Monday, December 29, 2008

Tense Times Make for a Testy Traveler

I love to travel….Let me rephrase that. I love exploring new and different destinations, but I do not enjoy the time and hassle it takes to get there. This past holiday vacation was like a case study in bad travel luck. Though I was excited to spending the holidays with family in the warm sun of Florida, I was somewhat hesitant when all the weather stations began predicting a huge snowstorm/blizzard about to hit New Jersey on the very day I was leaving---December 19th—which, if you recall, is also the anniversary of my father’s death.

So when I woke up that morning, I was already a little bummed. Trying to stay optimistic, I thought the light sprinkle of snow that began falling mid-morning was all we might get. Then the snow began falling much harder, with no end in sight. Roads were covered within an hour or so, and traffic was starting to slow down to a snail’s crawl. By noon, my flight had already been rescheduled from 3:15 to 6:30, so I didn’t leave for the airport until around four. (Technically, I’m only about fifteen miles east of Newark, so it usually only takes about a half hour to get there.) Unfortunately, with the heavy falling snow and dangerous road conditions, traffic halted to a standstill on numerous occasions. There were also road closings, detours and overly cautious drivers that prevented me from getting to the carpark until 5:45. Naturally, I was in a panic that I might miss my flight.

The driver from the parking lot dropped me off at the airport at 6, only to discover long lines of people trying to reschedule their bookings, as there were a hundred or so flights that had already been cancelled throughout the day. Luckily, mine was not one of them, though the departure time had now changed from 6:30 to 7. Which would have been fine if the “express line” for checking baggage was actually moving. Instead, all the counters were packed with people trying to have something else taken care of, and the line literally did not move for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Finally, some bright soul decided it might be good to check in everyone who was taking the 7:00 flight to Tampa, and I was finally moving forward. Once my bags were checked, I went through the security checkpoint, which was practically empty due to all the cancelled flights. However, this also gave the rather bored employees ample opportunity to search the bags of the few passengers that did have flights. Which brings me to my biggest pet peeve about airline travel these days---the ridiculousness of what is allowed and what isn’t.

For instance, did you know that Snow Globes are no longer allowed to be carried onto a plane? I didn’t. Otherwise, I never would have considered bringing aboard a beautiful set of wine stoppers with tiny snow globes on the top. It was to be a Christmas present for a Wine Enthusiast I know, as each snow globe had a beautiful sculpture of a silver animal inside it. When I was told by the security personnel that I was not allowed to bring the wine stoppers, I assumed it was because they might look like a weapon---as the stopper portion was shaped like a point. But when I discovered it was because of the snow globes on top, I became irate.

The security guard (a woman) apologized for the “inconvenience,” and suggested maybe I’d want to check another bag and put the wine stoppers inside it. (Apparently snow globes are okay to pack in your suitcase, but not to carry on the plane. Lord only knows what might happen if one of them should crack open, scattering all the artificial snow and miniature dioramas throughout the flight deck. It was certainly cause for worry, don’t you think?)

When I told the security guard I didn’t have another bag (except my backpack), she informed me of several gift shops in the mall area where I could purchase one. (Not to mention the cost for checking an additional bag.) When I began protesting the silliness of the policy, she then suggested maybe I’d like to try the UPS service at one of the local hotels. Honestly. What was I supposed to do? Get out of line, grab a cab to the nearest Hyatt, and try to get a package out, when my plane was supposed to leave at any minute?

Without a feasible option, I had to give the present up, which presumably went to one of the security guard’s families, as I’m sure they take in quite a load of stuff over the holiday season. I noticed other people were also prevented from bringing various items on board, mostly due to the liquid level of their seemingly innocent gifts. And while I appreciate all the concern over our safety in these times of terrorism and unrest, I think that somebody needs to rethink what might be considered treacherous. Remember when you weren’t even given a plastic knife on a plane for fear you might stab someone with the serrated edge? Better yet, remember when you were actually given food on a plane?

My flight didn’t get out until after nine that night, but not before we sat on the runway for an hour as they de-iced the exterior and wings for travel. I didn’t get to my final destination until one in the morning. Not exactly a great way to start my vacation, but at least I was finally where I was supposed to be.

Given the current state of the economy, I think my leisure travel will be cut down in the next year to places I can actually drive to. At least if I am the one behind the wheel, I’ll feel like I have a say in where I’m going and how long it will take. And better still, I will allow snow globes to be carried into the car, regardless of how dangerous or amusing they might be to my fellow passengers.

But that’s just me. Did you have any hassle with travel over your holiday vacation?


Anonymous said...

No, no travel hassles but then I only travel by train. If Amtrak don't go there then neither do I. Flying is just 27 different kinds of insanity.

Daisy said...

I feel sad that you had to give up the wine stoppers. It sounds like they were beautiful.

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives said...

Sorry to hear about your holiday travel hassles. Because I'm the daughter who stayed the closest to the home where I grew up, I don't ever need to travel during the holidays, but it's been no picnic for us at other times of the year, either. Our family hasn't traveled by plane since the airlines started charging $15-$50 per checked bag, and we probably won't fly this year at all. We took our first long long road trip to Duck, North Carolina in October... I, too, have a policy of allowing snow globes in my vehicle. This summer, we're looking forward to "stay-cations" here in New Jersey.

Happy New Year!


Amy Lilley Designs said...

I agree w/ Daisy...the snow globe wine stoppers sounded really beautiful, and unique, and hoo...we drive to NY from RI for Thanksgiving, other than that, we stayed in the neighborhood and spent a wonderful afternoon w/ our old neighbors...they have a very big family and have included us in their Christmas festivities for the past few years...I hope your visit w/ your family in Tampa was and Matt could have met in the middle and had dinner...:)))

Happy New Year Henson!

all the best,

desperateblogger said...

so what was the real reason for not allowing the wine stoppers to be hand carried? i'm just curious because i was not allowed to hand-carry my plastic bottle of lotion and shampoo too. good thing i had a luggage for check-in.

Henson Ray said...

Anonymous--I've never traveled long distance on a train in this country, but definitely in europe. Great way to see the countryside.

Daisy--They were very nice. I was sorry too.

Roxy--I like that word "stay-cation"...very appropriate...

Amy--Tampa and Orlando were great, and stories from the vacation will no doubt surface in future postings.

desperateblogger--the real reason they kept the snow globes was because of the water inside the globe. No other reason. Apparently too much liquid.

tammy said...

I know it was a horrible experience for you. Had the same happen to me. May I suggest you try contacting the TSA to complain. Some of the rules have been changed due to complaints from passengers. Try the following link and see what kind of response you get. Would love to hear back on it. Maybe a post with the response.