Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Musings from an airplane.

The funny thing about traveling is that, if you travel to the same place often enough, it feels more like an extension of your local neighborhood than it does a far away land. I’m on the plane now for my 5th trip to California this year already. At this point being in Silicon Valley seems more familiar than being in some parts of Indianapolis. It’s like I head out of the neighborhood and commute into work, which just happens to be 2000 miles away. Go figure.

The worst part of the routine to make the trip is trying to sleep the night before. Despite setting two different alarms, I always have complete pessimism that they’re actually going to go off and wake me up. That’s never happened, but I can’t seem to get my stupid brain to realize everything will be just fine, even if I did happen to wake up late and miss my flight.

So, I hit the sack around 10:30pm, with the alarm set for 4:30am. I wake up like clockwork at 12:30am, 1:30am. 2:30am, 3:30am, and 4:00am. Nothing like a restful nights sleep before making a trip.

At 4:30am the alarm goes off (as I knew it would), I shut it off, disable the second alarm, and head into the bathroom. I get ready, pack up my computer, give my luggage a once over in the hopes of not forgetting anything, and head out the door just before 5:00am. About a minute later I come back in the house to retrieve my sunglasses, which I inevitably left on the counter, then head back to the car.

Luckily I was able to print my boarding pass at home this morning, because last night the website was giving me an error, and despite two calls to Frontier, they couldn’t get it working. This is good because needing to stop at the ticket counter would throw a wrench into my otherwise well planned morning itinerary. There are a number of good things about Frontier. The quality of their website and their online check in system are not among then. They are probably the worst in the industry when it comes to online functionality, despite the fact that you’re forced to use the website if you don’t want to pay extra service fees. But I digress…

I head to the airport, drive to the business parking lot, go in the back entrance, and park across from shelter 4 which always has an open parking spot nearby. It’s also the shelter nearest the exit, which is nice for the return trip. A few minutes later the shuttle arrives, the usual guy with the unpronounceable African name picks me up, I say “Good Morning. Frontier, please,” and away we go. I think his name starts with “Aieedi.” I’m not sure what to do with that.

Off to the terminal, head inside, check the time, which of course is 5:31am, as always, and then over toward the C terminal. Just before the terminal, I head into the bookstore, pick up a copy of the Economist for the plane, and since it’s flu season, a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer.

As I walk up to the FlyClear security line, I’m greeted, as usual, by Jonathan Hargrath who works for Clear. “Welcome back, Mr. Ready,” he says as I approach. He hasn’t even seen my boarding pass yet. Of course, I know that Jonathan is a fellow Ron Paul supporter, and so we strike up a conversation about the latest Ron Paul happenings while he looks over my boarding pass, and I’m subjected to the government’s tracking of my location via smartcard and fingerprint just so I can get through the security line faster.

“Did you see that ABC reported he barely won his congressional bid?” he asks.

“Nope. Didn’t Ron Paul win like 70% to 30%?”

“Yeah. Stupid ABC. Nice report, huh?”

I have not seen the report but I assure him I’ll check it out when I can, although given the state of reporting on Ron Paul, I wouldn’t be surprised if some media outlet did report a 70-30 win as “razor thin.”

Anyway, through security I sail, breezing past the long line by means of selling out my own privacy, and next it’s off to the FoxSports restaurant-ish thing next to the Frontier gate.

“Good morning. The usual?” asks the guy behind the counter. “That was with sausage, right?”

Okay, so it’s one thing for the FlyClear guy to recognize me, since we always talk about Ron Paul. It’s probably another level that I know the first *and* last name of that same guy. But being greeted twice within 5 minutes as though this was my neighborhood hangout? Seems a bit much.

I sit down at my usual seat where I can keep an eye on the Frontier gate. I do this just in case my usual schedule has gone wildly awry and I need to cut short my breakfast in order to board, but that’s only happened once.

They call my number, and I grab my “Eggs Classic” with sausage and a medium Coke. For some reason, when I get up early in the morning a Coke always sounds better than coffee. It’s probably for the best because, if I’m going to have a Coke, I’d rather have the fountain Coke here, than get the crappy Coke-from-a-can on the airplane. Yuck. And the coffee on Frontier is marginally not-so-bad so it all works out.

Anyway, I sit back down with my breakfast and check the clock that hangs from the ceiling in the terminal. 5:54am. Hmm, I am running a little later than usual, it’s normally 5:51am at this point. I briefly ponder why all of my time-checks seem to end in “1” and then pull out my cell phone to confirm the time.


Ah yes, I forgot that the clock in Indianapolis airport is always running a bit fast. Better that than a bit slow I suppose.

I finish eating at (as you might have guessed) 6:01am. I toss my trash, and walk across to the restroom even though I don’t feel like I need to go. On the way out the door I notice the vending machine that has various medicinal products in it for headache, cold symptoms, and motion sickness. And gum. Who buys gum from a vending machine in the bathroom? It’s a question I ask myself every time I see that thing on my way out the door.

