Long Nights : Styx in St.Louis
by Charles M. Kunz 

You may now all refer to me as Kunz, Charles M. – Sophomore, Arizona State University. I feel that successfully getting through your first year of College without contracting an STD, getting anyone pregnant, overdosing on drugs and not having your stomach pumped is quite an achievement. To celebrate my latest in a long line of successes I decided a vacation was in order. Thankfully back in March my friend Josh had approached me with an opportunity. The two of us are big Classic Rock fans and he informed me that Styx and Peter Frampton would be playing in St. Louis in May. A quick check of everyone’s schedules showed that I would be done with finals on May 8 and Josh wouldn’t have one on Sunday May 9 leaving us free and clear to Come Sail Away. Of course I had to consider getting back to the old family for the summer. A check of showed one ways from the west coast to JFK were rather cheap. At first I planned to fly from Orange County to JFK and take Aloha Airlines to SNA. Then I got to thinking, even though AQ is a nice airline, it’s not an AA partner which means a loss of miles. I moved onto Alaska Airline’s website and found a one way up to SEA would be cheap and so it was done. My schedule looked like this:

May 8: 10AM: Computer Literacy Final, Lunch Date, Pack up room for move out.
May 9: Fly to St. Louis, attend Styx Concert
May 10: Fly back to Phoenix
May 11, Finish move out of dorm
May 12, Fly to New York.

It’s a good thing I don’t have much of a social life or I would have had to do some serious schedule clearing.

SUNDAY MAY 9, 2004
American Flight 1094
Scheduled Departure: 6:46 AM
Scheduled Board: 6:16 AM

As Josh lives in California and goes to school at Washington University in St. Louis, I don’t see him much. Because of this I decided to sacrifice sleep and sanity and take the early Chicago connection so we could have more time together. This was the thought that I kept running through my head when the piercing klaxon of my alarm sounded at 4:45 AM. I told myself I was going to see my best friend and I could garner more sleep on the plane. Those words, however, did nothing to get the bags out from under my eyes or the bloodshotness out of my peepers.

Once again I decided to use Supershuttle to get to the airport and once again their incompetencey was prevalent. Despite me having made a reservation for 5:06 AM, my driver called me at 4:54 and asked me where I was. It was too early to defend myself so I just went to the old French Class standby, smile and nod. The ride to the airport was brief and after some money changed hands I was free to enter the second worst (or second best if you’re a half full type of character) terminal at PHX-Sky Harbor.

Ahead of me today at the First Class line was the kind of customer American wanted to have more of. This man simply strolled up to the counter and asked for a Full Fare First Class ticket to Buenos Aires. He put my $208 L fare to shame but hey, I’m a poor college student. For once I didn’t have a creative routing when departing from PHX so my PHX-ORD and ORD-STL boarding passes weren’t given more then a simple glance before I was told the way to gate two. Along the way I went through the usual Terminal 3 routine. This began as always with overpriced food from Starbucks while watching the sun rise on my MD-80. Next came the ordeal through security which was surprisingly painless today. After that I picked up the Arizona Republic and then parked myself at my gate to wait until boarding time. If only they had an Olympic Event called the 100 Meter Preparing for a Flight, I’d get the Platinum, err Gold. Even without a medal they allowed me and everyone else to board:

Gate 2
Seat 9F Main Cabin
MD-80, N442AA
Actual Board: 6:16 AM
Actual Depart: 6:39 AM – 7 Minutes Early
Take off 9 minutes after departure

Now I have had some strange characters seated next to me in the past. In fact I once shared a row with a mother of seven children of mixed races, all on the same flight with her. But today’s 2 hour 59 minute jaunt up to Chicago took the cake. In 9D there was a business man who was legally blind. In 9E was a woman who was on her first ever trip with a host of problems she loved talking about. In 9F was an obnoxious college student from New York. When Miss 9E went to take her seat I noticed she was holding a New York State Driver License in her hand. I made the bold move to ask her where in New York she was from which caused the flood gates to open. It seemed that Mr. 9D and Miss 9E don’t have anyone to talk to and they began to pour out their tales of woe to each other and to me. Mr. 9D began to say how he hated being treated differently because of his disability and how he fought it by teaching children how to ski. Miss 9E felt she had to one-up this guy because she wove a tale of being a single mother of two children, one who had a brain aneurism. She then went on to share every detail of how her ex-Husband was an evil person. Even so she had a grim resolve that I envied. I was rather taken aback by these two people and I felt very privileged sitting next to them. I don’t really take into account how much I have, but here I was with near perfect health and getting a good education on my parent’s money. It made me feel guilty for all those times I complained.

