When Things Aren’t Rotten

Three flight segments on two airlines one day going from one side of the country to the other, and three more segments a few days later back across America, again on two airlines.  A total of six flights.  What are the chances of something going wrong?  Generally, 100%.  The chances of every flight being near perfect?  Practically zero.  Yet that miracle of six perfect flights happened to me last week.

These days it’s good to be prepared to suffer some sort of delay or problem if one’s itinerary is even a single flight (that is, if you are lucky enough to live where direct flight service is available).  We all go to the airport armed to the teeth with weapons to combat the inevitable: smartphones, iPads, and laptops to access critical travel data via the Internet; airline elite direct access telephone numbers to plead for mercy; airline private lounge cards to get face time with a real rez agent for their rebooking expertise and override authorization; hotel platinum cards and numbers to find an emergency bed when there just isn’t any way out of town that night.  You know the drill; we expect things to be rotten at the airport.  All those defensive strategies and more become second nature because things go wrong–often terribly wrong–so often.

But not to me last week.  Instead, I left Raleigh (RDU Airport) Wednesday morning for Chicago ORD on American Airlines, took another AA flight ORD to Austin (AUS), and then a third flight, this time on Alaska Airlines, AUS to Seattle, and every flight was perfect.  They all kept to schedule (within 10 minutes); the service was superb (OK, I was in First Class, but still…); and no mechanical or weather or air traffic incidents marred the journeys at all.  

Like I said: a miracle.  So when I had to fly back home on Sunday I cringed approaching Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport, grimly contemplating life’s ineluctable payback for my good luck the previous Wednesday:  I imagined the Yang of Sunday to Wednesday’s Yin.  Surely my flights would go haywire all day.  Especially considering my bizarre itinerary returning: Seattle to San Diego (on Alaska Airlines again), then two AA segments SAN/ORD and finally ORD/RDU.  

I would literally be flying all day.  My first flight departed at 7:35 AM, and I wasn’t due to arrive RDU until 10:30 PM.

Yet once again all three flights went off without a hitch of any kind.  Once again the service was excellent (OK, I was in First Class again, but still…).   Once again we flew in bluebird weather from north to south, and then from west to east, and with all three aircraft functioning as designed.  Once again I connected through ORD without suffering any air traffic snarl whatsoever.  Another miracle.

My first-ever flight was in 1960 on a Piedmont Airlines DC-3.  Even that inaugural flight was late leaving the gate because of a mechanical problem.  I didn’t care then; I was twelve and thrilled just to be aboard.  It proved, however, to be a precedent-setting flying experience for me.  In my subsequent 53 years and millions of miles in the air I recall very few perfect flights.  Yet last week’s six flights were airline advertisement-perfect. 

So why was I flying all over hell’s half acre to get to Seattle?  Because I used an AAdvantage award and found this weird itinerary in First Class for “saver” mileage and nothing in economy using “saver” mileage.  For an “anytime” award I would have been forced to spend the same 50,000 miles to fly in coach as in First Class on a “saver” award.  So I chose to be comfortable.  That’s why I ended up zig-zagging like a drunken sailor across the nation on three segments in each direction.

The food service was icing on the cake.  All three flights outbound to SEA provided full meals (two lunches on AA and a dinner on Alaska).  The beef stroganoff on Alaska was delicious, but all the food was good.  When has that ever happened?  Most flights, even in First Class, have no real meal service.  

Two of the three returning flights served meals in First.  American Airlines even found Champagne for me when I inquired.  On top of everything else going right, it was relaxing to get a bit tipsy and relish my luck.

Never having flown the same day on both AA and Alaska, I discovered that my home-printed AA boarding passes were readable by the Alaska Air gate machines going out, but coming home my Alaska boarding passes (which I printed in a Doubletree business center) were indecipherable by the AA gate readers and had to be manually entered by AA gate agents.  This didn’t cause any aggravation or delay; I just found it curious.

One minor inconvenience:  Alaska Airlines uses Terminal 1 at San Diego, necessitating a trek to Terminal 2 to reach my AA connection.  This forced me to leave and then re-enter security.  Nobody likes to go through the invasive TSA portal more than once per day.  Nonetheless, the weather was delightful in San Diego, which made for a pleasant walk, and I had ample time to connect.

Speaking of airport security, one goal on this trip was to appear for an in-person interview with Customs & Border Protection at Sea-Tac to complete the requirements to obtain a Global Entry card.  It was a quick process that entailed producing my passport and submitting to a bio-metric data scan of all 10 fingers plus a photograph.  The CBP professionals were sharp and good-humored, which made it a fun experience.  

My Global Entry background check was completed months ago. Once issued, the Global Entry card can make returning from overseas at many airports a lot faster, and it can also be used for the domestic PRE-Check program at airports that are set up for it.

Sadly, most trips by air don’t go off as smoothly as my six flights did.  While I was in Seattle I heard from two friends who were traveling to Spokane via DEN (Denver) on Southwest Airlines.  Storms near the DEN airport Friday night wreaked havoc on their trip, and they ended up sleeping (or trying to sleep) two nights in the Southwest terminal at DEN waiting to be accommodated on a flight to Spokane.

I followed their misery for those two days via phone calls and text messages, and I felt their pain distinctly.  It made me even more grateful for my extraordinary luck.  How can I ever top it?  Maybe I should hang up my airline elite credentials and Global Entry card, never fly again, and henceforth only take the train.

Not likely. 

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