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Pain in the Ass

It would figure that exactly seven days from when we’ll be leaving on vacation, I’d see an article about some new shit the airlines are thinking about doing:  http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/airlines-test-new-ways-board-planes-8C11390531

I love to fly… although I found that flying for more than eight hours will eventually get on my nerves.  When I was working, I’d have to fly to many places to handle stuff and my inner child would be thrilled to know that I’d get that chance to once again feel that invisible hand pressing me back into my seat as the plane hurtles down the runway and then feel that slight downward push when it rotates up – man, that is just so much fun!

Here lately, though, there are things that tend to take some of the fun out of flying, oh, like the TSA – even though I know they gotta do what they’ve been tasked to do.  Because I no longer move well enough to walk through the airport, I get to ride in a wheelchair which, to me, is a necessary embarrassment; pre-stroke, I could dance through the crowds with either a great deal of grace or a lot of force – I don’t have a problem bumping people out of my way so I can get to the gate… and now, here’s the tie-in to the above-referenced article… getting on the plane.

Before my stroke, man, I used to hate the various boarding processes – each airline does it differently – because of the smarmy looks the first class passengers would give people when boarding the aircraft first.  I would see people on crutches and in wheelchairs boarding, the folks with small children, and I’d just shake my head because even if I were in the next group to board, I didn’t enjoy having to fight my way down those narrow aisle trying to get to my assigned seat.

I’ve been elbowed, kneed in the thigh, and bumped around like a ball in a pinball machine and the farther back in the plane I had to sit, the more I’d wind up feeling like I got mugged.  You try to be polite about it, trying to excuse yourself for almost knocking someone on their ass because the guy trying to stuff the rather large bag into the overhead almost elbowed you in the face; I’ve felt my blood pressure rising when I finally get to my assigned seat… and someone’s sitting in it.  Today, I need an aisle seat but, again before the stroke, I liked window seats just so I could stare at whatever could be seen, even if it were just clouds – I find it very relaxing.

I quickly learned that if I want to get to my seat in a timely fashion, I had to get ghetto on my fellow travelers; I’d put my best intimidating look on my face and make my way down the aisle in the same mindset I used during judo contests:  If you’re not gonna move, I can and will move you and, fuck no, I ain’t apologizing for a damned thing – you should have gotten the hell out of my way.

Boarding the aircraft has always been a problem and when I read the article, all I could do was shake my head sadly because the proposed “new ways” don’t appear to do a whole lot to solve this problem because the main issue in aircraft boarding isn’t really getting the people onto the aircraft – it’s getting them settled into their seats as quickly as possible and I guess that people figure that if they had to haul ass to get to the airport in enough time to get through security, once they’re on the plane, hmm, they don’t have to be in a hurry to put their ass in their seat.

The airlines configure their various aircraft to get as many asses in seats as they can and no matter how they try to rethink the boarding process, all they’ve really done is create more of a traffic jam in the aisle and I just don’t think they can come up with an efficient and effective way to get people into their seats in an orderly fashion…

 
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Posted by on 14 October 2013 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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More TSA Woes

Woe to the TSA (http://overheadbin.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/04/12051630-dozens-of-tsa-workers-fired-suspended-for-screening-violations?lite) and their ongoing issues with security.

I’m not against security but I’m not a fan of the TSA and the haphazard way they do things.  They’re inconsistent across the board; checks performed at one airport aren’t duplicated in other airports.  Two of my favorite TSA stories bears this out:

  • On one of my many business trips, they confiscated my drum key, saying it could be used as a tool… but they let me on the plane with my Snap-On screwdriver/hex wrench?  They didn’t want to listen to my explanation that the drum key can only be used to take apart drum heads but since they only cost $1.00, fuck it, they can have it… and I was laughing my ass off all the way to the boarding gate.
  • On a trip to San Diego, I’ve got my computer in its backpack and all its stuff; the TSA at BWI makes me take the laptop out of the pack and turn it on while the pack goes through the scanner.  It’s all good, put the computer back in the pack, get on the plane.  When I left San Diego – just before Thanksgiving, the place was hectic and when it was my turn to get checked, the agent made me empty my backpack – after it already got cleared through the scanner.  Then she wanted to examine every little thing that came out of my backpack, questioning its use and purpose because, duh, is she supposed to know what a USB cord is?  She’s trying to tell me that all TSA agents perform this check… and I know they don’t – they didn’t do it in Baltimore to which she replied, “This isn’t Baltimore, sir…”

Lucky for her I didn’t miss my flight having to sit there – while being stared at – and repacking my backpack; government agency or not, I was going to raise all kinds of hell.

One of the TSA’s problems, other than their inconsistent behavior, is public opinion; people want to be able to fly safely but no one wants to do whatever it takes to make sure this happens.  As a result, the TSA overreacts – starts searching kids, babies, elderly people and the like, not because they’re habitually pissed off, but because they can’t use the high-tech gear they have… because people are worried about the agents looking at their private parts – it invades their privacy and its more important than, um, making sure terrorists or other criminals can’t get on the aircraft and kill people or wind up spending their vacation someplace other than they expected.

So, yeah, in a way, I can see the agents in the aforementioned article not performing the random checks; it’s really kinda pointless if you can’t check everyone and everything passing through the security portals.

Congress, for some reason, isn’t a fan of the TSA, either – not really sure why unless the TSA has managed to piss off Members of Congress as they go through airports and now they have a bone to pick with them.  Whatever it is, Congress believes that the TSA really needs to get off their collective asses and do the job they were commissioned to do and I can’t say that I blame them on this one because, clearly, they aren’t doing their jobs very well.

Yeah, having to practically undress to get through a portal is a fucking pain in the ass and people walking through naked (or damned near so) is funny… but pointed as well.  But, this isn’t the TSA’s fault – this is what 9/11 did as well as it is the fault of everyone who keeps finding holes in the system; the more holes found, the more the TSA has to do to plug them.  Maybe they need better and more in-depth training; maybe their internal stuff needs to be revamped, upgraded, or otherwise improved upon.  Maybe they need someone who’s more security-minded than some political appointee who sees running the TSA as a stepping stone; they need someone who gonna run it with an iron hand and zero tolerance for inconsistent and over-reactive behaviors.

They need to step up their game big time and we, as the traveling public, need to let them do their jobs so we can be as safe as possible.  Otherwise, they’re fucked and will continue to be the joke everyone thinks they are.

 
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Posted by on 4 June 2012 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Preemptive Strike

I got an email from Norwegian Cruise Lines today, being a past customer of theirs, reminding people that their ships are very safe to sail upon.  It talks about how long their captains have been captains (on average) and what it takes for them to reach that exalted position, which is about fifteen years.

Of course, their newest ships, with their odd, blocky look, are state-of-the-art cruise ships and loaded with every possible bell and whistle, their bridge crews extensively trained in their operation and, really, when I sailed on one of their older ships, I didn’t have many complaints about the ship or her captain – I got a chance to chat with him during a docking operation and he was more than happy to explain to me what was going on (even though I knew already).

I got the letter as a result of the disaster in Italy, which doesn’t really surprise me – but I like it.  Even if I never step foot aboard an NCL ship again, it’s nice of them to point out the integrity of their crews and captains, their adherence to existing maritime safety laws and protocols, and the like.  And they had to do something like this so that potential customers won’t be put off sailing the high seas.

