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Left Coast / Right Coast: Travel Travails

Mike Gold and Jacqui Ying on the slopes at Vail. Photo courtesy of Mike Gold.
Mike Gold and Jacqui Ying on the slopes at Vail. Photo courtesy of Mike Gold.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

I just returned from a short trip to Vail, Colorado. Yes the skiing was great. However, in order to ski in Vail, one must take an airplane from Seattle to Denver and back, then surface transportation to and from Denver to Vail.

That’s where all the enjoyment from such a trip evaporates.

Once upon a time, air travel was an event to be anticipated. In the early jet age, one arrived at the airport and you were greeted by nothing but pleasantness. There were aids to assist you in doing everything.

In my case, one arrived at the airport with a ski bag plus an overnight bag. You could check both bags at curbside (no additional charge) and off you went to your gate.

In fact, you could get your boarding pass at curbside from a porter. Then take a leisurely stroll to your departure gate.

No more. First, there is the drive from Mill Creek to Sea-Tac. My departing flight was at 10:30 AM. So I had to be at the airport at least two hours before flight time. That meant in the parking lot by 8:00 AM.

So heading south on I-5 on a workday, that meant I had to leave at 6:00 AM to assure an approximate arrival on time. So one must get up by 5:00 AM or so.

Battling rush hour traffic on I-5 south was sort of okay. Nothing out of the ordinary. I actually got to the parking lot at 7:30 AM.

Transfer the heavy ski bag to the shuttle bus. In the old days, you could pull up to curbside in your car, have a porter check your stuff directly from your car and receive a baggage claim check and boarding pass. Then drive to your parking spot – somewhere near the departure gate and walk back to your departing gate. Actually it was really convenient.

That’s gone forever.

So after being dropped off by the parking shuttle, lug your heavy ski bag and overnight bag across the sky bridge to departing gates.

After waiting in a very long line to get serviced at the “check in” gate (and one has to constantly pick up and move your heavy ski bag foot by foot through the “check in maze”), you find out that the cost for checking your skis round trip is just slightly cheaper than renting skis at the ski area.

In fact, at Vail, the rental cost is about double the round trip check fees. For today’s economy flights, absolutely nothing is free.

My carrier actually charged for carrying an over-night case onto the plane and using the over-head storage area.

In flight, nothing is free other than water. Coffee, Coke: $2.00 Snack: $4.00 Sandwich: $6.00.

Oh, I forgot Homeland Security. A pleasant experience assuming you don’t mind an event very similar to having a colonoscopy.

With today’s scanners, you must remove everything from your body except your “normal” clothes. If you happen to wear a knee brace, it must come off. Likewise even a pair of reading glasses from your pocket.

And the moving conveyor belt on which all your valuables are placed in a tray, are out of sight as you walk through the scanner. It is impossible to keep an eye on these valuables.

On the trip back from Denver, I was wearing a rubberized back brace. That set off alarms coast to coast. I think they suspected I had an explosive strapped to my body under the brace.

So I was escorted to a “private screening room” in which two Homeland Security agents patted me down, and wiped my hands with some pad which was then inserted into an “explosives testing machine.”

The actual airplane, which was an Airbus 320, had non-adjustable seat backs (a first for me on any flight since I began flying). The reason for them being non-adjustable was the seats had us so packed in (to allow additional seats on the flight) that leaning the seatback back would have decapitated the passenger behind me.

Now upon arriving in Denver, I was instructed to go to the Vail shuttle counter (once I had collected my checked baggage) to get assigned to my shuttle bus.

On that particular day, the police had shut down the arrival carousels due to a police dog sniffing out something “unusual.” After an hour, it turned out to be some Vietnamese family who had checked a suitcase full of spices and cooking oils.

The last indignity on this trip was that upon departing Denver, everyone had taken their seats, and we were ready to depart. But oh no, not on this day. The Captain got on the intercom and said, “We seem to not have the current log book for this airplane. I cannot fly the plane without that log book (FAA regulations – which make sense to me). So we don’t know how long it will be but we’re not going anywhere without that book.” So only 45 minutes later, they mysteriously found the missing book.

When we arrived in Seattle, on my way out of the plane, I stopped and asked the Captain, “I was wondering – with the FAA rules, how did the previous Captain fly the airplane from wherever into Denver?”  He had no answer. So I’m assuming on the previous leg for that airplane on that day, the flight into Denver had been an “illegal” one.

After this trip from Hell, I’m thinking next year of driving (only 20 hours each way). You know, when you think about this, it might actually make sense.

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