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Flight Time In Dog Years

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, dog kennel, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, life, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by Chris Manno

This flight flung me back to the dog pound. Just trying to get into the cockpit, and boom: flashback to the day I divorced my dog.

There was no one left in the boarding area when I tromped down the jetbridge about ten minutes prior to scheduled departure. I’d been up in Flight Operations printing a new flight plan after a major route change to avoid the severe weather over Tennessee and Kentucky I knew we’d read about in the next morning’s headlines.

Hadn’t met the Number Four flight attendant yet, but she was planted squarely in the doorway. No “Hello, my name is,” nor opportunity for me to do the same. Rather, hands on hips, looking at me like it was my fault, she said, “The woman in 4-F wants to know if her dog got on.”

She got a couple seconds of grace time as I struggled to not say something smartassed. Like most flight attendants, she was a pro at handling people, and handled me too: “He’s in there pushing buttons,” she said, jerking a thumb at my First Officer, “so he’s busy.” But before she could ask me if I’d go down to the ramp and poke my head into the forward cargo compartment and page 4-F’s dog, I slipped past her, saying, “Yeah, ten minutes prior to pushback I have a few buttons to push too.”

That’s when the flashback smacked me in the face: the look in her eyes, having been sidestepped, was the look in my dog’s eyes as he drove away. Not really disappointed, because she wasn’t that invested in 4-F’s dog. Rather, it was a problem solving-thing, a rearrangement, the details that would get us all under way peacefully, dog or no.

Same with Gus, my ex-dog. He lived his life with that look, the notion spelled out in his eyes that like my flight attendant colleague, was all about getting on with it. Maybe because he was a pound-mutt, a Retriever-Chow mix, stoic as his Mongolian ancestors which tempered the Retriever friskiness: he was the perfect dog. Time spent in the pound gave him an ex-con’s wariness, as if a skepticism about how “the time” was going to go overruled assurances and even a prescribed sentence.

Gus, the beer drinking, baseball watching perfect dog.

But on a jet? I know every airline charges substantial fee to bring a dog on board. Since the all-important 4-F dog wasn’t in the cabin, I assumed it was probably too large and so had incurred an even larger shipping fee below decks in the cargo hold.

Clearly, this was about somebody wanting something important from their dog, not vice versa, because I’ve seen dogs crammed into the cargo hold in kennels.  Not a cool way to travel.

This trip was about the dog’s owner and so more than the welfare of the dog, the question of whether he was on board had everything to do with what the owner wanted.

That was the reason for divorcing my dog: I wanted what was best for him, not me.

Our time together started out simple: a neighbor kid fed and watered Gus when I was flying; at home, we had baseball nights alone. For a while there, I indulged his expensive taste in beer: he turned his nose up at anything but RedDog once he’d tried it. An Amstel Light for me, a couple ounces of RedDog for Gus. It got to be too much, having to buy a separate–and more expensive–beer for the dog: it was like having company all the time.

Take it or leave it, pal.

We drove everywhere in my old Blazer, the back seats down so he could walk around and fall down a lot–he never grasped centrifugal force–singing bawdy dog lyrics to old Beatles CD’s (“I wanna mount your leg . . . and when I hump you I feel happy, inside . . .”) which was all well and good while it lasted.

Then came the girlfriend. I’d had “girlfriends,” but this was and still is the one. We got married. Built a house. Had a child. And Gus got edged out bit by bit: time and baseball and beer drinking (he NEVER had to go to the bathroom and looked at me like “you whimp” when I had to by the fifth inning) gave way to a re-engineered household and lifestyle, joyous for us; for Gus, not so much. He was an outdoor dog–had to literally drag him inside in bad weather–and too rough for the new house; too big around a newborn.

But then I knew my old baseball and Beatles pal still needed–and deserved–time and attention. He was near ten by then and I knew he wasn’t, in the twilight of his dog years, going to get it from me.

