Thursday, June 15, 2017

#24 Fly In A Plane

Sunset on a plane
Sunset above North Carolina

I want to travel the world. And if that is not possible there is a short list of "must see" destinations I need to visit in my lifetime. Some of those places require the use of an airplane. In fact, the 3 destinations remaining on my "must see" list definitely require an airplane. So, flying to another "must see" place, which could have been accomplished via a very, very, very, very long car ride was a good starting point. I had wanted to do a road trip through the Florida Keys for the longest time. This adventure was added to the "must see" list many years ago.

And as much as I would have liked to drive down the east coast, stopping along the way to check items off my bucket list, I had neither the time nor the money to do so. A road trip through the Keys was still a definite possibility. I was just going to have to fly down to the car. It would save me both time and money to do this. So, after much planning and research, I decided that this was the year to make the Florida Keys road trip a reality. The clock is ticking and all. Time is still on my side, I know this. But, it's not on my side as much as it once was. I know this as well.

Those "maybe one day" and "maybe next year" excuses were piling up all around me. They were slowly starting to suffocate me. I realized there will never be a time where I will have the extra money to do this and try that. I was going to have to give up certain things, juggle other things, work longer hours and possibly get a second job to achieve some of my life long dreams. That was the cold truth. And I have been facing the cold truth for awhile now. It is what it is and I've come to accept that.

But, I will get into the Florida Keys road trip in another blog. This blog, this bucket list item, is all about flying.

Can you believe at 43 years old I had yet to fly? Me? Miss Adventure? Crazy!

I guess part of it was fear, but I have done many things in my life with a sense of fear. Sometimes that fear is caused by my anxiety disorder, which can be crippling at times. Sometimes that fear is rooted in something genuinely legit. Either way, facing my fears is something I may not always like to do but have done many times in my life. Sometimes I had no choice but to face them. Sometimes I faced them because facing them meant gaining something wonderful in return. So yes, fear played a small part in my not flying up until now but again, it was a fear I was willing to face because I would get something wonderful in return.

The biggest reason I had yet to take to the air is the most obvious reason. Flying is not cheap. For years I had searched flights going to this destination and that destination. My jaw dropped every time the prices would appear. It would be cheaper for me to spend the gas to drive to some of the places I wanted to visit. And I did drive to some places. I also took a bus trip once which was really nice but definitely not the most comfortable mode of transport for longer trips. Then gas prices got ridiculously high. When that happened, there were no longer any cheap alternatives to travel. I even searched trains. Trains were not cheap either.

The beautiful skies I got to witness.

The icy colors of the sky on my first plane ride.

I was somewhat discouraged but not so much as to give up some of my travel dreams. I was just going to have to make a list of "must see" places and sock away some money to visit these places.

Must See Places For Chrissy
1. New York ( Bus trips are my preferred form of travel into the city.) ✅
2. New Orleans ( I actually drove with a friend there. It was a long trip but a fun trip.) ✅
3. Cape Cod ( I took a bus trip my first visit to the Cape. It was great but uncomfortable.) ✅
4. Key West ( My first time flying) ✅
5. Italy
6. Ireland
7. Hawaii 

There is also another list of places that did not make the "must see" list for now but are places I feel very strongly about visiting.

Almost Must See Places For Chrissy
1.   Australia
2.   Greece
3.   New Zealand
4.   Bali
5.   Cuba
6.   Iceland
7.   Montreal
8.   Amsterdam
9.   England
10. France
11. Alaska
12. Savannah

After my list was compiled, I began making some of them a reality. And while I was traveling over the road for some of my trips, something beautiful in the world of airlines was beginning to take shape. Economy flights were becoming more and more accessible. Airlines like Spirit, Jet Blue and Allegiant were flying out of not only the bigger airports, but some smaller airports as well. Depending on where you were flying, you could get a really good deal. Florida spots are always popular so of course there were cheaper flights to Floridian destinations.

Also, a few fellow travelers and Facebook friends had explained that sometimes it was cheaper to fly into one airport, then, book another ticket out of that airport to your destination. Rather than book a straight ticket from Point A to Point B, if you add a Point C, you could save a lot of dough. For instance, take Hawaii or Australia. If you fly into San Francisco or LA, then book a separate flight to Australia or Hawaii from the San Francisco airport, you can save big money sometimes.

