Darn that alarm clock!

It’s a few minutes before 3 on a Saturday morning and it is telling me, very insistently, that I have to get up. Well, that’s what I get for starting a mileage run with a 6 a.m. flight.

After a quick shower and breakfast I drove to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), arriving at 5 a.m. I remain amazed at how crowded ABIA is at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The lines at the American Airlines counter were longer than I had ever seen, stretching so far that they blocked the entrance to the main security line. I saw families with young children, a few people with guitar cases who may have performed at an Austin club the night before, and many soldiers in uniform returning to duty.

This worried me: a heavy line of thunderstorms had passed through the area the evening before, with a tornado reported less than 15 miles from my house. Was the weather causing a delay this morning? Fortunately, it wasn’t; this was just a busy morning at ABIA.

Since I didn’t have any luggage I used the self check-in terminal, getting all four boarding passes for the day. I quickly walked to the Southwest Airlines end of the passenger terminal where the security lines were much shorter and quickly passed through the inspection.

My first flight would go from Austin to Chicago O’Hare. I got to my gate and saw that this would be a full flight. They did not have to bump anyone, but there were several stand-by passengers from later flights trying to leave on the early one, and they would take every available seat.

As a Platinum AAdvantage member I boarded after the first class passengers but before the other coach passengers and quickly got to my aisle seat on an exit row. And then I watched everyone else board. I am always amazed at the growing size of the carry-on bags that people bring on board. They eventually get them to fit in the overhead compartment but it sometimes takes a lot of shoving and pounding for that to happen.

I also saw the passengers who think they are “special.” American boards passengers by group, with the people sitting in the rear of the plane boarding first. Invariably, on every flight, I see one of these people, who is probably sitting in aisle 29, put their luggage in the first available overhead compartment, usually above aisle 6 or 7. I guess they don’t think they need to carry it all the way to the back of the plane where they are sitting. This creates a problem for the people sitting in aisle 6 who, when they finally board, find they have no place to put their bags. I wish the flight attendants would watch and do something about this, but I guess they do have, particularly since 9/11, more important things to deal with.

The last passenger to board was a stand-by from a later flight. He had a computer bag, a 22-inch rollerboard, and a garment bag. They ended up having to put his carry-ons in the cargo compartment; there simply wasn’t any room in the passenger compartment.

Our MD-80 departed the terminal exactly on time, taxied to the runway and took off without delay. And that is all I remember about that flight. Moments later I was sound asleep. I woke up when the pilot announced that we were 100 miles out from ORD and were starting the descent. He mentioned that it might be a bumpy landing due to wind gusting as high as 40 m.p.h. The next several minutes were indeed bumpy, but we had a relatively smooth landing 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

Those extra few moments gave me enough time to grab a cup of coffee and a muffin at the Admirals Club before boarding the Seattle flight.

Everything again went just as expected. It was another MD-80, and I had the same exit row seat on the aisle. The plane was 75 percent full, and departed on time. This was easily the smoothest flight I have ever taken. We always have to put our seatbelts on for the take off and landing; there are normally some moments of turbulence during a flight when the pilot asks everyone to remain in their seats with “your seat belts securely fastened.” That never happened on this flight! I can’t recall ever taking a flight, particularly one that had to cross the Rockies that had no turbulence at all! We got into Seattle 10 minutes early.

It was a lovely day, temperatures in the mid 50s with a very slight overcast. I wish I could have gone into town, but this would be a short turnaround, leaving me only enough time for lunch.

There is a large central area at Sea-Tac airport called Pacific Marketplace. It features a variety of stores including one of my favorites, the Discovery Channel Store, and a large food court with splendid views of the main runways with aircraft of all sizes landing and taking off. My favorite restaurant at the food court is Anthony’s, an excellent seafood restaurant.

Anthony's seafood restaurant at Sea_Tac airport
The entrance to Anthony’s seafood restaurant at Sea-Tac Airport.

It’s not your normal food court establishment; it’s an actual restaurant with wait staff serving your meal. I have eaten there before and had some excellent meals, particularly the fresh seafood that I cannot normally get at home in Texas. They also have incredible fresh-from-the-oven sourdough bread!