I put an ad in the paper. Rejected several families after the “interview:” nope, not sending Goose into a worse situation.

Then an old broken down sedan pulled up, huffed a mighty sigh and died. The driver’s door swung open and a disheveled man stood. A scruffy looking boy climbed out of the back seat.

Through thick Spanglish, the story unfolded. His German Shepard, best friend for all of his five years, had died. They saw the ad; hoped maybe they could find the right dog; no money for adoption. They had a yard and a vacant lot, all fenced. Gus could run, would get the attention he needed.

And that was that. He drove off, not even looking back, all about the “now,” as dogs seem to be. Tomorrow doesn’t exist, yesterday doesn’t matter any more. Bye.

The flight interphone cracked to life in my headset. “Ground to cockpit,” came the Crew Chief’s voice on the ramp below. “You guys ready up there?”

And I wondered to myself: is that what you do if you’re a dog’s best friend? Keep him with you at all costs? Or send him off–or below in a cage–and continue on “there” or wherever no matter what? The cargo hold? A beater sedan?

“No,” I answered, unstrapping. My First Officer gave me a “what the hell?” look as I stepped out of the cockpit. The agent, too, looked startled. “Be right back.”

Out through the jetbridge, down the stairs to the ramp. The guidemen with their wands and day-glo vests eyed me quizzically. I ducked under the fuselage, over to the forward cargo door a ground crew woman was about to close. “Wait.”

I leaned into the chest high cargo door, letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. There.

Medium sized kennel; medium sized dog. So far so good. “Hey buddy, you okay?” I ignored the ground crew woman’s stare burning a hole in my back. Five minutes till push, I knew she was thinking, we’ve got to get moving.

Brown eyes stared back. Some kind of beagle; nice looking dog. Same Gus eyes, too: not sure where I am, or where I’m headed, but let’s get on with it. Maybe even a little bit sardonic, like Gus sitting quietly as I take the mandatory fifth inning plumbing break: you wuss.

I turned to the ramper waiting to close the door. “Okay.” Back under the fuselage, up the jetbridge stairs. I brushed past the still befuddled  gate agent and strapped back into my seat. The dog’s about the now, the getting there, hopefully to a better place. Maybe a double yard with room to run; a little boy who’ll fill up his world again.

“Okay to shut the cabin door?” the agent asked, “Everything good up here?”

Good? Well, probably not beer and baseball, or at least not RedDog. But a better world, so the trip would be okay.

“Yeah,” I answered, flipping on all six fuel boost pumps overhead and arming the engine igniters. “Let’s get on with it.”



Things to NOT ever do at the airport.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, lavatory, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2010 by Chris Manno

People don’t like to be told what to do. So, here are some things you really ought NOT do at the airport:

1. You don’t necessarily have to pay to check your bag. Seriously.

Skip this--and the fees.

Just pack a normal-sized bag:

All of these will work.

If your bag weighs over 50 pounds, every airline’s going to charge you and extra $75 to $100 (yes, despite the legend, even Southwest is going to charge you for a bag over 50 pounds). But not if you carry it aboard. So you just take your bag through security instead–you think he cares how much it weighs or how large it is?

It just has to fit through the opening in the screening machine. Take your bag through security and to the gate. Ask the agent at your gate, “You want to gate check this?” They probably will, gladly, to avoid the usual last-minute baggage hassles on board. In fact, they’ll usually make an announcement before boarding to the effect that “if there’s any question as to whether your bag will fit on board, please bring it forward for gate checking.” FREE. This is especially important if you know it weighs more than 50 pounds–which it probably will after you buy more junk wherever you’re going. You like free stuff, right? Here, you just saved at least $50, plus whatever overweight fees you were going to pay.

2. NEVER do this:

Are you nuts?

Why would you put your wallet and watch into an open container and send it off on a conveyor belt to a point where you can neither see it nor reach it? Are you out of your mind?