I tested that theory on a flight to New Orleans, which I would like to re-visit one day. If I flew from Philly to New Orleans, flights varied between $300 and $400 depending on the time of year. If I flew into Ft. Lauderdale, then booked a flight out of Ft. Lauderdale into New Orleans and back again, I could save between $100 to $200 in airfare. Whoa! I mean yes, you may find yourself spending more time than wanted in an airport. And if for some reason you have to book a hotel and stay overnight rather than fly out same day, you are kind of defeating the purpose of saving money but, it is definitely something I may consider doing in the future.

The method I mentioned above is perfect if you want to visit two cities on your vacation. Fly into one city. Spend some time there. Fly into another city. Spend some time there. Then, fly back. I have learned so much just by asking questions. Never be afraid to ask questions when it comes to travel. Seriously. Even if the questions seem silly or naive, ask them anyway. There are a lot of people out there that are well traveled and will not find your questions silly or naive at all. Most travelers are more than happy to share their travel tips and recommendations with you.

Trust me, my fellow travelers have helped me so much over the years. In fact, for this particular trip to the Florida Keys I had about a 1000 questions I needed answered. Every single person I presented one of my questions to was more than willing to give me some advice and tips. Tips and advice that came in very handy during my trip. I am so grateful for all the people that assisted in answering my questions while putting my anxious mind at ease. You all have no idea.

I began researching flights. Flying into Key West directly was ridiculous. I mean over $400 per person round trip ridiculous. For my family and I to fly into Key West, we were looking at over $1200 in airfare alone. And, I was still going to have to rent a car because I wanted to see all of the Keys and drive the Overseas Highway. I wanted to do it by car, not bus. My budget for this entire trip was between $1500 and $2000 at the most. And in all honesty, I wanted it closer to $1500.

Black and Yellow
So, I started looking at flying into Ft. Lauderdale. Spirit was the cheapest. I could fly to Ft. Lauderdale from Philly and back for around $120 per person. Of course, the fear started to creep in. This was too cheap. Was Spirit a safe airline to fly? Was I willing to risk safety for price? The short answer, no. I began reading reviews of Spirit Airlines. There were no reports of there being any safety issues but there were a ton of negative reviews about the airline in general.

Canceled flights, poor customer service, hidden fees, and dirty planes were mentioned in every other review. Now, I know not to take a few bad reviews and allow it to change my decision. Reviews are all about perception and personality for the most part. Some people are never happy. Some people have a negative outlook on everything. Some people nit pick. Some places are generally good places but could have had a bad moment here or there. No business is 100% perfect.

Spirit had way too many bad reviews for my comfort level but I did not rule them out completely. Safety was not an issue with the airline and $120 per person would be so nice on my pocketbook. So, I went through the booking process with Spirit. This event would ultimately rule them out completely. You seriously have to pay for everything with Spirit. You have to pay to choose your seat each way. That was almost $30 more dollars per ticket. You have to pay for all baggage, each way. The baggage charges were not cheap. For a carry on and checked bag you were looking at another $75 per ticket, each way. My $120 dollar per person flight was now well over $200 per person.

Don't get me wrong, it was still a way better price than what some of the major airlines were offering, but combining the pricing with the fact that they were notorious for delayed and canceled flights just put a bad taste in my mouth. I did not complete my booking for Spirit. I wanted to look elsewhere. In fact, while I was down in the Keys, there was a near riot at the Ft. Lauderdale airport because Spirit flights were being canceled left and right due to a pilot walk out. You have no idea how relieved I was that I did not choose Spirit as my airline.

A few travelers had mentioned Allegient was offering flights out of the Allentown, PA airport and were very affordable as well. Now that made me happy to hear. If I did not have to drive to Philadelphia, I would be perfectly okay with that. So, I looked up Allegient. They were even cheaper than Spirit. It would be $103 per person round trip.  I began the booking process. Allegiant was very similar to Spirit in that you had to pay for everything. My $103 per person flight was now hovering around the $200 dollar per person range. Allegient however, had fantastic reviews for the most part.

What put me off about going Allegient in the end was the fact that if they canceled a flight you were stuck waiting days for another flight. At the time of my research, Allegiant only flew into Allentown Wednesdays and Saturdays. Every other week there was a Thursday flight. So, if my Saturday flight happened to be canceled, chances were that I would not be able to get another flight out of Allentown until Wednesday. That was not going to fly with me for a number of reasons. First, I would lose money on deposits I made on hotels and the car rental.