They sat me at a great table, right by the window, and I looked at their fresh seafood selection and ordered the cod. “Sorry sir, we are out of that.”

“Okay, let’s go with the Ahi Tuna.”

“Sorry, we’re out of that too.” And they were out of the next item I selected. Darn! It had been over 12 hours since I had eaten breakfast and I was very hungry, so I went with Plan B, a salmon burger with fries. Not what I had in mind, but I was too hungry to look for other options.

Salmonburger for lunch
Plan B — I ate a salmonburger and fries for lunch.
Chocolate Mousse for desert
I did not get the fancy lunch I wanted, but the Bailey’s Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse for desert helped make things better!

My table overlooked the runway and I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot pictures of some of the aircraft.

Horizon Air plane
Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, offers short-range commuter flights throughout the Northwest.
Horizon Air plane painted to mark 25 years of service.
One plane was specially painted to mark Horizon’s 25 years of service.
Frontier Airlines plane with fox painted on tail.
Frontier Airlines says that they are a “A whole different animal” and painted a fox on the plane’s tail to prove it.

After a relaxing meal I went to my gate for the flight back to Chicago, I expected the flight to board in 10-15 minutes. After 20 minutes nothing had happened. Then the gate crew announced that there were flight control delays on all flights into and out of Chicago, and we would be delayed by 30 minutes.

Uh oh. Not good, I have less than a 50 minute layover in Chicago to catch the last Austin flight of the day; this 30-minute delay could cause some serious problems for me. Maybe there was another option. However, the gate crew said not to worry, all flights at Chicago were delayed and my Austin flight would be too. So, I had no choice but to board the plane.

Snow-covered mountains in the Rockies.
Even though it is late April, snow still covers the mountain tops in the Rockies.

We left the terminal 30 minutes late then sat at a remote area of the airport for another 10 minutes before we finally took off. We had an uneventful flight to Chicago, arriving shortly before 9 p.m. The good news was that my Austin flight was also delayed until 9:54, so I’d have enough time for a quick stop at the Admirals Club for a cup of coffee and to refill my water bottle.

I wasn’t prepared for the show I was about to see. I got to the gate for my flight to Austin at 9:25.

There was no gate agent, but the pilot was behind the counter doing his “pilot stuff.” I looked and saw there was an MD-80 sitting at the gate so I knew we’d probably depart on time. It did not occur to me at the time that the lights on the wingtips and atop the fuselage were flashing, something you don’t normally see when an aircraft has pulled up to the gate.

Five minutes went by, still no gate agent.

One little old lady went up to the pilot and asked if “someone regular” would be there to help with her ticketing problem. The pilot said he was “pretty regular” but when she explained her problem, he was not able to solve it, but would get a gate agent to help when one showed up.

The phone rang and he answered it, saying “I’m a pilot, not a gate agent and we need a gate agent here right now!” A few minutes later another call and again the pilot stating that he was not a gate agent and needed one immediately. In the meantime, the MD-80 was still sitting at the gate. Several minutes later a gate attendant arrived; she apologized to the pilot, saying her shift had ended and she was leaving when they told her to stay late and help at this gate. He was glad to see her.

The first thing she did was wave at the cockpit of the aircraft. And then she started to move the ramp to the aircraft. Moments later the passengers started to get off. The plane had sat at the gate for at least 15 minutes before a gate agent had arrived to start the deplaning process!

The last people off the plane were two elderly women in wheel chairs. They were taken off the plane and left at the gate. Several minutes later, as we were starting to board, one attendant arrived to take them to their next flight. I felt sorry for him as he tried to steer each wheel chair with only one hand. I felt even more sorry when the ladies loudly informed him “We need to go to the bathroom!” I don’t know what happened after that, I had to board.

We were originally scheduled to depart ORD at 9:25; we ended up leaving at 9:54. Not too bad, all things considered. I fell asleep shortly after we took off.

We landed in Austin at 12:30, only 15 minutes behind our normal schedule. I drove home, arriving at 1:15.

It had been a long day. I did not get the meal I wanted in Seattle, but that was a minor inconvenience. I had gotten home safely and earned over 11,000 miles.

Mission accomplished!