No Free Flights
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 • 9:15am
I thought I would take advantage of a "free trip" to Miami using frequent flier points. I learned, once again, there is no such thing as a free lunch (or a free flight). After booking my flight, I was told there was a $25.00 reservation fee and a $75.00 fee for booking within three weeks of departure and, of course, I had to pay $25.00 to check my bags. So my "free flight" cost me $125, better than full fare but not free.
Check-in wasn't too bad. The often disparaged TSA force was well-staffed, efficient and polite. The newly automated airline check-in system was fast and easy. But once I was inside the travel system, when there was no turning back, misery began.
During the three-hour flight from Newark to Miami I couldn't even get a bag of peanuts. So, I bought an $8.00 "box lunch". There were three menu choices, each filled with high-carbohydrate, high-starch, high-salt, low-moisture food, guaranteed to stick in your already parched throat like peanut butter on a white bread sandwich.
Then there was the garrulous fellow, sitting so close to me our thighs touched, who suffered from killer breath. I swear, if a flowering plant were nearby it would have wilted. I offered him chewing gum several times during the flight, but he refused my offer each time and continued to turn toward me to try to begin a conversation. (I took the opportunity to bury my face in a book.)
The worst part of the trip was saved for arrival in Miami. In the good old days, when you arrived at the Miami International Airport, you would walk the half-mile from the gate to the baggage carousel, retrieve your bags, walk to the doors on the other side of the room, step into the garage where humidity mixed with gas fumes would hit you like a large salmon slapped across your face and wait for a shuttle bus to pick you up and bring you to the automobile rental location. Not any more!
After I arrived on a flight that was (of course) delayed, I walked the usual path to the carousel and retrieved my bag. Seeing no signs to indicate a change, I made my way out the doors with my suitcase in tow, knapsack on my back and computer in hand. As soon as I left the air-conditioned terminal I dutifully waited for the bus to pick me up and take me to my rental car. After a significant time it dawned on me that no shuttle busses were whizzing by.
I re-entered the terminal and sought directions. (None were printed on sign posts or walls nearby). I asked three people how to get to the car rental area and the first two responded with heavy accents, saying "No Eengleesh." Finally, I found someone who agreed to give me directions. I learned that a Disneyworld-like tram has been installed in place of the shuttle buses and now all rental car companies occupy spaces in the "Rental Center." How thrilling! My guide said, "Just go down this hall, turn left and the tram is right there". So I went down the hall, turned left and found myself in a parking garage, with no tram in sight, and no signs directing me to one.
After retracing my steps, I asked someone else, who told me the directions were correct but my first guide forgot to tell me to take an elevator to the correct floor to catch the tram. After searching for a while, I found a well-camouflaged elevator, figured out that the button labeled "Air Train" would take me to the floor that would lead to the tram to the cars. (Why it wasn't labeled "Car Train" was beyond me.)
I took the elevator up two flights, and felt like Dorothy at the beginning of the Yellow Brick Road. But this never-ending path turned into an obstacle course just like Dorothy's Yellow Brick Road. Interspersed along the way are people movers (horizontal escalators) that had to be boarded and departed along the route, no small feat with all my baggage and a slight case of vertigo from the flight. Not all the people movers are operating and on the walkway beside them, one must squeeze between the rail and columns and the entire route is poorly marked, so I found myself taking several frustrating detours until I finally arrived at the tram station and had to walk its entire length to reach a car that I could enter.
The tram presented its own challenges. I expected a tame Disneyland-like tram ride similar to "It's a Small Small World" when I should have prepared for the "Tower of Terror." The Disneyworld tram glides smoothly from one stop to the next so that one hardly knows it is moving. By contrast, the Miami Airport tram jolts to a quick acceleration and jolts to a quick stop, causing luggage to roll around perilously so that people are grabbing their suitcases before they bang into fellow passengers while holding onto the hand rails for dear life.
By the time I got to the car rental agency I was glad no one is allowed to carry a gun on an airplane because I was ready to shoot someone. Thinking I might just be a crusty curmudgeon I asked the rental agent if other people complained about this new system and she told me "everyone complains." On one level her remark made me feel better, but on another level it made me even angrier.
At the end of my visit I returned my rental car and was surprised at how simple and effortless it was. Then it came to me. In their infinite wisdom, the Miami city planners have made it easier to leave Miami than to arrive. South Florida survives on tourism. As my brother-in-law is fond of saying, "Look around; you won't see any smokestacks."
Common sense would lead one to believe that the city of Miami would make it as easy as possible for someone to arrive, get a car and get to their local destination. But reason does not seem to have prevailed.
One benefit of travel is it focuses your attention. Living in one place, we get accustomed to the way things are. Visiting another place, with no expectation of how things are "supposed to be" allows us to focus our attention on how things "should be."
The Miami airport is not alone. Newark Airport has its own set of obstacles and I avoid Idlewild (otherwise known as JFK Airport) like the plague. Perhaps as residents of an area, we have an obligation to observe how our visitors are treated and use our influence as voters and taxpayers to fix these problems that would prevent normally sane people who have other choices from returning to our hometown.
We ought to look at other areas of our lives to see if we have inadvertently erected barriers to entry. Do we welcome newcomers and help people looking for directions, thereby encourage home buyers to look at our communities? Is parking available and convenient in our downtown areas? Do we provide activities for people of all ages and community activities that bring people together? Are our politicians accessible and do they listen to our residents? Most of all, is City Hall a place people go for help and assistance or do people resist interacting with city officials because they fear bureaucracy and interference with their daily lives? Helping people navigate their complex daily lives, just as helping people navigate through an unfamiliar airport, makes sense both as a courtesy and as a sound financial tactic.
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Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years, has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
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