Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Up, Up and Away - The Joys & Anxieties of Airline Travel

Compared to some of my friends, I haven't traveled a whole lot by air. I have several friends who take two or three trips a year and have been doing that since their twenties.

I will be 70 this year, and I figure I have taken a total of about 13 trips by air.  I say "about" because I'm not sure how to count those. For example, I flew to Brazil in 1967 and didn't return until 1969. Do I count that as one or two trips?  I decided that if there was more than a month between going and returning, I'll count it as two. Otherwise, as one.

If you count each take-off and landing as one leg, I've taken 52 individual flights.

Although I've heard horror stories from people who have lost their luggage or been forced to spend hours or days in airports, most of my travel has been relatively easy and enjoyable. The problem I've encountered most often are delays. Luckily they have never caused me to miss a connecting flight ---yet.

Below is my record of travel ---probably not of much interest to anyone else, but it serves as my own record of the trips and flights I've taken.

The more interesting parts ---the interesting travel stories ---are in this color of text below.

If I put a location in parenthesis, it was only a layover at an airport.
Locations without parenthesis are places I stopped for a least a few days.

1. 1966 Pittsburgh (to Chicago to San Francisco) to Sacramento  3 flights
    Stayed 8 weeks in Sacramento.

2. 1966 Sacramento (to San Francisco) to L.A. (to Chicago) to Pittsburgh   4 flights
     My only complaint about my first two trips is that the legs to and from Sacramento were on a very small commuter plane. Although these were my very first flights and I could barely imagine how a huge airliner could get off the ground, they seemed so much more stable than those small planes.

3. 1967 Philadelphia (to Miami to Caracus) to Rio to Salvador 4 flights
    We were on the plane in Miami ready to take off when we were asked to leave the plane because of a mechanical problem. I'm not sure how many passengers were aboard, but there were about 60 in my group. We waited in a lounge for several hours before taking off. 
     It was probably one of the most uncomfortable flights I ever took. My period had started and I was smashed in the middle of three seats. I don't think I caught more than an hour or two of sleep on the overnight flight.
     I spent about a week in Rio, then 6 weeks in Salvador, then took a bus from Salvador to Aracajú. 
     I lived in Brazil for 2 years. All of the travel I did while living in Brazil was by bus. 
     Besides Rio, Salvador, and Aracajú, I traveled to Recife, Maceio, Paulo Afonso, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Brasília, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and on to Montevideo (Uruguay) and Buenos Aires (Argentina.) 

4. 1969 Aracajú to Rio (to São Paulo) to Lima to Cusco to Lima to Mexico City to Houston to Pittsburgh  8 flights
    I only paid for a few of the flights in the 4 trips above. I was sent to CA for Peace Corps Training and then to Brazil to serve in the Peace Corps, so most were covered by the U.S. government. 
    I had to pay the difference to take a side trip to L.A. (to visit relatives) on my way home from training,  
    I received an airline voucher to fly home from Rio to Pittsburgh, which I exchanged for flights from Rio to Lima to Mexico City and Houston (to visit a friend.) In Lima, I decided to take a side trip to Cusco so I had to pay for the flight there and back. (My favorite place on earth is still Machu Picchu ---Cusco to Machu Picchu by train ---- so I'm glad I took the side trip.) 
     I had planned on taking a bus from Houston to Pittsburgh, but when I compared time on the bus (and purchasing food for several days) to a flight, the price difference was minimal, so I paid for a flight home.

    I didn't fly again for more than 10 years, and for a while thereafter, my flights were few and far between.

NOTE ON INFLATION: When I left Brazil the one-way airfare voucher I received to fly me from Rio to Pittsburgh was worth $750. According to an inflation website, $750 in 1969 would have the buying power of about $4960 today.  In 2011 my round trip ticket from Pittsburgh to Rio and back cost me $1020.  I've checked recently and found round trip tickets for under $700 ---but they are creeping up again due to rising fuel costs. But still, isn't it amazing that airfare is relatively much cheaper than it was 46 years ago?????

5. 1982(?) Pittsburgh to NY City to Pittsburgh   2 flights
    Does anyone remember People's Airline?  I think the round trip flight cost about $49.00. Four friends and I took a weekend trip in December. Our flight was delayed due to snow --which was good because the roads to the airport were bad and we may have missed our scheduled flight to NY. In NY it rained a lot and we got soaked waiting in line for same-day half-priced tickets to shows.