I had specifically picked an F seat in the hope we would get the eastbound take off today and I was in luck. My vantage point provided me with a spectacular view of my school and my dorm. Seeing our large campus bathed in the golden rays of the early morning sun gave me a serious amount of pride that I was part of the Arizona State Family. Once at a “safe cruising altitude” the service began. This service was just like any AA in the morning flight deemed unlucky enough to not get a Bistro Bag. Two flight attendants walk the aisles and offer a full selection of beverages and the month’s granola bar. This month was oatmeal raisin. I was glad I had supplemented this with my Starbucks bagel earlier because a plane is the worst place to be hungry. After my tasty snack I decided to re-enter the world of the dreams and so even with the conversation having turned to Miss 9E’s son not being able to walk very fast, I slept.

When my eyes re-opened it was 11:35 and we were 50 miles from O’Hare. Miss 9E turned to me and said “that was a REALLY long flight!” Even though I was probably supposed to agree with her, I let out a little chuckle and said “it’s barely a medium haul.” We over flew ORD and then as we swung out over Lake Michigan connecting gate information was read. I have been flying United a lot lately and I had forgotten how this simple touch AA takes very seriously makes a trip easier. This is especially true when you’re lazy as I am and your connection is only 5 gates away. As this was Miss 9E’s first trip, I was prepared to help her find her flight to Newburgh. When they didn’t give her a gate, I told her as soon as we got to ORD I’d help her find it on a monitor and direct her to where she needed to go. The touchdown was smooth but the trip to the gate lengthy and I was left with 10 minutes from arrival to the scheduled boarding time of my next flight.

Scheduled Arrival: 11:55 AM
Actual Arrival: 11:59 AM
Gate H11A

American Flight 871
Scheduled Departure: 12:45 PM
Scheduled Board: 12:15 PM

I kept my word to Miss 9E and we headed to a bank of departure monitors together. Unfortunately for her the only flight listed as “Canceled” was hers. It seems this woman will have even more to share when she finally gets back to New York. I directed her to the rebooking center at H7 and headed the opposite way from her towards the end of the H concourse. Once again I had to give an absorborant amount of money to a certain Seattle based Coffee Chain but I needed that caffeine as I didn’t want to fall asleep during Show me the Way. Once I arrived at the gate I was able to stroll onboard my second in a row MD-80 that would Show Me Missouri.

Gate H16
Seat 21A Main Cabin – Exit Row
Actual Board: 12:15 PM
Actual Depart: 12:46 PM – 1 Minutes Delayed
Take off 17 minutes after departure

I had chosen this flight to sample for the first time the MD-80’s exit row and I am very glad I did. In 21F was a furloughed AA flight attendant now with Chautauqua and in 21B a furloughed AA flight attendant now with Eagle. The two of them provided for excellent conversation leaving me with a very enjoyable flight. Also I must salute the Eagle F/a. Just prior to push back on of the F/a’s working AA 871 offered her a First Class seat, she turned it down. I think asked if I could have the upgrade but the F/a only laughed and walked away. People never take me seriously.

Once airborne a lightning quick beverage and pretzel service was commenced for 90% full, 41-minute flight. This impressed me very much because on a recent MIA-TPA flight, which was of comparable length, we received nothing. During the whole flight the F/A who whispered to me she and the occupant of 21F had been with TWA and I talked about the glory days. The two of them talked about how much they enjoyed the L10’s and the 747’s which brought them to Cairo, Istanbul, Paris, Honolulu, Los Angeles and beyond. It turned out that the 21F Flight Attendant had served my father and me on a PHX-STL flight back in 2002 when it was still TWA LLC - an American Airlines Company. Surprisingly the F/a’s harbored no grudges against American and it seemed the F/a’s working the flight felt the same towards them. At one point they swapped shoes to see whose were the most comfortable. My biggest laugh of the trip came when Miss 21B told me she had gone to see Peter Frampton when she was 18 in St. Louis as well. The funny thing was that that was in 1975 and neither St. Louis nor its Airport has changed since then! Soon I decided to keep my insulting comments in my head as Missouri received our plane with grace and aplomb and it was time to kick off some serious reunioning.

Scheduled Arrival: 1:56 PM
Actual Arrival: 1:50 PM
Gate C2

-- May 9, 2004 – St. Louis County, MO --

Today I was presented with a very refreshing thought. Instead of having to just schlep to the Admirals Club before a connection as I usually did. I got to leave the airport in the company of my best friend. Unfortunately before we could be reunited, I had to wait at the 5 minute pick up for him to show up. This is one of those good ideas that gets lost in its delivery. Firstly there is not enough space so only about 10 cars can fit in at once. Secondly, most cars wait far beyond 5 minutes. I was there for over 15 and the same Mercedes E-class Sedan occupied its space while I waited. Thirdly, if you show up and notice your ride is waiting for you, but there is no spot, you are supposed to drive off. If you try and stop in the middle of the road, even for a minute, an angry cop armed with a whistle will scare you off. Eventually I was greeted by an aged Buick which took me to Washington University.

