Thursday, March 19, 2015

Whiling Away While Up and Away

For the greater part of a recent two-hour flight I studied what appeared to be perfectly placed hair spikes on the precise crown of the back of a man’s head. (Spike Dude) Using the pinch-method zoom on my phone camera to snap the accompanying shot caught the attention of Guy To My Left who leaned decidedly away from me.

I began to wonder:

Does Spike Dude twist those teensy gathers of hair into little spindles, or does he haphazardly use a spiking gel? Or both?  I pictured his morning hair grooming taking place in a three-way mirror, found myself curious as to how many times he might sigh, flatten them and start over.

Does he always manufacture the same number of spikes? Every time he moved his head I tried to double check my count, which fluctuated so I had to start over. How long has he worn that do? His head is nicely shaped for it. 

Time whiled away as I compared Spike Dude’s head shape to Shaved Head Man—or was he really Bald Head Man?—seated a row closer to me. I tried to picture myself without hair, imagined how much easier life would be. My dad was mostly bald. I dig bald heads. I remembered the day one of our dear bald-headed friends showed up wearing a toupee. A horrid toupee that screamed TOUPEE! For decades he wore various toupees, each evolution looking more natural, right up until a recent unconquerable rash forced him to give them up. Such a sad day for him... But I didn’t want to ruin my relaxed flight time being sad so I refocused.

I wonder who influenced Spike Dude’s hairdo? I tried to picture Hollywood types, fashionistas still sporting spikes … Huh. I could only envision the current Mohawk trend. Michael Strahand came to mind. How long have spikes been out of vogue?

Maybe the spikes are an accidental result of a hat situation …which diverted my attention to a study of Gray Hat Guy directly in front of me. I decided he had the perfect size hat for his head. Does he typically wear baseball caps? Bet he does. His ears reminded me a little of my dad’s ears which endeared this stranger to me—this stranger whose face I had not seen but whose back of head had likely never been studied that closely. Or maybe it had. I cast my eyes around to see who else was studying the back of heads. Impossible to tell when all I could see was the back of heads.

Spike Dude changed position. I retrieved my phone, snapped another picture, used the pinch method to enlarge it, compared my first capture to the second. Guy To My Left shifted further away from me. I’m creeping him out. 

I stopped to consider if I was creepy, decided I was not. I’m just an old creative type who’s very entertaining in her own mind. I smiled, which I thought could be construed as creepy, which further entertained me so I smiled more broadly. I considered taking 20 more pictures just to see if Guy To My Left might actually crawl over his chair arm into the aisle to get away from me.

Heart zing! Perhaps Guy To My Left is a sky marshal who’s not moving away from me but rather leaning to unsnap his holster.  I put my phone away, wiped the grin off my face. Went back to staring.

After I calmed down a new thought struck me. Spike Dude may simply suffer an unconquerable cowlick to which he applies heavy product in attempts to make it obey. But it doesn’t and never will. Although it frustrates him, his Happy Hair is adding eons of distraction to my flight.

I relaxed, closed my eyes, gave thanks for all the wonders of the world including Spike Dude. May his life be as merry and self-entertaining as mine. 

And may you all be able to relax during your next flight without wondering what someone is thinking about your hair, your ears--your life.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Tweets, Texts, Emails, Phone Calls & Whiskey


What a great plan: American Airlines Flight 2315 (which was of course Envoy also sort of known as American Eagle) direct flight from ABQ to ORD home. Seats in row 10. Huzza! Super plan, right up until they first posted delays and then ... canceled. We learned of the cancellation via a recorded message to my cell phone which arrived simultaneously with notification of same on FlightStats, which I’d been dogging. This explosion of wonderfulness occurred about two hours before departure.

Here we go.

Our son had been through this a few days previous. Around noonish via email he was notified that his AA ABQ to MSP connecting flights were canceled for his next-day flights and replacement flights left him driving in the middle of the night from MSP to his final destination. It took hours and hours and hours on the phone and disconnections and starting over and then having someone difficult to understand tell him they could see flights he couldn’t see on the website (Oh, really?—and another disconnect) until finally he left a message, assured he wouldn’t lose his place in line and that someone would phone him back when it was his turn. Sometimes one just has to go to bed. Hours later around 11:30 p.m. he received a call rebooking him for a day later than originally scheduled but with the sane and suitable replacement flights he'd been trying to get all along. Via PHX not DFW. Enough said.

