Disclaimer: Eagle is not the town name. It does have eagles though.
Day One: Monday
For the trip to Eagle, the plan was to make sure blizzard season was over in the Midwest, then travel in May via Dallas Fort Worth Airport with Alaska Airlines, my favorite carrier, to a smaller airport where Host Family very kindly offered to drive out 40 miles and pick me up and drive back to Eagle. It’s a 13 hour trip from door to door.
But say, Alaska doesn’t have connecting flights going on to my smaller destination airport. Instead, from Alaska it’s American Airlines contracting with a local carrier operating an even smaller local carrier. But that sub- sub-airline’s website schedule didn’t mesh at all with the incoming flight schedule at the destination airport. Hm. I wasn’t keen on flying with any other airline, especially after two years of pandemic-era disruptive fracas among passengers. So I kept plying the Alaska Airline layover options (Chicago? Denver?) with a transfer to sub- sub-local carrier. But the connections between airlines did not match up. May flight seats were pretty much gone. The only options left reached the smaller destination airport after 11:00 pm. (That meant Host Family driving 40 miles late at night on a one-lane highway. This for a family who needs to get up at 5:00 for everyone to commute to work.) And what if the 11:00 pm flight got in late? What’s more, available return flights had a 4:00 am check in time, meaning Host Family waking up by 2:00 am to leave with me by 3:00 and still be crunched for time driving 40 miles back again and then another 35 miles the other way to get to work.
After a day of fussing with websites I finally tried flights farther out — later in May, then June, then July into August. Connections and availability, still no soap. Amtrak and Greyhound don’t operate in that part of the state at all. Then a quick weather check determined that as of late March there were already170 wildfires burning in central Texas, and Dallas was just barely outside the red flag hazard area.
Was this whole trip just a bad idea? I went to bed feeling discouraged. Then at dawn, some flash of insight shook me awake: Travel NOW. Let go of Alaska Airlines. Fly the one airline system straight through. I jumped up and logged in. Lo! Flights right now were cheaper. American Airlines had convenient connections via Dallas, with plenty of seats. I nailed my trip in no time, to depart in a few days.
My confirmation email showed the boarding pass. But say, the boarding pass showed only the first leg to Dallas, not the connection on toward Eagle. Uh-oh. That meant a call to American Airlines customer service. That could take hours on hold, maybe with mediocre cluttery recorded music, then bothering some exhausted harried representative. But… surprise, a calm young man answered immediately. He walked me through the process for correctly viewing the entire boarding pass, which did indeed show both segments of the trip. For good measure, he emailed me a new confirmation and boarding passes — then assured me that he would wait until I could open the new email and view the whole trip. He waited patiently until I not only downloaded my passes to my desktop but could call them up with their QR codes on my cell phone (the modern boarding option that seems to be all the rage). He stayed on the line to make sure that I was comfortable viewing the whole pass both as a printable pdf, and on my phone. He was methodical, precise, clear, and completely reassuring and gracious. As always after a good customer service experience, I asked to speak with his supervisor to pass on my compliments. The supervisor was pleased. Happy ending.
Next, write and mail letters. One was to Host Family with my itinerary and emergency contact information in case of Whatever. Then a letter to my dear emergency contact, with another itinerary and Host Family’s complete contact information.
Then off to the post office for two medium-sized Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes. I packed both with items to send on ahead, then typed up a list of the contents. For the peace of mind of guards at TSA, I mailed off my favorite paring knife. Since the nearest Trader Joe is 120 miles from Eagle, each box held some 72% chocolate chips and some nuts. A change of underclothes and cloth masks and head scarf goes in each box, with safety razor and band-aids. Between the two there were rain shoes, fluorescent vest for any strolling after sunset, sunhat, and a little souvenir or two for Host Family. Each box mails for $16 or so. That’s still cheaper than a checked bag, and a lot easier than hauling stuff around an airport. I mailed the boxes and kept the tracking numbers.
My trusty green travel binder holds documents in clear acetate page protectors. The binder includes a three-page travel template checklist useful for any trip. Before going anywhere, I can customize the template for a new destination (or the same destination, next time around) and print it out for the binder. Here is a sample of the printouts in the binder.
flight travel insurance
plan of online check-in times 24 hrs before each flight
all airport and airline phone numbers
Host Family contact info
priority mail box packing lists
Covid vaccine record
identity safety numbers (who to call for lost passport, credit card, etc.)
Medical directives (orders concerning emergency treatment options)
Packing lists for knapsack and waistpack.
This trip is more excitement than I’m built for, so it’s important to work through all of my checklists, including the final quiet walk-through at home with the list of things to review before heading out the door:
confirm flight status
check weather for 3 cities
pack cell phone AND charger
check the stove
check apartment door lock
After the apartment door lockup, the keys go right in a clear plastic bag for easy viewing by the guards at TSA, along with nail clipper and spoon (= metals), toothpicks for my perio-aid (= sharps) and eye drop vials (= liquids). TSA worries about food too, so the lettuce and apple and bananas and bread (sesame loaf, brand name Ezekiel 4:9) go in a clear plastic bag on their own.
