interjected, “you’re actually not all that different.”

We laughed, exhaled again, and found our seats, all of them singles and all of them separated from each other.

By Timothy Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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