The not so-friendly skies

Published 1:28 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

I don’t fly much anymore, but I used to quite often. When I lived in California, I would use air travel several times a year to visit old college friends and my sisters in Minnesota.

Now that I live in Austin, however, my dad and stepmom usually make the trip out here every so often, about once a year.

In addition, several of my college friends live in the midwest, making a road trip by car much more sensible than a visit by plane.

I don’t mind flying in a plane if I have to, though, but I don’t usually have the best luck with it.

I have sympathy for all of the passengers affected by the recent Iceland volcano, and even though I have never been stuck in a city for a week, I’ve been close.

In fact, one of my ex-girlfriends refused to fly with me because every time I traveled by plane, whether she was with me or not, something always went wrong.

I was snowed in once in Dallas, for instance, a city known more for its football team than for its bad weather. On that trip, I went from California to Dallas to Chicago to Minneapolis, and Dallas posed the only weather problem. Go figure.

The delays were brutal, flights were canceled and hotel rooms were sold out in minutes.

On another occasion I was headed from Fresno, Calif. to Las Vegas and then to Minneapolis.

I had bought my ticket from Vegas to Minnesota simply because it was much cheaper than starting in California. My plan was then to drive the seven-hour trip from Fresno to Las Vegas. However, one of my longtime college friends works for the airlines and also has family in Las Vegas. He encouraged me to come to Vegas a little earlier so I could spend a couple of days there. He would then fly out from San Diego to meet me there. He also allowed me to use buddy passes to fly from Fresno to Las Vegas so I wouldn’t have to drive.

A buddy pass works like this. Airline employees can purchase tickets for friends and family at a largely reduced rate, and passengers can use them for travel. The one catch is that you are traveling standby, so it’s best to fly on a weekday to make sure there’s space. Plan it wrong, and you can get stuck.

On this occasion, however I thought I planned it right. I was flying from Fresno to Las Vegas on a weekday in mid morning, a time that generally isn’t that popular for flying.

When I called the airline at 8 a.m. to check availability, the flight was booked to only 12 people on a plane with space for 30. As a result, with 18 seats to spare, I thought I could land a standby seat no problem as my flight was at noon.

It was a sure thing, I thought, and made plans to meet my friend in Las Vegas that evening.

With the flight leaving at noon, I arrived at the airport at 11 a.m. expecting to board the plane no problem.

Instead, the flight before it was canceled because of mechanical failure and all of those passengers were transferred to the noon flight, immediately filling up the plane and leaving standby passengers with little options.

Luckily, there was another airline flying to Vegas that night, and I was able to buy a ticket and make that trip, but not without a big headache.

Air travel can be a convenient and relaxing way to get from Point A to Point B. However, flying can also lead to problem after problem, whether it’s snow, mechanical failures or if the Herald’s editor just happens to be on board.