Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why I hate Logan....

I wrote the following post for my personal blog, Life in Sweet in the Fenway, but I thought it would be suitable for this blog, as well. So, here goes....

So I'm back in Beantown, after an 8-night stay in Newport News, VA with my parents. As promised, here's the recap of my flying experiences out of and into Boston's Logan Int'l Airport.

So I left on Friday, December 22 on what was scheduled to be a 7:40 departure on an Airtran flight direct to NN/Williamsburg. Keeping in mind my experience of flying out for Christmas last year, I showed up at the airport about 3 hours early (I know if sounds ridiculous) to find myself waiting in a seemingly endless line for baggage check-in. It was moving so slowly that the only people making it to the kiosks were those whose flights were about to close and had to be shuttled to the front of the line. This created a lot of chaos, and the improvisational saxophone player didn't help matters. Not only was he really bad and played through an endless rotation of about 5 Christmas carols, but he drowned out the shouting of ticket agents announcing those whose flights were leaving in a half hour. This made people who couldn't hear those announcements above the squaking sax even more angry. I wasn't too concerned, since I had a lot of time on my hands, and the new "friends" I made with the people in line made matters a little more tolerable. This was a good thing, since I arrived at the airport at 5 PM and finally checked my bag at 6:10.

Then onto the security line. To be brief, this was another 40-minute ordeal accompanied with a church choir singing Christmas hymns. I was about to pull my hair out when I finally reached the TSA employee who checked IDs with boarding passes. I haven't ever been so happy to see a TSA employee. She marked up my ticked with their special TSA/Logan scrawl and then told me that my plane was taking off from a different gate area. For those of you who don't know how Airtran operates, 3 of their gates are in the old Terminal D (now an appendage of Terminal C), which has its own security checkpoint. Over the past year or so, Airtran acquired a new gate in the main Terminal C, where my flight was leaving. I was not pleased and made it plain to the TSA employee since I was never told this at the check-in kiosk. There was nothing I could do about it, so I hiked up the stairs to Terminal C's security checkpoint (which has no wait and would have saved me 40 minutes and my ears from listening to Kitschmas hymns)...my gate was waiting at the other end of the checkpoint, and I immediately went straight for the Sam Adams Pub across the gate for a tall beer.

I spent a few minutes here downing a Sam Adams served by a bartender who recognized me as I gave my order...evidently my experiences with delays at Logan have brought me to this same bartender at different bars around Logan many times before. 'Talk about feeling like an alcoholic (which I am not). A drunk Irish sailor man (I am not kidding here) sat next to me and sipped on a double whiskey sour as he told me that he had been at the airport for 18 hours (including hotel stay) due to delayed/canceled flights with his Air Canada flight to Halifax. It was his first Christmas with his two teenage daughters without their mother...very sad, I thought. Then he went into how she was a thoughtless fucking bitch and left him...she was never the same after having that second daughter...this talk went on for about 20 minutes until I finished off the beer and left him to torture someone else. I reported back to the gate and asked a fellow passenger, who was an off-duty Airtran pilot making his way back home, if everything was running on time. "Not even close" was all he replied, visibly pissed. So I asked some other folks in the area...2 hours delayed. OK...time for more beer.

So back at the bar, I had another tall Sam and eavesdropped on a conversation between a girl who looked and acted like she was 15 and another guy, about my age, dressed in stylish jeans, black leather shoes, and a sport coat. This is why I keep telling people that airports are a good place to check people out...guys dress well when they're going home and generally look really hot. That was until he started talking about his days at Hampton Roads Academy, a snobby private school in Newport News where parents who are deathly afraid of subjecting their precious ones to public education send their kids. When they noticed me listening, they asked about my history, and when I told them I went to Warwick HS, they literally SNICKERED and changed the subject. I have news for you, bitches...my school is actually ranked 61st best school in the US by US News and World Report, not that I believe in US News Rankings or anything.

So...I boarded my flight around 9:30, kept the tab open during the flight and enjoyed 2 nips of Bacardi and Coke (the first time I have ever kept the tab open for seconds during a flight), and arrived in Newport News around 11PM, where my sister Ellie and her partner Brannon picked me up and took me back home. Ahhhh...home for the holidays...that was nice. Except within the hour Ellie announced to my dad that they were never bringing their dogs back to Newport News because of the bad behavior of my parents' Scottish Terriers...thus began a heated, very loud argument within a half hour of my arrival. I was snockered by this time and just sat back to listen them finish off my day of unpleasant drama. They didn't speak for a day until they had another "make-up" shouting match the following night that ended with crying and hard feelings on both sides. They left the next morning after exchanging gifts.

The week with my parents was fine, uneventful (except when I nearly scratched my cornea - again - by walking straight into a poorly placed decoration of sticks and babies breath that my mom had placed in a dimly lit hall the night before).

