June 01, 2016

The Flight To Fairbanks

I set my alarm for 3 AM, an absolutely ridiculous hour in the middle of the night. My daughter Alyssa drives me to the airport and I am standing in line for TSA at 4:45. They are already overwhelmed. The line is getting longer, but despite what the news reports say they are really hustling to get passengers cleared. I see two things that are making the job more difficult, passengers and equipment.

Passengers are carrying tons of luggage. I fly very seldom, but carry on luggage has grown tremendously as a direct result of the airlines charging for bags.

The other issue is equipment. There are not enough trays for the passengers to prepare their personal items for the luggage scanners, and the fully body scanners seem to be problematic today. I carry no illegal items, no hidden weapons, and certainly nothing for the ever present sniffing dogs. Now, I am fitted with numerous staples, artificial joints, and metal tooth fillings, but these aren't supposed to set off the metal detectors, but they do. They send me thru two different scanners and neither one likes me. The next step is the hand wand and a pat down. After about 40 minutes I am cleared and on my way to the gate.

The incoming flight is a few minutes late. Once the plane is cleaned, we board. Every seat is occupied, the overhead bins are packed, and we are soon on our way. The pitch between seat rows is good for a short person like me, but the leg room in the aisle seat is horrible. The support for the seat in front of me is where my right foot would naturally like to go, and the place for my left foot is taken up by a guard to keep luggage under the seat and out of the aisle. I have to sit crooked in the seat to find any space for my feet. Not a very comfortable position. I compensate by taking numerous walks to the back of the plane, only occasionally to use the washroom.

Most of the flight is calm, with the exception of about an hour of turbulent air as we cross the Rockies. Most of the passengers are pretty quiet. There are no screaming children and only a few passengers with an ongoing cough, one of the most annoying sounds in the confined space of an airplane cabin. What contagious disease is being spread throughout the cabin with each cough?

The young lady seated next to me is headed to Anchorage to help her sister shop to replace all of her personal belongings that were recently lost in a house fire. Fortunately no one was hurt. Her son and husband are remaining behind in Castleberry. A few passengers rent movies, some read, others watch stuff on their phones or ipads.

We land in Seattle on time, six hours later. No I need to correct that, we don't land as you would expect a plane to land, we bounce down the runway several times before the wheels remain on the ground.

My luggage is checked to Fairbanks, so I have several hours to kill awaiting my next flight. I grab a quick sandwich, and use up time walking around the terminal.

The next four hour leg takes me up along the Canadian and Alaskan coast and then inland to Fairbanks. The mountain peaks are still covered with snow, and the bright sunshine made for very picturesque scenery, well for those in the right window seats. Being in an aisle seat I could get a glimpse, but pictures were impossible.

If I thought the landing is Seattle was less than ideal, compared to our landing in Fairbanks it was a dream. When the pilot touched down, the plane not only bounced, but began to skid down the runway at about a 15 degree angle. No, there was no snow or ice, no wet runway, and no wind. Not being a pilot I can't tell what exactly caused the skid. No explanation was given, but we soon pulled up to the gate but are not allowed to leave the plane. The pilot tells us that the baggage needs to be removed from the back of the plane before passengers can get off, otherwise the planes tail is likely to sit down on the tarmac because of the unbalanced weight as passengers leave the front of the plane. Sounds like a design oversight to me and a way to give the baggage handlers 15 extra minutes to meet Alaskan Airlines 20 minute baggage delivery promise.

The rental car booth is right next to baggage claim, and cars are parked in a lot only a few hundred feet away. I am assigned an almost new car with about 250 miles on it. My lucky day. I drive the 15 minutes to my hotel, check in, unpack, and then go out to grab a Subway sandwich for dinner. I locate where I need to go in the morning, return to the hotel, and crash for the night. I set my alarm for 3:15 am so I arrive at my tour departure point on time before 5:00 AM.

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