Apr 28 2010

Down on the ground.

April 26th, 2010

Some people are avoiding air travel these days.  I don’t have that luxury, nor would I consider it if I did.  The sticky wicket for many:  logging more ground time than moments up in the air.

Growing up overseas meant LONG flights, such as Sydney to LA.  As a young working professional for Mapco,  I racked up travel hours well into five digits.  Now I spend at least two working days a month computing between Tulsa and Portland.  That doesn’t count the time to pack and unpack, to get to the airport and from the airport and to stand in line(s).  A puzzling piece of glass art in my carry-on tote this trip kept me at PDX security an extra 10 minutes.

“Why do you fly UPS?!” a colleague teased me in a text message he sent last month while I was in transit.  He was  indirectly marveling that I was traveling at roughly the warp speed of 100 MPH between cities.

And no, I don’t travel UPS.  Despite over two million miles with American (according to my Advantage account), I normally respond well to the cattle call of Southwest.  And “luv” them I do for on-time delivery, even if the comedic antics of the flight attendants get to be a bit much when replayed upon each take off of a multi-stop flight.

A Gallup Poll trainer I met last year shared the skinny on why SW can be on time: financial incentives for employees.  According to him,  SW pilots are rewarded for on-time arrivals and fuel economies.  Ever been on a plane that arrived early at the gate only to be held captive waiting for the ground crew to hook up the jet way? Apparently this is uncommon with  SW.  The minute the jet way is connected to the plane the crew can cut to half power – not before – thereby saving fuel. Consequently,  SW captains make sure the ground crew is prepared when tail winds prevail.

Another important variable in the time equation is layover time in your connecting city.  When booking today’s PDX-TUL route, 20 minutes in DFW seemed ideal, except for someone who checks luggage.  I sucked it up and booked a later DFW-TUL flight to improve the chances of all three of us  (myself and my two 50# travel companions traveling steerage) arrived in Tulsa together. As I write this I am somewhere over the Rockies.  I’ll report back later on the success of my logic.

What doesn’t seem to matter is what city I change plans journeying between Portland and Tulsa.  Regardless of whether it is Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, St Louis, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Denver, Kansas City or St Louis, the end result is the same.  When I study the map of the lower 48 in the back of the airline magazine, the straight distance I trace between my two cities appears to be PDX-DEN-TUL.  Had I gone through Denver on my last epic adventure I would have had time to learn to snow board.  As it was, I spent the day in DFW.

If you find yourself in this position, my best advise is to concentrate on the journey and not the destination.  Regardless of which gate you land at, hop the train to Terminal D.  It is newer, lighter, and more airy.  You might meander through the stain glass labyrinth, price your perfume in the duty-free shop… but eventually make your way to the exit.   Save dining on a cheeseburger for a time you can fulfill your carving with one from Goldie’s, Lucky’s in Tulsa or Blue Hour in Portland.  Get away from the crowds and head to the dining room in the Grand Hyatt for a respite!  If you hear an automated voice upon reading the words “Grand Hyatt,” you’ve been on the DFW train a time or two.  “Now leaving for D gates and the Grand Hyatt.”

After passing the security checkpoints, stop.  Look up and you’ll enjoy whimsical art. Suspended from the ceiling.  (Seeing my upward gaze prompted a fast walking flight attendant to stop and look skyward.  Her expression seemed to say, “Well, what do you know?!”).

Yes, with a little effort, a dreaded, long layover in DFW can refresh your spirit with art, exercise and good food.

And if you are ever delayed in Portland International Airport, don’t despair.  Though I haven’t a clue why PDX edged ahead to win the “Best Airport” moniker I think contributing factors must have been the live music, on-site spa, shopping that attracts even non-travelers from the city and burbs (really) and the two-way toilet flush mechanisms.  And did I mention no sales tax?

If you still are not sold on finding the up side to airport exploration, think back to the Valentine’s Day article published in Tulsa World.  Some travelers have found love down on the ground, across the crowded space of a bustling air terminal.

Bon Voyage!