The plane is to start boarding at 6:10am, so I’ve got just a couple minutes to wait. I open up my phone and download my mail, just in case something besides spam has arrived between the hours of 4:30am and 6:00am.

Nope. Just spam.

I have a seat on the floor in front of the payphones. I realize that most people gave up sitting on the floor sometime in the third or fourth grade, but not me. One look at the crowded sea of people all slouching in the ugly grey seats is enough to drive me away. Sometimes I sit in the arcade that’s across from the Frontier gate because it has a couple of chairs in it, and it allows me to admire the video game selection circa 1988, but somebody else has already grabbed those spots. So, the floor is good enough for me, and I have my hand sanitizer to clean myself up with when I stand back up.

“We’d like to welcome you to Frontier, flight 615, with service to Denver.”

Why do they say “with service to Denver” as though they were (1) doing something *besides* taking me to Denver, and (2) acting like ending up in Denver was some kind of secondary offering? “We’d like to welcome you to Frontier, where you are invited to sit in seats that are too small, watch a limited television selection on a 4 inch screen, and enjoy ‘complimentary’ Coke-from-a-can for the next 3 hours. As a special bonus today, we’re going to take you to Denver!”

With that thought running through my head I glance down at my cell phone to see if we’re boarding on time.



“At this time we invite anyone needing extra assistance down the jetway and families traveling with small children under the age of three to board. Also, our Ascent and Summit members are invited to board at their leisure.”

This also strikes me as an odd phrase: “at your leisure.” What a strange way to say, “whenever you feel like it.” I know it’s a commonly used phrase, but has anyone ever really though about it? “Leisure” implies that I’m relaxing or otherwise enjoying myself. Should I board the plane when I think it sounds like fun? Or when I’m feeling good and relaxed? Does boarding the plane “at my free time” make even a lick of sense?

See, this is what happens when you get up at 4:30 in the morning.

In any event, I guess I was feeling leisurely since I got up and get in line to board the plane. Even though I’ve seen it 1,000 times, I’m still bewildered that there are always 3 or 4 people (or more) that try to board the plane before it’s their turn. Here’s the conversation between the gate agent and the two people in front of me:

“Are you boarding row 12?”

“No sir, this is the courtesy preboard.”

And then the very next person in line,

“Are you boarding row 9?”

“No sir, this is the courtesy preboard.”

We're 45 seconds into the trip, and already 30% of the passengers aren't paying a bit of attention.

“Good morning, Mr. Ready. Welcome back to Frontier,” the agent says as I’m shaking my head at the two guys who tried to board in front of me. That makes three personal greetings this morning, two from people who knew my name before they could read it off the boarding pass. I’ve truly reached celebrity status. LOL.

Much to my surprise (and admittedly, a bit to my delight), this was a different flight crew than I normally have. At least I can take solace in the fact that I’ve not yet memorized every Frontier crew that works the Indy to Denver leg.

The plane is only about half full, and before we start taxiing, I grab my stuff and switch to a row that has no one in it. Sitting in coach with no one in the immediate seat next to you is acceptable, but getting a whole row to yourself is practically first class, and on Frontier, which has no actual first class, this is as good as it’s going to get.

I start flipping through the Economist as the flight attendants go through their little game of charades where they pantomime the use of the modern invention known as the “seat belt” and then point up and down the aisle as though, in the event of an emergency, I was going to turn to my right and bang my head against the little plastic window instead of walking up or down the, you know, only place on the plane where you can actually walk. On the other hand, I did get up at 4:30 in the morning, so who knows.

“Federal regulations require that all passengers comply with crewmember instructions and posted placards…”

Placards? When was the last time that word was actually used in the common vernacular? 1882? 1765? Whenever it was, I’m quite sure it was before the invention of the airplane, much less the federal rules regulating how we are allowed to ride in them. Who came up with that goofy phraseology?

“Bill, the passengers are really bored on these trips. Our focus groups suggest we need to spice up the safety demonstration. Hire some marketing consultants and see what you can come up with.”

A dozen brainstorming sessions later we get Marcel Marceau impersonations and “placards” as a way to say, “This is how a seat belt works. Please read the signs.”

Thanks, Bill.

At any rate, we’re over Kansas at this point and the turbulence has begun. I may know how to fly a plane myself, but that doesn’t make getting tossed about at 38,000 feet while traveling 500 miles an hour any less bothersome. Hopefully everything is on time in Denver, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be slightly delayed because my connection is one of the first of the day for that aircraft, and the plane will need to be deiced before we go.

Apparently the fact that you would need to defrost a plane that has been sitting overnight in Denver, in the winter, is quite surprising to the airline. It never seems to be factored into the scheduled time. I’m supposed to get into San Jose at 10:10am local, but maybe I’ll get in at, dare I say, 10:31am? We’ll see.

Who knew you could turn an otherwise completely repetitive morning into a 2100 word blog post?

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