Thursday, November 08, 2007

Flying High Again

I'd never done this before, and I hope to not make it a regular occurrence, but I took the skybus this week. Flew up to San Francisco and back in the same day. It may have possibly consumed less time than a lot of people's driving commutes here in the Southland.

I woke up at 4:20 am to get on a flight departing at 6:30 am. Fine. No problem. I just stayed away from the caffeine enough to sleep like a baby for the 45 minutes or so that we were in the air neither taking off nor landing. I even ran into a friend who was on the same flight, and he was kind enough to offer me a ride to work in his rental car. I was looking forward to riding the BART, but I was happy to have a comrade in travel.

The return trip was a little more adventurous. I decided to ride the BART to SFO, thereby leaving a narrow window of time to actually make my flight. BART drops you off right at the international terminal of SFO. Domestic travelers must go upstairs to catch a tram to the domestic terminal. Seeing's how I wasn't even leaving the state, much less the country, I went upstairs to catch the tram. 45 minutes before takeoff. I looked at the Information map to see where the Virgin America gates were. No listing for Virgin America. Must be too new.

The tram arrives, I step on with the rest of the travelers, and I remove my earphones just in time to hear: "Next stop, International Terminal. Virgin America, blah blah." I look at the tram system map and it contradicts the voice on the loudspeaker. The map says that Virgin America is the final tram stop. A couple standing next to me is apparently flying Virgin America because they saw and heard the same thing I did and they begin arguing in a rapidly escalating manner.

Doors open. The loudspeaker doesn't repeat the info. I quickly make the decision to go with the voice instead of the sign and I step off the train. I head down the escalator to the International Terminal (the one I could have walked to from where BART dropped me off in the first place) and I find one of those "Departures" screens and I see my flight number and gate assignment. It says A-11. I look up at the gate sign I'm standing under and it says "Gates G-1 through G-11". 40 minutes til takeoff.

I have no idea where the "A" gates are, but luckily there's an information booth nearby, so I walk over. A non-native-English speaking man beats me to the information booth and he asks (in non-native-English) the ancient sage working the counter where he can buy a ticket. Who the hell buys a ticket AT THE AIRPORT?!?!??!!! The sage tells me "be right with you" as he struggles to find the information. Moments later it's my turn, and I ask where Virgin America's gates are. The sage tells me where I can buy a ticket. (Apparently he neglected to notice the difference between me and the guy before me.) I tell him I have a ticket and I need to know where the "A" gates are.

The sage points up at a huge number on a pillar that says 11. "You see that number 11? Well when you get down to 1, you'll be there." I asked him if I should get back on the tram, but he said I could walk it. More like run it with the time I had left. I did my best speedwalker impression and hoofed it down to 1, and there indeed were the "A" gates. 35 minutes til takeoff.

The security check line is comprised mainly of Filipino travelers who don't have their shit together like I do. Meaning they're digging through their luggage to find passports and boarding passes. Things are not moving quickly enough for those of us who are about to miss our flights. This lack of speed continues all the way through the metal detector to the other side where somebody's bag has to go through the x-ray 3 times. As I wait, I look back at the security line and spot the arguing couple from the tram, and they still haven't made it through the ID check part of security.

I was about to ask security if I could grab my bag/laptop/shoes/jacket from behind the part of the x-ray machine where it has passed through, but not really past the part where you're supposed to grab it, but then I had a vision of a lengthy strip-search and me missing my flight. I waited patiently. 25 minutes til takeoff.

Finally I was able to grab my stuff and cram my feet into my loafers enough to get going. Speedwalking continued and I reached the end of the terminal where my gate was located with 20 minutes til takeoff. And to my left was an Il Fornaio cafe proudly displaying an Anchor Steam sign that I couldn't resist. Virgin America could wait.

I ordered, noticed a bar type of setup on the other side of the cafe, and moseyed over with my large glass of beer. I looked up at the TV hoping to see Monday Night Football, but instead it was some pirate movie that turned out to have Johnny Depp playing Keith Richards as a pirate. I was about to ask if they'd change it to the game, but a group of euro-looking travelers seemed really into the pirate movie.

I took a sip of beer and sent a taunting text message regarding drinking beer to a co-worker who I knew was still working. Then the loudspeaker came on: "Virgin America flight blah blah going to Los Angeles will be closing its doors in 5 minutes. If you want to go to Los Angeles, be here in 5 minutes." Couldn't be clearer about how long I had to finish my beer. Plenty of time.