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Penkava: The adventures of an infrequent flyer

Published: Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 11:30 p.m. CDT

I’m not what you call a savvy flyer.

Sure, I’ve been around the block, but mostly on road trips. So when I recently found myself needing to get out west in a hurry, I discovered that although the skies were friendly, it was getting up there that was the problem.

Just finding a flight was quite a task. Sure, it’s simple to go online and type, “Flights Chicago to Portland.” But suddenly you feel like a Wall Street floor trader in the final minutes of the trading day, barraged by an onslaught of providers screaming offers at you – Travelocity! Expedia! Tripadvisor! Hotwire! Why, there’s even Captain Kirk from the Starship Priceline inviting you to go where no passenger has dared to go before.

Of course, you’re looking for the cheapest prices. And there are cheap seats to be found … if you’d like to visit 16 other airports before you arrive at your final destination. Then there was a slightly better offer to first fly east to Boston before waving to Chicago as we passed back over it at 36,000 feet on our way toward Portland. The idea of flying east to go west wasn’t very tempting, even with such reduced prices. It would appear that we needed to insert the word “nonstop” into our query if we wanted to at least fly in the right direction in a reasonable time.

However, the word “nonstop” is intimately connected with the words “highest price.” Suddenly fees doubled and tripled. And the more we delayed our decision, the higher the prices went. It was as if the airlines were punishing us for our indecisiveness. We were being hijacked before we even took off.

So we finally committed. With a click of the mouse, we had our seats confirmed. We printed our information and carried it to the airport. Surprisingly, everything was in order. Our baggage, however, needed a ticket as well, and we discovered that the only difference between us and our suitcase was that we got a free beverage.

Passing through security was a bit scary, especially when I saw the guy with the blue latex gloves. Somehow latex and airports are not a good combination, especially when I’m standing there without a belt. However, he just looked at my ID and told me to proceed to the X-ray machine.

Coming out the other end, another latex man asked me whether I had something in my right pants leg. I told him, “Just my leg, sir.” After touching my leg to make sure it was there, he cleared me for takeoff.

So all we had to do was wait to board the airplane. I tried to look like a seasoned traveler. I think I only checked my boarding pass every 10 seconds to make sure I still had it. When the lady announced that it was time to board, I sprang to my feet like a kid on a trampoline.

Our seats actually were way in the back. When I entered the plane and saw the first rows of luxury seats, I thought, “Boy, this is going to be great!” But reality struck as I entered our section, the economy seats. The people were lined up like sardines in a can, minus the oil. We finally settled into our seats, and, after a while, I looked out the window.

“Honey,” I said excitedly. “Look! The people look like ants.”

“They are ants, Michael,” she replied, “We haven’t taken off yet.”

“Oh, I knew that,” I countered, wondering what ants could possibly be doing at an airport.

Before we knew it, we were in the air. Then the beverage cart came. And somewhere in the airplane sat our suitcase like a sardine with the rest of the luggage, but without the perk of a free soda.

Maybe economy class wasn’t so bad after all.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. For his return flight, he learned that Air India flew from Portland to Chicago. He took the flight because he had never been to New Delhi. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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