Wash U. is now the third school I have been too this year and it is by far the best. As much as I love my desert gem down in Tempe, it doesn’t top what is nestled in America’s Heartland. Wash U has new and modern buildings as well as an open and beautiful campus. Their school even has hammocks and basketball courts outside their dorms! I was given a lovely tour by Josh who was for some reason rejected to be a tour guide by the Wash U staff. One of the nicer parts of the tour was when I was informed that a fellow RHS Graduate of 2003 lived on the third floor of Josh’s dorm. Although this girl and I had been at odds all throughout High School, she greeted me as if we were long lost siblings.

After a few hours experiencing dorm life, Josh, his friend Brandon and I piled back into the Buick. Our destination was the UMB Bank Pavilion for my first ever concert. After a twenty minute drive down I-70 (including a drive by Lambert) we were there. From the moment they scanned my ticket with a PDA I knew I was going to have an excellent time. The seating options were $24 seats (including tax and service fee) on the lawn or more expensive seats on the seats in front of the lawn. We chose the lawn and everyone had a blanket to compliment the experience. My blanket was actually an American Premium Class blanket a friend of mine swiped for me. Thankfully Mr. Arpey wasn’t slumming at the concert or I’d have been busted.

The concert started out with some guy named Nelson. He had been big in the early 90’s with some #1 hits but neither I nor Josh or Brandon had heard of him. Once he started I was glad I hadn’t, the guy was not my cup of tea. After his 30 minute set punctuated by scattered applause and halfhearted cheers ended, Peter Frampton came out. Now, I remembered Frampton from the cover of “Frampton Comes Alive.” Meaning I thought he’d have a full head of long blonde hair. Instead, he had less hair then my father which meant I almost didn’t take him seriously. I took my horrible prejudgment back as soon as he began what turned out to be a great 45 minute set. All my favorite hits of his were played including a 15 minute finale with “Do you feel like we do” including some improvised lyrics. I took a moment to think, I’m with my best friend, I flew here, the music is great, short of having a hot lady friend on my right, how could life be better?

Then it was time for the main event, what we’d all been waiting for, etc. etc. Styx started it off big playing Blue Collar Man and Too Much Time on My Hands to start off a great show. They rocked hard, they listened to the crowd and they got us involved. The only problem was them plugging their new album. As much as I love the guys I don’t need to hear that it’s in stores. Towards the end of the show, their signature hit “Come Sail Away” was played. About 50% of the crowd pulled out lighters and began to sway. It was the greatest moment of my classic rock worshiping life. Unfortunately nothing lasts forever (not even cold November Rain) and we had to go back to the dorm. Once there sleep waited for me even though SOMEONE (whether it was Josh or his roommate Rakesh remains to be seen) snored rather loudly.

MONDAY MAY 10, 2004
American Flight 2947
Scheduled Departure: 9:15 AM
Scheduled Board: 8:45 AM

Another day came with another rude awakening for a flight at an hour that should not exist. At least this time the awakening wasn’t to an anonymous alarm, but Josh poking me. The night before our Nightrider had gotten a flat tire and with only a doughnut as a spare, they only took me as far as the Forest Park Metrolink Station. Then it was time for the hardest part of my trip. I had to shake hands with Josh as we each went our separate ways. The last time we parted we had both had flights to look forward to, this time I had the flight, he had the Final Exam.

The Metrolink was an experience. For $1.25 I boarded a 3 car train and was entertained by an excellent running dialogue. Two Lambert Airport employees began to talk about how much they hated just about everything. This spanned from high gas prices to Bush, to serving in the Gulf War, to the United States Marine Core and back to Bush again. The best part came when one said “How safe can Aih-purt Security be if someone can fly a Muh’ ****in’ Sheven-Fotty-Sehven into the Twin Towahs?” Some people might have been offended and moved to another part of the car, but I loved the experience and I even jumped right into the conversation. Once at the airport they had to go to work and I had to check in. Today’s check in agent was the kind of agent I wish I had everytime. Once he saw I had a STL-DFW-ORD-PHX routing he said “let me guess, you want extra miles to be Platinum again?” It’s like he saw right through me!

The easy part over, it was time to begin the hard part. The lines for security held over 300 people a piece except for First Class/Elite Line which was maybe one-third as full. I got into a conversation with a fellow PLT on her way up to Chicago as we approached the front of the line and I decided to do my good deed of the trip. Once through security I offered to guest her into the Admirals Club. Unfortunately she threw my Karma right back at me and said thanks but no thanks, she had phone calls to make. Still I TRIED to pay it forward, which counts right? Had I not known what date it was, I could have sworn that it was before the cutbacks. The Admirals Club had over 150 people in it, and every gate I could see (C2-C10) held an MD-80. The illusion was shattered at 8:30 as the bank of planes left and the only MD-80 left was mine down to The Metroplex. An MD-80 I boarded shortly there after.