Haven’t heard from Carnival yet – they own the Costa Concordia (or what’s left of it) – and you’d think that once people found this out, they’d be going nuts trying to convince customers here of the safety of their ships and the competency of their captains and crews.  But, I understand they’re a little busy with salvage operations and extensive damage control and preparing for the onslaught of lawsuits that’s sure to hit their corporate wallets very hard.

Personally, I wouldn’t let this incident deter me from cruising again.  Those folks who were considering taking to the seas are sure to have second thoughts about this now and I say to them, go cruising and have fun; you really do stand more of a chance having a problem just getting to the airport than you do being aboard a ship.

On our last cruise, the guy who took us to the airport was scarier than being on the ship; he seemed to have a bit of a problem keeping the van between the lines, making me wonder if he was fully awake by the time he arrived to get us – and that, folks, was the worst moment of our entire trip.

I do recommend that if you decide to cruise, do a search for the ship you’ll be sailing on; you should be able to find a wealth of information about it, like when it was built, if it’s ever been refitted or in dry dock for repairs – stuff like that.  You can also find out about its current captain and crew – just ask the cruise line.

 
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Posted by on 25 January 2012 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Rocks and Hard Places

I’m no fan of the TSA; I think their track record on some things leaves a lot to be desired and that the organization, as a whole, is so inconsistent in the way their agents do things it makes people who travel wonder which end is up.  However, after the tragedy of September 11th, security at our airports had to be beefed up and the answer was the TSA.  After all the shit the TSA has had to deal with over the years since 9/11, now they’re getting kicked in the balls over the new full-body scanner and a more invasive pat-down procedure.

Okay, folks, here goes:  You want air travel to be as safe as it can be… but you don’t want to do whatever’s necessary to insure that safety?  What kind of logic is that?  I just read an RSS blurb about some dude becoming so upset over being patted down, he pissed himself.  Oh, come on, really?  Seriously?  Maybe it’s just me, but if the TSA  wanted to feel me up or look at my ass and cock on a screen, to me, that’s worth knowing that nothing that isn’t supposed to be on a plane isn’t going to get on there.

Besides, I might just like getting felt up like that…

There has been so much whining and crying over the new body scanner.  The situation called for such a device, what, with people sneaking shit onto planes that their normal metal and x-ray devices weren’t catching.  And now that they’re here, people are pitching a royal bitch over someone at a console taking a peek at their goodies?  Oh, give me a fucking break, will ya?  And if that wasn’t enough, they’re even questioning the amount of radiation the new devices are emitting, um, like people probably don’t know that the higher your plane flies, the more radiation you’re being exposed to because the atmosphere is less dense at 40,000 feet than it is at sea level?  Maybe they didn’t know, but I also guess that’s what they get for bagging science class.

Sure, being overly irradiated is a real concern so I hope both the government and the people who make the devices can substantiate their claim that the body scanners are safe to use.

More rage against the machine:  Apparently, when in a test or diagnostic mode, the body scanners have the ability to record images, store them, and they can even be printed.  Oh, lawd, the natives are up in arms about this fearing that a picture of their body scan is going to wind up on YouTube.  An article about it says that anyone with a cell phone could take a picture of the images… which is why TSA says that no one working in the body scanner area will be allowed to carry a cell phone.

Okay, from a technical point of view, making the body scanners capable of recording, storing and printing images makes perfectly good sense.  If nothing else, TSA and DHS can study what the machines are capturing, especially when questionable items are seen and to determine if the TSA folks on the scene are using the machine properly.  I mean, someone has to watch the watchers, right?  And, yeah, if it breaks down, well, it’s better to test the device as completely as possible before putting it back into service, huh?  TSA says that this functionality will be locked out by administrative password and then that password isn’t going to be common knowledge.  Personally, I think they’d make out better with having that piece of software that generates one-time usable passwords that are hard to figure out; your basic Windows server probably has that functionality built into it and used to better protect the more secure areas of a server or groups of servers.

Even with such protection in place, it’s still about people being people in some cases and we’re either going to trust the TSA to do their jobs within their legal remit… or we need to disband them and start over from scratch.

Airline pilots jumped in on this too, pitching a bitch about having to be body scanned and maybe patted down just like everyone else getting onto the aircraft.  One pilot said he felt violated and was physically ill after the fact and I just find it hard to believe that someone with the know-how and saavy to fly today’s sophisticated aircraft would let something like getting his ass felt up bother him.  But, as hilarious as this might sound, the pilots did make a good point:  If an act of terrorism was on their minds, they wouldn’t need any weapons simply because, uh, they’re the ones at the controls and sitting behind a locked door that’s damn near impenetrable.  With that thought in mind, yeah, subjecting them to the same searches as passengers kinda doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  Besides, a flight crew can get frisked and scanned from now until whenever… and no one’s come up with a device that’ll tell you what’s going on in their heads, have they?  So, needless to say, the pilots and flight crews got a pass on this one; they only have to be subjected to the normal checks.

I can only guess that the only reason the TSA was pushing this was to be uniform across the board; when they say everyone, they fucking mean everyone and without exception.  As much as I despise the TSA, I’m kinda on their side on this one.  Hell, my wife, on our trip to the Caribbean, actually volunteered to be body scanned – and was disappointed to find out they didn’t have one at the American Airlines concourse entrance – but Southwest has one.  And, I have to admit, that my encounter with the BWI and MIA TSA contingents went rather quickly and was well tolerated by myself.  And they didn’t ask me to empty out my fanny pack, like they’d done a few times before!

I saw another RSS article that stated that a cancer patient was made to remove a prosthetic device they were wearing during a pat-down.  I didn’t read the whole thing but I’m pretty sure the media wouldn’t have mentioned it if someone hadn’t pitched a bitch about it.  I mean, really, if you’ve ever watched TV or movies and see how the bad guys hide bombs and other weapons in a fake prostheses, well, what makes you think the TSA isn’t going to want to examine something they don’t know about?  Unless the removal of the prosthetic would have been life-threatening, why not let them check it out?  See, the one time it doesn’t get checked, it’ll contain something that might bring an aircraft down or otherwise be used to threaten and terrorize the passengers and crew.

What, you think the bad guys aren’t reading all of this shit and watching the news on CNN where this is concerned?  You can bet your sweet ass they are!

Yeah, okay, it can all be seen as us giving up our civil liberties; the state of Virginia recently filed suit on the matter saying that the new TSA practices violates the fourth amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.  But this is a simple question:  Would you rather get scanned or felt up and have your safety in the air better assured; or would you rather it all go away and have another 9/11 event take place?  Oh, that would make the bad guys happy!  They don’t have to worry about figuring out ways to defeat the new systems and avoid the pat-downs – we’re going to do that for them by making it illegal for the TSA to do whatever’s necessary to keep us safe.

I’ve heard that DHS and TSA are offering the option of applying to them for a number or some such identifier that says that you’re good to go.  To me, uh, that would kinda imply having to go through a really thorough FBI background check – and you can probably bet your ass that the NSA and CIA might be peeking into your entire life as well.  Seem to me that one way or the other, your privacy is going to be “violated” for the sake of national security as well as the security of air travel as a whole.  I went through such a background check a couple of times in the Air Force; I figure that if the FBI found out about the window I broke when I was nine, can you imagine what they can find out about you that you’ve either forgotten or maybe don’t want the government to know about you?  Personally, I’d rather be scanned or frisked rather to go through another FBI background check at my age… not that I have anything to hide that I can remember.