Fun fact: while he was on hold I tried every online trick I could think of to help him. This included sending a Tweet out to @AmericanAir. After all, I’d just read an article somewhere whereby an AA customer touted timely Twitter help she received after she accidentally ended up outside security. Their quick response Tweet saved her from missing her flight. Why wouldn’t I try that?! SUPER MOM TO THE RESCUE!

6:58 PM 2/22/15  @AmericanAir Any hints to get through to and stay connected with you to rearrange weather related cancels? Hours in now w/nothing.

11:58 pm 2/22/15 @TwinkleChar Please continue to wait, Charlene.

But enough about my son’s trial. Back to our dilemma.

I phoned AA from our hotel room (close to the airport and with a free shuttle) to rebook flights and was put on hold. As I kept the phone to my ear and replayed our son’s plight in my head I said to my husband, "Let’s take the shuttle to the airport now. I want to be able to talk directly to a human and be available to reroute in an instant."  A storm was due into ABQ later in the day. GET US OUT OF HERE, right?

When we arrived at ABQ  hubby and I both noticed no other airlines had customer lines. Only AA. About 20 folks.  From the line chatter and grumbling we soon learned everyone in that line was trying to reschedule their canceled Chicago flight. The line was moving (hahahaha) very slowly. One dude at the back of the line, trying to make a connection, yelled thus and demanded folks MOVE IT ALONG!

Oh, that always works. To get you stared down like the dumb petoot you're acting like.

About 25 minutes in I was still on hold and we were next up to the counter.

[While all this was going on and I was still on hold, my call waiting sounded. It was American Airlines. I clicked over (holding my breath I didn’t get disconnected) to listen to a recording telling me they were sorry about the cancellation, that there were no other direct flights, but not to worry that we’d “been protected” on alternate flights.  If I had a pencil and paper handy, which I did, the recording said I should say CONTINUE and they’d tell me what and when. CONTINUE, I said, but the voice was sorry it didn’t understand me. After three more failed attempts for it to understand CONTINUE it said I should call American Airlines. Goodbye.

Alrighty then. I clicked back over to my holding.

An AA rep eventually came on the line. I told her we were next up for the counter at the airport and asked if we should just hang up and let them handle it. "NO!" Seriously, she nearly yelled. She reassured me that yes we were “protected” and confirmed on flights connecting in DFW. The next day.  I explained there was a storm coming into ABQ that evening and couldn’t she please get us out of there. I was uber nice, funny even. Charming you might say. After long pauses and an “I know this is crazy but…” The only thing she could offer was Albuquerque to Phoenix to NYC (don’t remember which airport) to ORD.

I can’t possibly imagine anything going wrong there, can you! Oddly, we declined.

We hung up in time for the gate agent to tell us the same thing. Sometimes things just are what they are. At least we weren't about to miss a wedding or funeral or our last moments on this earth with someone we loved. Just lean into this, Charlene, I said to myself, and be grateful. Visions of whiskey began to dance in my head.

I phoned the hotel, which I'd highly recommend. The kind manager, who said he understood our precarious situation when we’d earlier checked out, answered. I asked for his very best rate. He extended a “distressed passenger” price of five bucks cheaper than our previous night which had been a good deal to start with so I said thank you very much and okay and he said he'd send their free shuttle (van) ride back to the airport to retrieve us.

There is nothing like feeling both “protected” while also affirmed you are “distressed.”

We opted for our same room which hadn’t yet been cleaned but we didn’t care. We often blow off housekeeping anyway. We like to leave our stuff strewn all over the place.

[begin group texts to our sons]

1:04 p.m. -   So we get to go home tomorrow now, barring the incoming storm doesn’t hose that. No longer nonstop. Routed via DFW. Will keep you posted. Checking back into Comfort Inn for distressed passenger rate. Where’s the bar?

[We enjoyed a four-hour, time-killing eat and libation session at Applebees across the street, got a dinner sandwich to go, watched TV and retired early for the first of our next day’s flights due to depart at 9:01 a.m..]

