Up, Up and Away

Tuesday, August 21. 9:22 PM EST

Pecan Delight or Ruffles?

After completing what was advertised as a “turkey sandwich”, I contemplate the remainder of my in-flight snack. The Ruffles contain a modest 3% of my federally mandated sodium for the day. However the Pecan Delight mingles chocolate with the subtle flavors of partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and lecithin.

Chocolate or potato? Lecithin or sodium?

I choose the Pecan Delight, and reflect on my day as I struggle to unwrap the vacuum-sealed nugget of goodness.

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m on an airplane. Twenty-seven minutes from Atlanta as the crow flies (assuming the crow catches a tailwind while wearing a jetpack). My day started at 4:00 AM, when I removed the cat from my head and stumbled over to the alarm clock. I was out the door by 5:30 AM, driving to the airport in the dark of a cool Loganville morning.

I manage to avoid the morning commute by leaving the house before most Atlantans have the chance to plug-in their Mr. Coffee. I have an appointment with a 7:15 AM flight to Houston, with continuing service to Austin. Yet another day in the life of a somewhat presentable nerd.

White polo shirt, tan slacks, black belt, black Rockports, black portfolio, gray laptop.

As I board the plane, I use my last few minutes of cell phone privileges to call my travel companion. Bill is my anti-geek, the David Hasselhoff to my KITT. He is also going to Austin. However, he is on a different plane. Apparently my company chose to book travel using we-hate-you-so-very-much.com, which put Bill on a different airline going through Dallas. He did beat me to Houston by about 10 minutes.

Once at George Herbert Hoover Walker Jefferson Bush International House of Airplanes, we discover that our travel service booked us three rental cars (between two people going to the same meeting). We take the largest of the three, a Ford minivan, and start our trek to the meeting.

The local time is now 11:00 AM.

We arrive at the office just in time for lunch. I am wearing a polo shirt and nice slacks. My partner is wearing a polo shirt and a nice pair of jeans. The customers are wearing shorts. Bill forgot to tell me about the lack of dress code. We begin the introductions.

“Hello,” I say, “I’m overdressed. Nice to meet you.”

After one hour of pulled pork and 150 minutes of Power Point, Bill and I head back to the airport. The meeting was routine, but the customers were nice (two overworked engineers who hadn’t seen the bright, shining daystar in a long time). Bill and I make it to the terminal at 4:30 PM, a mere three and a half hours before our flights are scheduled to leave.

I’m not fond of airports, but I have found a problem with getting to them too late. If we assume the meeting will end on time and we can navigate rush hour traffic to make an earlier flight, Murphy’s Law tends to kick in. That leaves us missing our scheduled flight due to a car accident or some such automotive atrocity. So the usual choice is to pad the flight schedule by a few hours, then hope an earlier flight is available.

Bill has to meet another customer in Phoenix tonight, so I’m going home alone. I check in at the counter, and ask about moving to an earlier flight.

“Yes sir,” the attendant says with a smile, “I can get you on the 5:05 to Houston. It’s boarding right now.”

I zip through the security checkpoint and rush to the gate. Unfortunately, nobody else at the gate is in a hurry � the plane hasn’t arrived yet. I stand at the gate, performing complex calculations to determine my odds of making my connection in Houston. Here’s how it goes �

My flight is supposed to leave Austin at 5:05 PM, arriving in Houston at 6:10 PM. My connection to Atlanta leaves Houston at 6:45 PM. So that’s 35 minutes, assuming the flight arrives on time. Boarding starts 30 minutes before departure, and the door closes five minutes before the posted time (again, assuming no delays). I don’t have to change airlines, so I stay in the same terminal.

At any other airport, this is a good scenario. Flying Continental into Houston affects this plan. It introduces the dreaded Terminal C.

Terminal C is the size of the average mid-sized airport. But half of the gates in Terminal C are on one side of the building, and the other half are on the other. In the middle are various shops, restaurants, check-in gates, security checkpoints and coffee houses. The Continental mindset is that everything flying east goes on one side, and everything flying west goes on the other side.

So I have to cross the entire length of the George Herbert Hoover Walker Jefferson Bush International House of Airplanes to make my connection in thirty-five minutes using a flight that hasn’t arrived yet.

Right.

The flight to Austin finally arrives. Knowing everybody on this flight probably has a connection to make, the ground crew pulls a rapid turnaround of the aircraft. The boarding call sounds more like an auctioneer.

“WELCOME TO CONTINENTAL FLIGHT 1660 WITH NON-STOP SERVICE TO HOUSTON PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO MORE THAN TWO CARRY ON ITEMS THAT FIT WITHIN THE FAA GUIDELINES WE WOULD LIKE TO BOARD ALL PASSENGERS THAT ARE TRAVELING WITH SMALL CHILDREN OR REQUIRE EXTRA ASSISTANCE BOARDING THE AIRCRAFT NOW WE ARE BOARDING ONEPASS MEMBERS ONLY NOW BOARDING FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS ROWS ONE THROUGH TEN ONLY NOW BOARDING ROWS TWENTY-NINE THROUGH THIRTY-TWO ROWS TWENTY-FIVE THROUGH THIRTY-TWO NO SHOVING THERE IS ROOM FOR EVERYBODY ROWS TWENTY THROUGH THIRTY-TWO HEY THIS ISN’T A WHO CONCERT WAIT TILL YOUR TURN IS CALLED”

As I board the plane, I make a shocking discovery. I am in seat 32F of a MD-80. Seat 32F is a window seat. Seat 32F is in the last row of the aircraft. I might as well ride in the rest room. I have to make a connection in Lance Armstrong record time, and I’m the farthest person from the door.

“No problem,” I think, “the plane will only be leaving a few minutes late. I should have twenty minutes when I get to the airport.”

Of course, we didn’t get off the ground on time. Of course, we couldn’t land without circling Houston like a buzzard circling an extra in a spaghetti western. Of course, our gate wasn’t ready when we got on the ground. Of course, I exited the aircraft behind a woman who insisted on hitting every armrest with her rolling luggage.

I walk into the terminal at 6:40 PM. I ask the customer service guy where my flight is.

“Gate C-16, sir. You probably won’t make it.”

Wow, that was encouraging. Thanks for the pep talk, Coach.

It’s nearly impossible to run through the Houston airport. It’s not a true linear design. There’s four or five forty-foot wide intersections of cart-wielding people, trying to dash to their gate while talking on a cell phone and reading a flight schedule. The vast atrium of shops has a marble tile surface, which is not conducive to track & field activity. So I “walked with purpose” to the opposite pole of the airport.

Gate C-16 was soon with in my sights. As I approached the door, a man started to close it. The displacement of air as I rushed to the gate stunned the attendant, and I slid past him as he braced against the wind.

I was the last person to board Continental Flight 1576 to Atlanta. Which is why I am savoring the last partially hydrogenated bits of Pecan Delight, as a large silver bird gracefully makes contact with asphalt.

Shit, I have to do this again on Sunday.

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