Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Everything Went Right!

I should have been delighted about my day trip yesterday (Wednesday, April 1st) from Raleigh to Dallas and back. After all, everything went right! So why is it that I had a hard time enjoying it, at least at first?

Not one to get an airport late if I can help it, I showed up before 5:00 AM at RDU Wednesday for a 6:40 AM departure on American Airlines nonstop to DFW. The elite TSA security line was short, but the regular line even shorter. In no time I was inside the airport security bubble and padding towards my gate.

Passing the new club levels, I thought, isn't the AA Admirals Club open by now? I let my real AA membership lapse this year because my American Express Platinum Card now gets me into all Admirals Clubs (so long as I am flying on American that day). The incomparable Margaret Hutchens, grande dame of the RDU Admirals Club, was only too happy to let me in with the Amex card. Even better, she checked my flights and discovered that I'd been upgraded to first class.

This was something of a miracle, since my meager flying on AA in 2008 dropped me back to a lowly Gold. Golds rarely get an upgrade, and I was very pleased to have this seat just when I needed it most. RDU/DFW is about 3 hours (a bit over 1,000 miles), and I had not slept much Tuesday night. Sitting up front is always more conducive to sleep if that's what you need.

Not a bad way to start the trip, I thought. But wait! It's April Fool's Day! Surely it was only a matter of time before the swift, hard kick in the pants balanced out the unexpected upgrade. I therefore steeled myself for a delayed or cancelled flight or some other calamity.

But it didn't happen. My plane boarded on time, and we left the gate early, took off right away, had a fast, uneventful flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, and landed 20 minutes early on the runway nearest the terminals (the distant runways are a 15-20 minute taxi in or out, and are to be avoided at all cost). I slept most of the way, too, which made me feel more like a human being.

Twenty minutes early! I was stunned. Surely our gate would be occupied, and we'd lose the time advantage waiting out on the tarmac somewhere. Once again, however, I was wrong, as we pulled right up to the gate and deplaned quickly.

Well, I chuckled cynically to myself, the stupid DFW rental car shuttle bus is ALWAYS late, and slow to boot. That'll whittle down the extra time suddenly available. Sure enough, when I got to the bus stop, it showed 10 minutes on the digital overhead sign before the next bus was due. Probably just missed one, I thought.

But in less than 5 minutes, the rental car shuttle pulled up, and we arrived at the giant remote rental car facility within 20 minutes of my stepping off the airplane. Walking into the Hertz side of the building, I was certain that my car would be missing from the screen. After all, too many things had gone right so far that morning.

But there it was on the board, showing my car in stall 223 of the Presidents Circle area. It was an easy walk, and Hertz blessed me with a double upgrade, too.

Now traffic was bound to be awful going over to Fort Worth, and I reflected on the many slow crawls I'd experienced in past years going this same route over to Lou Menck Drive (and there's a hint at my client's identity). But I sailed along in moderate traffic enjoying the elegant and sporty car Hertz had assigned to me. In no time I was pulling into the visitors lot for my meeting.

My consultations complete much earlier than expected that morning, I retraced my steps back to the airport. My flight was booked for a 6:25 PM departure, but I had checked my April Amex Executive Flight Guide, the indispensable hard copy of all domestic (and many international) flights I get every month, and I knew there were two earlier nonstops I might catch, one at 2:25 PM and another just past 4:00 PM. Could my luck, running so extraordinarily good so far, hold out?

The drive back to DFW was as fast as the outbound, and even with a stop at the onsite Shell station to fill up before returning the car to Hertz, I was back at Terminal A by 1:00 PM and standing in AA's Priority Access line. Pretty soon a very nice and competent AA agent was handing me seat 7B, the premium bulkhead aisle seat on an MD-80, for the 2:25 PM departure. She had not only confirmed me on a flight that was absolutely chock-a-block full but had put me on the airport wait list for an upgrade, too.

After another swift trip through the security portal, I spent a few minutes at the A23 Admirals Club (using my Amex Platinum Card again to gain entry) before walking to A11 for my flight. By now I was in a sweat. I was waiting for the wallop of bad news.

The flight MUST BE delayed 2 hours, or cancelled, or SOMETHING! Just had to be something wrong now! Too much had gone RIGHT so far today, and nothing whatsoever wrong. The law of averages was overdue to certify the bell curve of flying.

Well, it's true that I didn't get the upgrade. The flight had 9 people ahead of me looking for an upgrade, all with higher "eliteness" than I. But I didn't care, having bought a new Robert Parker paperback novel, "Trouble in Paradise," from a Borders outlet en route to my gate and holding a boarding card for the best seat in coach on that airplane. I knew if the flight managed to get off the ground (I still half-expected a nasty surprise) that I would sleep and read happily all the way to Raleigh.

And to my astonishment, the flight did not suffer any delay or problem at all. Like my morning flight from RDU, it left the gate early, got airborne in no time, and we passengers aboard had another smooth and uneventful trip, this time eastbound to RDU.

Finally I found myself relaxing, after which I did indeed sleep and read. Around me the friendly cabin crew dispensed copious quantities of water and soda, and they even hung my jacket up. That had NEVER happened to me when sitting in coach, and I gave the FA one of my little AA "thank you" chits as a special reward (she was grateful).

Once again we landed early (just by 5 minutes, but early is early!) and parked at the gate promptly. I was in my car and headed home in no time, reflecting on the miracle of my day trip. Everything went right!

Did I say it was a miracle? Indeed it was, too. Anyone who flies nowadays can sadly attest to how rare an experience mine was. For at least one day, though, I managed to beat the devil!