Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying isn't what it used to be...

I don't want to date myself, but I remember the days of flying when meals were served on plates with cutlery in coach (I was very, very, very young).

This is not to say I'm unimpressed with modern aviation. The sheer logistical magnitude of the modern airport is staggering. So many people, so many flights, so much weather...not to mention the fact that you can fly just about anywhere in the United States for about the same price as a meal for two at your favorite restaurant. And let's face it, it's MUCH safer than the drive to the airport.

Be that as it may, it still staggers the imagination the lengths to which the airlines must now stoop to keep the huddled masses in the air. Case in point: I used to fly Northwest Airlines quite a bit. Way back in those "salad" days (two or three years ago) there was a friendly smiling, officious person behind the counter to help you check-in and/or make necessary changes to your itinerary.

My first forebodings began when my Orbitz email arrived: Flight Delay Notification (I knew I should have booked a non-stop, but those enticing prices). It was obvious the connection through Minneapolis was out of the question. Being a somewhat seasoned traveler however, the decision was made to run the gauntlet.

Arriving at the airport, I was heartened to see a sparse crowd unloading at the curb. Perhaps all was not lost. I could have the friendly, smiling, officious person behind the counter help me change my itinerary to get me into Denver on time.

Approaching the counter however, I realized something was amiss. No friendly, smiling, officious personnel, just a happy, if somewhat impersonal bank of touch screen monitors asking me to "swipe my card" to begin, backed up by three somewhat harried baggage checkers to help the computer illiterate through the process.

To make a long story short, you now, as a passenger, do the work of the friendly, smiling, officious counter personnel, running your own boarding pass, putting on your own luggage tag, and taking your own luggage over to the conveyor to send it on its way (I have to admit I liked the conveyor part).

Granted, the baggage checkers were a big help, and I usually don't check luggage in the first place. But the best part is, even after doing all the work, you're still hit up with a $15 charge for the first checked bag. It's probably just a matter of time before we'll have to fly the plane. I'm starting flying lessons as soon as I get home.

Nonetheless, Denver was eventually achieved, on a different airline, on a different flight, arriving only ten minutes later than the original scheduled arrival. A story to be continued.

Now, comfortably ensconced at the home of an accommodating friend and his wife, I look back at an exciting first day in Denver. Today's travels focused on the downtown area, where we visited one of the oldest used bookstores in the city, as well as two of the most famous independents, with stops at the state capital, the famed 16th street mall and Larimer Square.

Tune in tomorrow for photos and a description of these visits in this most cosmopolitan of western cities, and find out how a missed connection leads to a non-stop flight on another airline. There is friendly, smiling officiousness after all.


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