Flying at 10,000 feet?

The random diaries of a frantic traveler

To kick off my annual summer travel blog, let’s begin with my travel agent’s decision to fly Southwest Airlines—the friendliest little (and recently only mildly dangerous) airline of them all. Southwest Airlines does not fly out of Bakersfield, so instead of a 5-minute drive to BFL, my day began at 4:30 a.m. Driving to LAX is never easy, but given the choice of flying at 7, 9, or 10 a.m., my travel agent decided that I’d get more sleep if I took the 10 o’clock flight, not accounting for the L.A. morning commuters traveling on the I-405 the same time as I. Put it this way: Had my flight taken off at 7:00, I’d have left just 30 minutes earlier and would have gotten to LAX two hours faster.

Dumb travel agent.

And just think, if I'd have flown out of sweet little nondescript Meadows Field, I'd have missed the joy of going through my first full body scan!  The flunkies from TSA had me stretch my arms over my head, palms out, as they searched my body for details so minute that I necessitated a "pat-down."  The culprit?  Metal decorations on my jeans. I am SUCH a security risk.

The view from my window seat.
Southwest Airlines is the only airline where you get to choose your own seat. For an extra $10 (which I—I mean my travel agent—paid), passengers can feel some exclusivity in boarding before the people who didn’t want to fork out the 10 bucks. In reality, the only passengers trumped by your $10 are the families traveling with small children, a practice that didn’t make sense to me until I realized that all of us childless passengers would be filling the first 30 rows, leaving the screaming, squawking, ill-behaved (because their mamas don’t spank ‘em) kids in the rear to scream amongst themselves.

Another good reason to fly Southwest has always been the fun, carefree, playful nature of the flight attendants (shout-out to my girl, Debbie Seibt, whose been in the Southwest family for 20 years). Clearly, no one in corporate shared that particular company philosophy with the crew on board my flight, because if we weren’t getting scowls, we were feeling like intruders on their private company jet. No smiles, no pleasantries. Barely peanuts.

When the pilot announced that we would be cruising at only 10,000 feet for the entire 4-hour duration of the flight, I began to wonder again about Southwest’s recent safety issues (by safety issues, I mean when fuselage holes opened during flight). Why were we relegated to 10,000 feet? Were they worried about cabin pressure at 30,000? Perhaps like with SCUBA gear and crushing pressure, these airplane parts were likewise unreliable at dangerous altitudes. This had me worried, but not really as much as when the pilot came back on the speaker to say I’d misunderstood his earlier message – we’d really be cruising at 45,000 feet. WHAT? Do planes even climb that high? When do the oxygen masks deploy? What about the planes with safety issues like—say—bursting apart at the seams? I needed a drink. But I didn’t get one. Yet.

As the plane made its descent into Chicago, I looked out the window for several long minutes and noticed a few things. Illinois is flat. It’s green, and it’s flat, and it’s sectioned off in about 30-40 acre parcels with a house on one corner of each parcel. Each house has a long driveway. The nearest neighbor is easily 30 acres away. You just don’t see that in California. Once we got over metropolitan Chicago, I noticed that the houses aren’t square. Instead, they are more rectangular in shape. It was like looking down on an extremely successful game of Monopoly, where someone had filled the board with those red hotels.

When we landed, I wasn’t allowed off the plane because I was going through to Baltimore. Therefore, I had to sit (drinkless) for another hour while we waited for the plane to fill with more passengers, who were probably expecting the same Southwest Airlines-flight-attendant-soft-shoe-routine. Staying on the plane was OK, because it meant that I got to move closer to the front and have a shot at getting a better seat mate (not that the long-haired, barely clean hippie wasn't a joy). Success! A really nice lady sat beside me and proceeded to tell me about her great grand-nephew (3-years old) from Rhode Island, who was just mauled by a pit bull two days ago. She asked if I wanted to see a photo (prior to his 600+ stitches and facial disfiguring injuries), but she warned me that his face looked like raw meat. (........) I declined. Waitress!!!

When the flight attendants took their seats and the plane began racing down the runway, I was feeling confident that we'd have no trouble on this flight. I'm getting to be a better traveler. But then, just as my confidence was nearing its peak and the nose of the jet was beginning to lift, the two ladies beside me decided to tell each other stories about flights they'd taken where the plane had "pitched and rolled" or a "hole had opened up during flight." I think I may have groaned out loud, but I can't be sure because I forced my fingers so far down each ear canal that I may have broken both eardrums.

Luckily, the bitter flight crew left the plane in Chicago and a new crew had joined us. I’m sure there were several new flight attendants, but the only one that comes to mind is Mr. Clean, a bald, tatted, buff guy with a Texas accent, who clearly hailed from Austin (this plane’s final destination). When he asked me what I wanted to drink, I said, “Do you have vodka and cranberry?” He said, “Vodka-cran? You bet, sweetheart.”

This flight was getting better.

The announcement was that alcoholic beverages were all $5.00 (paid only with credit cards), so when the WWF fighter returned with my drink, I reached for payment, and he said, “It’s OK, sweetheart. I’ll catch you later.”

God Bless America. He never collected my five bucks. And for the record, I can see how some women would chafe at random men calling them sweetheart. But not this time. His vodka-cran was so strong that I wouldn’t need another drink the rest of the trip.

That’s all for now. Onward to Baltimore Airport and an early wake-up call.  Jarret pitches at 10:30 in Salisbury, and this California girl has to figure out how to get there on time.

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