Gate C6
Seat 4A First Class
MD-80 N959U
Actual Board: 8:41 AM
Actual Depart: 9:11 AM – 4 Minutes Early
Take off 11 minutes after departure

Today’s plane was originally built for Ozark Airlines back in 1988 but it had instead been delivered to TWA. The plane unfortunately looked every one of its 16 years and it certainly felt it. The seat was not as padded as most ex-TWA First Class seats and the center armrest was tinier then my patience for United Airlines. I was eager to gauge the service on this flight as I had never been in First on a flight without a meal during breakfast hours. Once airborne, a few minutes after we overflew downtown St. Louis, the service started. Unfortunately it was anti-climatic as a Biscoff and Shortbread Cookie came with my Apple Juice. Right after that I fell asleep and woke up with my mouth open as Connecting Gate Information was read. God, I hope I didn’t snore.

Scheduled Arrival: 11:11 AM
Actual Arrival: 10:50 AM
Gate C39

American Flight 66
Scheduled Departure: 1:30 PM
Scheduled Board: 1:00 PM

Wait a minute, AA 66 leaves out of A21 nearly everyday and I’m at C-freakin’-39? They better serve me a lot of fattening food on this next flight to make up for all the calories I’m burning. To assist me through my 2 hour connection, I headed straight to the A-Concourse Admirals Club. This is one of the largest clubs in the country and it is also the former Flagship Lounge which makes for a pleasurable stay. After picking up a Diet Coke I headed for my usual seat in the rear TV lounge by the music listening stations. The place had changed since January, as back then most of the headsets were dilapidated. To combat this, you now have to borrow them from the front desk. Seated next to me in my nearly private area was a woman going DFW-ORD-LHR-DEL. My boarding pass collection may have paled in comparison to her but I’m younger so I’m still a Road Warrior damn it! To help kill time I pulled out a stack of aviation related articles my father sends me every week. Thanks to him, I was able to catch up on the latest news the New York Times and Wall Street Journal deemed fit to print. After a little over an hour of reading, I headed down to my gate early to gaze at the beautiful 21st Century Jet.

Gate A21
Seat 3J First Class
777-200 N777AN
Actual Board: 12:57 PM
Actual Depart: 1:30 PM – On Time
Take off 22 minutes after departure

Now flying First Class is always fun, but when it’s First Class on a 777 it’s like fun squared or something. In fact, this was my first time in First Class on a three class plane, so I guess that makes it fun cubed. It seemed that everyone wanted to get in on the fun to the third power as the 18 seat cabin filled quickly. After pushback we began the very slow process of taking off. Usually being behind over a dozen planes annoys me, but not today. My connection in Chicago was going to be over 3 hours so I started signing one of the Styx songs from last night in my head. That song was “Too Might Time on My Hands” of course!

Once we finally got airborne the PTV’s were switched on and the service began. Unfortunately the PTV’s weren’t working that well. This meant that many of the channels wouldn’t play instead producing a message saying “Unfortunately the channel you have selected is currently unavailable, please try again.” This was my first flight with the new PTV system which meant that you don’t get an AAtractions; you get to go find whatever movie you want to watch. The biggest downside is there is no way to learn about the movie before watching it. But whatever, if I was on an MD-80 I would be watching the forward bulkhead, not “Shattered Glass” again. Just after the movie started the purser (who would be continuing on to London with the second leg of AA 66) came around with the meal choices. Today’s selection was to be a cold chicken salad or cold shrimp with a side salad. I went with the chicken option as chicken is nearly always safe on a plane.

While waiting for my drink I experimented with the 5 buttons recessed into my right armrest. The TWO lumbar support options worked great but the footrest left something to be desired as it was missing the flap at the end to support your feet. However the seat in its fully reclined mode was extremely comfortable. In fact it was MORE comfortable than the mattress Josh provided me with for slumber at his dorm. The only drawback was that it was tough to view the PTV from the fully reclined position. Maybe this was intentional and American feels one should not sleep with the TV on because that wastes electricity. Soon my seat fiddling was interrupted by the arrival of my Diet Coke and a pack of pretzels and almonds. How annoying, no hot nuts, AA should know I don’t like chilled nuts! After that was cleared away I was presented with the usual one tray affair for lunch. The tray had my salad which consisted of the strange collection of lettuce, raisins, walnuts and the chicken topped with feta cheese. This was complimented by a tub of Asian Caesar dressing. Dominating the top left corner of the tray were three Carrs Water Crackers which were to be mixed with Monterey Jack cheese. And to round everything off there was the inevitable pack of Milanos.