Let’s talk. First, there’s nothing in your wallet that needs to be x-rayed and even if it did, it wouldn’t set off the screening arch if you walked through with it in your pocket WHERE IT BELONGS (note from your Mom: “Why do I have to tell you these things? Do you not have one lick of common sense?”).

Bag it, so you can find it easily after screening, stash it--and lock it!

Put anything valuable–like your watch, any jewelry, cell phone or if you insist (remember what Mom said) your wallet into a hand-carried bag WITH A SMALL COMBINATION LOCK ON IT.

There. Now when all your stuff goes through the screening arch

but you’re pulled aside to do the “scarecrow” pose while a stranger wandles (“wandle” = the combination of “wand” and “fondle” and you’re likely getting both) you, your valuables are not available for the quick swipe by anyone already through security. And the lock is a MUST: when the security screener asks, “Is this your bag?” he will not be able to open it until you are there to watch, because you don’t have to give him the combo. They can–and will–wait.

3. Don’t depend on anyone to tell you what time or what gate your flight leaves from. Ever. Why?

Because this is 2010, amigo! Pre-program your phone with the phone numbers for:

A. Gate/schedule information.

B. Designated flight rebooking number.

C. Destination hotel/transportation numbers.

Get these numbers from the appropriate website and note: the “rebooking” number is not the same as the reservations number. It’s on your airline’s website–or simply call them before your trip and ask for it.

Of course, this all is dependent upon you knowing your flight number. Not your destination–your specific FLIGHT NUMBER. There may be more than one flight to your destination, so it’s vital you know the number in order to get the correct gate and time info. “Where’s the flight to Omaha?” won’t get you the answers you really need. And in my opinion, even these screens

are less than useful because first, you have to find one, second, they’re often mobbed by what Herbert Nash Dillard termed “the great, heaving, vomiting, unwashed masses”–especially on Southwest–and third, they change often and besides, they only cover an hour or so from the present time.

But look at you all smug and cool because you speed-dialed for the most current gate and schedule information on your cell phone and you already know the latest.

Plus no one stole all your valuables while they lay out in the open on the far side of the screening arch. Right? And you can make the all-important phone call for connecting flight information while you taxi to the gate. Your information will be more current than even what was announced in flight because it’s more recent. And rebooking?

You won’t be in the endless line–which is often outside of security–because you rebooked on your cellphone as soon as a cancellation was discovered. Probably only by you because you shrewdly called. Shhhhhh; quietly proceed to the new gate and get your seat before Herbert Nash Dillard’s group discovers the change.

4. Finally–and this is just for me and every crewmember you might see–don’t ask where the bathroom is. I mean it.

Think about it for a moment (you don’t want Mom chewing your butt again, do you?). The airport, like any public building, has restrooms. If you don’t see one right away, you choose a direction, left or right, and walk till you see one.  Do you have to go so bad that you feel the “right or left” choice is life or death? If so–poor planning. Consider a diaper–if the shuttle astronauts wear them, you can too.

Mostly though, I really don’t want to be aware that you have to go to the bathroom. Although like most crewmembers, with difficult people I keep the “stray dog” maxim at all time: “don’t make eye contact,” but it’s not foolproof. If someone still insists on asking me where the restroom is, I usually ask them, “number one or number two?” People actually stop and consider and are about to tell me when they eventually catch up with the basic norms of decorum and adult personal responsibility. “That way,” I tell them, pointing either right or left, because sooner or later they’ll find a restroom.

I could go on–and likely will in a future blog post–but these four tips will put you way ahead of the traveling masses and make your trip both cheaper and less frustrating.

I know–no one likes to be told what to do. So here’s what not to do and please, listen to me, or you’ll probably have to deal with Mom when things go haywire–and . . .

". . . it's your own fault because you didn't listen, did you smarty pants?"

Besides, when it comes to Item #4, “yes, you should have gone before you left the house.” Thanks, Mom.


The oriental salmon salad! What’s not to like?

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