This morning, I awakened at 5AM so that I could get to the airport around 6AM for an early flight out of Newport News. For the first time in a LONG while, my flight left on time, and we were airborne just when the sun was rising over the horizon...made for a beautiful flight. We landed on time (maybe a few minutes early). I couldn't believe it...I would be home and back in bed by 10AM. All I had to do was retrieve my baggage. I arrived at the baggage claim and heard the most god-awful screeching sound coming from the carousel, and what looked like 2 flights' worth of people were surrounding the carousel. Apparently the carousel was jammed and not working properly. This was one of those weird ones where the baggage conveyors come through the ceiling and down onto the belt, and after a solid 45 minute wait (and another 2 or so Airtran flight arrivals jamming the claim area), a ramper came tumbling down the conveyor from the ceiling. I waited there for an HOUR before the problem was resolved (after multiple attempts by rampers to crawl up the conveyor, kick baggage down into the carousel, and finally get things rolling). Once the bags started coming, I was wondering why mine wasn't coming down. I had brought back a much larger suitcase from my parents' house (one I will be taking for my 3-week stay in New Zealand in 2 months) in which I packed my smaller roll-away. Apparently I overestimated its size around all the other giant suitcases people cart with them in airports...I didn't recognize it until I realized that the same bag that somewhat resembled my giant black Samsonite has passed me by at least 5 or 6 times...after checking the tag, I retrieved it and was on my way.

I could have rounded this out with a nice ride on the T...but I took a cab back to my apartment, instead. Except for the exorbitant extras charged to go through the Sumner Tunnel, that was actually a pleasant ride.

So ends my Christmas travel experience at Logan. And for the record, I did not exaggerate the wait times...they really were that bad. Once on the planes, the flights were quite pleasant...accompanied by the free full XM Satellite radio. My music of choice...BPM 81...call me a dance trash addict. My iPod is dead (another expense to get that repaired over the next few weeks) and I was experiencing withdrawal during the holiday.

The good news: I didn't have one cigarette while I was home. I guess I'm not too much of an addict.

So here's the dilemma...to fly Comair or Airtran to Newport News/Wmbg in the future. The Delta Connection/Comair experience wasn't that much better during Thanksgiving. Perhaps I'll consider flying Jetblue to Richmond in the future. The cost of renting a car from Richmond to Newport News would probably be the same as the drink bills I accumulated during this trip, and I'd probably even save time! Besides, how can one turn down Direct TV?

OH...with regard to a previous post on airline flatulence/diverted routes, I didn't cause such an occurrence on this morning's flight. However, I did have the mother of bowel movements when I returned to my apartment this morning.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lee Hall Depot, Newport News, VA

Completed in 1881, in time for servicing the first passenger train (depicted above) carrying passengers and officials for the centennial of Cornwallis' Surrender in Yorktown that ended the American Revolution, Lee Hall Depot has ramained an eye-catching fixture in the western tip of Newport News, VA. In use through the 1970s, the depot served Chesapeake and Ohio Railway passengers for nearly 100 years. Unfortunately, the building gradually fell into disrepair after its last days in service, although it continues to stand next to CSX Transportation's mainline between the coal terminal at Newport News and Richmond, Virginia. Boarded up and heavily vandalized, it remains neglected next to the busy railroad today.

I am visiting my parents in Newport News for the holidays and decided to photograph the historic depot this afternoon, before it was removed from its original location. I once walked through this building about 15 years ago, when it housed the local N guage model railroader's club. It has since sat empty for the last decade or so....
There's good news to this rather sad looking structure, though. It will be moved and stabilized on a site directly across the train tracks (on the other side of the building from the abandoned tracks pictured above) in the spring of 2007, at which point it will undergo restoration and reopening as a railroad heritage museum. I'm happy to see that this building will potentially stand for at least another 100 years, reminding locals and visitors what was largely responsible for putting Newport News on the map in the first place - the railroad that made possible the eastward tourism industry on the coast and the coal and shipbuilding industries on Newport News' Lower James River Waterfront.

For more information on the Lee Hall Depot restoration project, visit the website LeeHallDepot.org.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Snow Bombs at the Airport

I watched Airport (1970) staring Burt Lancaster for the first time recently, thanks to TiVo.
The movie was the first in the "disaster" film genre. It has multiple plots, and a myriad of characters with personal conflicts. The film's setting is a Chicago airport, and the plots include infidelity, obstructed runways, abortion, noise abatement, and bombs. The villains (or heroes?): snow, cheating husbands, an old lady and a desperate passenger. The best part of this whole Oscar nominated film: it reminds us young ones that one time, not long ago, it was actually possible to stow-away on an airplane. "Security" checkpoints and I.D. checks are thoroughly (post)modern! Don't take the film too seriously, and you'll be entertained the whole way through. Plus, it is interesting to hear the pilots arguing over thrust levels.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Think before you order that second drink in the sky...

In a cost-cutting move, a Chinese airline is asking passengers to use the bathroom before flying in order to save fuel. China Southern says that flushing a toilet at 30,000 feet takes about a quarter of a gallon of fuel. In a related move, the company is filling its planes’ water tanks only 60 percent full.

Don’t laugh too loud – you might be flying one of these planes someday as Delta routinely slaps its code on flights operated by China Southern.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Auditory Pollution

At the San Fransisco airport, the noise abatement center has an observation window where travelers can view a real-time map of all planes taking off, landing, and their altitude.

Noise abatement centers control the auditory pollution. According to Regan International's abatement center, the aircraft operators are responsible for their noise pollution and may even be subject to a fine.

Pilots must depart on approved routes, fly at approved times, and use thrust management. During thrust management, the pilot gently reduces the amount of power used during their takeoff. Thus, the plane takes of slower (it climbs at about 500 feet per minute) until it is 10 miles away from the airport.

Flatulence forces landing

A Dallas-bound American Airlines flight was diverted to Nashville after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of flatulence. The flight was diverted after passengers reported smelling sulfur. One passenger admitted to FBI investigators that she lit a match to disguise "body odor."