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.

My Photo
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.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another Near-Perfect Trip: Maybe the Recession Has a Silver Lining

Easter weekend in early April saw me and my family flying off for the Twin Cities, and thence the three hour drive up to Moorhead, Minesota to visit family. Of course I tried to book the great nonstop flights on Northwest between Raleigh and MSP, but Northwest (now Delta) had them priced about $80 per person higher than connecting flights on other airlines, and that premium adds up when four people are involved. I chose to save the $320 and to hope for the best by booking with American Airlines through O'Hare.

The two flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul went off without a hitch despite being chock-a-block full, and, to me, AA's concourses at ORD looked as crowded as ever. With full planes and wall-to-wall people making their way from one flight to another, I wondered why the operation seemed to be functioning so well. When I made informal inquiries with agents and flight attendants, they claimed that though flights were indeed full, the elimination of many ORD flights due to the recession's downturn in business had alleviated the congestion at Chicago, causing the air system to work well for the first time in years.

No emperical data to back that up, but it made sense. Whatever the cause--even if just plain luck--I was grateful to experience a trip by air that adhered to the published schedule. In fact both flights were early!

Another observation was that we flew on real airplanes on all four segments, not RJs. I hear many RJs have been grounded alongside larger aircraft--good news. Maybe RJs will become a bad memory that we can all joke about with our grandchildren one day: "Oh yes, it was HORRIBLE what we had to endure! The tiny tin cans they made us fly in often didn't even have flushing toilets! And we had to walk a mile uphill both ways on the tarmac to get on and off the dang things! In the SNOW! At 32 below zero! All the while dragging our luggage out to little carts by the planes!"

Once we arrived at MSP, we had to make the milelong trek to the cable-train (a train pulled by cables) which shuttled us even farther away to the rental car facility. There we navigated the confusing corridors to Hertz to pick up our outrageously expensive van (we needed it to haul ourselves and other family members from the Twin Cities up to Moorhead).

It was a brand new Toyota Sienna, and we piled into it--and then right back out of it. It reeked of smoke, and not just a plain tobacco odor (bad enough). The previous renter had defiled the vehicle with a plentitude of highly flavored pipe tobacco which had pervaded every nook and cranny, leaving a strong, sickening smell that persisted as if the guilty party had just that moment exited the van.

Twenty minutes later we were on our way in a different van, leaving me to wonder why Hertz or any car rental company could possibly have cleared the original vehicle for the ready line. Smoky cars have come my way several times in the last few years, more so than ever in well over 30 years of renting.

Our long drive up to Moorhead was uneventful, save the Dairy Queen stop we made to satisfy the kids. I never had a "Blizzard" before that afternoon, and I am sorry I ordered one. They could be addictive, and I am grateful there are no known DQ stores close to our home.

The stop, about 110 miles northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, reminded me once again how darn NICE Minnesotans are! Every employee at DQ (a wide range of ages) and every customer could have been a stock character out of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone, polite to a fault and ready to take you into their family. Maybe it's not too surprising that Keillor took the name of his radio show from a Moorhead landmark, Prairie Home Cemetary, which is just a few blocks from my wife's parents's home.

On arrival at Moorhead, we found lots of civil engineering work afoot along the street where my wife grew up. An earthen dam over five feet high was almost complete, walling off the neighbors on the west side of the street from those on the east side. The notorious Red River of the North was threatening to reprise its record flooding of the previous two weeks cause by massive winter snows, and the city of Moorhead was ensuring that most neighborhoods would be protected.

The picture at the top of this post is of that well-made, temporary levee along Elm Street in Moorhead.

Plenty of snow remained in evidence around town, too, more than enough for my son and his granddad to make a very respectable igloo in the back yard large enough to crawl in and sit up (igloo video can be seen at While overnight temps dipped well below freezing in Moorhead during our visit, back in North Carolina dogwoods and azaleas were in their full glory. I love the people of Minnesota, but I wouldn't trade our North Carolina weather for Minnesota's.

Our long weekend with the family allowed sufficient time for a road trip, so one morning we all piled into the van to see Lake Itasca, headwaters of the Mississippi and neaby Bemidji, home of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Lake Itasca was gorgeous and relaxing, a picture postcard of a pristine, ice-covered lake slowly releasing its frigid, crystal clear meltwater across an outlet of stones into the shallow narrow creek that gradually, downstream, becomes the Mighty Mississip!

While Lake Itasca is the quintessential North Woods state park, Bemidji is a quaint little burg built along the edge of a long lake through which the Mississippi River flows, in one end and out the other. It looked like it had seen better days to me, but don't tell that to the locals, all of whom seemed energetive and outgoing and right darned proud of the place! Big statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe sit by the lake near the center of town.

Going home from Moorhead proved as easy a journey as it had been going up. even on Easter Sunday. I was amazed that flights were full, yet schedules were kept. Here I am not flying nearly as much these days as I spend more time at home with my family, and for the first time in many years, flying seems to be more civilized! As it appears that I may be back in the full grind by fall, I can only hope this experience proves to be the norm and not an anomaly.

Next week I report on another road trip which takes me all over the greater Washington, D.C. metroplex. Some of the world's worst traffic? Who said that?


Blogger hulananni said...

I wish I could remember where we found a small store with NASCAR memorabilia and real, honest-to-goodness malts while traversing Minnesota from Fairmont to Alma, Wisconsin. Heaven in a field!

5/07/2009 7:31 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I'm glad you've had another successful trip.
I just flew with my wife to Orlando, via Denver. It is amazing how the flight crew can make or break the trip. The first trip on United, the crew were doing their jobs, but not much more. They would bang into you as they went up and down the aisle and one left thinking there's not much need of flying United for any particular reason. The second flight, from Denver to Orlando was completely different. The crew seemed to genuinely care that we were there, the flight was completely full. Still, the second flight was a pleasant flight and the first flight was a so so flight.

Upon checking into the Residence Inn near Disney, after dinner I find a couple of things wrong with the room. One annoying thing was finding a cigarette in the amenities basket on the table. I wonder how long that was there and why the maid didn't notice it. She also didn't notice a couple of other things - and unfortunately there isn't a similar room type available in another RI - so we'll change rooms.

Smoking, smokers, and the results of their habits are a continual annoyance. In Alberta, Canada, it is illegal to smoke in any commercial vehicle - and hence illegal to smoke in a rental car. They should expand that law and enforce it rigorously.

I hope you gave the rental company a bad time, that was entirely unacceptable.

5/09/2009 12:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home