Yep, that storm arrived. Here's the view out the ABQ concourse window flight morning.
8:35 a.m – 9:01am flight shows on time out of here so far but DFW now has weather warnings involving ice.  Ah, travel.

9:49 a.m. - Seated on flight one.

10:07 a.m. -  And now… Deicing…

10:17 a.m. -  And … now a bunch of other stuff [gas] and then deicing and then …

10:42 a.m. -  Seriously we are going to deice.

1:07 p.m. -  At DFW. Still showing #2315 leaving on time at 2:55 but standing by on #2309 departing at 2. Just got here. Whiskey ordered. 

[Then whiskey and diet slammed because, miraculously (or so I thought, even though we had the very back row) ...]

Dad's View
1:54 p.m. -  We are on early flight! In end probably won’t save time now since made us check bags last minute and tons of empty overhead space on board. Grrr. This is dad’s view. Oh well, still hope to make Irish COD [College of DuPage] performance tonight. [Note to TL readers: it never occurred to me when I bought these $50+ each tickets weeks’ previous that we wouldn’t be home for them, since we were due in the day before.]

2:07 p.m. -  And now starts delays…Need gas. Will then get in line to deice. Lesson learned: stay the course.

2:26 p.m. - Original later flight beating us out. Haven’t even pushed back yet, then deicing. Then luggage pickup in ORD. More whiskey please. [Although no whiskey was available to us. Just wishful texted thinking. I kept checking FlightStats on our original flight too, which stayed on a par with our speedy standby maneuver. I later learned DEPARTED only meant pushed back for both flights seemingly having a race to lose.]

2:37 p.m. - And now ... Nobody is leaving Dallas. [meaning on our plane] Flight attendant disarming doors.

2:51 p.m. -  Final update (hahaha): we are now leaving DFW at 3:35. Welcome to captivity. So glad I pounded a whiskey. [Referring to the 1:07 pounding, not another whiskey people!]

3:54 p.m. - We’re waiting for deicing. Hahaha!

4:19 p.m. - We’re on our way to get deiced. Hahahahaha!

4:34 p.m. - We’re on our way to decing. Bwahahaha!

4:43 p.m. - Still on the ground in DFW

Email to Joe Brancatelli at, a longtime road warrior and my travel guru. 

4:49 p.m. [Can you tell I’m bored?] Been on our way home from ABQ since canceled direct flight yesterday. Been in plane on ground at dfw today since 2. It's now 4:30. Travel sucks. Bless you for enduring.

4:52 p.m. – [from Joe] At 3 hours you have the right to disembark

5:07 p.m. -  [text to sons] Just now getting de-iced.

5:20 p.m. – [Email to Joe] We're out on tarmac. Been here forever now. Just got deiced, we think. FlightStats lies. =:-O Says we left 3:47. Thanks for outreach. Makes me feel better. We have been so jacked around but you know what it's like. Oh well, more material. [always a writer]

5:24 p.m. – [from Joe] The dot rule is three hours ON THE TARMAC. They can't hold you longer. Dot rules

[I don’t explain to Joe till the next day that we had one chance--that 2:37 disarming doors text where the captain said looks like maybe 3:35 pushback--to get off the plane. The captain said we’d have to take everything with us if we deplaned and if the flight received clearance ahead of predictions they wouldn’t wait and he didn’t advise we get off.]

[We finally take off. Whiskey and diet ordered, paid for with credit card, received and happily consumed. Souvenir picture.] 

7:17 [Back to texts to sons] Just landed in ORD. Still taxi. Then get luggage [Note to TL readers by way of reminder that there was plenty of room for our bags in the overheads] then wait for limo. Probably missed whole Irish show but will try to catch end.

We quickly stopped at a no-line fast food on the concourse and bought one quarter-pound cheeseburger to split in the limo. We had the limo driver take us directly to College of DuPage where we arrived just before the intermission. We checked our bags in the coat room and I ordered a whiskey and diet. Anyone surprised? Anyone? A friend who also had tickets gave us a ride home.

We later learned—and for a few days running—that hundreds of people slept on cots at DFW. Maybe they are still there. So we were the lucky ones. Our flight crew out of DFW, who remained pleasant, efficient and sympathetic, shared with us that they were on their fourth flight of the day. All previous flights had gone well. They’d started flying at 5 a.m. that morning and they didn’t deplane until after we did, sometime around 7:30. 