Secondly, I did not want to risk taking a vacation week from work to end up not going on vacation last minute. I looked at the reviews again and unfortunately they also canceled flights here and there. I just did not want to risk not going on vacation for the time period I selected. Would I consider flying Allegient in the future? Absolutely. I just wasn't going to fly them for my first ever plane ride. This trip was too important to me to risk.

My plane arriving at our gate.
So, I decided to look at Jet Blue. Jet Blue had higher fares than both Spirit and Allegient but were still more budget friendly than the major airlines. At this point I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to end up spending around $250- $300 per ticket. I went onto Jet Blue's website and began the booking process. For each of us, round trip, I was looking at $146 per person bare bones. When selecting the tickets they had 3 options for the flight with different pricing. This confused me so I read more about the pricing on their website.

For $73 each way, I got one free personal item and one free carry on per ticket. For $93 each way, I got a free personal item, free carry on and one checked bag that could weigh up to 50lbs. We definitely needed checked bags. Before I went any further, I checked reviews on Jet Blue. There were so many positive reviews from people that had flown Jet Blue. I actually had to search to find a few negative reviews. None of the negative reviews pertained to safety though. They pertained to delayed and canceled flights. I was beginning to see that regardless of the airline, delayed and canceled flights were going to happen.

The nice thing about Jet Blue was that if a flight was canceled they had a decent sized fleet. You would not be stranded for days. I would have to fly out of Philadelphia again but at this point, between the reviews and the free baggage allowed, I was pretty much sold on Jet Blue. I began the booking process. When it came time to select my seats, I held my breath. How much were they going to charge me for all of us to sit together I wondered nervously.

I clicked the seats I wanted. No prices popped up. I went to the next step. No charges were added to my total. I began wondering what I did wrong because there had to be charges for picking my seats. I canceled out of the page and began the booking process all over again, convinced I missed something. When it came to choosing my seats, I chose them again. No prices popped up. I continued to the next page. My total did not change. Short story long, Jet Blue does not charge you to pick your seats. You can pay additional for an extra leg room seat but they are known for having the most leg room in coach so I was good with our regular seats.

So it was set. Well, almost. It took me another two weeks to commit to finishing the booking process. Not because of pricing or anything but mostly because once I committed to flying, there was no going back. I was being a scaredy cat. I was being silly. It was already March. I wanted to take this trip the second week of May. I needed to get over myself fast or this trip wasn't going to happen. I finally grew a set one Saturday morning and went through the booking process again.

Nel nome del padre, del figlio e dello spirito santo.......SUBMIT!!

All packed and ready to go!
Two months later my kiddos and I were driving to Philadelphia International Airport. As I drove into the airport, a plane took off right above us. It was so cool. I was going to get to ride on an airplane finally. How exciting! I was nervous as hell but way more excited to finally get an opportunity to take to the air. Plus, the lovely Rebecca B provided me with some amazing travel quotes she loved and mini bottles of booze to help ease my anxiety. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I had ever received. Becky is well traveled and her tips are always so useful for me.

As for the Philly airport, it was so easy to navigate. I was worried it would be a clusterf@ck but it was not at all like that. However, finding the economy parking lot was a challenge for sure. Mostly it was because I did not believe WAZE when she was sending me towards the lot. Sometimes you drive around in a circle fifteen times, almost park in the garage that costs $24 a day, then man up and ask for help. WAZE was right. Dammit!

Once we finally parked the Jeep, we grabbed our luggage and started walking to the airport. The Jet Blue terminal was at the end of the airport, Terminal #5. It was not too far from economy parking. Of course there was no gate to exit the economy parking lot so we then had to walk all the way back to the shuttle shelter and wait for the bus. My bad. Once we were in the actual airport, we dropped off our checked bags and made our way through security. The lines were not bad so we did not have to wait long.

My fellow bare footed passengers and I shuffled through security. There really is no dignified way to go through airport security but it's not so bad because we all had to do it. I was nervous my mini bottles of booze, my smokes and my lighter would set off crazy alarms as I emptied my carry on. They did not. And there are no crazy alarms anyways. If there was an issue, security did not make a scene. They just informed people of the issue and did their best to help rectify any situation. My kids and I took our items out of the bus pans and put them back in their respective bags. Then we put our shoes back on.

We were free to roam the airport. Look out! Chrissy is in an airport. We headed towards our flight gate. I was like a little kid walking through the halls and hangars. There were all these airplanes driving around. They were so big and pretty.

Frontier had a sea turtle on their tail. How cute! American Airlines had the American flag. Canada Air had a maple leaf. Jet Blue had colorful blue patterns on their tails. Spirit had the entire plane painted yellow and black. United had a portrait of Mike Tyson painted on the tail and a UFC logo on the wings. Whoa! Just kidding!! Or am I?