6. 1989 Pittsburgh to Cincinnati to Pittsburgh  2 flights
     This trip was job-related and paid for by my employer.
     Find an amusing story about this trip here:

7. 1994(?) Pittsburgh to Minneapolis to Pittsburgh 2 flights
    I can't remember if we had layovers in Chicago or maybe Detroit, so I didn't count them.
    This trip was connected with a small business I owned so I was able to write it off as a business expense. On the morning I was going to return, I was several hours from the airport. I left in plenty of time, but a sudden torrential storm came up.  Driving on flat landscapes, the water had nowhere to go, so I had to drive slowly through deep puddles.  I had to refill the tank of the rental car and couldn't find a gas station. Finally, I saw a police car  & waved it down. The kindly officer escorted me to a gas station and then to the airport rental car entrance.  
     I expected in early June that Minnesota might still have a few patches of snow in shady places, but it was extremely hot. I was dripping wet after running through the airport to catch my flight ---which was delayed. I was so glad to be able to call home to tell my husband the flight would be late, sit down, calm down, and cool down for an hour before take off.

8. 1997(?) Pittsburgh to Raleigh/Durham to Pittsburgh 2 flights
     At that time US Air's headquarters was in Pittsburgh. Each week on Wednesday morning, US Air published bargain flights for the weekend.  A friend had moved to NC, so on my summer break from teaching, I checked every Wednesday morning and when I found a flight, I called to see if she would be available for that weekend.  
     My flight was delayed by about 2 hours. My friend is an early-to-bed, early-to rise person, so the flight that was supposed to arrive at 10 pm plus the drive to my friend's home in Wilmington was already going to put my arrival time near midnight.  I had to call to tell her from the Pittsburgh airport I probably wouldn't arrive until 2 am. She said she'd leave the door unlocked but she woke up when I pulled into the driveway.
     My round-trip flight was $79. My rental car was $99. And I was shocked at the price of gasoline. My husband usually filled the tank at home and I hadn't even noticed that the price had gone up everywhere.

9. 1999 Pittsburgh to Chicago to Pittsburgh 2 flights
     My friend who I visited in NC had moved to the Chicago area. She sent me an email saying a small airline (name?) was offering round-trip flights for $45.  It was January and who in their right mind would want to fly to Chicago?  But I wanted to visit my friend more than see the city. However, we did go to the city one day.  The wind chills were way below zero so we bundled up. We were still cold outside, so would duck into stores or coffee shops to get warm and then had to peal off layers and layers to keep from overheating.

10. 2001 Pittsburgh to St Louis (to Chicago) to Pittsburgh  3 flights
     My husband had to take me to the airport very early because he had a meeting he had to attend on that Thursday afternoon. (This was May so before 9/11, so I didn't have to be at airports as early as I was.)
     When I checked in, I was told my flight had been cancelled. So the attendant went to a different airline's counter to see if I could be put on another flight.  A flight was leaving several hours before the flight I was supposed to take and it was a direct flight. (The one I was supposed to take would have had a layover in Chicago.) So I actually landed in St. Louis before I was supposed to take off from Pittsburgh.  How's that for a bad situation turning into a good one?
     This was a memorable trip for several reasons. I was going to Missouri to attend the graduation of a girl who had been my neighbor.  Her mother was divorced and worked, so during the summer Beth would have been alone most of the time.  So she spent a lot of time with me because I was a teacher and was home during my summer breaks. Beth did all kinds of chores for me. 
     Beth liked art and I was an art teacher. We grew close and she often referred to me as her surrogate mother, so I wanted to attend her college graduation from the U of Missouri.
     I'm an amateur Mark Twain scholar but had never visited Hannibal, so I rented a car in St Louis and drove north to Hannibal. I spent all day Friday and early Saturday at Mark Twain sights. Then I drove to Twain's birthplace in Florida, MO and on to Columbia where the U of MO is. 
     I was supposed to share a motel room with Beth's mother Pam who had moved back to IL to be near her ailing mother. She expected to arrive around 4 pm, so I had lots of time to spare. I planned to visit several small art galleries in the town. But most of them were closed.  On my list was the Shelter Insurance Company garden, outside of town, so I headed there.
     The gardens were spectacular on that perfect spring day. So, I took dozens of photos ---which resulted in my first (but not last) photography-related injury.  I was so intent on taking photos that  I got too near to the edge of a sidewalk and turned my left ankle and came down on my right knee.  A nice young couple helped me hobble to a bench and I assured them that I was fine, just needed to sit for a while.  But I was not fine.  My ankle hurt like hell. I finally made my way to the car and drove to the motel even though I didn't expect Pam to be there yet.  But she was. She helped me get my luggage to our room, then asked the desk for plastic bags and filled them with ice.  I sat in my bed with my foot on ice for several hours that Saturday evening. When Beth arrived, we drove to a store where we purchased an Ace bandage and some cold pack pouches for my drive to the airport the next day.  
     I was able to hobble my way to a restaurant that night and to the graduation ceremony on Sunday morning. The graduation took much longer than expected.  The minute I snapped a few pictures of Beth receiving her diploma, I headed to the car and my drive to the St Louis airport.  The next day I discovered I had a small fracture in my ankle.
     During my layover in Chicago, I had to get off to catch my next flight. During my walk through the airport, I almost ran into David Carradine of TV's "Kung Fu" fame. I thought he looked familiar and only realized it was him a few minutes later. If it wasn't him, it was his doppelgänger.

