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I hate to fly. Really. Seriously. I do not like flying. Period.
I’ve gotten better at it over the years; I had to. First, it was because I had kids. Having little munchkins to deal with takes your mind off the fact that you are flying at 30,000 feet in a pressurized sardine can, crammed in with countless other people, at least one of whom is obviously down with Captain Trips, another of whom is desperately in need of a bath, still another who is apparently bathed in the entire cologne counter from Macy’s, at least one extremely talkative person and a seatmate who thinks you are a pillow.

When flying with my kids, I found that people simply ignored or avoided us – probably out of fear of dealing with two overly cute cherubs who, once ensconced at flying altitude, would morph into demons from hell. I also found that my kids simply helped me to focus on them rather than all that was around me.

Then I started flying for work related stuff, and the real adventure began. Fortunately for me, I work for a firearm magazine publisher, so I simply made sure to have several copies of our magazines handy. There is nothing quite so wonderful at shutting up the overly chatty seatmate as pulling out a glossy magazine emblazoned with a big-bad handgun and Technicolor headlines screaming, “Handgun Hunting”, “Pocket Power 9mm” and “Combat Gear!” Of course, I do get the occasional gun geek who insists on talking – that’s when I pull out the pile of stories that need editing, slip on the headphones and get to work.

And so, I’ve learned to deal with flight. But I still hate it. My recent trip to visit my Mom before surgery is a prime example of why I truly hate airplanes. I think maybe, just maybe, it would have been better in the days when airplanes were actually designed for relative comfort and not as an engineering contest to see which airline can cram the most people into a cubic foot. You remember, those days when people dressed UP to take a flight; now the choice is to dress as little as possible, since you will need to disrobe at each security checkpoint.

And so, my trip from San Diego to Duluth: I discover that only ONE major airline connects with Duluth. All of the others will get me to Minneapolis, but not to Duluth. And so, I am stuck – with my least favorite airline of all, the one I have had countless issues with over the last several years of business travel. Oh yeah. Oh joy.

Upon arrival at SAN, I find that the airline, which has told me to arrive 75 minutes preflight, does not open their check in and luggage check counter until – are you ready for this? – 45 minutes preflight. Huh???? So much for my planning and that loverly boarding pass I printed at home! I still have to WAIT so I can check my bags – NO option for curbside checking. So, I wait. And the line to security gets longer.

Once I finally get through, after dealing with the least charming person known to mankind, I have to pile all of my worldly goods into a plastic tub, including my shoes – but wait! They now offer handy little slippers for you to wear as you traipse through security. How nice. Except the TSA agent makes me take mine OFF to walk through the metal detector. Huh?

Of course, I am also stuck behind Mr. Business Traveler – the guy who should have this down to a science – who feels it absolutely necessary to wait until he is the next person up to empty his pocket and divest himself of jacket and shoes, and laptop, and phone, and pager, and … the list goes on. Once through security, does he politely take his pile to the chairs? Of course not. Mr. Business Traveler – look how important I am – stands right next to the conveyor belt, calmly, slowly, methodically, putting all of his gear back into the various pockets, slots, etc from whence they came. Meanwhile, Yours Truly, the one who PLANS for all for this and comes prepared, is stuck waiting behind him so I can grab my ONE small bag – which holds EVERYTHING, my ONE jacket and my SLIP ON shoes. You don’t get much smoother than that.

The flight to Minneapolis was relatively pleasant. OK, it was as pleasant as any trip can be when you’re crammed into a tiny seat, wedged in between your overly tall BF (who has NO leg room) and the overly fat woman who should have bought two seats and really, really needs a bath – badly. I kid you not. This lady needed a seatbelt extender. And she was in the window seat next to me – she also had to use the “facilities” at least three times on that 3 hour and 30 minute flight.

Upon landing in Minneapolis, I discover that we now have 35 minutes to make it from one end of that 3 1/2 mile long airport to the other end. No joke. The little tram? Won’t get there in time. The little cart guys? None of them are going our way (their rudeness on this trip is yet another story!) The moving walkways? Half of them worked – but we still needed to run. We made it – with about 5 minutes to spare. At that point, I realized if I didn’t get something to eat yesterday, it was going to get very ugly – Yours Truly has some blood sugar issues. So, is there any food on that desolate end of the airport? Not unless you count the very understaffed (at lunch time, you have ONE employee?) “Sports Bar” where you can buy pre-packaged sandwiches, microwaved junk food, countless beers, over-priced yogurt ($2 for a cup of yogurt?) and equally over-priced fruit. I bought a $1.25 banana and called it good.

On the good side, the trip was relatively uneventful and as the old saying goes, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” Our time in Duluth was wonderful, lousy weather aside. The only fly in the ointment was that we had to board a plane, yet again to return home. This time, we would be prepared…
(continued on “The Return Voyage”)