I rather enjoyed this lunch even though something hot would have been nice. Once I separated the walnuts from the salad and ate the raisins separately (I’m sorry but in my book you don’t mix chicken with raisins) I had a nice meal. After the tray was cleared away I was promptly brought coffee which tasted excellent (even more so after all that crappy United coffee I’ve been drinking). The flight attendant working the G-H-J side proved once again that American flight attendants do an excellent job. When I asked for more Milanos he said he didn’t there were any extra, but even so he checked every used meal tray and ended up bringing me some when he found them.

We ended up having to circle Chicago for a half hour but for once, I was extremely glad. This meant I could have a leisurely second cup of coffee and finish more of my movie. Unfortunately once “Flight attendants prepare for landing” was declared there was no way for me to just listen to the movie with the PTV in its latched position. After a minute the TV switched off and I was back on 33 1/3, American’s Classic Rock radio station. The decent into Chicago is often interesting (as I learned yesterday) but today’s was just a bumpy landing through clouds followed by a 10 minute taxi to the gate past a huge line for departure. The guy in 3H started laughing about how stacked up O’Hare was and then he mentioned how sorry he felt for anyone who had to make a connection. Thanks for the pity, buddy.

Scheduled Arrival: 3:48 PM
Actual Arrival: 3:58 PM
Gate K12

American Flight 1453
Scheduled Departure: 7:14 PM
Scheduled Board: 6:44 PM

Now if I was a Frequent Flyer how would I spend a 3 hour plus connection? Why I’d take a look around and see which way the wind blow. I started by seeing the rest of the K Concourse where the Europe flights were loading up. From there I walked over and saw the L concourse which had the Iberia flight to Madrid and some Delta flights. The Delta television monitors they have are truly amazing. These things tell you about your destinations weather, offer to sell you an upgrade (IF you have the right fare), tell which standby seats have cleared (as well as standby upgrades) and more. Much better then the “Flight 66 – Chicago – Departs: 1:30 PM” we have at Dallas.

My next stop was the Illinois Lottery outpost between L and H concourses where I invested three dollars on scratch tickets. Unfortunately the economy is on a downturn and the bond market has been soft for a few weeks so I lost my investment. My pockets slightly lighter I walked over to the G Concourse and on my way did my second good deed of the day. Right at the entrance to the G Concourse is a large map of the airport. At the front of it was a young lady looking rather confused. Being a noted road warrior I asked her if she was lost. She said her flight down to San Antonio was not even listed yet and she was trying to figure out what to do with her wait. I suggested the large food court between H and K before entering into a short conversation about life with her. She then thanked me and walked off while I went the opposite direction. That incident should offer me a little extra in the karma department.

Having walked most of Terminal 3, I felt a nice respite was in order. To fully enjoy some downtime I headed straight to the G Concourse Service Center. This place functions as the Admirals Club for the American Eagle flyers and is known as a Service Center as it only has a self-service soda and juice machine instead of a full bar. Luck was on my side today as on TV was one of the greatest movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption . After an hour of watching Warden Norton and his zany antics, the movie was finished so I moved on. While the Service Center had been reasonably empty, the actual Admirals Club between the H and K concourses was packed. A quick check of the Departure Boards told me why. The rainy weather in Chicago was causing more problems then a few minutes delay for take off. 85% of flights on the board were delayed or cancelled. At least, AA 1423 destination Phoenix, was reading as on time.

After an hour of free internet access and watching MD-80’s do their thing, I decided to once again move on. Unfortunately as I neared H8 I noticed we had a small problem, a Lack of Plane problem. I checked my boarding pass against my watch to make sure boarding was scheduled for 6:44 PM and then wondered why we were short a 757. An announcement was soon made saying our 75 had come in from Cancun and was sitting over at the International Terminal awaiting towage over to us. When I asked the gate agent what time the plane arrived over at Concourse M, she said “5:30”. It was just one of those days for everyone. Finally at 7:10, right around our scheduled departure time, we received a plane so we could all board our flight via door 2L. I felt rather sorry for whomever was in 9B and C. They were called to the podium and told they would have to board the plane last meaning they most likely would not be stowing any bags onboard.

