Thursday, April 15

Travel Is Glamorous, Part 2

I took a day trip on Tuesday, and by the end of the day, I remembered that even short flights can be tiring, in the maze.

I woke @ 6am to finish packing (!) and start the journey to DFW. Since I used to travel frequently on business (pre-bubble) I decided to slip back into that routine for the day. I'd need to leave home 2 hours before my flight, allowing time for the rush-hour commute to the Park N' Fly lot, where I'd leave the car. Good thing I allowed a little extra time: there was an accident on LBJ near 35-E and the going was slow. I'd already moved to the far left lane, hearing the accident report on one of the AM radio stations. The airline says I should arrive at the terminal 2 hours before the flight, but I've seldom found that to be necessary, unless you want to sit and wait. And I'm not a patient waiter.

Once at the remote parking lot, timing becomes predictable: 15 minutes later I'd be in line to get a boarding pass (years ago, I learned that parking at the terminal was risky; I once drove around for 30 minutes and still didn't find a space).

Once inside the terminal, I see that a few things have changed. First is the row of self-service kiosks; swipe your credit card (for ID) and verify your flight, and out spits your boarding pass (I had no bags to check). My premium frequent flyer account is long gone, but that wouldn't have mattered: the many kiosks mean you're (nearly) always first in line. Then, wait in line to pass security; I was amused at the Disneyland-style signs saying "you are now 10 minutes from the security checkpoint". Next, the TSA scans my bag (X-ray? or something more colorful?) and asks me to put my shoes on the belt, to be scanned. Thankfully, I left my laptop at home (avoiding another scan).

I arrived at the gate 15 minutes before boarding, so my "leave home 2 hours before the flight" timing still worked. At DFW, the American Eagle regional jets (RJs) depart from a remote terminal (necessitating a short bus ride), but returned at a main B-terminal gate. The remote terminal was modern; I grabbed a breakfast sandwich (akin to an Egg McMuffin) and an OJ before the flight. Turns out that would be all the food I had time for, until nearly 8pm; it was a busy day.

I've flown in RJs before, and do like them; both flights today used the Brazilian-made Embraer ERJ-145 which I prefer to the MD-88 jets that are common in AA's fleet. The RJ's are quick and nimble, and since they seat less than 50 passengers, you're in and out quickly. It's also nice to see them using jetbridges instead of walking across the tarmac. The flights were uneventful (just the way I like them). American Eagle's flight attendants introduce themselves by first name only, and the in-flight announcements (fasten your seat belts; bring your seatbacks and tray tables to their fully upright and locked positions, etc.) are almost all tape-recorded. I was amused to see them turn off the tape before the Spanish translation.

Once at the destination, I rented a car (well, I was "upgraded" to a Ford Escape (an SUV of sorts)) which drank $21 of gas in 244 miles. The gas might've been less, had I been able to fill it before returning it to the airport with 1/4 tank remaining. I stopped at a gas station near the airport, but couldn't find the release on the Escape (even the guy at Hertz had no clue, when I arrived at the airport, less than an hour before my flight). Also, I continue to be appalled by the amount that municipalities add taxes to car rentals; in my case, an extra $16 was added, making my 6-hour rental just under $100. Word is that it've been worse at DFW, which has some of the highest "visitor taxes" in the country.

On the return, the TSA guy asks to see my shoes (still on my feet) and says I can walk on through. Hmm. So much for consistency; these are the same ones I was asked to remove at a different airport. Other passengers weren't so lucky; I fully expect changing rooms to be a standard part of future airport security.

While looking for the Embraer website, I wandered across Airliners.Net which has a LOT of photos, if you're into that kind of stuff.