Well, back I fly through Charlotte at 9 a.m. and with prime time at security checkpoints, I exit in order to re-enter. Six others in line and I’m back through in 5 minutes. Try that at all the other airports if you dare. Five minutes. They are good and they are trained and it’s a sure sign that in the short future most airports will return to normal. There’s really only one problem now – my luggage seems to have taken on weight. That or I’m surely getting weaker by the flight. In Richmond I exit and return through security. Here, it’s business as usual and folks in the area have adapted quite well to the changes of events with regard to security. It seems that when I notice an airport that functions well, people have more faith in the additional security measures that are in place. If an airport appears understaffed and disorganized, then the passengers notice and that concern lives with us. From Richmond to Philadelphia for my London crossing I have the pleasure to chat with the airplane captain, something I don’t often get the honor of doing. I think his first name was Clifford and his priority as the captain is always placing the safety of his passengers first. It makes me very comfortable that this is the priority of all the US Airways pilot staff. I also get a chance to talk to the station manager here in Richmond and these guys really run the show. We chat about the return of passengers and they all agree that things like this trip will help assure those not yet back in the air that US Airways welcomes them back right now.
Security at the Jackson airport is thorough and they check both my bags out, again with my permission and no argument from me. But it is a US Airways employee that sets the tone for this day. Ticket agent Alma (Connie) Brown does a wonderful job of checking passengers in at 5:30 in the morning. But it is her style of customer service that I appreciate. With my Chairman’s Preferred card in hand, she’s probably seen plenty of frequent flyers such as myself, many of which answer security questions before they are asked. But Connie almost catches me and leaves us both smiling. Instead of the usual “Have your bags been in your control”, she asks “And your bags have not been in your control?” If you are on auto-answer, you’re answering this with a ‘Yes’ which is not the correct answer. I was about half-way through my canned answer when I realize this is a different question and I quickly change my answer to ‘No.’ I know she knows I know she tried to trick me. She knows that I know she knows, and I can’t help myself from starting this day on a perfect note. As I see her later taking tickets from boarding passengers, I remind her of no more tricks and she smiles like a diamond as I’m given directions to the plane, a jet plane. At a time when most airline employees treat these questions with disdain, and so do passengers, I found someone in America doing her job to make sure we’re always thinking. Connie, you’re the best and great success with your career at US Airways.
Arrival time in Jackson MS is after 10 p.m. and I am met by a local resident who has followed this Come Fly With Me trip. Terrance Ma is a professor of anatomy at the state’s only medical college and has become a very frequent flyer by spending some 43 weekends a year refereeing water polo matches around the U.S. For the next hour or two we talk about flying and security and all things frequent flyer related. He started traveling again right away and while he feels strongly that more should be done, he’s comfortable enough with things right now that he travels as much as he can and thinks now is a good time to take advantage of the special air fares and other offers out there right now. But first let me tell you about the night manager at the Holiday Inn Express in Jackson. I think her name is Janice and she’s a real pleaser. It is after midnight when I finally check-in and after registration, I inquire about a wakeup call. I tell her I need a 4 a.m., a 4:15 a.m. and a 4:30 a.m. as I have an important flight out in the morning. Apparently the system will not allow multiple wake up calls like that, so she tells me she’ll set the first one and if I’m not down in a few minutes, she’ll get up there and pound on my door herself until I’m wide awake. I end the night with a great laugh and feeling that I’m staying in the right place tonight. This is confirmed when I inquire about the shuttle to the airport. It doesn’t start until 6 a.m. and my flight is at 6 a.m. When I inquire about a cab, she then tells me she will call the shuttle driver at home and tell him to come in early to make sure I get to the airport when I need to be there. All this from a lady who really doesn’t know me from any other guest. A wonderful, wonderful lady whom I like so much that I leave the fruit basket in my room downstairs with a think you note to her the next morning as my shuttle bus driver heads off to the airport with me at 4:30 a.m. I’m happy about this hotel even though I only enjoy 3 1/2 hours of sleep here.
After a brief visit to Charleston, WV where the security measures are simple and easy to pass through, I’m off again to Charlotte, which is quickly becoming my favorite hub. Yes, the people are great, but it’s those rocking chairs I love. Tough to get one since it seems they are popular with everyone, but I’m patient and get one to watch traveling America pass by. As I get ready to fly again, I’m caught by surprise. Some of the Charlotte Airport employees of US Airways got together and created a huge oversized banner welcoming me to Charlotte. A wonderful gesture as I become one of their more “frequent” travelers during the week. I do know one thing, this banner will accompany me the rest of my journey and I’ll proudly display it in my office when I return. On the Charlotte to Jackson, MS flight on US Airways Express the flight attendant, Mary, made my final trip of the day a most pleasant experience. With concerns of safety and security really becoming a standard experience on this trip, it’s so easy to notice things like great employees. Well, as this day winds down, I’m reminded that tomorrow will begin another ‘iron’ day, some 37 continuous hours of travel. This is the second longest day on this trip and includes my back-to-back transatlantic crossings. As I read a few papers today, I have a few problems connecting the dots. I have not yet heard any passenger, and there have been hundreds by now that I’ve asked questions of, worry or comment about passenger vigilantism. It seems those I’m traveling with agree that we’ll all do our best to be alert travelers, but we can endanger ourselves if we are over anxious in trying to take security matters in our own hands. Anyway, I’m disappointed because some pictures of travelers I’m meeting on this trip did not come out, so if I “flashed” you, it’s not that I forgot to post your picture up. All thumbs, all the time.
In Newark I’ve got an hour or two to kill and decide to leave the plane to see what security is like. I also want to use a lounge pass I have with Continental, which is in another terminal. Security tells me that US Airways is in the other terminal but as I explain my airport lounge challenge, she lets me through with my proper ID. The security seems OK, no slower or faster than others which means with the traffic they get, I’m sure there are some long lines in the morning. What is a challenge for them is the fact the terminal hall is narrow, which means they are using wands on people as they stand in the way of passengers leaving the terminal. This airport will need to review how things are laid out before it becomes efficient enough for most of us. When I went through security I was flagged for a bag check – a very long bag check. The security personnel loved my digital tape recorder and wanted to know how I liked my Nikon digital camera. They were also impressed with the FlyerTalk luggage tags. At first I was put off by the slow nature of this bag check, but as time went by, I mellowed out and came to peace with the fact that this is the way I will travel in the future. I almost miss the flight to Baltimore because I didn’t hear the boarding calls – even though I’m sitting right next to the check-in counter. Only when they page me for the second time do I emerge from a sleep-deprived haze and run down the gangplank. On this flight from Baltimore the captain informs us we are #1 for takeoff, then goes on to say “There’s a first for everything….” and that gets a chuckle from me. During the Baltimore to Charleston, WV flight (I changed planes in Baltimore despite the same flight number from Newark to Charleston) I suddenly realize I’m bored. I’ll explain: I’m now on flight segment 27, which in frequent flyer terms means I’m nearing the first level of elite qualification after only flying 5 1/2 days. After 27 segments, all the flights have left on time and arrived on time (except the security incident in Detroit, which didn’t affect anything anyway), and frankly I find that boring. There has always been a certain excitement in wondering if you’ll make your connection and then scrambling to use your SkyGuide to search out new schedules for flights that can get you to where you need to be. Or the disappointment that comes when, after a delayed flight, you arrive at your hotel only to find that all the rooms on the Executive Floor have been taken by those lucky enough to have flown on an earlier, on-time, flight. Or those frantic calls to prospective business partners or family members to say that you won’t make the meeting or make it home for dinner. Thanks US Airways for making this boring; it sure makes it easier for me to make my itinerary work. And please, take ‘boring’ as the highest compliment. I realize I’ve become bored iwhen I find an old September issue of the Attache in-flight magazine and read an article about why birds fly south in the winter. As a compulsive reader, I read pretty much anything, but instead of finishing up the Robert Ludlum novel I’ve got in hand, I’m entertained by an article about birds flying south for the winter. Go figure. That and the fact that I’m actually looking forward to next week when November 1st rolls around and the latest issue of Attache will be on board. I usually read Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazine when traveling but this experience might just convert me to a seatback reader. I’ve also just finished my Christmas shopping by staring at the SkyMall catalog for the last 4 segments. Oh, before this flight lands, did you know that soaring raptors (eagles, hawks, owls) store fat and then fly for weeks at a time without eating during their migration?
By the time I’m done, here’s a rundown of connect cities:Pittsburgh – 16 timesCharlotte – 7 timesPhiladelphia – 4 timesLa Guardia – 2 timesKansas City – 2 times& 39 other cities (once)
As I get used to yet another 4 a.m. wakeup call for the 6 a.m. flight from Columbus, I’m ready to again trust a cab ride. The airport service for this Holiday Inn Express doesn’t yet have van service to the airport this early in the morning (it’s brand new) but they have a pretty friendly policy. They allow you to take a cab to and from the hotel and they then deduct that from your final bill. I find that quite nice. This time the cab is on time, no doubt with the prodding of the hotel staff (thank you), and I’m off to the airport. Never knowing what security lines will be like from airport to airport, I’ve learned to come early… just in case. I’m the only one in line for ticketing, which means in two minutes I’m facing the scanner and my morning security detail. Here I’m also the only one in line and checked out and through in less than five minutes, meaning I now have 1 1/2 hours until flight time. For some time we will all experience being too early or too late until these changes become more uniform in nature. Right now, I’d do anything (well, maybe not…) to get this extra 1 1/2 hours back and put them into extra wink time at the Holiday Inn. In Providence Rhode Island, security has no lines as it’s a relatively small airport and appears to be well run. Security has enough wide open areas that additional checks of passengers don’t seem to interfere with the flow of new people heading for their gates. There are only 6 of us passengers on the flight from Providence to Newark and 2 of us are searched at the gate. Amazing odds but all seem to agree it’s necessary and we had better get used to it. The other five are travelers with 5-14 trips per year, so they at least know something of what’s going on. Also, none are skeptical of the impact these changes have had on making things better for the safety of us all.
Well, I’m in the ‘Big Easy’ if only for a few minutes. Turns out that those beignets I was telling you about are in the main terminal, outside the security zone. Looking over the lines to re-enter and glancing at my watch, I hastily decide to go for it. While I look over the security lines here in New Orleans, I see a distinct difference between two terminals. For one terminal, the guard is checking IDs and letting people line right up for the scanner, which is about a dozen people deep. For the other terminal, the guard doesn’t seem to be letting people pass because there is no line at the scanner some 20 feet past the guard, however there is a line of people waiting to show their ticket and drivers license some 30 people deep which extends out into the terminal causing an obstacle of a conga line. Two guards, two ways of doing things. Luckily for me my terminal is the guard checking ID and letting people right up to the scanner. So, with caution (and security) to the wind, I head for the hot beignet shop. While the airport is no place for a Cafe Du Monde, it is as close as I can get for a wicked food fix. I take the usual three, and with powdered sugar on my upper lip I hold the remaining beignets close and head back through security. Again I’m tagged for closer inspection but after a few minutes of my time I’m back at the gate with just the right amount of minutes to finish my stash of goodies before flight time. Looking at my boarding pass I note that someone tried to sneak an upgrade in on me. While appreciating the gesture, I get in line and 10 minutes later return, having downgraded myself. The gate agent does let me know that in 4 years on the job, that’s a first for him. The reason was that on the flight to New Orleans I spent getting comfortable in my exit row seat and wasn’t going to start all over to get comfortable – no matter where the new seat was. But given the flight were 3 across and quite full on the return to Charlotte, I might have put up with the uncomfortable first class seat. But please understand that at this point of my career as a mileage runner, no seat is feeling comfortable. Yes, my butt has become a liability.
This trip is beginning to wear on me. The world seems to be moving in slow motion and my butt no longer has much feeling. Arriving for security at Dallas/Fort Worth an hour and a half before my 7:40 a.m. flight, I’m greeted by a much different security setup. Most other airports have a central flow of security checkpoints. Dallas has multiple entry points and as a result there doesn’t seem to be any bottlenecks. I’m in and out of the US Airways line in three minutes and through security in another 10 minutes, and that included being signaled out for a random bag and bomb check. While I might have been lucky because this section of the terminal doesn’t have the traffic that the main American Airlines terminal does, I’m told by others that by and large security at DFW works better than most of the California airports. My travel today is fairly easy with just Dallas – Charlotte – New Orleans – Charlotte – Columbus on the agenda. About 13 hours of traveling today but when I know there is no red-eye tonight, I’m a happy camper (‘camper’ being the operative word here). While in Charlotte I run off to one of the other US Airways Clubs for an interview having first been met at my gate by another very savvy frequent flyer. Dean Burri in the last 17 months has notched up around 400 flight segments to his name and knows a thing or two of the situation in Charlotte. So far this has become my favorite airport. It feels comfortable and the main area with the rocking chairs and plenty of sunshine really works for me.
Since I haven’t seen the outdoors since late last Thursday, maybe you can appreciate my feeling of wanting to know that the world is actually still out there. The good thing: I don’t hear airport “Muzak” anymore, I hear people talking and carrying on with their travel lives. Dean tells me that Charlotte has none of the wait problems associated with security checks that some other airports are suffering from. The club room I’m in today is different than the other one I visited a few days back, but every bit as well run. With facilities for a business center, I chat with a reporter and conclude my visit with some real food. A real sandwich and a brownie takes my metabolism back to normal. Unlike the other club rooms, the ladies working here are a bit more shy and they scurry off when my camera starts clicking. But I did get a shot of the manager and I, who incidentally was a great source of information on what the verdict is from club visitors on the current travel situation. Unfortunately I have run off to my gate, not wanting to be the first to board nor the last passenger on. The last passenger on the plane is a personal goal of mine in normal times. However with airlines wrestling with new rules and compliance issues I no longer want to make them worry if Randy is coming along or not. So, take my advice and linger early at these gates. On board the US Airways flight to New Orleans I realize that my cover has been busted. While getting comfortable (easy to do since I have little or no feeling in my body) I get to chat with every flight attendant on board and was very lucky to be able to chat with John Cipolloni the station manager at Charlotte. While he deals daily with passengers in a way different than mine, it is clear that our observations and understanding of where the traveling public is right now in terms of their outlook on travel is quite similar. Heck, maybe I should have just called him to begin with and I wouldn’t have had to do this. Seriously, this is one of those trips (or mileage runs) of a lifetime. While it will take its toll on me before the end is out, there’s simply too much to like about it, not to do it. Back to the flight crew, two words – mutual respect. As we get closer to New Orleans, I’m checking my itinerary to make sure we’re on time and that I do have just about a half hour to make a run for some fresh beignets … sorry to have to do that to you but if you’ve ever been to New Orleans you know what I’m talking about. Well, I need to return my seatback to its upright position so I can get ready for my food run. Wish me luck.
Actually the trip into Dallas was uneventful meaning that US Airways seems to run this airline just as Holiday Inn runs its hotels – The Best Surprise is No Surprise. All these segments have been on time, each time. In Dallas I head for the Holiday Inn Express and after spending a few hours with local frequent flyer Bobby Finken whose has parleyed 6 million miles from American, call it a night since I’m starting to forget what real sleep could be like. Upon checking in, I notice yet another ribbonned employee at the front desk. Yes, this hotel is yet another ‘Member’s Choice’ hotel as voted on by members of the Priority Club. Nice room, even nicer gift basket of goodies (I’m a Priority Club Gold guy who is occasionally entitled to these perks) and I set my wake-up call for 4 a.m. Hustling to get to a TV show at 4:30 a.m. and still catch my flight to Charlotte I have a few problems with a lost taxi driver. To cut a long story short … you didn’t see me on TV Tuesday morning.