Travelogue – Return to Alabama

Today I set out to return to Alabama. Lots of fun stuff has happened since my Day 0 entry, but those are stories for another time. Today it’s all about the joys of traveling professionally.
The day started off well enough. Breakfast with the parents, a leisurely drive into Dulles International Airport, and an on-time arrival at the terminal. Unfortunately, it was all down-hill from there. My flight was booked with US Airways. So of course, I went to the US Airways desk to check in. The first sign of trouble was when the e-Ticket kiosk couldn’t check me in.
After the US Airways clerk found a second person to help me, they eventually figured out that I couldn’t actually check in at the US Airways desk. Yes, I had book through US Airways, my itinerary said US Airways, everything was US Airways. But I had to check in at the United desk. (I haven’t been getting enough exercise lately, so fortunately for me the United desk is at the other end of the terminal!)
For those of you who don’t fly, the airlines do something called “code-sharing”. A code-share flight means that you book and pay for a flight on one airline, but you actually fly on a plane owned by another airline. Most of the time, this is not something you even notice – you deal with the airline you booked through, you just happen to board a plane with a different logo on the tail. But for some reason, US Airways and United couldn’t play nice today, so I had to deal with United.
Well, as soon as I had to give my bag to one airline with the anticipation of receiving it from another airline at my destination, I knew I was screwed. So I pretty much assumed my bag would get lost today.
When the boarding passes were printed, the first one had the quadruple S emblem all over it. For those of you who avoid the friendly skies, the “SSSS” flags you for special screening at the security check point. So I obviously thought it was turning out to be my lucky day….
Surprisingly, the special screening turned out to not be a bad thing. In the “old days” (you know, two years ago), the “SSSS” meant you got hand searched and everything was a pain in the ass. Now they have the new chemical sniffer machines, so they just make you walk through that and then hand search your carry-on. Since only a few folks are picked for the extra screening, there was no line. I actually got through security quicker than if I had gone through the regular screening!
My flight plan today was a three flight extravaganza – way more connections than a professional traveler normally accepts. But I had a one hour layover in Raleigh and a two hour layover in Charlotte. I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to make the transfers, and I don’t actually mind the little CRJ commuter jets.
Arriving on-time into Raleigh, I start wandering around to find my connecting gate. Well, we arrived at gate B19 (or something) and I had to connect to gate A22. In pretty much any airport I’ve ever been to, you can get from one gate to any other gate without much effort. Not so in Raleigh! Terminal A is on the other side of the airport and the only way to get there from Terminal B is to walk outside and through the parking garage to the other terminal. (Raleigh makes it easier by not putting any signs up explaining the situation either. I had to ask at an information desk to figure out what the hell was going on.)
Not only is this an asinine design for the comfort of travelers, you have to leave the secure zone and go through security again to make your connection! I wasn’t planning on all that excitement when I looked at the hour layover. Fortunately the lines at the security check were short, so I made my connection. But Raleigh is off the list of airports from now on!
After my adventure in the Raleigh airport, I finally made it to Charlotte. In my book, Charlotte is everything Raleigh is not. There are five concourses, all connected to a main terminal building. Everything is within the same security zone. The architecture is nice and open, with huge windows in the main terminal and most of the concourses. There are LOTS of restaurants and cool shops along the terminal and concourses. They even have rocking chairs along most of the terminal windows, so you can just sit down and relax if you want. In short, it’s an excellent airport to have a layover.
Relaxing in Charlotte gave me a chance to eat some lunch and get my shoes polished. The shoe polishing thing may sound anachronistic, but for $5 I got a fresh shine on my shoes and some entertainment as the shoe shine ladies gossiped and joked.
After that, it was on to my gate to relax and read some more of Al Gore’s new book – The Assault on Reason. I borrowed the book from my dad this morning, and I’ve already finished about 80% of it. Even though there’s a tinge of partisanship once in a while, Gore approaches things with an even keel for most of the text. I’d highly recommend it to anyone serious about where our country is going – regardless of whether you agree with Gore’s politics or not.
Finally arriving in Montgomery, I was not surprised in the least when my bag never showed up on the baggage claim belt. So 45 minutes later, I’ve got the baggage claim paperwork from US Airways and I can finally head to the hotel. Poor Charley, the coworker who got screwed into working the last two weekends, had to orbit the parking lot for an hour waiting for me to get out of the terminal. I think he was happy to finally escape the airport!
There’s another flight in at 8:30 tonight, so with any luck my baggage will show up before the morning….
Well, that should give you a taste of a day in the life of a traveler. Sounds fun, eh? 😉
Update: My bag showed up around lunch the next day. Everything was intact, save a small cosmetic cut on the front. So now I can look forward to a shower with my shampoo tomorrow. 😉

