American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
The Trouble with Airline Travel
As I mentioned in my most recent post, I spent last week on a press trip in and around Yellowstone National Park, and although I had a wonderful time in the frigid North and embraced the chance to encounter new places and new faces, I admit that, as expected, I found myself missing my normal traveling companions (my husband, Dan, and my kitty, Ruby) and longing for my typical mode of transportation (our trusty mini-van). Don't get me wrong – our little group of writers and guides spent a lot of time on the road, traveling in an array of durable shuttles and snowcoaches – but getting from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Bozeman, Montana, and back again obviously required a few, time-saving plane rides.
While I've often posted tips about airline travel (from avoiding hidden airline fees to dealing with busy holiday weeks), it had admittedly been several years since I myself traveled by plane, and to say that a lot had changed over the ensuing years would be an understatement. No matter where you're flying these days, passing through security checkpoints is certainly not like it used to be. As you probably know, after showing your boarding pass and personal identification, it's often necessary for you to take off your shoes, remove your laptop from its case, consolidate all liquids into a clear one-quart bag, divvy up all carry-on items into plastic bins intended for the X-ray machines, and also subject yourself to a human-sized screener (not to mention pat-downs).
Needless to say, all manner of relatively harmless items can be confiscated from your carry-on luggage, ranging from lithium batteries and large cans of hairspray to pocket knives and cosmetic scissors. Although I understand the need for vigilance against domestic and international terrorism, it must be said that today's airport process is less than trusting and dignified. It's even difficult to take a picture in an airport nowadays without an agent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wondering what you're up to.
Luckily for me, though, I had done my homework before packing, and thanks to the detailed guidelines on the TSA website, I didn't have to surrender any of my precious belongings. Yahoo! But that doesn't mean that everything went smoothly in the air.
Last Monday, I took two flights via United Air Lines – the first to the Denver International Airport and the second to the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport – and both went as well as can be expected. True, there wasn't much leg room on either flight, but I had enough space for my luggage as well as my puffy winter coat – and I met some delightful folks on board, including a young Montréal couple headed back to school after a weekend getaway to the Big Easy and two Florida ladies on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Marlboro Ranch in Montana.
It was the return trip on Friday, however, where things went a bit awry. That time, my itinerary with Delta Air Lines included a flight to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a one-hour layover in Minnesota, and a second flight home to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. All seemed well when I left Bozeman, but upon arriving in Minnesota, I discovered that my connecting flight to New Orleans had been unceremoniously canceled, and as I soon discovered, it had nothing to do with the weather. Yes, it was 16 degrees when we landed at the St. Paul Airport, but the conditions were perfectly safe for flying. No, the given excuse for the canceled flight (and for my being bumped to a Saturday morning one) was that the plane had been pulled for maintenance.
“You do care about safety, don't you?” the perky customer service representative asked me.
“Of course, safety should be Delta's number-one priority,” I replied, “but customer convenience ought to be second.”
But, despite my protestations and requests for an earlier flight, I knew that my overnight stay in Minnesota was inevitable. At least, I was dressed for the occasion. After all, my carry-on was brimming with winter gear for my trip to Yellowstone. Also, I was grateful that Delta was willing to spring for two meal vouchers and a hotel voucher to a nearby Courtyard Marriott. Besides, I thought it might give me a chance to see my Aunt Bonnie (who lives in chilly St. Paul) – but unfortunately, she didn't find her cell phone (and hear my message) until the following morning.
After my initial frustration with the delayed flight, I tried to find my inner serenity and appreciate the fact that Delta wasn't forcing me to pay for my own hotel room. En route to the Marriott, though, I found out that several other Delta passengers had been bumped to next-day flights. One doctor, for instance, was headed to Seattle, where he was supposed to be on call on Saturday morning. Two other couples were bound for New Orleans, where they intended to board cruise ships that they might easily miss. Another girl was headed to Reno, and yet another young man was supposed to be taking an important job certification exam in the Big Easy. Conspiracy theorists that we were, we (along with my hubby and an anonymous airport official) surmised that the “maintenance” explanation might have been just an excuse to conserve fuel and consolidate flights, but whatever the case, I'm happy to report that Saturday's itinerary went much more smoothly – the weather was just fine in Denver, and my New Orleans flight got me home in plenty of time to witness the wacky Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (a sci-fi and fantasy-themed parade in the Faubourg Marigny, not far from my French Quarter apartment).
The plain truth is, though, that as speedy and convenient as airline travel can be – and as fun as it is to make new acquaintances, however short-lived – you have to surrender a lot of control for the sake of such convenience. While it's true that driving can be infinitely more dangerous than flying, I do appreciate the fact that, as “road warriors,” Dan and I can pack as much as our mini-van will hold, travel with our beloved kitty, hit the road whenever we want to, and take detours whenever we so desire. Driving can also be a handy way to avoid the communicable diseases that are easily spread among airplane passengers – because, yes, I caught a cold during my adventures in the sky. Unfortunately, I heard a lot of coughing and sneezing on my two return flights, and as you might imagine, it's not hard to catch a bug or two from the ever-circulating air in such tight quarters. Of course, it probably didn't help that I failed to get much sleep during my trip – after all, I always find it hard to rest in unfamiliar surroundings – and that my body had to endure a 60-degree difference in temperature between Montana and Louisiana.
Still, despite my unexpected stay in Minnesota and my subsequent cold, I'm very grateful to everyone who organized my trip to Montana and Wyoming, including Donnie Sexton at the Montana Office of Tourism, Molly Brewer and Mike Harrelson at MercuryCSC, Rick Hoeninghausen of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, and Jan Stoddard of the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce – and I can't wait to blog about my experience.
In the meantime, do you have any airline horror stories of your own? If so, I'm all ears!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo / Text © 2013 Laura Martone