Actually, Philadelphia Airport was a really nice, clean airport. There were numerous stations to charge your phone and laptop. There were plenty of window seats to watch the airplanes. There were stores and food stands all over the place. And if you want to drain your bank account on a meal, then airports are the place for you. Had I know I was going to need to take out a personal loan to eat lunch, I would have packed samwiches for the car ride down to the airport. $50 bucks for chicken fingers, fries, 2 pieces of pizza, a Chinese rice bowl, and 3 drinks.

Needless to say, we ate before we went back to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. Insane.

As we waited for our plane, I sat by the window watching all the other planes. It actually calmed me. I snickered every time a United plane coasted by, not gonna lie. If someone wanted to drag me off my flight and make me bleed a little for a few million I was down for it. Just no broken noses. Alicia and Billy both fractured my nose when we were little. One with a wiffle bat bat and one with a Coke bottle. Both were on purpose. The battle scars of elementary school were pretty epic. We can laugh now but back then, Bill Sr. had to step in twice on my behalf.

Anyway, around 5:30pm it was time to board the plane. We walked down the corridor to the plane and took our first steps onto Jet Blue. My daughter had flown a few times before. My son and I had not. My daughter was a life saver. Bless her heart. She made everything so much smoother. Without her, I probably would have boarded a flight to Thailand while my luggage traveled to Texas. "One Night in Bangkok" is a great song and all but I am pretty sure I am not ready to live the Murray Head dream just yet. Besides, I don't even know how to play chess.

OMG!! We are going to ride on an airplane!
Back to the plane, it was smaller than what I usually see in the movies. There was no middle row of seats but the seats were way more comfortable than what I had also seen in the movies. We got situated, reviewed the safety procedures, and fastened our seat belts. The captain came on the loudspeaker to explain our flight. He informed us we would be flying at a little higher an altitude than usual.

I am not sure if it was due to congestion in the skies or if weather was a factor but as long as we were safe, I was good. I was also feeling pretty fab thanks to two mini bottles of booze and a god awful nicotine lozenge I had earlier. Let's take this puppy to the air! I'm ready to go Captain!

Slowly, we pulled out of the gate and drove down the hangar. I stared out the window checking out all the planes around us. There were so many of them. And the dudes from the movie Top Gun with their mini light sabers in each hand directing the planes were pretty awesome too. I believe the more politically correct term for these dudes is air traffic controllers but I wasn't thinking straight at that moment in time.

I noticed there were a few planes in front of us on the tarmac as well as a few behind us. As we turned left onto the runway, I looked out the window and saw the planes behind us. I felt like a little, wide eyed kid craning my neck to watch the convoy of planes slowly parading down the lane. It was really cool to witness. Our pilot came over the speaker again to announce we were going to be third in line for take off.

I had been warned that take off and landing can be rough so I was prepared for that. I even used nasal spray before going on the plane in case my ears started to hurt from the pressure. It works well for my daughter. What I wasn't prepared for was how much I loved taking off in the airplane. I was still staring out the window craning my head to see the planes behind me when all of a sudden I heard what sounded like a blow torch being ignited. My plane went from a slow creep to full throttle in like one second.

Here we go kids!!

Seated in seat 18A, ready to fly!
I felt my body weight force me into the back of my seat as the plane began it's taxi down the runway. I could hear the shrill of the motors working hard to get us to max speed. My head and neck were pressed to back of my seat but my eyes did not leave the window. I was seated right next to the left wing of the plane. I watched it wobbling in the wind. Is it supposed to do that? I guess so. I lifted my head from my seat. It seemed like we were still on the ground. We weren't though.

We were starting to ascend into the skies. I felt like I was on a really sweet roller coaster. The pilot tipped the plane to the left. My head was pressed against the window. I was gawking at the ground beneath me. I felt a slight pain in my chest. I was expecting that. I sat back and began to take deep breaths until the pain was gone. It didn't take long. I started fishing for my camera. We were in the clouds now and I wanted to get some cool shots of the cloud patterns and colorful skies.

Tipping the wing after take off.
After about 30 minutes of alternating between taking pictures and pressing my head against the window to look at all the fluffy clouds, I began to feel a little sleepy. I still had a long night ahead of me so I tried to get some rest. I didn't nod off completely but I was able to close my eyes and breath easy. Once in awhile I would hear the seat belt alarm go off as the plane would begin to shudder.