If there’s a line to be drawn in any of this, it’s if/when the shit gets so bad that you have to strip down naked to be checked and body cavity searches become the order of the day… and some folks just might get a kick out of that, too.  Seriously, something’s got to give; we can’t have it both ways in needing the security but not wanting to subject yourself to it.  Okay, I do get that some people are really funny about stuff like this to the point of puking, feeling violated and, yep, pissing their pants.  Do you have or want to fly?  Your choices are really simple:  Either do the body scan, opt for the pat-down… or you’re not getting on the plane.  And, yeah, if there’s no body scanner and you go through and keep setting the detector off, do you really expect TSA not to check you out as thoroughly as the law will allow?  It really fucks me up that people in this are more fucked up in the head about who might see or feel something… like such things have never been seen or felt before by the people doing it – than they are about their safety in the air.

If someone defeats the current scanning technology and kills a plane full of people, aw, that’s a fucking shame!  They should have had better security in place!  Oh, wait… they do – but Americans didn’t want to subject themselves to it because it would make them feel violated.  I read that airports in Europe have the scanners in use… and no one there is whining or crying or pissing themselves because a security agent saw their winky or their kitty cat.  And I’m sure they’re laughing their asses off at us – again – for our childish and even prudish behavior in this as we behave as the petulant children we can be about such things.  In our petulance, we demand that our government do it’s fucking job and protect us… but when they do, it’s temper tantrum time.

I just don’t know about anyone else but my right to be safe when I board a plane and fly somewhere is a lot more important than my personal modesty.  I’m just waiting for when these new procedures get brought before the US Supreme Court because they’re being seen as unconstitutional.  The fourth amendment protects US citizens against illegal search and seizure or, in simpler terms, you can’t be searched without either probable cause or a warrant.  Um, does checking people for items that may threaten the lives and safety of others on a plane (as well as the aircraft itself) count as probable cause?  It’ll be interesting to see how the state of Virginia fares in it’s lawsuit against DHS and the TSA in the matter of any perceived violations of the fourth amendment.

Which also bears the question of whether or not the 4th amendment is valid for non-Americans in-country and leaving from, say, DCA or IAD?  That’s Regan National and Dulles respectively, for those who don’t speak airline code.  Ah, but I’m sure that if DHS ordered TSA to only use the more invasive methods on anyone not carrying a passport issued by the United States of America, then the country will be accused of racial and ethnic profiling – again.  I might even agree that while the 4th amendment exists to protect me, it’s not there to protect anyone who isn’t a citizen of this country.  Go to some other country and run afoul of them and start yapping about your 4th amendment rights when they strip you down and search you like they’re about to fuck you – then tell us how much they laughed at you when you did.

Then you should be pissed…

 
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Posted by on 20 November 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Home Again!

It was a great trip and it’s kinda good to be home after five days of fun in the sun.  Through that trick of time no one has been able to explain yet, it was a long five days… but the shortest five days experienced this year all at the same time.  Indeed, after being back home for two days, it’s starting to feel as if we never went anywhere!  But we did (we have the paperwork to prove it) and it was fun in that weird way that trips tend to be.

CARNIVAL DESTINY

Once we arrived in Miami – and after an almost one hour delay in Baltimore – it was hurry up and wait to transfer from the airport to the ship; the Carnival people on hand seemed to be more eager to get the people cruising on the Carnival Legend to their ship faster than those of us traveling aboard the Carnival Destiny.  We did meet up with our daughter (after she got kinda lost in the airport) and it was cool to have her with us as we finally got on the bus and headed to the port, giving us glimpses of Miami along the way.  Now, it must be noted that I am a fan of CSI: Miami and as the bus made it’s way to the port, the city seemed almost familiar to me.  The buildings were stunning in the early morning light and I found myself smiling a lot, watching the cars belonging to people who were on their way to work – but we were there to have fun.  It was all good and kinda magical, right up until we arrived at the Port of Miami.

God, there were so many people there!  The lines just to get through port security (similar to dealing with the TSA) were snaking out the door and it was sheer bedlam inside as we waited to be screened.  Mercifully, it didn’t take as long as it appeared it would… but the other fun started once we cleared security and entered the check-in area.  Man, such a  crush of people!  And all of them were going aboard the same ship as we were!  The lines were kinda all over the place, with some folks cutting in line to be with their traveling companions and some just Bogarting the lines, all in a rush to get checked in and to get on board.

As an afterthought, I don’t know what the great rush was about; the ship wasn’t going anywhere for hours at that point and, as we made our way onto the gangway to the entry point on deck 3, we learned that the cabins wouldn’t be ready for occupancy until 1:30, so everyone was being herded to the Lido deck on deck 9 for our first meal on board.  It left a lot to be desired; the food for most of the trip was pretty mediocre and I, personally, was quite disappointed… but after being up since 1am that morning and running on coffee and a chocolate chip cookie, the food was most welcomed.

We met up with the rest of the family and friends at that point and, well, it was cool for me to see a lot of them again and to meet those people I hadn’t met yet.  But we were running out of gas and wanted to get to our stateroom ASAP to get a little rest and to unpack our bag.  We made our way to deck 6, wandered the passageways for a moment, and found our cabin and the first thing we noticed was our bag wasn’t there!  We did go out onto the balcony and took in the view from the ship’s port side – but we eventually wound up back on the Lido deck with pretty much nothing to do as Destiny prepared to leave the dock.

Linda and I stood at the rail as Destiny engaged her bow thrusters and we slipped sideways from the dock with surprising smoothness; once we were free and clear to navigate, we slowly made our way out of the harbor, passing the Carnival Legend and the new Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Epic, along the way and we were waving at those ships’ passengers as the giant horn sounded our departure.  That was at 4:15; so much for leaving right on time, huh?

Once under way, we kinda roamed the ship because it was announced that everyone should have their baggage no later than 6pm; we had our bag delivered to us at 5:58.  We got unpacked and went to dinner in the Galaxy restaurant on deck 4.  The restaurant is really on deck 3 but since we had any-time dining, we were relegated to the upper part of the joint, where I ran into a very disappointing piece of chicken – it was terribly overcooked and barely edible but the rest of the meal was passable.

Then it was up to the Lido deck to hang out with the family some more until the somewhat chilly and very windy conditions drove us to our cabin, where we thankfully crashed for the night.

I loved Ocho Rios despite all the natives hustling us along the way.  We went to Dunn’s River Falls – didn’t make the climb – but it was beautiful and fun to watch other people attempt the infamous climb.  The one thing I didn’t like about DRF was getting out of there; you had to go through a lot of stalls where you were hassled to buy stuff; after the long climb back to the top, I wasn’t in the mood to be bothered.

I didn’t like Georgetown, Grand Caymans – it just didn’t live up to the hype and made me feel as if I were back home more than it did being in another country.

I think Carnival needs to revamp the way it entertains people on the ship; there weren’t very many things we found interesting on board, other than the dance club and comedy shows… and an amazing piece of cheesecake that was off the hook and almost a religious experience to eat.  Other than American Airlines breaking a bottle of rum we got in Jamaica and destroying some souvenirs we tried to bring back, for me, it was a great trip, a chance to see places I’d never seen before.  It was good to get away from home for those five days, good to be around family and to make some new friends and to just relax and enjoy the ride.

