Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nickeled, Dimed, Dollared, and Tried

We are leaving for Delaware this morning to attend my grandmother.s funeral on Monday. This post will chronicle getting from Dallas to Lewes, Delaware.

Obviously since this trip is because of a funeral, it was not planned in advance. I made our reservations last Monday using Expedia. I know that the airlines used to have what the called bereavement fares; the one time I inquired about flying under such conditions, the fare was actually higher than the regular ticketing. In this day and age when the airlines are charging extra for everything, I didn't. expect any special discounts or considerations. I had no problems booking through Expedia on this short notice and getting what seemed to be a reasonable fare.

The reasonable fare was only sort of true. When I tried to get our seat assignments, the diagram of available seats on our flights only showed middle seats as being available. I quickly surmised that all those news stories from a few months ago about it costing more for families to sit together are true. We were given the option of "upgrading" to a "choice" seat. This translates to choice seats are a window or aisle seat. We were willing to keep one of our middle seats and pay the additional cost for one of us to move into a choice seat the same row as the other. No such luck. Not available.

After considering our options, we both moved to the window and aisle seats in the same row. At the time we did this (midnight last night) the middle seat was vacant. Our logic was that perhaps we would have the entire row to ourselves. How many people really want to go to Charlotte, NC on Saturday morning? As it turns out, a lot!

While we were changing our seat assignments, we were also given the opportunity to upgrade our passenger status to "preferred.". Being a preferred passenger means that you get to board the plane first, which really means if your seat is in the back of the plane you can get on first and put your over-sized carry-on bag in the overhead bins in the front of the plane so that you don't have to drag it all the way back to row 32. Thus, leaving no overhead bin space for those of us actually seated in the front of the plane. The truth is that the $35 that one pays to be labeled as a preferred customer is not really about boarding first, it's about buying yourself a premium location for your carry-on stuff. Oh, and you get to board through a special line. It consists of approximately a three foot special section that then merges with the rest of us cheap lowly schmucks.

My carry-on bag will be securely placed under the seat in front of me. Should the plane go down, I can be easily identified as the passenger whose legs are entangled in a Nikon camera bag.

The first thing we did this morning before leaving home was check our departure gate. We found that information and then some. Our flight was delayed by nearly an hour. The airline itself, I'm sure out of kindness and consideration of our much needed sleep, did not notify us of this. This departure delay left us with a seven minute connection in Charlotte for our continuing flight to Salisbury. Having checked in at home last night and already having boarding passes, we figured we would deal with this issue at the airport when we checked our bags.

We arrived at that airport to discover that in addition to our flight being delayed, this morning's earlier flight to Charlotte had been cancelled and all of those passengers were trying to be rebooked on later flights. Needless to say, the USAir ticketing counter was packed with frustrated travelers and frazzled gate agents - never a good mix.

Having checked in at home, we had already given the airlines the extra $25 for our checked bag - because we knew that the guy sitting in row 32 would have put his bag in the overhead space and there would be no place for our bag. As it turns out, if you board the plane with your bag and it won't fit then the flight attendants will gate check it for you - for free. Something to consider, but not this time. We did things the proper way. Unfortunately, this worked to our disadvantage once we were at the airport.

The only way to check-in is via self-check at an airport kiosk. Once you have done this, you are in the queue for an agent to call your name and tag your checked bag. Because we had already checked in at home, we never made it into that queue. We stood in line while the line diminished both in front of us and behind us. Finally an agent took pity on us. He checked our bag and fixed the problem with our seven minute connection. He swapped this impossible connection for a five hour layover. What a nice guy!

Despite all of the horror stories about airport security checkpoints, we had no problems or issues with this part of our journey. Weber did comment, however, that just having passed the birthday milestone that affords him the senior discount at IHOP, he is looking forward to the airline's important age, 75, because you are no longer required to remove your shoes and jacket when going through security. This is probably because the TSA agents don't want to have to dress and undress senior citizens. Why would they when they can spend their time body scanning all the cute young things?

I did find it rather amusing that while I was standing on the secure side of the checkpoint putting my shoes and belt back on, two of the TSA agents were having a discussion about what kinds of guns they owned and whether they should trade them in for more powerful ones. I wonder what would have happened if Weber and I had been having this same discussion as we were passing through security? FYI If anyone ever hears the two of us having such a conversation, please call 911 immediately. Doing so would be in the best interest of all of us.

We made it to our gate with nearly two hours before boarding, enough time for a slowly consumed fast food breakfast. We were not picky about what to eat, but what to drink is non-negotiable. Coke not Pepsi. Noticing Pepsi signs at all the shops in close proximity to our gate, Weber asked an airport employee if anyone had Coke. "Burger King at gate E6. I'm with you; I don't like that (Pepsi) stuff." We were at gate E35. The good news is that this turned out to be a calorie-free breakfast by the time Weber walked the entire length of DFW's terminal E, twice!