This must be what the people of the skies call turbulence I told myself. It wasn't so bad. The pilot would adjust altitudes when we hit particularly rough spots. I looked out the window again, trying to figure out what state we were above. I could see a shoreline underneath a thin veil of clouds. Virginia perhaps? We were about an hour into the flight so it was either Virginia or North Carolina.

I drank my soda and ate some of my snack of colorful potato chips. I wasn't too hungry. I was no longer too nervous about being in an airplane 38,000 feet above the earth. The humming of the motors and the slight rocking of the plane was actually relaxing me, a lot. I was not expecting that either. It was very soothing. Something I was so nervous about was relaxing me without effort. It was a total Twillight Zone moment.

My in flight goodies. Free and for me!

Of course my nerves started to tweak a little about getting the rental car and driving to Florida City. For us people with anxiety disorders, there is always something to be anxious about. If there isn't, our brain will give us a reason from a huge catalog of random and sometimes far-fetched scenarios. We don't always get to choose either. I decided to start peering out the window again to check on the wing and make sure it didn't fall off the plane.

Instead my eyes were treated to the most beautiful shades of pinks and yellows and grays. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the sun set above the clouds rather than below them. And it was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced. I gasped at the stunning sky. I fished out my camera again and began snapping pictures of the sunset above the clouds. I needed to preserve this Monet moment of spectacular pastels painted by the setting sun.

So beautiful! Sunset over NC.

It was a perfect flight!
We were above Surf City, North Carolina when the sun began it's descent. Not too long now. My daughter directed me to the TV screen in front of me. There was a map showing how high were were flying, what speed the plane was traveling at, and where above the Atlantic we were located. It was pretty sweet. As the sky turned to night, I kept my eye on the map. We were beginning our descent into Ft. Lauderdale airport.

Now, I must say, I was not nearly as fond of descending as I was of ascending. It didn't bother me too much but it did make me a little queasy. I directed my energy elsewhere. I became glued to the window once again. I could see all the lights shining brightly from the city as well as the curtails of speedboats in the dark water beneath me. Ft. Lauderdale was definitely a busier airport than Philly. We had to circle around the airport a few times before we could land.

Watching the map. Almost there. 478 mph. 39,218 feet high.
Once we landed, we were stuck in traffic on the tarmac for over 30 minutes. My nicotine withdrawal was beginning to become unbearable. I was pretty good up until that moment. I wanted out of that plane pronto. Of course it took all the people in front of us forever to get their bags and get off the plane. Why people must stop in the middle of the aisle to look for things in their bags or chat with the person they were sitting next to for three hours prior to landing is beyond me? Stop being rude and do that stuff when you are off the plane.

The Jet Blue captain emerged from the cockpit to say good bye to every single passenger. I thought that was really nice. He did a great job. As we walked down the corridor and stepped out into the airport I became immediately startled. The airport was jam packed with people. We are talking wall to wall. There were hundreds of people around the Jet Blue gates alone. It was way, way more crowded than Philly was. Nervously, my kids and I maneuvered through the loud crowd and headed towards the luggage carousels.

I became panicked when our luggage was not appearing on the carousel they told us it would be on. We stood there for four rotations. Nothing. My daughter said she was going to check the other luggage carousels. I had to step outside for a smoke. I was beyond tweaked by this point. Hurriedly, I stepped out the door of the airport and got slapped in the face with all this warmth and humidity. Again, I was startled. I looked at the palm trees across from me.

It took a little bit longer than I would care to admit for my brain to register that I was in a state where the weather was about 30 degrees warmer than the state I had left three hours prior. "Silly! You are in Florida!", I reminded myself. And, I was about to pass out on the airport sidewalk from an extreme head rush of nicotine that was now pumping through my blood stream after a five hour absence. I should not have taken such huge drags.

I composed myself and stumbled slowly back to the luggage carousels, praying our luggage was not lost. That would suck so bad. I had heard horrible stories of lost luggage. I did not want to write a horrible story about my luggage being lost. That's no fun. Thankfully, our luggage was not lost. My daughter found them 3 carousels down. We grabbed our bags and made our way out into the warm Floridian night. We were due to pick up the rental car and needed to catch the shuttle to the rental building. We had a grand adventure to begin. We were going on a road trip through the Florida Keys. We just had to fly down to the car to make it happen. And.......we did!

This is where I will end my story but trust me, it is not the end by any means. It's only just begun.


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