It’s still the only way to fly | AspenTimes.com

It’s still the only way to fly

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

I think people expect too much from air travel. If you want underwear to arrive with you at your destination, then wear some.

Personally, I chalk up any flight as a success if I take off and land in one piece. A Boeing 747 pushes 500 tons empty, so I always figure I’ve cheated death when it flies through the air fully loaded with passengers and veritable steamer trunks masquerading as carry-on luggage.

Remember when the airlines vowed to crack down on the giant bags people were rolling aboard and trying to stow overhead? It was delaying travel, they said.

Size, apparently, no longer matters, but weight should. Travelers should have to lift their bulky, designer bags overhead at the security gate in a clean-and-jerk weightlifting maneuver before they’re allowed to bring them aboard. If you can’t hoist it above your head, it belongs stowed in the baggage compartment.

Not that hernia-inducing luggage has been to blame for any of the flight delays I experienced during my last two adventures in air travel.

The last time I flew out of Aspen, staff in the terminal sent passengers home on a perfect, blue-sky day after a lengthy, but unexplained delay. By the time the plane was ready, the pilot and crew could no longer man the flight, or they’d exceed the limit on hours they’re supposed to work without rest. We were told the flight was canceled, and I went home. I later learned it took off after all.

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Still, after reading last week about the pilots who fell asleep during a flight to Denver and reportedly awoke to the sound of the air-traffic control folks yelling at them, I think I’d prefer a fresh flight crew.

This week, the government reported improvement on the air-travel front ” the nation’s 20 largest carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 81.7 percent in September, up from 76.2 percent in the same month a year ago. The industry’s on-time performance so far this year remained the worst in 13 years, though, according to the feds.

October’s numbers won’t improve the numbers, if my experience is any indication.

I flew out of the Eagle County Airport, lured away from the most convenient choice ” Aspen ” by a fare that wouldn’t cost as much as my ski pass. I was headed for St. Louis via a connection at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. We arrived, no problem. But when my next flight was due to depart, I got stuck sitting in my coach-class seat for an extra 45 minutes while they took fuel out of one side of the plane and transferred it to the other. The aircraft, the pilot informed us, was out of balance. It’s hard to complain about last-minute maintenance, though. I’d rather they fixed it on the ground than discovered the problem when we started tipping sideways over Oklahoma, forcing everybody to move their luggage to the lighter side of the plane.

On my return trip to Dallas/Fort Worth, we landed, taxied to the terminal, and then sat there for 45 minutes because there was another plane in our assigned gate. Nevermind there were empty gates all around us and we all had reminders of the in-flight cocktails pressing against our bladders. About the time the pilot said he was checking into parking elsewhere, the plane that was blocking our way because of maintenance issues was finally moved out of the way.

The final leg of the journey ” from Dallas back to the Eagle airport ” was thankfully uneventful, given the grease spewing from the wing I was sitting directly over. My seatmate next to the window pointed it out. Worried, she summoned a flight attendant, who peered out the little window and then headed to the cockpit to inform the pilot. By this time, we were flying, so I was hoping the problem was the air-travel equivalent of driving a car with a leak in the windshield wiper fluid reservoir.

Of course, surrounding passengers noted our concern. The woman next to me, on the aisle, started glancing nervously out the window. She couldn’t see the problem from her vantage point, and I hoped my other seatmate wouldn’t lose it like the guy in that “Twilight Zone” episode who sees a gremlin ripping apart the airplane wing in flight and gets a little hysteric. Of course, when everyone else looks out the window, the gremlin isn’t there.

The flight attendant assured us the pilot would keep an eye on his gauges, and my seatmate kept a nervous eye on the wing. I sat back and munched my meager portion of pretzels.

Back on the ground and still alive, I deemed it another successful flying experience.

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