We’ve spent the last two days trying to get back into our normal routine; our cat, Zane, has been going batshit since we’ve been back – this is the longest we’ve ever been away from her and she had to get used to us being back; I didn’t know she could meow that much and she’s been following me everywhere I go, as well as spending a lot of time in my lap and head-butting me in the nose.  Like I said in the beginning, it’s starting to feel as if we didn’t go anywhere – but we both have the memories and over 500 photos that says we did… and I can’t wait for us to do this again next year!

 

 
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Posted by on 13 November 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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26 Days

The thing I despise about going somewhere is waiting to go.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to be calm and patient about this unless, of course, I’m going somewhere I’d rather not be – but that’s not the case here.  The kid in me has been shouting, since March, “Yay!  We’re going on vacation!  Is it time to go yet?”  The adult in me just shakes his head, mutters an obscenity about impatient kids, and tries to ignore the kid in me so he can use some of that adult coolness that’s required to sit and wait.

The adult is thinking timing, logistics, finances; the kid is thinking about how much he loves the rush of an airplane hurtling down the runway, being pressed back in his seat for a few cool seconds, then shouting, “V2!  Rotate!” just as the nose of the plane points upward.  Again, the adult in me just shakes his head and wonders why such a mundane thing still excites the kid in me after all these years and after so many flights – but he smiles, too, because it’s still a rush no matter how many times you’ve done it.

For the next two hours and thirty-five minutes, the adult and the kid will be at odds with each other; the adult wants the flight to end, already thinking ahead to deplaning, navigating the throng of people to claim baggage and the next checkpoint.  The kid will be rejoicing at being in the skies again, grinning idiotically if and when a little turbulence is encountered and just marveling at how aerodynamics works to keep the aircraft in the air.  Of course, he knows this just as well as the adult does but while the adult sees it as step three in the trip plan, well, the kid just loves to fly and if it were up to him, the flight would be longer.

Remind me to tell you about my flight to Japan some day…

At some point, the aircraft will start to maneuver to line up for its final approach; the adult will think it’s about damned time – and the kid will be bouncing off the cabin walls – he likes landings just as much as take-offs and it’s just so cool when the plane dips a wing and almost stands on its side.  The adult, feeling kind of itchy because the kid’s enthusiasm is so contagious, tries to quash the heady feelings to concentrate on moving from the airport to the port, concerned with the transfer bus arriving at the airport on time, traffic issues – anything that will keep him from completing step six of the plan and, yeah, his thoughts already on step seven and getting checked in.

The kid’s thinking about the ship, too – but not about the logistics and hassle of getting there.  It’s been a while since he was last on a cruise ship and he remembers that as if it were yesterday; while the adult in me will be thinking about the important stuff, the kid just wants to rip and run all over the ship to see all there is to see, although he’s very much aware his movements will be a lot slower than before – but that’s okay.  The adult will be thinking that the initial troubles are now over and won’t have to be dealt with for another four days and while he can now relax, the kid is already going at warp eight – and the ship hasn’t even left the dock yet.

I can see all of this happening even though it hasn’t happened yet.  I smile as I type and, oooh, yeah, I wanna go now.  Wheels up in 26 days, feet wet a few long hours later!  Of course, time will play its little tricks and make the next 26 days seem to stretch out to 26 months – amazing, that time dilation effect, huh?

After a day at sea – and with the kid bugging out over that, we’ll reach our first port of call:  Jamaica.  Both the kid and the adult will get all into being there since neither of them have been there before.  Both will remember all of the things Linda’s told them and the energy levels will spike and the captain and pilot just can’t get the damned ship docked fast enough to suit them.  The adult, camera at the ready, will be thinking about the beauty of this island nation and all of the great photographic moments to be captured; the kid will just be tripping over being there and trying to take it in all at once and wondering about all the good things to eat that he’s heard about.

It’ll be a long day – eight hours in port, if I remember correctly – and I already know that both the adult and the kid will just wear themselves out and both will sleep damned good that night with almost full memories and overfilled bellies.  Yeah, when I go anywhere like this, it’s not as much about the things I’ll see – I like to go to eat the things I can’t normally eat at home and probably not supposed to eat; the kid in me doesn’t seem to have blood pressure and cholesterol issues – but the adult does but, hey, how many times do you get to do something like this?  Diet my ass…

The next port will be the Cayman Islands and while the kid rests up for that, the adult will be busy mingling with our friends and family that made the trip, taking pictures, and just chilling – and eating, of course.  I have to take a step back and think about the first day at sea, this impossibly huge collection of metal plying its way through the cerulean waters of the Caribbean, the sun, the ocean breezes.  During this time prior to going feet dry at Jamaica, there will be more mingling, more pictures; enjoying the views from the upper deck and from our stateroom’s balcony and just getting off on being there.

Once we get to Grand Cayman, the excitement will be there for the adult and the kid… but the adult will be very aware that the next time we go feet dry, we’ll be headed home; the adventure will come to an end.  He’ll be sad and wistful but also glad he was able to do this and knowing there are lots of memories stored in his head and in the Fujifilm S9000 camera that’s been his almost constant companion throughout.  The kid won’t be thinking about going home; he won’t want any part of the adventure to end and because he knows it’ll have to, he’ll cram in all the fun and excitement possible, making the adult wonder just where in the hell he’s getting all this energy from.

Once we leave there, we’ll be on our way home; during the at-sea day, the adult will already be thinking about the logistics of getting off the ship in a timely fashion, getting back to the airport, doing the hated security thing… then two hours and thirty minutes in the air and knowing, for some reason, that the flight home won’t be as much fun as leaving was.  More airport crap to deal with, then the ride home, unpacking, getting mugged by the cat – sheesh.

In my mind, I’ve lived through the trip over and over, from beginning to end, feeling the rush and excitement as well as the sadness connected with it all.  The good thing is – and the kid in me knows this – is that, really, the trip hasn’t begun yet so he’s getting really itchy counting down the days until the adventure begins in earnest.  And that’s the hard part, trying to maintain my adult coolness and aloofness while trying to contain the kid’s infectious enthusiasm.  The cool thing is I’m not the only one who’s feeling it; my baby is, too, although I think she’s handling this better than I am.  We’re both seasoned travelers; she has the advantage of having been to Jamaica before – but the cruise ship will be very new to her and while she’s being calm and methodical about all the pre-trip stuff, there’s a little kid inside her just aching to get out and have fun with my inner child.

A panoramic view of Prince George Wharf, the f...

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It’s so cool to watch her eyes light up when we’re going over everything’s that been done; I can feel her excitement as if it were my own.  Her adult mode isn’t all that different than mine, planning, calculating, and paying attention to the details.  The kid in me likes messing with her adult, like hinting at how she’ll be surprised at just how big the ship really is, especially if we can see it before we go on board.  Hell, I remember my first view of the first cruise ship I ever sailed upon (and it was the smallest in that line’s fleet) and saying, as I strained my neck to look up, “Jesus, that fucking thing is big!”  Yeah, seeing a cruise ship on TV just does not do the sight any justice at all.