Travelogue – Day 0 – Flying to Alabama

Well, got up this morning with the mission of getting to Alabama. Dad drove me down to Dulles and dropped me off. I’ve only packed two bags – my 25″ pullman and the new rolling laptop bag. I was going to try and fit everything into my 21″ carry-on bag, but with the new restrictions on fluids (3 oz. containers only), there’s just no way to pack for 3 weeks of travel in a carry-on. So, the upside is I have more room in my bag.
I left behind the big camera and my backpack. I’m treating this as a dry run for packing for Japan. When I hit Japan, I know I’ll bring my backpack. So this is a reduced-luggage version of the packing regime I expect to follow.
I also dressed the part of a business traveler this time. Normally I just wear jeans to be more comfortable. But I must say that the airline people don’t pester you with all the usual bullshit when you’re dressed for business. Check-in and security check went smoothly. The first glitch was that the flight from Dulles to Charlotte didn’t have a gate listed on the display boards. But the US Airways folks guessed it would be Z9, and they were right.
I got a shot of the flight display boards with one of those funny Microsoft error messages on it, but I was having a hard time getting it loaded on Flickr. I’ll try again in a bit.
The flight to Charlotte went off without a hitch. While I was laying over there, I had a beer and bought Madeleine Albright’s new book The Mighty & The Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but it’s been both entertaining and very insightful. I don’t have any particular memories of Ms. Albright while she was Secretary of State under Clinton, but the book meshes with my recollection of the events she describes. She’s been very good, so far, at putting America and religion in both a historical context and a current events context. I’m interested to see how the whole book develops.
The flight to Montgomery was on a smaller commuter jet. I carried my laptop bag on, but I could barely fit it under the seat. Fortunately it fit after enough prodding. As the exit row person, it wouldn’t do to have my bag sticking out impeding traffic. The flight was unremarkable, and I didn’t have any neighbors in the row to bother me.
Arriving in Montgomery, it was moderately humid. Not hot enough to assault you when you disembarked the plane, but hot enough to be noticed. I ended up sharing a taxi with a lady in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) here. We had an entertaining discussion about Japan and how much being in Alabama is not like being other places we’d both have enjoyed more.
The hotel is actually an extended stay suites place. Nice, in the “one room with everything you need to live” kind of way. The staff and I had a good laugh while I hung out and harassed them with questions, though. So hopefully it won’t be too bad here for a week. Oh, and I almost forgot – the girl at the front desk is from Boston. haha! So even though I didn’t fly there, I still get to meet a Bostonian. Go figure…
Well, I’m waiting for my new coworker to arrive while I slowly starve. He better not have eaten before he arrived here!
UPDATE: Here’s the shot of the flight departure board at Dulles….
Welcome to Dulles International Airport...

Pic of the Day – Across the Field

Across the Field, originally uploaded by sunny-drunk.

Man, it took forever to find a large pic today… I highly recommend checking out all the Runners Up. There were lots of great pictures that just weren’t very big at all, unfortunately….

My paperwork has finally been straightened out, and my flight to Boston is scheduled for Sunday, so I’ll soon be on my way (finally)! Wish me luck! 😛

Runners Up due to size: