As we know, for our recent vacation The Lovely One elected that we would fly west to Seattle on 9/11, hoping that scaredycat tourists would leave us gloriously empty planes on that fateful day. She was wrong, at least on flights arranged by Delta (an airline amusingly defined by our cruise director as: “Donʼt Expect Luggage To Arrive” and then quickly corrected to “Didnʼt Even Leave The Airport” — not, however, a problem we faced; but then we didnʼt actually fly on Delta, either). Both our commuter flight from Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis (Delta Connections) and our Alaskan Airlines (I would fly with them any time, which is really the reason for this little post) aircraft were completely packed. I suppose everyone had the same theory we did. (Our return wasnʼt much better, either. The Alaskan portion started overbooked, although we got on easily, and the hopper back to Iowa, although delayed an hour by thunderstorms over Cedar Rapids, was more than half full.)
Janet had goofed slightly in her record of our flight out of Iowa, and we arrived nearly two hours sooner than necessary, even in this day of excessive security measures. We had some confusion at check-in about how to use the computer terminal to get our luggage tags (we had actually checked in online the day before and printed our own boarding passes), but we were so early that we had time after dumping the checked bags to sit in the pre-security airport lobby and enjoy a latte. We passed through TSA vigilance about forty minutes later, shoeless and evacuated of all our metals (I just treat the vest as my second carry-on and dump it onto the x-ray line along with my actual little bag and my shoes). Since the workers were bored at this ungodly early hour, I got randomly selected for a pretty pointless and cursory body search, and once we were reshod and reclad, we were off to our gate (CR has possibly a dozen, all very close to each other), where it finally dawned on us that we were expecting our plane an hour earlier than it was scheduled to take off. We got to wait in that gate area a very long time. Passing security teams were really eying us by the time our flight was eventually called.
Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis is about five hours by car (even with The Lovely One driving), thirty-five minutes by air. We had to go entirely across the airport (gates A to F, I think — same issue heading home ten days later). But even with less than ninety-minutes layover, we had time again to enjoy an overpriced coffee beverage (some version of iced coffee for me, a muffin for the female partner) before this next flight was called. My biggest issue was unlearning the entirely pointless four-digit Delta flight number I had memorized and heeding instead the actual half-as-long Alaskan Airlines integer, while racing all the way across the airport and while waiting at the crowded gates.
As we hiked aboard our plane (a 737, Janet told me) and sought our seats, the amplified voice of the lead steward(ess) kept repeating, “This is a completely full flight, so you can place only large wheeled bags in the overhead bins. Your other bags or items will have to go under the seat ahead of you. We have a plan, and if you follow it, it actually works! Please listen to our instructions, and everyone will have a place for your luggage.” The rest of the cabin crew was hastening around us passengers stifling attempts to circumvent the eminently practical rule. And like students in school, the passengers were grumbling about the repeated message, even as they attempted to ignore it (and getting caught and being corrected, about which of course the pinheads complained more). Humans, you canʼt make them listen, and itʼs supposedly wrong to kill them. I really liked the crew, and as we finally left the plane at Seatac, both of us complemented the lady making the announcements (she was surprised, I think, but amused that the praise came from a former travel agent and teacher, too).
I appreciated the crew and their professional but managing attitude, right down to the announcement of locking the restrooms for final descent. But I really liked the plane. SwissAir disappointed us deeply last October, as we were scrunched into seats jammed far too close together row to row (and each apparently three inches narrower than the ones we enjoyed this year on Alaskan). On the 2009 flight home, with my rude fellow passenger ahead reclining his seat fully to no purpose whatsoever, I literally had less than six inches between his seat and my face, and my knees rode deep into his seatback the whole nine-hour journey. On Alaskan, we had at least twenty-four inches between seats, and my knees enjoyed a cushion of air (possibly five inches worth) between them and the seat ahead. Home from Prague I had greedily let Janet suffer the inside position while I sat on the aisle; this time I put her on the aisle, and still enjoyed my seat. And we had always expected international flights to be more considerate and roomy than danged domestic airplanes!
Usually, The Lovely One lets me sit on the window or the aisle because of my preternatural shyness. But she has been on a kick, for years now, to tweak my sociability upward (as if this old dog could begin to change), and I actually conversed a couple of times with the woman who had the window seat next to me. For the last two hours into Seattle, I wrote in my little red Harrodʼs notebook on the second Tourist story (which I finished on the flight home; this oneʼs set in San Francisco). My unknown companion actually wondered, politely as we landed, if I were a writer (I answered with my well worn “I wish”).
Two beverage services scarcely blocked the aisle. The air remained fresh(ish) and well circulated the whole three-and-a-half hours, and all went well. Do fly Alaskan, if you can. I think of them as the No-Nonsense Airline.
The return trip was just as nice, although I missed the personality of the first head flight attendant. On the 21st, having arisen at 4:00 AM to make a 7:00 departure, checked in (although our hotel provided computers, the online operation failed to work, either through Delta or Alaskan*) and checked our bags (mine with the dirty clothes in it weighed in at 56 pounds, so we had to rearrange stuff right there at the scales), cleared security easily and hauled, uh, bags all the way across Seatac (thanks for tram service at both airports!), Janet and I sat across from each other on the aisle, and although her seat partner was really large and very antsy, the flight went fine, landing only about two-and-a-half hours after we took off. We did once again have to trek fast all the way across Minneapolis-St. Paul International (from F to A, of course, this time), and then everyone sat on the plane for an hour because of the storms in Iowa (but the crew was excellent about explaining what was up, and no one seemed overly perturbed by the onboard delay; I was writing). So we got home fine as well.
Although our flight home from Europe last year has given me the third Tourist tale (this oneʼs at OʼHare, and the writingʼs almost to the climax), I donʼt think our fairly fun flights in 2010 will provide equal wicked inspiration (I did however, start writing the fourth of those stories while seatbelted at MSP — itʼs set in Seattle and different from the others, as planned already two years ago).
* Even at the airportʼs customer kiosks, neither first we nor an airline person could get the check-in process to work. Codesharing with Delta for passengers with baggage to check was the problem. (Codesharing, by the way, the title for this post, isnʼt some arcane computer geekiness but the term travel professionals use for situations like the one we got into: two or more different airlines booking together the same flight — like us reserving through Delta but actually flying Alaskan. Delta didnʼt impress me much, but I do recommend Alaskan Airlines.) At least they figured out how to get us both boarding passes and baggage tags (even if we did have to pull clothing from bag to bag right out in public in order to make weight).
Many thanks to Janetʼs folks for driving us from Anamosa to Cedar Rapids and then picking us up the day before their own flight to Portland!