Even if we don’t get to glimpse the ship before boarding, when we get to Jamaica, we’ll dock off-shore and shuttle by smaller boat to the island and we’ll both get to see what the first 100,000-ton cruise ship looks like – the camera will be busy, too!  My inner child will be in awe of its immense size and weight and amazed that something that weighs that much can float, all while the adult is very much aware of how that’s possible – it’s really no big deal but try telling the kid that.

Twenty-six long and agonizing days to go.  I haven’t really started bouncing off the walls yet but I know it’s coming and I’m really looking forward to it.  It’ll be good to get away from here and do something we rarely get a chance to do; it’s been doing both of us a lot of good to put this trip together and to feel the excitement of it all and knowing that these are moments we can share again, just as we did when we went to Antigua just a couple of years ago.  Everything that had to be done has been done so now we can let our imaginations run freely, looking ahead to the joys of traveling together, the sights to be seen, the enormous amounts of food and drink to be had and enjoyed.

It’s a “family and friends” group cruise, put together by our oldest child and, well, this should be interesting, especially watching how they all interact with each other in this environment.  It’s gonna be a blast, even though it’s not as if I’ve not kinda hung out with them before – this will be so very different from the other family get-togethers I’ve attended with Linda.  She tends to roll her eyes a lot about this and has had me in stitches laughing; of course, she knows her family and I think all of the people who’ll be there and listening to her predictions of how they might behave is just flat out funny.

And, really, that’s just what the doctor ordered, as it were.  God, you get so caught up with the day-to-day things necessary to survive that you forget that having fun is also an important thing to do.  The adults in us figured out how to make this happen – and our inner kids are so happy that we did.  We need to have this kind of fun more often; we’ve already started looking at cruising again next year or maybe even going to Japan, if we can work the numbers the right way.  And this, too, is fun because it really isn’t the destination as much as how you get there…

 
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Posted by on 10 October 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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28 Days

No, this isn’t about the movie by the same day or visits from the cardinal; this is how many days before we leave on our trip!  There are only maybe a couple of things left to do, some last minute decisions that are based on something that hasn’t happened yet, like how we’re going to dress that day – we have no idea of what the weather’s going to be like right now.

Seal of Miami, Florida, United States

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It’s almost a kind of quiet time; we started this journey back in March, when there were a million things to do and think about and there was a great sense of urgency to get things done on time and in full.  Things were hectic trying to find a flight that wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg or gouge us too badly – but we got it done.  So, all we’re really doing now is waiting for the next 28 days to go by.

We had some extra work to do, like getting our oldest daughter ready for this trip – kids!  Can’t kill ’em, can’t sell ’em!  I think we were both feeling like airline reservation staff as we checked for available flights for our daughter and our youngest son and his family; watching the way ticket prices were yo-yoing up and down for them was scary… but that got taken care of as well – but not without some drama, of course.

We both said, earlier in the process, that before we knew it, we’d be inside the 30-day window and, yeah, that happened; I can remember when we had triple-digit days remaining before we left.  The excitement has ebbed and flowed getting to this point and, of course, there were many days when we wished for our travel date to magically come up, like that was really gonna happen.  But now that we’re inside that 30-day window, it’s kinda like just hurry up and wait.  I know we’re both going over things in our minds to make sure we’ve dotted all of the things that needed to be dotted and crossing stuff that has to be crossed and, right now, I think we have it all covered.

Our oldest son was kinda getting on our case about how we arranged our trip, pointing out other less expensive ways to do things… after we already handled it, of course.  Early on, we could have saved a ton of money if we had chosen to fly out of Atlantic City to Fort Lauderdale… but that’s not where the ship’s leaving from and we both don’t like being late or want to risk missing the boat so our original decision to go to Miami made more sense to us, especially when we heard that he was kinda scrambling a little himself to arrange transportation for those folks in our happy group who are flying into Fort Lauderdale – better him than us!

We had an iffy moment with our travel documents for the cruise.  When I went on my first cruise, the cruise line sent me the necessary documents by mail; sailing with Carnival is continuing to prove to be a very different experience.  Even though we paid our trip off way before the cutoff date, we couldn’t access our travel documents before the cutoff date – something with the group thing versus individual thing.  Then, the day before the cutoff date, voila!  Travel documents!  Right up until I discovered their availability, I had been wondering when we’d get them in the mail – then found out that we wouldn’t.  Our travel documents were prepared in a PDF file and had to be printed… except both of our printers were low or out of ink!

Fortunately, we were able to print them and a phone call to Carnival revealed that, no, they don’t mail travel documents and, basically, if you don’t have a printer, you’re hosed.  Even better, it then occurred to us that if you don’t have access to a computer, you can’t complete the Fun Pass information – and that has to be done in full before you’re allowed to access your travel documents!  Our oldest son, who’s sailed with Carnival before, kinda neglected to tell us that before the fact; I’m thinking he forgot, to be honest.  He sent out a couple of notifications to the people on the list to tell them about the Fun Pass and reminding everyone they need to have this on hand at boarding, along with their passport.

We sat around for a moment wondering how many in our group don’t have a computer.  When I asked Carnival how people are supposed to get their documents without a computer or printer, all they could tell me was to go to the library.  In a way, the way they do this makes sense – cuts down on mailing costs and documents that could get lost or delayed in the mail.  There are places you can go, like the UPS Store and Kinko’s to have your documents printed… if you happen to have a USB drive on hand – and how many people going with us has one of them?  We have about three or four of them…

And it’s not as if you can’t check in at the dock; I mean, there are probably people going on this cruise who didn’t bother with going to Carnival’s website and doing the Fun Pass thing; it’ll probably take them a lot longer to board the ship having to do all of this at the counter… if they can do it at all.  It’s not a problem we have so we didn’t bother to check on this.  We printed our daughter’s documents for her since she was here visiting with us (and have an extra copy just in case she loses the ones we gave her) but, other than that, if no one else has theirs, it’ll suck to be them, huh?

I’ve always said the part of the trip that’s the most fun isn’t what you do once you get to your destination – it’s getting there.  Given all of the stuff we’ve been doing before the fact, we can finally settle down to getting our heads squared away to imagine what the day will have in store for us, beginning at getting picked up at 3am to go to the airport.  I’m not looking forward to having to deal with the TSA.  I understand their purpose and they are, on the whole, an ineffective joke; I can tell you a few stories of my run-ins with them that would prove that.  The only good thing about going through the airport checkpoint is that I’ll be in a wheelchair; I can’t walk fast enough through the airport anymore so moving me from point A to point B in a chair is the easiest thing to do.

That and it’ll get us on the plane ahead of the rush.  My first experience with this a couple of years ago was, at most, embarrassing since I’d been used to just sitting and waiting to board like everyone else.  I can remember quite a few people staring daggers into me as I was wheeled onto the aircraft ahead of a gaggle of people and, in a way, it kinda pissed me off; wasn’t my fault I had a stroke nor was it my fault it affected me the way it did.  The good thing about this trip is I won’t wind up being a pack mule as we go from the TSA checkpoint to the boarding gate; last time, I had all of our carry-on stuff piled all over me, including my laptop and all it’s gear – it’s not going this trip so the load will be thankfully lighter.

