Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Birmingham Alabama to Buffalo New York (by air)

Sandy and I were up at 4:00 AM Eastern Time (3:00 AM Local).  We didn't want to sleep in because we had the early shuttle call to get us to the airport with lots of time to spare before our 8:00 AM flight.  We weren't sure, with all the TSA horror stories going around, if we might have trouble clearing security because we were furriners.  I used the time to post bills, catch up on a few blog entries and review the TSA website yet one more time.

It was a beautiful morning here but Sandy heard we might have snow in Buffalo.  The shuttle arrived right on time at 5:30 local time and zipped us right over to the airport.  Delta had a gentleman at the curb who checked our bags as we got out of the shuttle.  Each bag cost $25.00, not like the old days, but it was much more convenient.  He have us the tags and boarding passes and told us the luggage was checked directly through to Buffalo.

There were about forty people lined up waiting to clear security, but we were through in about ten minutes.  The first check was a hand swab to sniff for explosives.  They were doing every fifth person and I was lucky enough to be number five.  It took a few seconds for the machine to return a negative and let me move on. At the main check, we took off our shoes and emptied our pockets, putting everything in a basket.  Then we walked through the metal detector, were handed our gear back and moved on.  Leo was held a bit longer because he kept his metal rimmed sunglasses in his pants pocket.  All in all, everyone was pleasant and professional, a far cry from the tales currently being told on CNN and elsewhere.

Since we were so early, we stopped at one of the airport restaurants and had breakfast.  They had WiFi so Diane and I puttered around on line for a while before moving on to our gate.  While sitting at the gate, I noticed two TSA people in uniform walk in and sit down.  They were pretty casual, as if they were on a break, but I saw the way they were watching the people and pointed it out to Sandy.  I guess I was too obvious watching them because, when they called our flight at 7:45, the agents moved over to the gate and spot checked some of the carry-on bags.  I am pretty sure that I was watching them so closely earlier because I was one of the people to be 'randomly' selected.  Again, pleasant and professional.  No big deal.

Our aircraft for the short hop over to Atlanta was a DC9-50.  I wasn't aware that any DC9's were still in service but the -50 appears to be the last and largest variant.  I haven't been on a plane in years and I am starting to remember why.  We waited patiently as the passengers tried to cram all manner of carry-on luggage into the overhead bins.  Now I may be old fashioned but, in my flying days, any bag you carried on had to fit under the seat ahead of you.  The overheads were reserved for blankets, pillows and passengers' coats.

Finally settled, we pushed back  and taxied out right on time.  Before we reached the end of the runway, we stopped and the captain came on telling us Atlanta was backed up due to clouds and congestion.  As a result, we would be holding here until our window opened at the other end.  Since we were on a tight connection in Atlanta, this was not cheerful news to us.

Finally, twenty minutes late, we were airborne.  It was a quick flight and, as we descended into one of the busiest airports in the world, we could see the weather had cleared.  The pilot made a very nice landing and we taxied to the gate where we had to wait again while all those people ahead of us struggled to get all that luggage out of the overhead bins.

Deplaning, we looked at the board and saw our flight to Buffalo was scheduled to leave from Terminal A shortly.  We were at the far end of Terminal B so we started to run towards the hub.  Sandy needed to make a short stop at the ladies room, so we lost contact with Leo and Diane on the way.  Alone and hoping the other two were doing OK, we kept running until we saw arrows pointing to Terminal A.  There was an underground train, for crying out loud.  Lucky for  us, one was by almost immediately.  Arriving at A, we found our gate just in time.  Most of the plane had boarded as we, huffing and puffing, dragged ourselves up to the counter.  The wise ass there told us with a perfectly straight face that we would not be able to board.  Seems we had been running too hard........  Joke over, they waved us through but we saw no sign of Leo and Diane.  What to do?  Luckily again, they arrived about two minutes later and we all just barely made it on the plane.  The best part of arriving late is that most of the people had already stored their luggage in the overheads.  We did wonder if the luggage made it but there would be no way to tell for sure until Buffalo.

This aircraft was an MD-88, a successor to the DC9.  It had a lighter load than the flight to Alabama so Sandy and I had three seats between us.  We were airborne right on time.  The only drawback was the family in the seats behind us.  I think they were speaking Farsi and the boy behind Sandy kept kicking her seat.  We had the chance to move back in the plane but I don'y like sitting between the engines on this configuration.

Sandy put her earplugs in while I took the Netbook and, courtesy of gogoinflight, was able to hook up to WiFi and even have an IM chat with Malachi as we flew over Kentucky.  It looks like this was supposed to be a fee service but it was a free trial for this trip.  Thing went well even though the drink service had to be suspended for a while due to turbulence.  As we descended into Buffalo, the child behind us thought it would be a good time to have a temper tantrum.  Ah, the joys of mass transit.  Again we touched down nicely and made it to the terminal in one piece.

I can remember a time, from 1977 to 1993, when I had a serious phobia about commercial flying.  Before this period, no problem.  I even worked in helicopters in the bush with no doors on them.  Then, suddenly on our first trip to England, I became a white knuckle flyer.  This continued through a number of trips until I came to grips with both my own mortality and the unpredictability of the fickle finger of fate.  Now I don't worry any more and actually enjoy flying.  The airplane part, not the terminal/security nonsense.

Once in the terminal, we proceeded to the baggage collection area to see if the luggage had made the short change in Atlanta.  Lo and behold, there it appeared.  Or most of it.  The zipper on one of Diane's bags had broken and her camera was missing.  The case was still there, zipped up, so it hadn't just fallen out.  We visited the Delta office and they weren't very helpful.  They claimed they weren't responsible for checked electronics and all she got for redress was a $25 certificate, which only reimbursed her for the fee paid to check the bag in the first place.

Leo called the Clarion, where we had left their car and we would spend the night.  They promised to send their shuttle right over and we went outside to wait in the biting wind.  They were there soon and we loaded up and proceeded directly to the nearby hotel.  After getting checked in, we headed over to Bob Evans for lunch.  Back at the room, Leo and Diane went shopping while Sandy and I just kicked back and relaxed.  I started to read a book and dozed off.  The rest of the evening was given to periods of reading and napping.

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