A week in Texas: Flight Day

Have I mentioned before how much I hate flight day?

Cleveland Hopkins is our nearest airport but this time it happened that tickets to Houston out of Akron-Canton would save us $200 per ticket.  It meant a plane change in Chicago instead of a non-stop flight in addition to the extra 20 minutes of driving to the airport. For any less savings I probably wouldn’t have gone for it. But for $400, I was sold.

Doc and I got up and off early for a 10:30 a.m. flight. As always, my stomach was flopping around at a dizzying speed.  I felt as if I was forgetting something. I worried that we’d have a flat tire on the way to the airport. I felt sick.

Doc insisted on driving through McDonalds.

“Nothing for me, thank you.”

Arriving at the airport no worse for the wear, the first thing we noticed was how easy it was to park.  We got out of the car and opened the trunk. Even before we got our first piece of luggage set down on the pavement, a transportation bus was parked behind us and the driver was wrestling our luggage from our trunk to the bus.

Everyone we encountered at this airport appeared to have taken a large dose of happy pills.  From the bus driver who stopped at our car to the TSA agents and the woman who gate checked our carry-ons, everyone we met could not have been nicer. We boarded on time and took off without incident.

We landed in Chicago. Not late but without a minute to spare. We only had 40 minutes before our connecting flight was scheduled to depart. Since both of our flights were with United, I expected our two gates to be close to one another. No such luck.  We had actually flown in on a US Air jet and had landed in terminal F.  We now needed to get to gate C23.  We started running.

At the shuttle stop, we had just missed the shuttle.  We were stuck waiting 15 minutes for the next.  Finally we climbed into a small bus and sped along to our terminal.  The shuttle came to a stop and we raced to our gate. No matter. We missed the plane.

Thank my stars for “Premier Access” status.

I’ve paid for “Premier Access” for a number of years and it has saved our butts a number of times before.  It costs about $400 a year.  But it eliminates baggage fees so many of those dollars are recouped throughout the year and often I break even.  It allows us to use the less crowded lines at check-in and when going through security and it allows us to board the plane in group 2, right after special needs and military, giving us first dibs on overhead compartment space.  Our bags get red “priority” tags attached and they are the first to come off the plane upon landing.  And United workers go out of their way to fix things when circumstance demands.

The man working United’s customer service desk immediately found us the next flight with available seats.  It wasn’t until 5:00– a five hour delay. He booked us into those seats but also put us on the standby lists for the next two flights scheduled for 1:30 and 3:15. Premiere Access meant that we went to the head of the standby list, our names popping up in the #1 and #2 spots.

I pulled out my cell phone to check my messages and call our friend in Houston to warn him of our delay. It was so noisy that I couldn’t hear even half the words on my voice mail. A message from Pirooz either said that he would meet us at the airport or that he wouldn’t.  I really had no idea which. I sent him a text message telling him not to go to the airport and explaining our delay.  I sent a couple more texts.  My phone went dead. It made no sense. I had just taken it off the charger before leaving home.

We watched the board as two seats opened up on the previously filled plane.  As passengers began to board, they called my name.  We had two seats on the 1:30 flight. They even seated Doc and I together.

We landed in Houston around 4:30. When we got to baggage claim, I heard my name being called over the PA system directing me to a back office.  United workers had collected our bags which had come in on the previous flight and had them safely tucked away to await us. So much for my vision of luggage spinning along on the conveyor belt, around and around, for several hours.  We collected our bags and headed off to the car rental plaza.

I had reserved a car with Hertz and knew the final bill would be somewhat more than the $400 they’d quoted me.  What I didn’t expect was a customer service worker presenting me with a bill of $1400 for 8 days.

Nope. No way. Start recalculating.

The Hertz worker had upgraded us every step of the way and was charging us for every possible extra.

“Take off the GPS,” I said. “I have my own.”

“No, I didn’t want to upgrade to an SUV.  I hate SUV’s.  Just the same full size car that I signed up for please.”

“Insurance? Yes, I want the added insurance on the car for $29 a day but no, I do not want to insure every other car on the planet for $69 a day.”

Finally, we got back to a more reasonable weekly rate. We rolled our bags to the garage, loaded up our Chevy Impala, and went out into Houston traffic.

4:30 is rush hour in Houston as it is everywhere else.  Bumper to bumper, cars driven by people with an obvious death wish were racing from one lane and to another with barely a glance in their rear view mirror.

My phone rang.

But I thought it was dead?

“We’re on Washington Street,” I answered without a hello, knowing that it would be our friend Pirooz wondering why we weren’t there yet.

“You’re WHERE?”

That was not the kind of response I wanted to hear.

“The box lady (GPS) says we’ll be there in 7 minutes.”

“Turn left on Antoi….”

“Turn where? Hello?” My phone was dead again.

Brake lights shone in every lane as far as we could see causing us more delays.  Thanks to our “lady in the box” however, we managed to find the home of our friend.

Pirooz was standing in the middle of the street waving when we arrived. He and Doc unloaded our luggage and carried it inside. He introduced us to his cousin who has been living with him since arriving from Iran four weeks ago. Pirooz’s son and ex-wife were also waiting to greet us. We would all spend the evening laughing, telling stories, and remembering old times.

Pirooz had dinner for all of us cooking on the stove. After my refusal of breakfast and a lunch of half a chicken pita wrap and a package of peanut butter crackers, I was more than ready for Pirooz’s fabulous fajita dinner.

I plopped down on the sofa with a relieved sigh and kicked off my shoes making myself at home.  Pirooz thrust a Pina Colada into my hand.

Let the vacation begin!

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