I’m just not looking forward to having to undress for the TSA and I’m kinda hoping that BWI has the new body scanners in place – some controversy around them if you’ve been following the stories – but I’d rather have them looking at me as if I’m naked than to have to take off my shoes and stuff and I hope they enjoy the show.  One of our main concerns was travelling with our medications; between the two of us, we take a lot of them so we have to figure out the best way to take the quantity necessary along with us.  Our doctor put me on Loveza and those capsules are really big, as are the bottles they’re in – that’s right, I said bottles as in more than one.  Some of my medications are Class V and Class II drugs – pain medications – and we were concerned that the TSA would somehow make them vanish if they weren’t in the bottles given to us and all properly labeled.

Just for me alone, I take 13 pills/capsules every day, nine in the morning, four at night, so I need to have sixty-five of them.  That’s a lot of medication to be moving all at once – and that’s not counting the really strong pain medication I’ll take just in case.  We thought about each of us having one of those pill organizers you can find in the dollar store… but the Loveza capsules may not fit and we know that the law requires the regulated and serious drugs – like my oxycotin – to be in their original containers with the label intact.

But we’ll figure it out eventually – it’s just a matter of what’ll be easier for us to do, even if we have to pack all of our meds in their original bottles – then hope they don’t get damaged en route.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with my baby getting a swimsuit for the cruise.  She had one hell of a time finding one and spent a couple of days scouring the Internet until she finally found one that made her happy and until she did, I felt really bad.  For us guys, getting a suit is easy – all we have to know is what our waist size is.  For the ladies, well, it’s not all that easy.  I had to take her measurements (that was fun, heh, heh) then it was a question of finding stuff that would fit.  One of the things we both learned is that there’s really no one standard for sizing women; what one place calls a medium is a petite somewhere else and other crazy stuff.

Like I said, for us guys, no matter what our body type is, if we know our waist size, we’re good; the gals have to be concerned with things we never give any thought to, like how their hips play into suit selection.  What we both found irritating is that all of the swimsuit models we saw online were, um, skinny and perfect for the suit they were modeling.  Given that women are different sizes with their breasts, waist and hips, you’d think there would be more “mix and match” types of suits so that a gal could pick a top and a bottom that fit her the way she needs it to but, no!  We saw a nice one we both liked but the sizing of the suit was insane because when we compared their sizing chart to the measurements taken, well, that suit wasn’t going to fit well somewhere.  It was just a major headache for my baby and I was happy to learn she did find something she’d be happy with.

One of the things left undecided at this point is how we’re going to dress to start the trip.  Of course, we have no idea what the weather’s going to be like that day and I realized that we’d be leaving home before the sun came up and by the time it got into the sky good, we’d be in Miami, where we can assume the temperatures will be in the 70’s somewhere.  It took us both back to our trip to Antigua which was in January.  Going to the airport very early that morning, we had to dress warmly – it was damned cold with the possibility of snow.  Now, imagine being dressed for a cold, East Cost wintry morning before sunrise… then four hours later being in the sultry heat of Antigua – you can see how interesting that can be.

Personally, before we even got out of Antigua’s airport, I was ready to strip naked because I was sweating like a fiend…

Travel tips suggest that you dress for the location you’ll be at, which makes sense – but I’m thinking I really don’t want to be in shorts and a T-shirt leaving here in early November if it’s cold, windy, or even raining that day and, of course, we really won’t know what kind of weather we’ll be walking into once we get to Miami; for all we know, it could be in the 60’s there and raining or whatever!  So that decision probably won’t be completely made until a day or two before we leave.

I have to keep telling myself that this really is the fun part.  My thoughts have been on all the chaos before getting on the plane and the chaos that’ll take place once we get off – the two hour flight will be rather boring by comparison but we’ll have our toys to keep us occupied during that part.  We’ll have our iRiver MP3 players for our favorite music and our iPod Touches to read all the books we uploaded to them – and they also have music and we can even watch movies on them – I have “Avatar” on mine if push comes to shove.

Jeez, just the stuff we have to carry onto the plane requires some thinking.  I’ll have my best camera with me, my iRiver (I actually have two of them), my iPod, batteries for the iRiver, the alternate power source for the iPod, my Bose QC3 headphone (love those) and, oh, yeah, my fanny pack.  But my baby is the Mistress of Packing; she’s already figured out how to bring all this stuff on board with us without a lot of clutter.  We decided to take one bag for the both of us and I got out of her way when she packed the bag so it could be weighed; just amazes me that she got all of our stuff into that bag with plenty of room to spare – and it only weights 46 pounds!

I’ve never packed for a trip this far in advance of it but I don’t argue with the Mistress of Packing because it’s really easier to do it now and just add the last-minute stuff than it is to do it close to departure and risk leaving something behind.  That reminds me; I need to get the power strip for our electronics out and into the bag…

See ya later!

 

 

 
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Posted by on 8 October 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Anticipation

Well, we now have 95 days before we set sail on our cruise and the anticipation is growing!  While everything hasn’t gone precisely the way we planned it, there are only a couple of things left to do and I’m getting quite itchy.  For me, the fun is in getting there more than doing whatever once we’re there.  The logistics are a pain in the ass – but it can also be a lot of fun when you’re working something and times have to be closely watched.

I’m still pissed with the airlines and their flights to Miami!  They have hundreds of flights going there… but only two (that we saw) that gets us there when we want and need to be there – WTF?  I suppose that if we could fly in the night before, there’d be a ton of direct flights suitable for our needs.  Traveling on a budget is a lot harder in this regard; we could have gotten juicy prices for our airline tickets IF we could get there the night before…

What’s funny about this is we looked at alternative modes of travel and found that we made out better biting the bullet on the fares we paid; taking the train, which would have gotten us there the night before, turned out to be much more expensive than flying; just getting a compartment cost more than their plane ticket – and that’s an additional cost on top of what it cost to get a seat on the train!  We thought about taking the bus – threw that one out quickly; we even considered renting a nice car and driving down but when you think of the associated costs, well, when you have X-amount of money to spend on this, it becomes wishful thinking.

That plus I thought about the 20-something hours it would take to drive there… then we’d have to drive back.  Oh, hell no!  Easier and cheaper to fly, if you can believe that.  We happen to live relatively close to several airports:  Philadelphia (PHL), Baltimore (BWI), and Atlantic City (ACY).  We could have gone to Washington (DCA) or even into Virginia to fly out of Dulles (IAD) – but…

The logistics and costs to fly out of anywhere other than BWI are mind-boggling.  In all the years I’ve been flying, I’ve never understood why it’s cheaper to fly out of BWI than it is PHL.  We toyed with the idea of flying out of ACY on Spirit or AirTran… except Spirit doesn’t go to Miami and the price to fly on AirTran for one person was more than what we paid American for both tickets!  That crap Southwest talks about their low fares?  How about they only go to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – and the tickets would have cost almost $400 more than what we paid!  I saw the other day that we could fly out of New York (LGA) for about $198… but why drive all the way to New York and then have the plane fly right by where you started from?  Something about that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Then there was the flight that blew my mind:  It started at BWI, then went to ATL – then from there to LGA and then to MIA!  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!  Now, I know that connecting flights tend to take the scenic route but damn!  Whoever planned that route was smoking some serious rock!  All I could do was sit here and stare at the screen in utter disbelief; the funny thing about it was that if we were stupid enough to take this flight, it would have gotten us to MIA within the window required… for an equally stupid price, almost $600 per person.  Once upon a time, the cheapest flight you could get was the one that bounced you all over the country first – not anymore!