That goes in the overhead bin right in my knapsack (tied with gaudy Easter bunting, so no businessman grabs it on the way off the plane). The carry-on item is the control journal with my large-print Bible. Next trip, I’ll tie them together with an elastic cord, and slip it all in a clear plastic bag. That’s because on the flight home, the Bible flew out of the binder and whalloped the ankles of the handsome well-dressed man in front of me. When he leaned down and then realized what lay in his hands, my shoulder tap and soft apology did nothing for his look of appalled dismay.
I used to catch early bird 8:00 flights. That meant check-in at 5:00 am, meaning limousine for 3:30 but they show up whenever from 2:00 on, meaning being up & at ’em by 1:00 and trying to think straight through a three-page checklist, meaning 8:00 bedtime and waking up every 15 minutes anxious to not miss the alarm. Now I book flights at night, in this case at 1:00 am. That means leaving work, a shower and a bite of supper and a little rest at home, heading out at 8:00 for the bus and train to the airport, security check-in by 10:00, then a quiet terminal and a restful flight in soft lighting where most folks and their kiddos are asleep, then arrival bright and early in the morning for the new adventure.
Tonight the TSA checkpoint lines are a couple of blocks long. Who knew that 1:00 am flights were so popular? The guards very pleasantly request permission to have a lady colleague pat my head. That’s because my laced hand-sewn cap from the Muslim women’s art collective shop has nice reinforced seams. I offer to remove the cap for their inspection, but the TSA protocol is that everybody has to leave their clothes on and let the x-ray and pat-downs do the rest. “Is any part of your head sensitive?” asks the courteous lady guard. Then she very gently pats my head, and — all cleared and good to go. In a chair I put on my shoes, then check that every bit of everything (passport, boarding pass…) is safely back in its place.
Now to text an update to my contacts. Then check the departure schedule, head for the gate, and it’s three hours of quiet airport time to pace around and stretch. Toting the large-print Bible is a little cumbersome, and after the trip I’ll wipe down the cover with Clorox wipes. But this 13-hour journey comes with many small moments of waiting down time. Opening to the Gospels or Psalms for even a line or two is always helpful and calming.
Long around midnight people are all camped in at our gate. An extremely tiny infant is sleeping blissfully with his grandma and mom.
“That is one secure baby,” I tell them. “Sleeping away with announcements and people coming and going. Me, I’d start fussing.”
“If you do, we’ll just pick you up and pat your back,” Grandma offers.
Nearby, there is a young man 9 years old or so. His parents look exhausted. They are trying to rest their eyes while their son asks them lots of insightful questions.
“Well someone is certainly alert and energetic at this hour,” I mention in passing.
The parents open their eyes briefly and smile. So does the young man. He courteously asks me about my travel plan.
“The goal is to photograph a distant bison, a buffalo. One retreating the other way,” I tell him. “Through a window. Or sturdy fence.”
Soon the gate attendants announce boarding for active military members and for VIP and Gold and other special groups.
“You’re probably ahead of me,” I explain, stepping aside for the others. “Group 7 rides with the barnacles clinging to the wheel bay.”
Finally it’s time to board.
The flight attendant at the plane door invites our alert 9-year-old to go and take a peek at the cockpit. “Good evening,” he greets me.
“And a good morning too!” I wish him. “Dallas?”
“Michael,” he replies. “But I’m frequently mistaken for a large metropolitan area in Texas. Which is where we happen to be going. Dallas in particular.”
“Me too! And here is your wee thank you note in advance, to read later during your break.” I hand Michael an envelope with this note:
Dear Valiant Flight Crew, Greetings, I’ll be the older lady in the head scarf in seat 38-C. If for any reason a passenger wants a seat change, and you don’t know where to put them, you can ask me to move. You can seat me next to the crying baby, the emotional support peacock, the person who wants prayers, or whatever change makes people happier and makes your job any easier. I also speak Russian in case anyone needs help with that. Also slow Spanish and a wee bit of Farsi. Thank you so much for all you do to keep us safe. It is a complex and honorable mission, to keep this magnificent airplane flying along while also dealing with the American public and maneuvering a crowded aisle with a cart of tiny pretzels. God bless you, happy trails, Mary
I always pick the aisle seat way in back in front of the rest rooms.
Two very strong strapping young men pause in the aisle.
“Scuse us, Ma’am,” says one, all muscles with a tattoo or two, in a tank top. “We’re 38 A and B. This fella here likes the window.”
“Certainly.” I spring to my feet. “Let me guess: and you like the middle.”
“Not much,” says 38B beside me as the two take their seats.
“Then you’ll get the arm rest,” I assure him. “I’ll wait until you’re buckled up before reaching for my seat belt parts. Don’t want to be grabby.”
