Flying Lessons

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I had planned to write a post about photography in our National Parks today. But after yesterday’s experience flying from Jacksonville, FLA to Tucson, I’m going to share lessons I learned about flying instead. Baby boomer photographers, tune in tomorrow for the photography post.

After a weekend of grandmothering in Jacksonville, my trip home started out well enough. I arrived at the airport extra early so that my son could make it to work on time. No problem. Breakfast at Chili’s combined with free internet kept me well-fed and productive.

Lesson learned: Appreciate airports that offer reliable, free internet plus ample power connections.

At the gate for the American Airlines flight to Dallas/Ft Worth, I learned that the plane had a mechanical issue. Then, the flight was cancelled. Next, it was back on, delayed, almost cancelled and finally a go.

Lesson learned:  Don’t rush to re-book. All of those savvy passengers who called reservations to re-book flights when they heard the “cancelled” announcement almost lost their seats. Once the flight resumed its “go” status they were no longer scheduled for the flight.

Our plane arrived late but I still had 30 minutes to catch the flight to Tucson. Only, we sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes before we could access the gate. Passengers in front of me took their time exiting the plane. The flight attendants could have asked those without tight connections to stay seated as a courtesy to those of us in a rush. They didn’t.

Lesson learned:  The next time I’m on a plane that’s arriving late, I’ll stay in my seat if I’m not in a hurry so that other passengers can make their connections.

Passengers with tight connections were advised to check with the gate agent before rushing to their next plane. When I did, the gate agent told me the flight was closing and I would not make it to the gate at Terminal D in time. She gave me an American Airlines voucher for a flight leaving three hours later.

Lesson learned: I should have skipped this step. Read on to learn why.

I was in Terminal C but my re-scheduled flight was in Terminal A so I headed on over via SkyLink, the tram system that runs between the sprawled-out terminals at Dallas/Ft. Worth. At A-13, I asked the busy agent (first mistake), if I had a seat on the 4:00 p.m. flight. She said I was on standby (Donna, next time listen). I asked again if I would make the plane. She replied again that I was on standby. I wanted her to tell me if the plane was full. She danced around the issue.

Lesson learned: Avoid busy, harried-looking gate agents.

So, I walked through Terminal A until I found two gate agents without anything to do. Using my friendliest smile, I asked them to help confirm that I would be on the 4:00 p.m. flight. After a flurry of typing, one of the gate agents looked at me, “The flight is full. You might not clear standby. I can’t find another alternative for you today. I’ve confirmed a space for you on tomorrow morning’s flight, just in case.”

Lesson learned: Being friendly but persistent helps.

As I walked through the terminal looking for lunch, I called Alan to inform him of the delay. “But your original flight hasn’t left the gate,” he told me. A look overhead at the closest monitor confirmed that he was right. I rushed back to SkyLink for the ride to D-37. But, you guessed it, by the time I got to the gate, the plane had departed. By now, I wanted to find out why I had originally been told the flight had closed. The gate agent at D-37 confirmed that he was the one who had called my arriving gate (C-18), advising them that I could not make the flight. At the time, he did not know the Tucson flight would be delayed. Then he handed me a new ticket, ”I’ve booked you on a Frontier flight at 4:00 p.m. to Denver with a connection to Tucson.”

Lesson learned: After leaving the original flight, I should have gone straight to my departing gate, ignoring the advice to check in with the agent at the arriving gate. Even if I had missed the plane, I would have learned about my new flight arrangements and avoided the hassle of unnecessary terminal changes and a grouchy gate agent.

So, after 12 hours of travel, 3 flights on two airlines and three terminal changes in Dallas/Ft. Worth, I made it home.

Lesson learned: With airlines running such tight inventories, expect complications if anything goes wrong with your original flight. Stay calm, smile, be persistent, then write a blog post about it.

Baby boomer travelers, do you have any suggestions for next time? Post a comment to share your tips on negotiating a flight day gone wrong.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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