Gate H8
Seat 3A First Class
Actual Board: 7:17 PM
Actual Depart: 8:18 PM – 1 Hour 4 Minutes Delayed
Take off 10 minutes after departure

Once I sat down in my aged, brown leather seat I noticed something was amiss. The plane was hot, even with the addition of me on board it shouldn’t have been so warm. The pilot soon confirmed this by saying the APU was offline and he was waiting on a start cart. Twenty minutes later we were informed that the start cart he had gotten was just too small and we needed a second, larger start cart. Thankfully our First Class flight attendants sensed our growing discomfort and brought us all ice water. While waiting the man in 3B and I struck up a conversation about life and traveling while we waited. He said he hated flying, I said I was on my 85th flight of the year; he said he felt better now. The Flight Attendants then decided to get the meal selection done and using a carefully plotted diagram of a bunch of squares on a sheet of paper, they got started. FEBO was followed so I was the 11th person offered the choice of “Plum Chicken, Cantalone or Fish Filet of Turbo.” Hmm, I didn’t feel like fish and I hate plums, “what is this Cantalone you speak of?” I asked. I was informed it was “uhh pasta, stuffed with uhhh spinach and maybe cheese, I think.” Eh, I felt adventurous so I ordered the pasta dish.

Finally with much fanfare our ship set sail for browner pastures of sand and lots of cacti. Originally we would have had the pleasure of chasing the sun all the way to Phoenix with a beautiful sunset at the end of the flight. Instead we got an elongated dying gasp of the last embers of the sun. Once airborne our rather windy Captain came on the horn and talked about putting the “petal to the metal” but we’d still be late into PHX. He then went on to add how we needed to keep our belts fastened “just like we do in the cockpit.” I guess keeping my belt fastened would make me one of the big boys. It wasn’t removed the whole flight.

As we continued to fly westward they started the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Or tried to start it that is. The movie was crisscrossed with snow lines and the sound was punctuated with static. After ten minutes of trying to rectify the situation they switched over to “Big Fish.” However the flight attendants were so kind to remind us this would be the movie playing on any eastbound flights we’d be taking in the next few days. Frankly, this movie looked like crap warmed over so I decided to stick to John Nance’s Final Approach . I must ask though, is it bad luck to read a book about a plane crash while in the air? I sure hope not.

While contemplating whether I was sealing my fate and the fate of the other 140 or so people, the first round of drinks with warmed mixed nuts arrived. After sufficient time to digest the legume morsels, the salad appetizer was brought out. Now I’ve heard a lot about American’s “enhanced meal service” which had started with the three meal choices. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of the salad but it really was a nice touch. A large glass bowl held the usual lettuce but this time it came with red peppers and both black and green olives. I hated everything but the lettuce so I spend a few minutes picking out the foreign elements before dumping on the peppercorn ranch dressing ( SR 103 would be very annoyed with me). Once they cleared away the salad bowls we began to encounter some pretty heavy chop. The Captain came back on the pipe and told us all to remain seated and came close to yelling that we were to observe the Fasten Seatbelt Sign.

The main course came next. A large china plate held my two long pieces of pasta encased in marinara and cheese sauce. The dish was quite savory with the sauce perfectly complimenting the spinach and cheese stuffed pasta. The glass of red wine I asked for was indeed tasty and seemed perfect with the pasta. All I needed was some violin music and I could have pretended I was at an Italian Restaurant. On this flight three choices of rolls were offered including a previously unseen foaccia bread to go along with the old standbys of wheat and sourdough. After the main courses were cleared the turbulence got to a new level of bad and all flight attendants were required to be seated. Finally after twenty minutes I received a glass filled with vanilla ice cream with chocolate and strawberry sauce plus “whipped topping.” If the cream wasn’t whipped, what is in this so called “topping”? Nuts and butterscotch were also offered but I wasn’t interested in either.

After my ice cream was cleared away I spent the rest of the flight enjoying coffee while the stars came out along with a quarter moon. The only thing else the flight needed was some serious award winning American Way reading. This was completed down to Jim Shanin whining about people being knighted. But then the familiar sound of the engine power dropping and the familiar feeling of my ears popping came and I knew it was time to land. I had my A side seat and I was able to watch Apache Junction become Mesa which turned into Tempe. This meant I got the picturesque view of my campus and my dorm in the moonlight followed by touchdown back at Skyharbor. I had been there just over 36 hours ago and would be there again in under 36 hours, but for now, it was time to spend my last night in my semi-comfortable dorm bed.

Scheduled Arrival: 8:54 PM
Actual Arrival: 9:41 PM
Gate 6

-- May 11, 2004 – Tempe/Phoenix, AZ --

Today was a very depressing day indeed. I made goodbyes, dispensed hugs, called people who had already left, shook hands, exchanged “see you laters” and all the rest of how you say goodbyes to people you will either see again in 3 months or never again. After that I headed down to my Priceline Purchased room at the Doubletree Guest Suites by the airport. This hotel was my best buy of the year as for a $30 bid I got a standard suite room at a very nice property. Once I mentioned I was an HHonors member, they threw in a little gift bag in my room with munchies and bottled water.

