Friday, May 22, 2009

Making it to Portland

Kelli arrived home late last night. She attended a play with her mother. All evening I kept track of ways to get out of town. Most of the time the loads on flights stay steady the night before departure. Not last night! The morning direct flight to Portland wavered up and down by 3 to 4 seats. The only way to get to Portland on American Airlines is thru Dallas. The remaining flights for the day were all very full.

Our original plan was to fly to San Jose on American Airlines, sit around for a bit and then catch a Southwest Airlines flight to Portland. Southwest Airlines has hands down the best system for employees of other airlines to list and check loads. There is an 800 number that is totally automated and very easy to use. I love it. I spent the last few days figuring out ways to get to Portland on Southwest.

When I travel alone, on other airlines,  I don’t pay a cent as I can use my jumpseat privilege. When I have Kelli with me she pays a small fee per segment. Because Southwest doesn’t have a “hub” and flies lots of short flights, the cost for Kelli can get high. To keep cost down I only looked at direct flights to Portland on Southwest.

The only flights that were reporting “good” on the Southwest listing number were from San Jose and Las Vegas. That’s it. The first flight out on American Airlines Thursday morning  from Dallas to San Jose looked great Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening it turned “red” meaning very few seats open. The number of employee standbys was more than 3X the number of open seats. Not good.

I then looked at Las Vegas. There were only 2 seats open, but there were no standbys. I listed Kelli and I and then checked Southwest. The flight from Las Vegas to Portland was still good. Nice. If we got “stuck” in Vegas….well at least we were in Vegas.

I set my alarm clock for 3:08AM and went to bed. The Vegas flight left at 7:10AM. Employees can’t check in until 4 hours prior. There is normally a race to check in as check in time determines your spot on the standby list. Literally milliseconds can determine if we get seats or not. This morning I started clicking the check in button at 3:08AM. Kelli woke up. Something was going on with my computer in the bedroom as is it took a while for the page to refresh. I closed and reopened the window. By the time I checked us in we were number 6 and 7 on the list. Ugh. More employees listed. In addition to the employee standbys there were 10+ revenue (paying passengers) standbys. "Real Passengers" (who pay "real money") go ahead of employee standbys. With only two open seats it was not looking good for us.

The San Jose flight left at 7:25AM so I waited until 3:25AM and checked us in for that flight as well. We were numbers 2 and 3 and there were 8 open seats. We went back to bed with the plan of leaving at 5:30AM for the airport. My mother in law was on the direct flight to Portland leaving at 9:20AM. She would have to get up early and travel with us to the airport.

Kelli woke up in the 4 o’clock hour to start getting ready and pack. I was somewhat awake and checked on the Portland flight. Things were looking better. There were now 6 open seats. Kelli and I discussed our options. If we used our high priority passes we would almost certainly get seats. We each get 4 passes per year. We have already each used one on the way to Miami for our cruise. The next flight to Portland left at 12:40PM. Due to the 3 hours between flights I seriously doubted any passengers on a later flight would go standby on the 9:20AM flight. Hmm.

At 5:19AM I began clicking the check in button. We were numbers 1 and 2. We decided to forgo going to San Jose or Vegas and try for a direct flight to Portland. My mother in law wasn’t too enthusiastic as she could have stayed in bed for 2 more hours. Ehh…Welcome to our world Mrs. Richmond!

As the minutes ticked down Kelli and I kept an eye on the standby list. Around 7AM a revenue standby indeed was on the list. In addition 4 passengers in coach upgraded to First Class. Ours hopes of First Class seats were gone. We decided not to use our high priority passes and use regular passes. There were still 6 seats open in coach. We left the house at 7:50AM. My mother in law was a little worried as she is used to being at the airport so much earlier. She doubted Kelli and I on how quickly we would be at the gate. I assured her by 8:30AM we would be thru security and near the gate. I live at DFW airport. Sure enough at 8:35AM we were sitting at the departure gate. Looking at the standby list things were getting dicey. There were just 4 seats available. We moved down to numbers 4 and 5 on the list due to 3 employee standbys using higher priority passes. Hmmm. Not good. Also for some reason the mobile employee website was reporting different information than the PC employee website. We might not make it. If we do make it I might be on the damn jumpseat for 4 hours!

Boarding began. My mother in law walked on board and we told her we would text her if we didn’t get on. Two passengers had not yet checked in. There were a total of 6 employee standbys….and exactly 6 open seats. Just enough! Kelli got an aisle seat toward the front of the plane in 9D. I got the very last row next to a window with a view of the engine at row 32F. The next challenge was finding room for our bags.

Why are most passengers so clueless on how to properly store carry on bags AND what really is a carry on bag? If both bags have wheels they are not carry on. One of the carry on items is supposed to be a personal item that is too be stowed underneath the seat infront of you. Yeah.

I was in uniform today. I have no qualms about moving peoples bags in the overhead bins. On American Airlines MD80s the “AB” side of the plane has smaller overhead bins than the “DEF” side. Many announcements are made about this. On the “DEF” side regulation size rollerboards WILL fit wheels first. As I walked down the aisle I told Kelli to keep an eye on me and I would make a hole for her. Halfway down I saw a small backpack in the “DEF” side. I asked to move and then moved the bag to the “AB” side. Kelli’s bag was taken care of. Just ahead of me though…was a problem. Some lady had TWO comforters in the plastic bags filled with comforters and other crap! How did she get this far? Those are way over carry on size! I did tell her to store one under her seat (again being in uniform helps). She then took up ½ a storage bin. Grrrr. Toward the back of the plane I played the “I’m moving this small bag to the other side” game. In addition to small bags I saw jackets, camera bags (really? Can’t store your camera bag under the seat?!?!?) and MATCHING rolling bags taking up all kinds of space. I did find room for my bag though. Done. Once I sat down I had a bad thought. Here I was getting ready to sit down for 4 hours in coach…and I was starving! All I had was one fiber bar and a liter of water. I planned on eating the bar ½ way. Thankfully though a Flight Attendant helped me out with a snack. Still hungry.

The flight went fine. We arrived 30 minutes early. The car rental was in Kellis name (in case I couldn't make the flight) and was scheduled for 3PM.

We normally rent from Alamo/National. They have clean cars and always have a deal for airline employees. I used a "regular" person discount and reserved a mid-size car for $12 a day for 4 days for a total of $70 all in. Not bad.

When we arrived at the Alamo lot the only mid-size cars were a Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet HHR and a crappy Dodge Caliber. Being in uniform I politely asked the attendant if they had a true midsize car like an Altima, G6, Malibu or Fusion? He said no. I then asked if I could take an SUV instead. Score. We rented a Toyota Highlander SUV for the same price. It sucks down more fuel, but it's a nice ride.

My mother in law has no wifi. I am using a neighbors unsecured wireless connection. I get just one small bar for connection. Nice.

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