We finally boarded the plane. The gentleman who had been assigned the middle seat between us gladly swapped with us for the window.

Like good air passengers, we dutifully listened to the flight attendant give her safety speech. She mentioned the responsibilities of those passengers seated in the Exit rows. I found this rather humorous since these people had to pay a $46 "choice seat" fee for the privilege of being responsible for all of us in case of an emergency. I guess you are paying for the security of knowing you'll be the first one down the slide. Think this through guys; you'll be at the bottom of the pile when the rest of us follow you down the slide.

The flight attendant continued with the reminder that our seat cushions may be used as flotation devices and that there are life vests between our seats. I half expected her instructions to conclude with, "Please swipe your credit card to disengage these devices."

After reading the card illustrating the safety features of our aircraft that is located in the seat pocket in front of us, we read the in-flight menu. It was located between the USAirways magazine and the barf bag. The food choices were a little overpriced, but not ridiculously so. I found the most interesting selection to be the last item on the menu.

In the bottom right hand corner is the "The US Airways Power-Nap Sack.". It contains a fleece blanket, an inflatable neck pillow (presumably not intended as a flotation device), eyeshades, 3M earplugs, and a $10 gift certificate good on your next SkyMall purchase. I guess this is for those who are prone to sleep shopping. All of this can be yours for only $7, which is cheaper than any of the menu's meal options.

Nuts, almonds not peanuts, are only $4. It is sad that the generations that come after me will never know the era of free nuts and pretzels during air travel. I even remember when you got playing cards and pilot's wings. Sigh! A piece of nostalgia is lost. Drinks are still free though; and they have Coke!

After we had reached our cruising altitude, the flight attendants announced that they would begin food and beverage service in the cabin. They concluded with a reminder that "for safety reasons all passengers should use only the lavatories in their respective cabins.". What this means is that the twelve people, literally twelve people, in first class were to use the forward lavatory and the other 138 of us would share the two in the rear of the plane. How's that for potty parody? In my opinion It is not worth the added cost to fly first class just for bigger seats and unlimited drinks, but private restrooms, whose use doesn't require super powers to maneuver around the drink cart in the aisle to get there, will definitely cause me to think about forking over those extra bucks next time.

It is about time to stow all electronic devices in preparation for landing. More later . . .

We arrived in Charlotte on Concourse B. there was a flight board visible as we exited our arriving gate. It said that the flight to Salisbury that we were on originally was delayed until 3:10. It was 2:30. That flight was leaving from Concourse E. If we walked quickly maybe we could make that flight. Off we went. Thanks to moving walkways and escalators, it didn't take us long at all to traverse almost the entire airport - to discover that there were indeed seats on the plane but because we had a checked bag we could not have them. This checked bag is becoming quite the burden.

So, we had a plate of Carolina pit BBQ, a fried pickle, and a diet coke. We are now waiting for someone to vacate a couple of the lovely rocking chairs that are scattered amidst the terminal. As I just admitted in a text message to Erin, I sort of like hanging out in airports. And because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, she admitted that she does too.

The BBQ place gives free refills on drinks! The BBQ is pretty good too. Now we only have four hours left to spend in the airport

What I learned during my five hour layover in the Charlotte airport:
Pork BBQ is pretty good.
A lot of people travel to, from and through the Charlotte airport.
How to upload pictures from my Nikon camera to my iPad.
That it is problematic to upload pictures from my iPad to Blogger.
That this can be done with a little technical support from my husband.
Having a personal Wi-fi hot spot is a pretty nice indulgence.
I like rocking chairs.
I should have brought a jacket.
Resistance is futile after three hours of smelling Cinnabon.
Customer service representatives say the dumbest things.

Weber called the car rental company to confirm that we would not have any problems because of our delays. The woman's initial comment was, "We close at 5. Can 't you get here any sooner?". If we didn't have the super powers necessary to maneuver over the drink cart on our first flight, I'm thinking we don't have the ones that will get us to Salisbury by 5:00 pm either. It remains to be seen whether or not we will actually have a mode of ground transportation once we arrive.

The journey continues . . . .

At 8:15 we finally left Charlotte for Salisbury, nearly six hours later than our original flight was scheduled and thirty minutes late for this flight.

We arrived in Salisbury at nearly 10 pm and our question about a car rental was answered immediately. The Avis counter is pitch dark, despite someone assuring us that we would be accommodated. Needless to say, Weber is less than happy and more than mad. I think he has talked to everyone at Avis who is on duty at this time of night.

A very nice cabbie gave us the low down on local hotels. For a very reasonable $10 he delivered us to a nice, but overpriced because it is Saturday night in the middle of summer near the beach, motel.

The car rental counters at the airport don't open until 10:30 tomorrow morning. So, we are ordering Chinese take-out and will then get a good night's sleep. In the morning we'll enjoy a "complimentary" breakfast, and try again to rent a car and finally get to Lewes.

The fun never ends.