We had to think about getting to BWI a lot and whether either of us would want to be driving at 3AM, especially when our Jeep needs some work done to it.  The last time we drove to the airport, well, it was a fiasco – my fault, mostly for taking us to the wrong parking facility.  It was all good but just being up that time in the morning, braving the cold weather and the parking lot drama took some of the fun out of the trip – so we decided to take the airport shuttle and leave the driving to them.  It’s not cheap but we figured that with what it would cost in tolls and parking fees, fuel and the possibility of breaking down along the way, it was cheaper to take the shuttle.

Besides, if they make us late getting to the airport, we can ream their asses until the cows come home…

We still haven’t decided if we’re going to take separate bags or one big bag for the both of us; American’s baggage fees are on par with the other major airlines and will cost us an extra $100 if we each take a bag – or possibly more if we take one big bag; I’m leaning toward separate bags myself but we still have some time to work on that one.  This will be the first trip I’ve taken without my laptop and it makes me feel kinda naked – but getting through airport security will be less of a hassle if I leave it – and its gear – safely at home.  I travel with it in its own backpack and contains everything I need, including the software to fix it if necessary.  It’s a bitch to pack, only to get to the airport and have to unpack it to be scanned and, well, it’ll be rough – if nothing else, it has everything I need to keep me occupied, from games to music to movies.  The only “problem” with not taking it is that I’ll have my camera with me and if I manage to run out of the 4GB of memory in the camera, I won’t have the computer to unload the pics – but I’ll also have a ton of smaller memory cards so I’m covered.

Oh, man, the logistics are really a nightmare but they’re also a lot of fun to work through.  We talk about cruising, traveling together – Linda is fun to travel with – and our minds are a-whirl with all the things to do once we get on board the ship, let alone the sites we’ll see at the ports of call.  Hell, we haven’t even gone on this cruise and we’re already looking at some cruises for next year!

Cruising is some expensive shit; the various lines will nickel and dime you to death – but it’s up to you to get the full value from the dollars you’ll spend doing this.  I still remember my very first cruise and what it cost me – one of the most expensive things I’ve ever done short of buying a house.  I spent several thousand dollars… and it was worth every penny of it and, yeah, even all the hassles of getting the logistics to line up correctly.  It’s contagious; you take one cruise and you wanna do it again!  After my 10-day cruise of Hawaii, I can’t make any sense out of taking a cruise for just three days; you’re just starting to have fun and then it’s time to go home.  So, we’ve been looking at future cruises of 5-10 days and, yeah, it ain’t gonna be cheap or even easy to plan for – but it’ll be fun!

T-minus 95 days and counting… and all systems are go!

 
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Posted by on 2 August 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Can’t Get There From Here

Earlier, I saw where Spirit Airline pilots decided to strike, causing the airline to cancel flights and stranding passengers.  To me, I think this is funny and that Spirit deserves the financial trouble this puts this in, mostly because of their stupid $45 carry-on fee they imposed on passengers.

It gets to be a pain because more and more, airlines are strapped for cash and, of course, turn to get it out of our pockets when we fly with them.  Prices might be low… but by the time all the taxes and fees get added in, you really aren’t saving anything – and, oh, yeah, you’re not getting a whole lot back from the airline for the money you paid them.  It makes getting there from here very frustrating.

Linda and I are due to go on a cruise in November.  The cruise is now paid for and now we need to get to Miami.  Flying makes sense; a direct flight from BWI is only two hours and is less expensive than us flying out of PHL.  But, we have the misfortune of having to get plane tickets at a time when the airlines historically raise their prices to soak money from all the people going on vacation.  Part of the problem that I don’t pretend to understand is we need to be in Miami before the ship leaves at 4PM; we really need to be at the ship no later than 2PM to get checked in, etc.  Most of the flights going to Miami on the day we need to be there gets there way after the ship’s already gone.  There’s one or two flights that’ll get us into Miami International in enough time for us to transfer from MIA to the port.  Oh, yeah, and there are a shitload of flights available… if we wanted to spend the night in Miami.  One, we can’t afford that right now; two, it’ll probably mess up our transfer option that we’ve prepaid, although they’d probably give us shipboard credit for that… if we make it to the ship, that is.

It’s been frustrating for me to check flights and prices and knowing that we’re going to get gouged on the ticket prices now… for a trip we’re taking much later in the year.  There’s something patently foul about this.  We’ve been trying to check out prices on Southwest, mostly because of their “bags fly free” thing.  Whether or not Southwest is cheaper than the other flights I’ve been looking at is, at best, debatable.  The problem with Southwest is that they haven’t published their schedule for the time we need to travel; we’ve had to wait months just to be able to see what’s available for the day before we need to be in Miami… and Southwest has no idea when the rest of November’s schedule will be available.  Well, shit, if they don’t know, who does?

As of this writing, the flight we want to take is going to cost $266 per person round trip – and that doesn’t include what it’s going to cost us to check our bags in!  Okay, we’re going on a five-day cruise so we need five days worth of stuff – it’s incredibly stupid to think we’re gonna go wearing just the clothes on our backs.  We have gear to take – cameras, media devices – not taking any of the laptops with us, which is unusual for me because I rarely travel without one.  Uh-uh, not this time – can’t afford it.  We even went out and bought a big bag, one of such size that we can put all of our stuff in it… but then it becomes a question of how much it’s going to cost if that bag is over the weight limit – and then having the money to pay for it at the counter.  At least AirTran, the airline with the primo flight we need, doesn’t charge for carry-ons; I’ll be able to bring my camera case on board with me without having to pay for it.

We’re even looking at alternate methods of getting there – and we will get there, make no mistake about that!  We can take the train, which would cost just as much or more as flying; we could rent a car but since gas prices tend to be higher south of where we live – and we have to eat and stuff like that – that could wind up being even more expensive, especially after you add in the $100 it’ll cost to park the car at the port while we’re gone.  And, oh, yeah, then we’d have to drive 20+ hours back home and I already know I’m not gonna feel like driving.

Another thing that has me scratching my head; there doesn’t appear to be a lot of airlines going to Miami for some reason, which strikes me as damned peculiar because Miami ain’t like flying to, say, Altoona, PA, if you catch my drift.   The last time I was perving the flights, I got so frustrated at the limited schedules they’re flying to a major city.  We need to be there on the 6th before 2PM at the latest.  It’s not that we can’t get there; like I said, if we wanna spend the night in Miami, well, there are a ton of low-cost flights we can take.  It’s almost as if they airlines know that we need to be there when we need to be there… and they’re making it as hard and as expensive for us as they can.

Take the train?  We’d have to leave here two days before we’re supposed to be there and still wind up spending the night in a hotel – and you know that the prices of the rooms are off the charts.  In fact, to get a compartment on the train if you don’t wanna sleep in your seat?  It costs more than the ticket for the train, although if you buy one, all of your meals are free.  Even if we were to carpool and drive down – we have several family members going on this cruise as well – it might reduce the costs… but we’re still talking 20-something hours from here to Miami and, if one of us didn’t rent the car, that puts us at the mercy of someone else – and Linda and I been there, done that, ain’t doing it again; when we’re ready to go, we want to go and not when you wanna go.

