STEVE BOUSER: Surprise -- Air Travel Isn't Always Hellish
Air travel these days is supposed to be pure hell, right?
That's what I keep hearing about the nightmarish difficulties of getting from here to there by plane in this world of post-9/11 terrorism jitters and bankrupt airlines. Still, after my own experience of this past weekend, you couldn't prove it by me. In fact -- surprise! -- I actually enjoyed my smooth and stress-free little round trip.
I've logged a lot of Frequent Flyer miles in my checkered past, including a bunch of international ones to weird places like Bulgaria and Romania. But I hadn't had much occasion to go jetting off anywhere in the past few years.
In the interim, like everyone else, I had heard way too many horror stories about rude clerks, uncaring crews, bad food, hours-late departures and arrivals, overbooked flights, confiscated shampoo bottles, interminable security delays endured in stocking feet, and claustrophobic five-hour imprisonments inside stuffy airliners sitting on a sweltering tarmac.
So when I was asked to fly to Mobile, Ala., and take part in a presentation to a National Newspaper Association convention, the prospect of getting there and back filled me with dread. To my eternal gratification, though, the thing could hardly have gone more smoothly. I might even describe it as fun.
I began with a visit to Expedia.Com, whose user-friendly efficiency blew me away. Within a few keystrokes, I had viewed a dazzling variety of itineraries on various airlines, picked the two flights that best suited my needs, and purchased the tickets. There were no sneaky fees tacked on later.
Not only was I able to make effortless online arrangements for my plane tickets, but I also took care of my hotel room, convention passes and even the shuttle to and from the hotel -- all from the comfort of my office chair. How in the world did we ever survive without the Web?
Five minutes after I had pulled into the well-laid-out Park & Ride lot at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a clean and comfortable bus had arrived to whisk me and a dozen other passengers to the terminal. I had to walk less than 100 feet to the Delta counter, where a smiling clerk went out of her way to help me with the touch-screen self-check-in.
(Tip No. 1: It helps to restrict yourself to one piece of carry-on luggage and one over-shoulder bag that will fit under the seat. For a two-night stay like mine, it's not hard if you travel light and keep your wardrobe simple. That way, you avoid the possibility of lost baggage and never have to let your possessions out of your sight.)
I had arrived two hours early, girded for a lengthy ordeal at the hands of anti-terrorism Nazis. But the feared security check, administered by courteous TSA officers, turned out to take about five minutes -- including time spent in line. (Tip No. 2: Leave your pocketknife in the car, restrict your toiletry bottles to three ounces, make sure you have a photo ID, and wear loafers that slip off and on easily.)
With all that unexpected time on my hands, I was able to relax and have a little breakfast before departure time. (Tip No. 3: Take a good book. I got halfway through the new Ted Kennedy autobio -- which, though I was never a Teddy fan, I find quite engrossing.)
The Raleigh-Atlanta and Atlanta-Mobile flights both departed and arrived right on time, with no snag. It was the same coming back on Sunday. Though Atlanta is said to be the busiest airport in the world, I made the mile-long transfer from one terminal to another effortlessly via a cool, high-speed subway. And at the bright and pleasant new Mobile airport, the Web-reserved hotel shuttle, driven by a most amiable guy, was waiting for me when I arrived.
I could go on. Maybe I was lucky. Granted, it was a relatively short trip with only one change each way. The weather was good. I didn't have to check any bags.
All I know is that as I drove away from the Park & Ride lot on Sunday, I found myself marveling at an incredibly complex transportation system that, for me at least, had hummed along like a well-oiled machine.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at 693-2470 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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