Alaska Flight 753
Scheduled Departure: 6:25 AM
Scheduled Board: 5:55 AM

Often I will claim that days “dawn badly” but today’s really took the badly dawning cake. I woke up to the simultaneous blaring of the alarm clock and the wake up call and in the process of silencing them; I managed to cut a deep gash into my left big toe. If this was how today started, how could it be any better?

I had requested a 5:00 AM ride out to the airport and at 5:01 a uniformed security guard walked into the lobby and said “let’s go” to me and the one other man present. He then lifted our bags into the back of the courtesy van and off we drove to Sky Harbor. Unfortunately he didn’t know as much about the airport as he knew about busting up loud parties. First he tried to drop me at Terminal 3 and when I said Alaska was terminal 2, he said “Oh I read Aloha!” Then instead of dropping me by the Alaska ticket counters, he dropped me by the baggage claim.

It was with a throbbing foot and an exhausted mind that I entered the dilapidated Terminal 2 that warm May morning and things didn’t improve. I was under the impression that as an AAdvantage Platinum I could use the First Class/MVP line. Unfortunately the Alaska check-in people decided to crack down on illegal line busters. Even though there was no one else around I was chided and told that just this once they would check me in at the Elite desk. I think I am running out of withdraws from the small favors ATM. When I asked to have my bag interlined onto AA 198 to JFK the woman shook her head. I said Alaska and American have an e-ticket interline agreement and she sighed as if I wasn’t worthy of her time and demanded to see my e-tickets. When I produced them instead of apologizing she got even angrier and printed out my baggage tag with an angry demeanor. My boarding pass was then thrusted at me and I was told to go to Gate 10. Thankfully amid all her angry confusion, she didn’t notice my bag was 5 pounds over the limit.

I decided to try my luck once again and used the Elite security line by flashing my 1P Card. This succeeded even though Alaska and United have as much to do with each other as Charles and beautiful women. Still I wasn’t complaining as I circumvented the rather long line that had gathered for the early Ted and UAX flights. When I reached Gate 10 I asked to be moved into an Exit Row but I was told the flight was running with a light load today and weight and balance issues would restrict me from moving. I was informed, however, that I could move into the Exit Row after take off if I wanted. Upon hearing the E seat would be empty I decided to pass. After a few minutes of nearly passing out in the gate area, I boarded with the MVP Golds by flashing my Platinum Card (yes I actually used it!).

Gate 10
Seat 20F Main Cabin
Actual Board: 5:48 AM
Actual Depart: 6:18 AM – 7 Minutes Early
Take off 9 minutes after departure

I cannot remember being this tired on an aircraft. Even though I had never flown AS before and I wanted to soak up all the details of the “Spirit of Alaska” I could barely make myself sit up straight. However I forced myself to remain awake through takeoff so I could once more gaze at Palo Verde Main from the air. Today was perfect as the rising sun cast a golden glow on my former home. My campus had never looked as beautiful as it did in that early light and maybe it was just the fact that I was not going to see it for three months, but I had never felt so proud to say I went to that school laid out before me. Unfortunately pride wasn’t like caffeine and right after watching Manzanita slip away under the wing I fell asleep. Upon awaking a second beverage service was making its way down to the back of the plane where I was. Right after I told the Flight Attendant I wanted Cranberry Juice, she said “Oh you were asleep earlier; let me get you your scone.” A minute later I was the proud bearer of what I think was a semi-warm apple cinnamon scone. Even from my limited experience with them, the in-flight staff seemed great at their jobs, despite it being too goddamn early o’clock. Right after I finished the scone and juice I was out like a light again and this time when I awoke it was in the Evergreen State. You know my ex-girlfriend was originally from her and I always thought the first time I’d see the place was with her. Instead I saw it physically and emotionally alone but physically and emotionally happy. Our flight continued onto Spokane and the passengers were asked to remain onboard while the rest of us were set free to roam around the Emerald City or to go onward elsewhere like I. I wish I had more to report on Alaska but from the time that I spent awake I can tell they had decent seats with adequate legroom (in the back there is an inch more room) and great cabin staff. Their ground staff (at least at PHX) leaves something to be desired, but it was still dark when I dealt with them so excuses can be made.

Scheduled Arrival: 9:23 AM
Actual Arrival: 9:25 AM
Gate C9

American Flight 198
Scheduled Departure: 11:55 AM
Scheduled Board: 11:25 AM

As I mentioned earlier I had never been to Washington State which meant it was time to do the usual new state routine. I headed out past security and the baggage claim and planted both my feet onto solid ground. “Number 32” I said aloud. My mission out here was done, I have now been to 64% of the states in this great country and I will have more by the end of the summer I hope. Now that I was done discovering new lands and the like I headed upstairs to American ticketing. Once there I picked up a boarding pass from the pleasant ground staff who told me my gate was right next to the Admirals Club. Ahh, less walking makes Charles more happy.

