Airport Envy: Getting There from Here
by Patricia Draznin

“If at first you don’t arrive, fly, fly again.” – Passenger from Elmersville, Kentucky

I’m at the Cedar Rapids airport boarding a plane for Detroit, a place I don’t need to go but which the airline insists on including in my itinerary. Taking up residence in Iowa means joining a select demographic required to take at least two flights whenever we travel, sometimes referred to as Way Too Frequent Flyers, and known to Native Americans as Eaters Of Many Tiny Pretzels. No matter where I’m headed, I have to pass through a “hub” such as Chicago or St. Louis—unless one of those cities happens to be my destination, in which case the airlines will route me there through Newark.

Accommodating the handful of people calculated to be living between New York and San Francisco, the airline industry assumes we are grateful for any routes they can offer, even if one of the connections involves a covered wagon. I envy my friends living near real airports like Denver or Atlanta who rave about their incredible airline deals to New York and Miami. “Oh, yes,” I nod, pretending that I too live near an airport offering low-fare direct flights to somewhere I would actually want to go.

Bound for Detroit, I arrive at the terminal in time to weather the long lines I must endure to secure my Café Mocha. And then, wearing my American flag earrings with matching pendant, I prepare to whiz through security. But today I kept setting off the metal detector, even after removing my “I CAPITALISM” belt buckle. I was thankful to reach the gate on time since security was taking forever to re-insert my mercury fillings.

My seat assignment to Detroit is 13B, which, on this minivan with wings, is actually the last row, next to the engines and bathrooms. I don’t recall this being a seating choice: “window, aisle, or turbine/toilet?” I’m sitting so far back I can almost reach into my luggage for the Stimudents I was not allowed to pack in my carry-on. Not that I question this policy. The last thing the airline needs is some lunatic attacking the pilot and trying to clean the plaque off his teeth.

Way Too Frequent Flying is the small price we pay for the luxury of living in the Heartland, also known as “the flyover states.” Like we’re some kind of landfill holding the coasts in place. I once heard a Los Angeles film critic refer to Nebraska this way, as though no one between the two coasts could hear him since radio waves don’t travel through our states because it takes too many flights. You don’t hear us referring to his neighborhood as a palm-tree infested, hogless piece of real estate stuck on the ocean. It’s not that I have illusions about living in a destination spot. Or even a spot. I live in a state whose most notable achievement is the deep-fried Twinkie, and referred to by AAA as “that state along Route 80 west that comes after Illinois.”

For all of us travelers living in overlooked destinations like Ernie, Montana or Goosebreath Missouri, following are the immutable principles of flying the Way Too Frequent way:

  1. Sitting toward the front of the aircraft enables you to “de-plane” quickly on arrival and sprint to your next departure gate—which is
  2. located as far away from your landing gate as the distance you just flew—and   
  3. will always be at the opposite end of the airport—unless
  4. your departure gate is in a different airport entirely—but either way,
  5. the amount of time needed to reach your gate will be twelve minutes longer than your layover time—unless
  6. you’re connecting in a bus station airport like Midway, in which case your layover will be three hours and forty minutes.

Until this section of the country beefs up its roll call and the airlines start putting us on their maps, maybe we will have to be grateful for whatever itineraries we can get, even if it takes us three flights to get from Ottumwa to Chicago. It sure beats walking. It just takes a little longer.

Copyright 2003 Patricia Draznin


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