Planning Future Travel in COVID-19 Season

79ca0fb6-f669-47e0-a999-a2b00ac8aba4
All photos in this post by Marcos Dolislager

I was talking to my son, who is an even more avid traveler than me, and he remarked that one silver lining of this trial by virus is the travel deals that will be available when the travel bans are lifted. I couldn’t share his enthusiasm. This time at home has given me time to consider my motives for travel and to evaluate my priorities.

I am blessed that I have been to almost every continent and I’ve ticked most boxes of places I want to see. As I tally the cost in terms of climate change and personal finances, I’m no longer as interested in travel just to experience new places. I am more interest in travel as a way of spending time with people I love. I especially look forward to traveling with my grandson.

8b4ccd70-46dd-4fd6-9642-dc94d37f5e1f

Having said that, I received an email from TSA PreCheck letting me know I need to renew my membership before the end of June. I starred the email and thought about it for 24 hours. It is a no-brainer really. I am going to travel as soon as this COVID-19 season is over. So I just paid my $85 as a down payment on my hopes and dreams for future travel.

We will all get through this together. Right now it means staying home and taking care of ourselves, our families and our neighbors. For as long as it takes.

3abd40d8-710e-42e6-8c8c-d7330bea8b80

My son-in-law works for Southwest airlines. He still has a job but we are all a little worried. He provided me these beautiful photos. The travel sector got a gut punch from COVID-19, so I will put a little money by each month so I can reinvest in airline tickets, hotel reservations and dining out as soon as public health officials and Governor Newsom give me the all clear. I was meant to go to Virginia to celebrate a friend’s graduation in May. The graduation has been cancelled, and the trip cannot be rescheduled yet. But when I can, I will pack my Away bag, fly Southwest to BWI, take the MARC train to Union Station and meet up with my friend Carole for dinner. It will be great.

 

Flying Stand-by with a Southwest Buddy Pass

IMG_7774
Sacramento Airport, Ralph Goings, Crocker Art Museum collection

My son-in-law works for Southwest Airlines and one of the performance rewards he can earn is a buddy pass. He has given me a buddy pass twice now and I am figuring out how to make flying stand by work for me. The buddy pass is a non-rev (non-revenue) ticket and the lowest priority–after employees, bumped passengers, other airline employees, and employee family members. But it’s FREE!

So if you are NOT under a strict timeline, it is a great way to travel. Did I mention that it is free.

IMG_7925 (1)I had just debriefed with my son-in-law Marcos about his experience traveling as an airline employee to Barcelona. I was reminded of the importance of being patient in the face of delay, and kind to all airline employees. Not only did they not create the situation (fully-booked plane) and they are more likely to do what they can for me if I’m pleasant. Everyone I encountered was a professional and very friendly, but they are not responsible to get me on the flight. I am flying STAND-BY.

My most recent experience taught me some new things about air travel.  Marcos and I looked at the flight options from Sacramento to Grand Rapids a week before my travel date to identify the combinations with the most open seats to give me the best chance to complete all of my travel in one day. Even though I knew it was possible to make one leg but not the next, when I was in Baltimore and the desk agent was saying it was unlikely I’d get on the only flight to Grand Rapids, I was surprised. I quickly scanned my options. I looked up the time to drive to my friend Ray in Fennville from Chicago–but it was a 2.5 hour drive and the flight wouldn’t arrive until late. Fortunately I have a good friend a short train ride from BWI.

I was asked to wait until the plane loaded and then the desk agent would let me know. I dashed to get some lunch and brought it back to the gate. I was about half way through my burger and my name was called–after a half dozen other names. No one else had responded. I dumped the rest of my lunch in the bin and dashed for the gate. I was the very last person on the plane. The flight crew urged me to take the first available middle seat. I thankfully sank into it and texted everyone that I made it!

I usually travel light but this time I trimmed it even further so I had just one carryon with no extra purse or computer bag. My carryon fit under the seat so I didn’t have to worry about overhead bin space. I assumed I’d be in a middle seat so I didn’t bring my knitting (elbows in!)

IMG_7924 (1)On the way home I thought traveling on a Sunday would be easier. I had to rise super early to drive back to Grand Rapids for a 6:30 flight. There were open seats so they gave me my boarding pass in C group. And it all went well. When I arrived in Denver the C terminal was going crazy. It seemed like every gate was boarding. The gate agent said Sundays are always very busy. It was only 8:30 but it was already looking unlikely I’d get home that day. I found myself mentally checking: friend in Denver, yes. If she’s not home I can stay at a hotel and get some sleep!

This particular flight at preboarding had three people in wheelchairs and a couple of unaccompanied minors. There were also lots of families returning from graduations. One Southwest employee had precedence. I chatted with a pilot from United Airlines trying to get home and he also was in front of me on the list. He assured me that he wouldn’t have my seat because he can sit in the jump seat. I laughed and said I am flying stand by, so don’t worry. I really did feel zen about it. Another panicked passenger missed his flight to Southern California and the Sacramento flight was going on to Orange County. Southwest couldn’t guarantee him a spot on to the OC but he’d definitely get there in the evening if he got stuck in Sacramento. There were no more flights from Denver to Orange County. He took it. I felt a little more tenuous and that was okay. I sat and watched people board and found amusement in their choice of traveling attire. I remember when people dressed up to fly. Now many people look like they are going to a sleep over or to the gym. The gate agent called other names, then mine.

Eureka! I got the last seat again! I quickly grabbed my bag and headed down the ramp. The flight crew said, “All the way in the back.” By the time I was two-thirds down the aisle I could see only one seat in the last row. Then I saw the United pilot rise from the last row and move back to the jump seat. Whew! (and thank you!)

10948AC9-10B3-426A-806B-28E54EA88562 (1)I texted my family that I made it! Remarking on my good luck, my son-in-law texted back, “When you get back buy a lotto ticket on the way home. lol” I took his advice but my good fortune didn’t last that long.

I will use his buddy pass again. Not when I am connecting to LAX for an international flight, or when I need to be at someone’s celebration. I will use a buddy pass with more enthusiasm if I can get where I want to go on a direct flight that leaves early in the morning. Traveling is full of uncertainty, and we all get bent out of shape when our plans go awry. Accepting the chance involved puts some of the mystery and adventure back into flying.

Making New Friends on MARC

IMG_0412

When I fly to Washington, DC, I often fly with Southwest Airlines to BWI (Baltimore). Then I take the MARC train to Union Station and my college chum Carole picks me up. It is easy and costs just $7 one way. Last night I arrived at 6:45 and caught the shuttle to the train station. Walking outside was like walking into a hot sauna. I moved slowly across the to the southbound platform and sat down.

cicadasSoon I was joined by my new friend Simone from Santa Cruz, California. We could hear the cicadas loudly in the trees behind us. She asked me if I knew what that noise was. I have heard them in New Zealand so I had a pretty good idea. I found a photo on Google images and I asked her where she is from. We had a lovely chat. Later she came back to show me her camera and I asked if I could take her picture.

Then we boarded the train and she came and found me on the lower deck. She told me she was going to tour the White House and I asked her if she knew about Dolley Madison. I encouraged her to look for information on one of my favorite first ladies. Then her brother came looking for her.

This is why I love public transit. You have the opportunity for really fun encounters.

I am in Washington, DC for a girls weekend with Carole. We are going to take the AMTRAK train to Wilmington, Delaware. I will blog along the way.