Commercial Airline Travel Blues

At the mercy of misguided authority — and other minor inconveniences.

I flew to Austin, TX today. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wasn’t doing the flying. I was a passenger on a Southwest Airlines 737.

Dangerous Substances and Implements

I hadn’t been on a commercial airliner since last November and I’d forgotten what a pain in the neck it could be. Back then, Mike and I were flying to Florida for a week and we checked our luggage, so all the liquids/cremes/gels nonsense didn’t apply to us. Since those days, most airports have relaxed many of their restrictions on these things. But Phoenix has not. It still limits your liquids/cremes/gels carry-on to 3 ounce bottles that must fit in a clear plastic bag that they provide. They call it 3-1-1, but I have no clue what the 1 and 1 are supposed to stand for.

I had a tube of toothpaste, a tiny bottle of eye drops, 4 disposable contact lenses (in original packaging), and an almost spent tube of face cream. It was tucked into my backpack, along with a change of clothes, some PJs, my 12″ PowerBook, and a bunch of chargers and AC adapters.

I decided that I was going to take my chances with the X-Ray machine. Phoenix could save a plastic bag. If security found my liquids/cremes/gels a hazard to airline traffic, they could keep them.

And that’s what was going through my mind as I waited on line at security.

Until I got to the front of the line and started wondering whether I still had that mini Leatherman tool in my purse. I’d bought the tool back in my turbine helicopter days, when I needed a screwdriver to open the battery compartment on the Long Ranger I flew at the Grand Canyon. SInce then, the tool was always shuffling around from one place to another. I wasn’t sure if it was in my purse.

Security brought good news and bad news. The good news is, they either didn’t find my liquids/cremes/gels or didn’t care about them. The bad news is, they did find the Leatherman tool. But, of course, that’s good news, too. I would have been more worried if it were in there and they didn’t find it.

The Leatherman cost me $34 in 2004 and I wasn’t about to leave it for the security people to fight over. So I got an escort back into the insecure area and a special yellow card that would allow me to come back to the front of the line. I also got directions to the Information desk, where a Indian woman would help me mail my Leatherman home.

I waited behind a man buying stamps for postcards. When it was my turn, the Indian woman weighed my leatherman and gave me a padded envelope and 3 39¢ stamps. I gave her $2.79.

“The mailbox is on the second level,” she told me. Go down one level and go out door 23 on the north side. It’s to the left. You’ll have to walk a little.”

That was the understatement of the day. The mailbox was on the opposite end of the terminal. I think that if I’d walked in a different direction, I probably would have run into a post office sooner.

Back at the line, I was able to get to the front with my yellow card. Then I faced the X-Ray machine again. Would they confiscate my liquids/cremes/gels?


I felt bad for the folks who had unpacked these dangerous substances and revealed them to the world.

East by Southwest

Southwest Airlines LinePart two of my commercial airline travel day came when I arrived at the Southwest Airlines gate for my flight. That’s when I remembered why I’d stopped flying Southwest years ago. No assigned seats.

At the gate were three signs on poles: A, B, and C. And at each sign was a line of passengers. I got on what I thought was the end of line A but was then directed back behind 20 more people who were fortunate enough to have seats on line.


The pre-board line was surprisingly long. On it were folks in wheel chairs, a family with a young child in a stroller, and some older people who looked perfectly fit to me. I guess that when you get to be over a certain age, you can get special treatment if you push hard enough for it.

The pre-board folks disappeared into the plane and they started on line A. I handed over my boarding pass — didn’t need it since it didn’t have a seat number on it — and followed the people in front of me. I was very surprised to get a seat at a window in row 3. Apparently most folks don’t want window seats. Most aisle seats in the front half of the plane were full.

The older folks who had been on the pre-board line were sitting right in front of me.

Planes on LineAlthough we taxied right to the runway for departure, when we turned the corner I saw at least a dozen airplanes in line behind us. I guess that’s why the captain was taxiing so quickly on the ramp.

It was a great flight. Short and smooth. I had two glasses of orange juice, a bag of honey roasted peanuts, and a bag of Ritz crackers. I listened to podcasts: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Wired News, and Alt Text.

It was clear through Arizona and into New Mexico. I had a great view of the north side of El Paso. Then the tiny clouds started up, casting oddly shaped shadows on the desert terrain below them. We flew over the oil fields — mile after mile of sand colored squares, connected by dirt roads. The clouds thickened until I could no longer see the ground at all. Then we started our descent. I heard the landing gear lock into place long before I saw the ground again. It was wet.

As I was getting off the plane, I noted that the folks in front of me who needed extra time to board needed no extra time to get off the plane. They were out the door almost before the jetway had rolled to a complete stop. I bet they have a handicapped sign for their car’s rear view mirror so they can use handicapped parking, too.

Austin’s airport terminal looks like a great place to hang out. I’m sure I’ll get a good opportunity tomorrow, while I’m waiting for my return flight.

Unless I decide to spend that time standing on line.

Car Rental Scams and Beyond

The Hertz car rental guy tried hard to sell me the insurance coverage, using the usual scare tactics. I resisted. He then tried to sell me a whole tank of fuel for the car, warning me that I’d pay $6.69 a gallon if I didn’t return it full. I doubt if I’ll drive more than 20 miles, so I told him I’d return it full.

Right now I’m sitting in a nice little room at the Marriott Springhill Suites. I have an Internet connection, a fridge, a microwave, and a king sized bed with a pillowtop mattress. Outside my window is a tree — not a parking lot! It sure beats the place I stayed in last time I came to Austin.

Travel isn’t so bad. I’ll live.

2 thoughts on “Commercial Airline Travel Blues

  1. I just stumbled upon here and wondered, unless you are racist, why bother specifying the indian woman?

    Her nationality has nothing to do with the story. Nothing else really points or eludes to why we need to know her nationality.

    Just seems out of place when the other people aren’t described, and everything else is written more casually.

    Not going to read your response since as I said I stumbled here, just food for thought.


  2. Why NOT include her nationality? It was part of the big picture. By stating that she was Indian, I take a shortcut to describe her appearance — most people know the physical characteristics of the average Indian person, including skin and hair color and accent.

    Should I remove all describing words from my text and keep things simple with just nouns and verbs?

    No, you don’t NEED to know her nationality. But do you even NEED to know the rest of the details of my story? I doubt it.

    And why does the inclusion of person’s nationality in a description make me a racist? Why are you so oversensitive about matters like this?

    Lighten up.

What do you think?