After the safety demonstration I turn to my very imposing seat mate in 38B. “I think you should put on your own oxygen mask first, before putting mine on me.”
The two of them blink and then laugh.
We are inching down the runway at a slow walking pace.
“Captain drives like that girl you were seeing. Amber?” says my seatmate to his companion. “19 miles an hour.”
Captain Mitch Siegelman gives a friendly warm welcome, and breaks the news that there will be significant turbulence en route.
“Jeez, it’s good he told us,” I observe. “Turbulence is pretty bad here on this gravel surface.”
“That’s not turbulence,” says 38B. “That’s the poor pavement quality all over the state.”
“Gonna crack this window open,” says our windowmate in 38A.
“Good thinking,” I tell him. “This is smoking section, right?”
“Hear about that guy got sucked right out of the plane?” says 38B.
“Happens,” says 38A. “Except — no, I mean… doesn’t happen to us.”
“Yeah, don’t talk scary,” says 38B. “There’s a little kid in front of us.”
“And a 65 year old next to you,” I point out.
Time for water, and complimentary tiny coffee flavored oval cookies.
“Mary?” Michael stops by my seat with the snack cart. “Mary, thank you so much for your note.”
“Thank you, Michael. I felt apprehensive about this trip. Based on the news, I expected the plane to be like the barroom brawl in the opening credits of ‘F Troop.’ But this has been great.”
Bedtime. Cabin lights are dimmed. The guys in 38A and 38B turn on a film and watch it with headphones on. It’s not polite to watch a film on somebody else’s flight tray. But this one is gripping, alternating idyllic scenery and warm lighting with affectionate family members bonding away when they’re not reacting with horror for some mysterious reason. The subtitles don’t show much dialogue; the actors use a lot of gestures and signs. The family take turn saving each other’s lives from increasingly creepy hazards. Then clearly the mom is pregnant. That is all I’ll say, but things don’t go well for her. There’s a poignant scene where the teenage girl comes across a contraption with wires and puts it over her head, pressing it closer, and dissolves into tears of despair. What?
We 38-ers alternate trips to the rest room.
“What’s your film?” I ask when the guys get back.
“‘A Quiet Place,’” he explains.
“Are some of the actors Deaf? Are all of them? Am I just really bad at figuring stuff out?”
“Only the teenage girl is Deaf. The others sign with her because aliens are listening for them to kill them. They’re like the only humans left in the world. That apparatus the girl put on is a homemade hearing aid. All through the film the dad has been trying to build one for her.”
It’s unusual to see a film nowadays about a family whose motivation is expressing love and keeping each other from getting killed and using survival skills while terrified. Still, I can’t exactly recommend this film. It doesn’t seem productive to spend two hours experiencing cortisol and elevated heart rate with a sad ending. Still, I point out, “The lighting in that movie is amazing. The moods of qualities of light are like… a character. Or a soundtrack.”
After our chat the two of them go to sleep.
Finally we’re at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. I stop and thank everyone, including the cleaning crew, and head into the terminal.
It’s a little scary to discover that the Departures board is way high up and hard to read. It is more scary to find that my connecting flight has vanished. Luckily for me, the information booths are staffed by speedy and courteous senior gentlemen watching for someone to help. Seeing my squinty neck craning, one of them comes right over and explains that this board shows only flights leaving in the next two hours.
“Your flight will appear soon. Meanwhile…” He takes my paper boarding pass, and rests it on a scanner. Beep! Like magic, all of my flight information and my confirmation number pops up on a huge board, showing the right gate. A minute later at a different station I try scanning my own pass. Beep! Now it shows that my exact same flight has been diverted to Charlotte, NC. Which is probably a grand place, but there’s no Host Family there. I flee to the nearest volunteer with my plight. He smiles and explains, “Charlotte was for the passenger who used the scanner last. Look: you gotta touch the Close button on the screen before scanning your own boarding pass.”
Time to change terminals. I consider just walking it. But here’s a Skylink shuttle departing, and a good thing, too; even with this very fast train, it takes quite a while to get there. Turns out this airport is 27 miles long. Now we’re downstairs in a quiet tucked away part of the airport waiting for the smaller airline.
A young man in a Navy uniform sits down to rest. Another young man pauses in passing. “Sir? Pardon me: thank you for your service.”
Passengers walk up to the ticket agents, and just start right in speaking Spanish. A bilingual airport. Cool. Flights are leaving for Guadalajara and Laredo and Tijuana and Texarkana.
Here’s the SUN! A dramatic tropical red ball in a hazy sky.
Life is what happens after you snap the picture, and sure enough: I just miss a wonderful dramatic moment, a white plane at liftoff shooting past the sun, sparkling with fire-colored sunflashes.
Now the next flight is boarding. Night is over. Trip day one is over. On to Eagle for our excellent adventure!