Ode To An Early Morning Flight

Richard said he liked my occasional verse on the blog. Every wannabe writer likes a compliment now and then, and it’s been a while since I’ve composed some doggerel, anyway. So below is my ode to an early morning flight.

Ode To An Early Morning Flight

Whene’er I fly there’s a choice for me

Do I fly at 6 or half past 3?

The pros all say the morn is right

To avoid delay and cancelled flight.

From that viewpoint, a.m. is best —

But what about my lack of rest?

If I book a flight that heads out early

I know my sleep will be all squirrelly.

I’ll worry that I’m oversleeping

And miss the plane and end up weeping.

I’ll toss and turn, and slumber poor

And wake up when the clock strikes four.

But later flights I must beware

For fear of storms around O’Hare,

That leaves the schedule all akimbo

And put me in a traveler’s limbo.

There’s no good answer, sad to say

So I’m at the gate to start the day.

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Anticipatory Improvements

I flew through New York’s LaGuardia Airport recently, and these signs are everywhere. The Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia, obviously wants appalled travelers to know that it also recognizes that the airport is an embarrassment for such a major city. Of course, the signs leaves unanswered the key question: namely, how did the Port Authority let LaGuardia sink to such a state in the first place?

I’m not sure that touting anticipatory improvements is a good approach. To me, the signs and their slick representation of the supposed LaGuardia to be are a pointed reminder of just how crappy some of the bleak and overcrowded existing concourses are.

The No Low-Carb Zone

Where’s the worst place to be if you’re trying to faithfully follow a low-carb diet in hopes of shedding a few pounds? Any American airport, basically. Airport concourses are probably the most carbohydrate-rich environment on Earth. You can’t navigate your roller bag even a few feet without encountering a Dunkin Donuts or a Pinkberry or something similar, and virtually every food option is served on a bun with a side of fries.

If you’re lucky, you might find something suitable in one of those “to-go” shops connected to restaurants, or in the refrigerated stands in a concourse. The other day I was in Salt Lake City, half-heartedly looked at the options offered in one of those places, and found a small packet of just prosciutto and cheese slices that was perfect for my stand-at-the-gate dinner. I felt like a prospector who found a few nuggets of gold in his pan.

SNALU

What is it about flying through New York City’s LaGuardia Airport?  Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to fly in and out of New York without suffering some catastrophic travel failure that involves flight cancellations and having to stay over in some crummy hotel room.

250px-laguardia_airportThe most recent incident happened this week, when I flew in to New York and was advised that my flight out was cancelled outright more than 24 hours before the flight was set to depart, due to anticipated winter storms.  The airline then booked me for new flight that required staying another night in NYC.  This latest travel snag follows up on my last use of LaGuardia, in which my flight back was cancelled, no flight out was available for days, and I had to rent a car and drive back to Columbus.  On yet another recent LaGuardia excursion I spent 7 hours waiting in the terminal for an outbound flight that was repeatedly, and annoyingly, delayed in half hour increments for no apparent reason.

By the baseline metric that defines a successful flight — do you actually leave reasonably close to your designated departure time? — LaGuardia has become a consistent, exasperating failure for me.  It’s worse than a coin flip.  You could just use the acronym SNALU — Situation Normal, All LaGuardia’d Up.  And it always seems to be the outbound flight that’s the problem.  Going to New York through LaGuardia is liking checking in to the Eagles’ Hotel California.

If you’ve been to LaGuardia any time during the last few years you know the airport is in the midst of a massive renovation project.  I’ve heard that there is a new Southwest terminal that is very nice.  But I really question whether pumping a bunch of money into LaGuardia makes much sense.  It’s a very old airport that’s penned in.  The runways are where they are, and it may not be situated in the best place, local weather-wise.  Given the problems I’ve had in using the airport recently, I wonder if fixing up LaGuardia is like putting lipstick on a pig.

The next few times I have to fly in and out of New York City, I’m trying Newark.

Traveler’s Triathlon

Today I am attempting the traveler’s triathlon — a three-leg trip with tight connections, heading into snow country, in winter. Add in a government shutdown and what that potentially means for TSA workers, air traffic controllers, and every other federal employee who works in the nation’s air traffic system, and the degree of difficulty ratchets up to just about Iron Man Triathlon levels.

So far, though, so good. No bad weather, no security delays, no de-icing issues, and no mechanical problems. I had to run through several terminals and concourses at O’Hare, but that just gave me some much-needed exercise.

If my last leg leaves and arrives on time, I may just need to buy a lottery ticket when I read my ultimate destination.

Rating Restrooms

I flew through the Houston Hobby airport recently, and when I made a pit stop I saw this restroom rating apparatus on a wall near the exit.

My first reaction: a touch screen rating device, in a public men’s room in a busy airport? Really? I mean, really? I don’t think I’d touch a touch screen device under those circumstances even if my best friend was responsible for restroom hygiene and his job depended on getting good ratings. How many people are going to provide ratings using that methodology?

My second reaction: why even offer the smiley face option? How many people who use public facilities at airports do so with an ear-to-ear grin, even if the restroom is spotless? The best rating I would ever give is an impassive face with a flat line for a mouth — neither happy nor sad, but at least not enraged or disgusted by the condition of the restroom.

My third reaction: I know airports want travelers to think they really care about restroom hygiene, but soliciting ratings seems like an empty gesture. Why not take whatever you would spend on touch screen ratings devices and use it instead to buy better quality paper towels that don’t dissolve upon first contact with a wet, soapy hand?

Failing The Toilet Test

The New York Times is reporting that researchers have examined the presence of germs and viruses on airport security trays and have (surprise!) made some findings that will undoubtedly alarm any germaphobe.  The scientific team swabbed surfaces at the Helsinki Airport and found traces of rhinovirus, which is associated with the so-called “common cold,” and influenza A on half of those plastic bins that travelers regularly handle in dropping off and then retrieving their shoes, belts, purses, laptops, and other belongings as they pass through security.

cc168b22f8cb28c4d95df2d6b73510a8What’s more, the researchers compared the presence of the viruses on the security trays with results from swabs they took of the Helsinki Airport toilets — because toilets always seem to be the crucial baseline comparison in studies of this nature.  They determined that none of the viruses were found on the the toilet surfaces at the airport, which means the security trays at the Helsinki Airport failed the time-honored “toilet test.”  (It also probably means that the toilets at the Helsinki Airport are regularly and carefully cleaned, thankfully, whereas nobody is cleaning airport security trays, but that no doubt will be the subject of another study.)

I read the Times article, which is just the latest in a never-ending flood of reports about the prevalence of germs and viruses and other troublesome microorganisms in modern society, and thought about how tough it must be to be a germaphobe these days.  Any surface that is regularly touched by the unwashed masses — ATM machine buttons, subway train poles, turnstiles, the moving rubber handrails on escalators, and the list goes on and on — are likely to be teeming with all kinds of nastiness, especially during the “cold and flu season.”

Some people, like me, simply accept that exposure to germs carried by random strangers is part of modern life.  We’re fatalists about it, and figure that if a virus has your name on it, you’re just out of luck.  But what’s an ardent germaphobe to do?  Wear gloves and face masks, as you see from time to time when you travel?  Up the ante by wearing hazmat suits?  Pay for the TSA pre-check status so you don’t need to take off your shoes and belt and touch those germy security tubs?

Or maybe airports should take the “toilet test” data to heart, and establish special seating areas for germaphobes in every airport restroom, because that always seems to be the cleanest place around.