Friday, July 27, 2007

Diary of an Infrequent Flyer.

I certainly wouldn't call myself a "frequent flyer." At least not when it comes to air travel. Last Saturday was anything but ordinary for me when I passed through three airports within the span of 14 hours.

The mission, to go bail my 11-year-old daughter out of a weeklong summer camp up at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe. I had made this same trek last year only I had driven. It's an eight to nine hour journey each way. I had originally planned to drive again this year but as the time to head up there drew closer the thought of 16 to 18 hours spent behind the wheel became less appealing. Plus, there would be no time for spending an extra day or so in the Tahoe area as she had to report the next day to Girl Scout Camp in Ojai. It was going to have to be a quick turnaround.

So last Wednesday I bit the bullet and bought airline tickets. An 11 a.m. checkout time at the camp meant I had to take the first plane out of Santa Barbara Saturday morning. I arrived at the airport a few minutes after 5 a.m. to catch my 6 a.m. flight to Reno with a plane change in San Francisco.

One of the tactical advantages of living in Santa Barbara is being able to fly in and out of our small, uncrowded airport. Out of curiosity I poked my head into the terminal where the ticket counter is. There's a huge line. I'm glad that I bought an e-ticket and checked in for the flight using my home computer where I printed out my boarding passes. I head over to the gate where there is no line. I breeze through security and await the boarding call. The plane leaves the gate on time.

When you ride four planes in the same day the flight attendant's safety spiel becomes pretty well etched into your long-term memory. You know, the business about turning off all electronic devices. And what's an "electronic device?" Anything with an on/off switch! Fortunately, except for cell phones and pagers (and who carries a pager anymore?) that ban only applies during the first and last ten minutes of the flight. Otherwise, someone like "Samantha" on "Sex and the City" could be in for a long trip.

And talk about long trips, what about that crying baby? D.B. Cooper didn't parachute out of the plane to escape with the money. He jumped out to get away from the screaming infants on board.

The airport in San Francisco is a startling contrast to our Santa Barbara terminal. I lost track of exactly when it was that the departure gate concourse at the big airports got turned into shopping malls. Expensive shopping malls. I've seen cheaper prices in a Tiffany's catalog.

Not only has the mall moved to the airport so have all of the neighborhood watering holes. Alcoholic Beverage Control would never let this many bars move so close together. Not that I'm complaining. A quick stroll down the concourse takes me to the gate where I board my connecting flight.

When I arrive at the Reno airport I discover that they've taken the gamble out of flying and put it into the terminal. Slot machines are on the concourse. How did all of these one armed bandits get past the TSA security check?

Now that the airport terminal has been turned into a Vegas style casino, what's next, the Vegas style "gentlemen's club?" Then again, it might cut down on the complaints about delayed flights.

By 9 a.m. I'm standing at the car rental counter. I arrive at Squaw Valley in plenty of time to claim my daughter. After lunch it's time to reverse our path to return home. The only hitch coming back is in San Francisco where the hour and 20 minutes between flights turns into a three-hour wait.

We use the extra time to have a leisurely dinner and finally get back to Santa Barbara by 8:30 that evening. Have you noticed that Santa Barbara is one of the few airports around where friends and family can still greet you at the arrival gate? If I hadn't lost so much money in the slot machines at the Reno terminal I could have probably afforded to pick up a nice gift for them on the concourse at SFO.

And by the way, I know you have a lot of choices when it comes to reading blogs. Thanks for choosing mine.

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Hope you got a kick out of yesterday's "winner" of the iPhone photo contest. James Sinclair gets the prize for the best Photoshopped entry in the contest. Winner of best unretouched entry goes to Brent Sumner who submitted this photo. Looks like he might have even hired a hand model.

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