11. 2005 Pittsburgh (to Minneapolis) to Phoenix (to Detroit) to Pittsburgh  4 flights
     This trip was taken with a friend to visit our mutual friend who had moved to Sedona. It was my first trip to AZ. Both of my friends had already been to the Grand Canyon, so I took the rental car there one day by myself while my friends did something I wasn't interested in doing anyway.    
     I don't mind traveling alone, especially when taking photos. I can spend as much or as little time as I want.  However, I only got as far as one can drive at the Grand Canyon. I didn't take the bus on the part only available by tour bus. But my husband and I did that 8 years later.
     The flights home were almost empty, so my friend and I each spread across several seats. Our flight was delayed so we almost missed the Detroit to Pittsburgh flight. Then, the plane taxied and taxied and taxied through the airport for about 40 minutes. I thought it was going to drive to Pittsburgh. 

12. 2011 Pittsburgh (to Atlanta to Rio) to Aracajú, (bus to Salvador, flight to Brasília) to Manuas (to Brasília to Curitiba) to Foz do Iguaçu (to Curitiba) to Rio (to Atlanta) to Pittsburgh 12 flights
     This was a 25-day trip to visit my old friends and former students from when I lived in Brazil more that 40 years earlier. After spending a week in the state of Sergipe (Aracajú and the small town in the interior where I served in the Peace Corps) I used a Brazil air pass to travel to other places.  I had always regretted not visiting the rain forest area and Iguaçu Falls so I was able to cross those from my bucket list, but I also stopped in Salvador and Rio (where a blogger friend and her husband hosted me for a few days.)
     My husband has never been to Brazil so we are planning a trip there for 2016. We will avoid August when the Olympics are taking place in Rio and elsewhere.
     Of the twelve flights, most within Brazil were delayed to some extent.  
     Rio often has early morning fog, so my flight from the U.S. had to circle the city until the fog lifted and we were given permission to land.  (My friend in Rio told me that often flights are redirected to Belo Horizonte and it takes hours and hours before they can return to Rio.) I was concerned about my connecting flight.  I had to go through customs, buy a phone card, call my husband from a pay phone so he knew I had arrived safely, check in for my flight to Aracajú, and meet the other woman who had served in the Peace Corps in the same town as I did. But, as with other delays, it ended up being no problem. Every flight landing in Rio that morning was late due to fog, so they were also late in taking off. We were supposed to arrive in Aracajú around 2 pm. We didn't arrive until about 4:00. We were expecting three people to meet us. There were about 30. Only a few people didn't wait for the two extra hours for our plane to arrive because they had to return to work.
     I often say that serving in the Peace Corps was the best thing I ever did. Returning to Brazil was number 2 ---and was one more thing to cross off my bucket list.
     Learn more about my return trip to Brazil here:

13. 2013 Pittsburgh (to Atlanta) to Phoenix (to Atlanta) to Pittsburgh 4 flights
     My husband doesn't like to fly so this was the only trip we have taken together by plane in our 30 years of marriage. We stayed in Flagstaff. From there we visited my friend who had moved to Sedona and the woman I had visited in both NC and Chicago who had moved into the house next door to my other friend. We also visited Walnut Canyon, the Sunset Volcano Fields, the Meteor Crater near Winslow, AZ, the Grand Canyon, the town of Williams, and visited many places in Flagstaff including the Museum of Northern AZ, the Pioneer Museum, and the Lowell Obervatory and hiked on Mt. Humphrey. We had a list of things we wanted to do in 10 days and were able to complete all of them with a day to spare. The weather in September was perfect. Pleasantly warm during the day and cool at night. Our first day there brought a brief afternoon shower. All other days were sunny and beautiful. The morning when we were leaving to return home, we found frost on the rental car. We were leaving at exactly the right time.
     Travel tip: If you are traveling to Phoenix and renting a car to go to Flagstaff, make sure you get a good-sized car with a powerful engine. Our rental was a small car that struggled on hills. It is almost all uphill from Phoenix to Flagstaff which lies at about 7000 ft. of elevation. Mt. Humphrey rises to 12,000.
     I knew that Oak Creek Canyon between Flagstaff and Sedona was quite steep, so I suggested we drive down to Sedona on that road and then take the major highway, which has a more gradual climb, back to Flagstaff. 

I enjoyed all of these trips for one reason or another despite some minor problems.

Here is a link to some travel tips from an airline pilot, that might make your airline travel more pleasant:

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