From the monthly archives: "August 2010"

August 27, 2010—

I only take an international flight a couple times a year but they always seem seamless. On an average of 20 annual domestic flights, I’d say there’s trouble on 15.

Last week I had a connection in Miami, Fla. on American Airlines. The flight was slated to leave Chicago at 11:40 a.m. When checking in I was informed of a 20 minute delay because one pilot had not shown up.

To cut to the chase, we were all on the plane at 1 p.m. and sat on the runway for another hour, waiting for another pilot. Or maybe it was the same pilot.
The flight attendants told the eight of us our connection had already been
missed.
We were going to spend the night in Miami. And we hadn’t even left Chicago.

I texted my friend Tom. He travels more than me. He’s a former cameraman for
WBBM-TV in Chicago and now freelances for “48 Hours,” “60 Minutes” and
others.
I needed a pep talk. Tom delivered and he agreed to let me share his story
with you:
Not an airline problem, but a good story. We were flying back from LA and
updgraded to 1st class. I put my seat back and the guy in back shoved it
back up. I put it down, he pushed it up…back and forth until I finally
gave up. We stewed for a while until we came up with an idea to fix this
prick. We noticed he had taken his shoes off so I carefully grabbed one
loafer from under my seat while he was sleeping.
I stuffed it in a pillow and sat it next to me. My soundman went to the
washroom then returned and asked if I would be needing the ‘pillow’ sitting
there. He picked it up, walked it back of the plane and stuffed it into an
overhead compartment.
The plane landed and we waited outside the gate to get our reward. It took
a while, but we finally saw him limping away with only one Gucci loafer.
Beautiful.

The story made me smile and that’s all you can do in these situations.
Of course there’s more to my story, just as there is with your airline horror stories.
It turned out the connection was a half hour delayed—-no one bothered to tell us—but I caught the information on the flickering information board as we disembarked from our plane. We had 10 minutes to run from our gate to the departure gate at the other end of the concourse. Me and another guy sprinted down the strip like O.J. Simpson and Al Cowings. Three of us made the connection as the plane’s door closed behind us. The other five passengers were stranded in Miami.

With all their shoes.

August 17, 2010

Several of my female friends are chatty airline passengers. One friend in the advertising industry has even developed a couple of long-term relationships with a random seatmate. I generally don’t talk to any one. I’m sure I have negative body language and I’m always carting around a book and newspapers as hideaway devices.

Last week’s flight from Stockholm to Chicago was different. I jostled down the aisle and saw my seatmate all hopped up about having a window view. He had one of those wallet sized plastic ID-ticket holders around his neck, a sure sign of a professional traveler.

He was 12 years old.

His name was Erik and he was on his way home to San Diego, Ca. after a six-week visit with his grandfather in Estonia. Erik was traveling alone.

Space does not permit me to share everything I learned about Erik on the eight hour flight. I know he has flown 32 times over the Atlantic Ocean. This does not count one round trip between San Diego and Philadelphia, three round trips between San Diego and Seattle, four round trips between San Diego and Cambodia and four round trips between San Diego and Tahiti.

This was like sitting next to Jimmy Buffett.

Erik is a part-time pilot. He’s already flown a prop plane three times. When I was 12 years old I couldn’t even build a model airplane.

He analyzed our flight patterns and kept meticulous time on a honkin’ watch the size of Mars. “There’s more smoothness on a Boeing 747,” Erik explained from under a mop-top haircut. “The wingspan is much less wider than an Airbus.” He refused to sleep.

He knew he wanted to be a pilot at the age of 3. Erik said his father was an architectural photographer and his 46-year-old mother wants to parachute out of an airplane. He asked me to play blackjack and after about 20 rounds I got the feeling he was trying to hoodwink me. I mean, he was dealing cards face up. “Never trust an unattended minor,” he said with a sly smile. We weren’t playing for money although I told the flight attendants we were. The plane was full so they couldn’t move me. Or him.

Erik remarked how Asiana Airlines has the capability for interactive blackjack and poker with other passengers, something our flight did not have. He showed me some magic card tricks which we shared with Swedish women across the aisle. I had more passenger interaction on this flight than on my last five years of flying.

My new pal was bummed out about returning to school because he was starting at a new school. I told him that when I was his age I was uprooted when my parents moved from Columbus, Ohio to Naperville, Ill. It was tough. He is not alone.

Erik drifted in and out of the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” three and a half times during the flight and let me listen to The Red Hot Chili Peppers on his iPod. Then he asked, “Do you know Beck?” I said I loved Beck’s sense of challenge and shifting musical motifs. I think Erik was impressed. I also elected not to talk about how Beck’s “Lost Cause” has been in my recent rotation. He’ll have plenty of time to learn about that stuff on his own.

I’m not mentioning the airline we were on because Erik gave them low marks on the landing at O’Hare. It was something about how the wing flaps were still up when the plane came to a stop, which meant the pilot would have to start up the plane and put it in reverse before the next departure. Or something like that. I was tired and I wasn’t taking notes.

But Erik is a great kid. We agreed on how screaming, screeching babies are the worst thing about flying. Worse than turbulence. He carried an “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” paperback and that scored huge points with me. As I disembarked I told Erik his parents should be very proud of him, which I’m sure they are. If I ever have children, I too, will tell them to reach for the stars.