After two days, many texts, one Tweet, a few Emails, countless hours of holding phones calls and some whiskey along the way, it was agreed upon that at least we weren’t them. Talk about a long travel day ... Bless you, flight crews. Bless you.

PS In case you were trying to count, I had two whiskeys over four hours at Applebees on Thursday. Friday I had one before our second flight, one on flight two and one at the college, which made for three drinks (and no driving) over a period of 7.5 hours. (I am a responsible drinker.) It just looked like more because I used bright flashy pink and large type. For emotional reasons. Hey, I'm a girl who likes whiskey. Deal with it. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rusty Stupidness and Banked Miles

Photo by Scott Robinson

Here’s the thing about staying out of the skies for a couple years: you get rusty. Stupid rusty, thereby making stupid rusty stupid mistakes.

Backstory: We haven’t flown since our oldest son married back in May of 2012. Come to think of it, we didn’t even fly then from Chicago to his wedding in Albuquerque. We drove because we could and it’s easier and healthier since I could spread my altitude adjustments over a few days and it's cheaper and we could pack any dang thing we wanted to without extra fees and eat what and where we wanted and see new things along the way and we’re mostly retired and we have a comfortable car with heated AND cooled seats. Ba-BAM!

So when was the last time we flew? Hm. I had to search my mind (nothing) and email files to learn it was back in 2009, also to ABQ. Before that, in 2007 we flew to Florida for a cruise. Before that, I flew Very Often while book touring and speaking my way across the country and back again, and then from here to there in an X pattern and then a star and…

So here we are in 2015 when we still really don’t want to fly but need to get to Albuquerque for our son’s 50th (declared his Five-OH!) birthday party. Since we tempted the fates and drove 3200 miles this past December without severe weather incident (future TravelingLaughs and boy have I got stories to tell!), we decided doing so again in February would be pushing our luck.

But moreover—and thus starts the STUPID (a word I just typo-d and had to correct, gheesh!)--I was tired of babysitting 43,145 American Airlines miles (out of a lifetime 560,145) which have been on the verge of expiring several times over many years thereby causing biannual Ridiculous Encounters of the Vigilant Kind.


--Years ago I lost over 40,000+ hard-earned (actually flew) United Airline miles because they expired. I’ll take the blame: I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I discovered the loss the day after they expired. I contacted United who would have been glad to sell them back to me for a bunch of money I didn’t have. Gone. Not gonna happen with my AA miles, I vowed.

--We quit using a credit card to rack up AA miles way back when they started charging to use said miles. We opted for cash-back cards with dollars that don’t expire and are easy for me to spend, right dear?

So, how to safeguard my 43,145 miles if we weren’t flying or using a mileage card? Well, we could add to them, thereby keeping them, by shopping via an AAdvantage eshopping portal (set up another account to manage and remember that password) that offered ever changing X number of miles per dollars spent at various stores. Which triggered its own separate vigilance:  after jumping through all the appropriate click-through links, did they actually POST the miles? Sometimes not. But please contact them if that happens. :)

To stop the madness, as Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank says, we decided to finally rid ourselves of those always-need-to-be-vigilant brain draining miles by using them.

Too bad this decision didn’t stop the RUSTY STUPID but instead highlighted it!

Since it took 50,000 miles to fly roundtrip to ABQ, I needed to purchase the difference which cost $177--with 145 miles left over which I'm telling you right now I've decided never to care about. Ever. Just before I clicked PURCHASE an “invoice” of sorts presented itself adding a $30 “processing fee”. I sat staring at the screen. I shall not repeat what I first said aloud to nobody, then repeated even louder. But eventually I said to myself, You’re going to end the quickly compounding madness, remember? Just push BUY and get the miles, Charlene!

[SIDENOTE: I am in the wrong business or I am double stupid since before you read this TravelingLaugh you were not charged a $30 “blog processing fee” to read it. But my wheels are spinning for the next installations, so watch out.]