We even thought about renting a limo and going in style… but not only can we not find a limo company that can roll like that, it’s almost a given that it’ll cost more than it will for us to fly.  Right now, we’re not even thinking about driving ourselves to the airport; taking a shuttle down and back will cost more than it would to park for five days… but at least neither of us has to drive.

Shit, and we still have to figure out what we’re going to do with the cat for five days; the guy who’d watch her for us doesn’t live here anymore and there’s no one else here we can trust to be in our apartment while we’re gone.  I guess I could ask one of my sisters or even my mother to do it, but there’s no guarantee that (1) they’d do it and (2) they wouldn’t have something come up and miss feeding Zane; last thing we want to come home to is a dead or starving cat.

The whole airline thing just pisses me off.  When I worked, I had to travel a lot and even though I had my corporate Amex card to pay for flights and stuff, the company would reimburse me for traveling.  The prices weren’t bad and, on the longer flights, I could at least get a meal without having to pay extra for it.  I flew to Japan on my own dime and during the 20+ hours flight, we ate and drank like royalty – and it was all included in the price of the flight.  However, when I went to Hawaii a year or so later – which is about 10 hours total flying time – if I wanted something to eat on the longest leg of the flight, I needed to get in my pocket and dig out money to pay for something that I’d never buy at any other time – and something so stupidly overpriced that packing a lunch at home would be cheaper… and at least I could eat something I found appetizing.

Same thing when Linda and I went to Antigua; we practically starved during our four-hour flight because we didn’t want to pay such ridiculous prices for food that didn’t look or taste good.  I think we got a wrap – which Linda hates – and shared it but I know my stomach growled the entire flight; that night at dinner on the island, I ate so much to make up for not being able to eat that I almost made myself sick.

See, I kinda feel the airlines from a business point of view.  Since 9/11, the airlines all took major hits in their corporate wallets when the government suspended all air travel over US airspace for a couple of days.  The government wound up bailing them out and, despite that, they’re still crying about how broke they are.  And I do get it; the price of jet fuel alone is enough to put a serious dent in an airline’s accounts payable funds.  Since they know that the government isn’t going to keep bailing them out because their coffers are low – and no one’s buying large and expensive chunks of their stock – they only place they can get the money they need to operate is from the people who want or need to fly.  And that’s where things get stupid from the consumer’s point of view.

Okay, it’s bad enough that you have all these hidden taxes and fees attached to the price of your ticket, making what used to be an inexpensive flight something other than that.  Then, there’s the good old TSA – don’t even get me started on them!  Airport security, while necessary, is a joke and is so frustrating it makes you not want to fly just thinking about dealing with them.  But before you even get to them, there’s a matter of your bags.  Used to be a time you’d just put it up there, it would get tagged, and vanish, never to be seen again until you got to where you were going.  Then they started charging for overweight bags over 50 pounds; okay, that kinda makes sense – but if you pack carefully, you could easily avoid the overweight charges.

Now, airlines are charging you to do something they always did for free – and still charge you if the bag is overweight.  The fucked up parts are (1) finding out what these fees are and (2) figuring out at what point do you pay for this.  If you book your flight on, say, Expedia, they’ll tell you that other charges may apply for baggage… but either they don’t know or their webmasters haven’t figure out how to take the available fees and incorporate them into their website so that when you book your flight, you can tell them at that time how many bags you plan on checking, the site does the math and – voila!; this is how much it’s gonna cost you – click to continue to checkout.  As a matter of fact, I think I’ll contact Expedia and ask them about this…

Okay, took care of that – it’ll be interesting to see what they say.

Not only do they want to fuck with your baggage, but now you gotta pay for one of those dinky pillows and blankets; you wanna eat, it’ll cost ya; Spirit is charging people for bringing on carry-on items; if you wanna put it in the overhead bin, bend over and spread your cheeks, please.  I even read where some airlines in Europe have had credit card readers on the lavatory doors; if you need to piss, shit, or whatever, swipe your card, please – and Lord help you if you ain’t got enough on it to handle your business.  I’m almost sure that the US airlines are looking at doing this as well… but I think they also know they’d get their asses kicked if they did.  Even if they did, ah, they’re going to have some really messy aircraft to clean up from people doing their business wherever they can to avoid paying to use the lavatory.  No way someone’s going to be on even the shortest flight in the US and have to pay to take a shit, especially after all the other money the airline has gouged us for!

Some airlines are even charging you for picking your seat on the plane!  What the fuck?  Um, didn’t I already pay for a seat?  I’m disabled; I can walk but even before my disability, getting in and out of those coach seats has always been interesting.  I love the window seat but the aisle seat is easier for me – and if I want one, it’s gonna cost me?  The seats in the area of the exit doors are even better for me… but unless I’m prepared to pay out the ass to sit there, it ain’t gonna happen.  That and those seats sell out first.

Of course, Linda and I would like to sit together – and we can if we wanna pay for it.  It’s bad enough that with the things are looking, we’re gonna have to buy our tickets separately, which might wind up with me sitting one place and her in another.  It pisses me off… but the realist in me says, “At least we’re on the same plane going to the same place…

What gets me too is that the airlines can’t seem to figure out why people aren’t flying as much these days.  Well, fucking duh!  Do ya think that with the way you gouge us on ticket prices and have taken away all the amenities might have something to do with it?  In the Spirit debacle, their CEO actually had to go on CNN and explain why they implemented the carry-on fee.  What he said – and it was clearly corporate double-speak – which I understand, by the way – was that even though they’ve implemented this fee, they did lower the base ticket prices by $40 – then he said that people wouldn’t mind paying the fee and that customers would actually be saving money.

Like hell we would!  Okay, you lower the fee by $40… but I have to pay $45 to use the overhead bin… so it actually cost me $5 more, didn’t it?  Oh, and that’s on top of the anywhere from $25 to $100 you’re gonna charge me for stowing a bag in the belly of the plane, depending on how much stuff I need to bring with me?  And if the bag’s a big one and over 50 pounds?  That’s even more being tacked on so, um, how am I saving money by flying with you?

Spirit has this overhead bin fee but their baggage prices are comparable to what the other airlines are charging – oh, and additional VAT fees may still apply after all the other fucking fees you’ve paid already!

You’re planning a trip… but when you see what the airlines want to do to your bank account, it’s enough to make you not take it.  The airlines know good and damned well that you’re not going to go to, say, San Diego for a two-week vacation and not bring anything with you like clothing and toiletries and the like.  They also know that this stuff ain’t going to be a carry-on item, either; the law says that if it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, it goes in the bin; if it doesn’t fit there, it has to be checked in.  They have you by the short hairs already – and you haven’t even gone onto Expedia’s site to look for flights.  Take-off and landing fees – what the fuck is this?  We’re still paying a fee to fly for 9/11 YEARS after that fateful and terrible event.  Okay, maybe an airline has to pay the airport for taking off and landing… but isn’t that part of the cost of doing business as an airline?  Why make us pay for something the plane has to do one way or the other?

I think the biggest mistake the government did was deregulate air travel; it allowed the airlines to charge what they want for any reason they want.  God, this pisses me off!  We wanna fly to Miami, get on the boat, and have fun for five days – then fly home and get back to the grind, all nice and refreshed and with plenty of good and new memories – and pictures.  All this is doing at the moment is giving me one hell of a headache just trying to get us there…

But we will get there.

 
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Posted by on 12 June 2010 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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