Security was a relatively painless procedure; minus the double boarding pass check. Seriously, the second rent-a-screener could plainly see the first one had not only checked my documents, she had made an exaggerated circle right over the 1 in Group 1. Nevertheless I was checked again before I was allowed to remove all my worldly possessions leaving me barefoot, beltless and without wallet, the worst thing for a Jew. After making myself once again presentable I passed by the Horizon and assorted Alaska gates to the elevator to the Admirals Club. This particular Admirals Club saw much better action back when American bought flight 27 from Continental for $150 Million and flew MIA-SEA-NRT. Now all they have are the narrowbodies to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York-JFK and St. Louis. It’s nothing to sneer at but still not that much compared to what it once had. The Admirals Club was still a very nice place to unwind for an hour although it only had one computer. They made up for this by offering Fritos, always a tasty snack before 10 AM! I was even so nice and put my AZ Republic in the “Do Not Remove Newspapers from Club Room” section. After a little I walked down and after a slight boarding delay went with the Elites and lucky First Class passengers through door 2L onto.

Gate C14
Seat 18A Main Cabin – Exit Row
757-200 N627AA
Actual Board: 11: 32 AM
Actual Depart: 12:06 PM – 11 Minutes Delayed
Take off 13 minutes after departure

Saying the plane boarded full was a bit of an understatement. There was not a single non-middle seat open and there were very few middle seats open as well. My row was full and every row anywhere around me was as well. I knew right away this was going to be an interesting flight when a girl dressed in knee high lace up boots, black skirt, black T-Shirt and black makeup boarded with group 3. All I could think was it must have taken forever to take off those boots and put them back on at security. While we were waiting to push back, the Captain for today’s flight set the tone by walking through the aisle talking to anyone who would listen. This is only the second time I have ever seen this happen and I did appreciate the gesture as did many other passengers. My suspicions of an eventful flight were confirmed when we taxied out late and took off even later. Right after takeoff our friendly Captain began a three minute talk about how there had been maintenance problems coupled with flow control and now he was going to TRY to get us to New York on time but it might be tough. The man seemed genuinely insulted that HIS passengers would be late.

Shortly after takeoff they began the showing of, surprise surprise, “Big Fish”. It looked even worse the second time around and I decided to pass in favor of my paperback. Just as I started to turn pages the first service of drinks and pretzels began, followed by the main meal. I hadn’t had any AA Domestic Coach Lunch Fodder since February of the previous year. But having eaten a lot of United Cuisine, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get to the food. However the roast beef I was presented with was not bad at all. In fact after adding salt and mixing it with the roasted potatoes, I had a meal worthy of any cafeteria or even Hospital Food! Way to go again AA! The lettuce, carrots and cheese with Vinaigrette dressing, roll and cake went along with it well and I was left nearly satisfied. Thankfully I had packed a Snickers Bar from my Doubletree Goodie Bag so I was cool as a fool two hours into the flight.

For the next two hours I played with my laptop and finished my book. I particularly enjoyed watching old airline ads while the woman in 18B could only stare at my screen in obvious confusion as I watched ads for Eastern Airlines from the late 70’s. Once we had 30 minutes to go in our scheduled flying time, I raised my shade to see if I could spot any landmarks. However I could not as the ground was completely obscured by low storm clouds. As I began to contemplate the situation, the Captain came back on to say New York had been plagued by Thunderstorms all day and he was being routed up to Boston followed by an approach down the east coast. All around me were moans and groans and one or two from me. I was getting tired again and I just wanted to get home and see my loving family. Is that too much for a young man to ask? Thankfully God must be a family man as once we got over Hartford the storm abated temporarily and we landed ten minutes later. Unfortunately the comedy of errors did not likewise cease and we had to endure a large taxi time to the gate. This was followed by more woes as they knocked the slide from its mount on Door 1L and we had to wait 5 minutes while they reattached it. The Captain positioned himself by seat 1E and wished everyone a goodbye. I stopped to thank him for keeping us so well informed and he said goodbye to me and I was back in the Empire State.

Scheduled Arrival: 7:58 PM
Actual Arrival: 8:50 PM
Gate 4

And then it was over. I met my father who said it had taken him 2 hours to drive in from Manhattan leaving me feeling lucky my decent was as short as it was. The interline between AS and AA appears to work as my bag was the twentieth out and then I came back to 60 Forest Avenue, where all dreams become reality. Since then I have become once again entrenched in family life with the constant bickering and family activities. I never thought I’d say it but I guess it is good to be home

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