I was notified said purchased miles could take up to three days to show up in my account, and if they didn’t, I should contact them. (More vigilance.) They advised making and holding my reservations until such time as I received notification my account was funded with necessary miles and THEN I could actually purchase the tickets. I made the reservations for all three legs (from a bunch of not-so-hot choices), selected seats (from abysmal choices) and said, Whew! All those years of fretting about protecting miles finally comes to an end. 

The next day (well, at least it wasn’t three days) I received notification the miles were in my account. The email came complete with a handy-dandy purchase link which I clicked. I quickly received my eTickets and an email receipt charging me $150 MORE ($75 per ticket) plus taxes.

Wait. What?! What is this $150? Seems waiting for miles (and being STUPID RUSTYI used to KNOW these things!) put me at 21 days before travel, which costs $75 per ticket to use my own miles on flights I’d never otherwise select in seats that suck. In case you forgot, if you book 21 days or sooner, you’re financially doomed—I just didn’t remember that would be the case with FREE.

So now I was up to $177 plus $30 more plus taxes plus $150 plus yet more taxes to rid myself of those tormenting 43,145 miles, a nut I couldn’t quite swallow. I sat at my desk and prayed, did shoulder rolls, pictured puppies romping through fields of lavender, inhaled, exhaled, counted to 20 and prayed some more, let my shoulders drop and phoned AAdvantage.

Question One, asked in the nicest kindest voice (lavender, puppies…) I’ve ever heard come out of me: Is it costing me to talk to you? I honestly asked that question because some latent memories began to kick in … Don’t call, don’t call ... if it costs $30 to process online, what will a voice charge? The swell woman (seriously) answered No and I began to explain the order of my events leading to what felt to me like a complete surprise $150 charge, $150 more than was in my budget for this trip. I still had the rental car to contend with, oh my.

She looked up everything and verified the “Day 21 Beforehand” timing. First she said she was going to turn me over to someone, then took pity on poor ol’ me and decided she could handle things herself, which would be her attempt to eradicate the $150 by moving our reservations back two days, if such a move was possible. After lots of her clicking and me holding and endless Thankyou, thankyou, THANKYOUing on my part, mission accomplished! I even received a confirmation email complete with an invoice for nothing but yet more taxes—although as I type this I’m thinking: check your credit card charges STUPID! (Did you feel the tension-filled pause there while I checked, and thank goodness STUPID didn’t find anything bad, like a $150 charge.)

At 3 a.m. I was awakened by what I can only call another subconscious STUPID alarm. Why hadn’t she asked me about seat assignments? Why hadn’t I thought about them?! I ran into my office, booted up and discovered zero seats available for the first leg of our two-leg flight to ABQ. The note at the top of the page said:

Heads up!

The number of seats available to pre-reserve are fewer than the number of people in your party. Please check back later or see a Ticket Counter or Gate Agent on the day of your flight.

WHAT? I clicked to the next outbound leg via DFW. We had the same two seats I’d originally selected (the last two-together left at the back of the plane). One more click to our return flight home and … Another Heads up! (And head bang.) I phoned and inquired about this predicament and was told not to worry. It was explained that they hold certain seats which they’d release 24 hours before the flight. I could go online flight day and select them when I checked in, or get them assigned pre-flight at the airport. Again, I was told not to worry, that the flight was not oversold as I’d suggested, and that We. Would. Have. Seats.

This is when I knew they knew I was STUPID!

I have checked multiple times since and see there are still no seats. I am trying not to fret since the Five-Oh! party is mid-day the day after we’re supposed to arrive on a flight for which we have no seat assignments.


SPECIAL REQUEST: If any of you seasoned travel vets knows how I can be assured we’ll get seats or overcome this dilemma, please chime in now in the comments. I'm exhausting myself constantly checking what I feel pretty sure isn't going to change.

If all you have for me is the bad news I feel pretty assured I’m up against, go right ahead and reaffirm my RUSTY STUPIDNESS.  I deserve it. Years ago I would have known better. 

I can only hope that if we do get to fly I don’t have all kinds of stuff confiscated at the gate since I am, yes, THAT RUSTY STUPID. (All together now, it's 3-1-1 but what exactly does that mean again ... **Charlene goes Googling**)
PS I'm sorry for crazy font issues toward the end of my post. I have no idea why that is happening. The more I tried to fix it, the more widespread it became. Although the issues don't show up on my working end, they sure do when I post. Sigh...