Out over the Pacific

On May 11, 2021, my wife, the Commander Supreme, booked the flight and reserved two seats on American Airlines. We would be heading to a COVID-19 postponed wedding for one of her nephews, who just happens to live and work in Hawaii. On Saturday, December 4, we would gather for a wedding ceremony on the beach.

Of course, in its highest level of efficiency, on Monday, November 29, the day before our departure, American Airlines, sent an e-mail to the Commander Supreme notifying her that she no longer has the seat she reserved back on May 11. She has been moved several rows away.

So, politely and diplomatically, the Commander calls a friendly representative at American Airlines. She explains the concern to the representative. The representative puts the Commander on hold pending research.

Shortly, the rep returns to confirm that everything the Commander did in initiating the seat reservation was perfection. However, the rep has no explanation as to why this seat change was done. She tells the Commander that the matter will need to be addressed with the gate agent at the Raleigh/Durham airport (RDU) on Tuesday morning.

On Monday afternoon, November 29, we drive to Raleigh. We will spend the night with our youngest daughter, Elizabeth. She will drive us to RDU on Tuesday morning.

Once in Raleigh, with Elizabeth’s expertise, we fine tune the packing of our carry on luggage, and recheck our technology, with American, TSA, and the state of Hawaii. At bit after 5 on Tuesday morning, we are all piled into our normally reliable car. Elizabeth is the designated driver, and of course, our car says I’m not starting.

With lots of internal bad language, on this frosty morning, we toss everything into Elizabeth’s car, and barrel off. The usual 19 minute ride to RDU is done at supersonic speeds, and in a blink we are in the chaos of unloading, and heading into the American terminal.

In every direction of the American terminal, we find already weary travelers who are trying to determine the line they should be in while attempting to take in shouted instructions from American personnel, and prerecorded messages from RDU management.

Thanks to Commander, we find the correct line, locate the proper kiosk, print out the baggage tags, and head to the counter to drop off the bags. The American rep at the counter was very good.

Next, our fast paced steps took us to TSA. Recently, we completed the pre-check requirements. This check-in was hassle free.

Now, we were headed to the American gate to resolve the seat glitch.

The Commander gave the American rep the background, and the rep requested a few minutes to figure it out. We departed for a potty break, and that’s when the Commander realized that we didn’t have our snack bag. That was the one thing we didn’t grab from our car.

In one of the bandit priced shops, we picked up water and a few nibbles to tide us over.

Back at the gate, the rep found us a couple of seats together. We would be at one of the emergency exits, and yes, when asked, we stated we would be willing to help if God forbid there was an emergency.

Now, just to add to the boarding fun, TSA decided to show up with six agents to conduct another check of all passengers just before we boarded. There was some indication they were training new personnel, but our minds raced into fiction suspicion—we wondered— who they were trying to find?

We cleared this two step check and boarded the plane. Boarding and departing airplanes is not enjoyable. Airlines should consider hiring retired teachers to improve this process. What might airlines learn from elementary school teachers who routinely empty and fill school buses each day of the school year?

It is nice that airlines allow the elderly, young families, passengers with physical disabilities, and active military personnel to pre-board. But, once the plane lands—no one should be allowed to move until parents and their young children have left the plane. That parent and child who has been miserable for an over two hour flight should be able to depart first—no exceptions.

It appeared that the interior of the 737 that we flew to Dallas/Ft. Worth had been improved.The information card stated 737 09/21 revision.

A stewardess came by to swear in those of us seated by the exit. We each had to affirm we were willing to help with a—yes.

Since it was a frosty morning in the Piedmont triad, the captain informed us that the plane would need to be deiced before departure.

We finally pushed away from the gate. The loaded jet lumbered out to its designated spot. There a truck with the proper chemical solution to melt frost sprayed the cold aluminum.

From that shower, the plane sluggishly taxied to the assigned runway. Finally, the pilot pushed those jet turbines to full power and within a few seconds the plane was lifting off the runway. I continue to be amazed at what Orville and Wilbur created for us.

A few deliberate dips of the wings gradually turned the plane, and the pilot positioned the 737 toward the southwest bound for Texas.

On the ride down, I finished reading Sonia Purnell’s excellent book—A Woman Of No Importance. The book is about an American spy who had an impact in World War II.

The approach into Dallas/Ft. Worth was like always turtle slow. The landscape caught my eye—flat with shades of dryness.

We landed. And it feels like it takes at least another hour to get to the jetway for parking the jet, and yes, more chaos as people work their way off the plane. Again, airlines ought to really consider using the wisdom of retired teachers in shuffling people off a plane.

Our lay over was right at three hours in Dallas/Ft.Worth. We took the SkyLink tram toward the designated terminal for departure. This elevated train system dropped us where we needed to be.

We grabbed a meal at the Flying Saucer, and decided to explore the massive terminal. Knowing that we would be sitting for almost eight hours, walking that terminal was a good idea.

More polite chaos appeared, as we heard the call to start boarding the massive 777-200. We found our seats the Commander had the aisle, I had the window, and sandwiched between us was a tiny, elderly lady from Hawaii.

Again to my amazement, this loaded to capacity jet lifted off the runway.

The captain told us we would be taking a route toward Sonoma and San Fransisco before starting to trek over the Pacific. Some smart person figured out the curve of the California coastline makes the flight distance to Hawaii from San Fransisco a tad shorter.

Out my window, I had good views of America’s southwestern landscape. At 34,000 feet up, in some places there were few signs of human existence.

Canyons cut by rivers, wide valleys bordered with scruffy looking hills, and at times acres and acres of sand in every direction. Aside from splotches of green, shades of parchment, terracotta, and assorted darker hues of charcoal and cocoa filled in the palette.

A portion of America’s southwest landscape photo by Bill Pike

Personally, I kept peeking out the window for a shade of pacific blue with a ribbon of shoreline that would quickly be lost to the contrails created by the jet’s massive engines. That shade of blue would mean we were over the Pacific Ocean. Seeing that blue, even in its vastness gave me hope. I knew Hawaii was out there.

To distract me over the next 2,500 miles, I watched two documentaries: Ruth, followed by Summer of Soul, and I started reading— 41 A Portrait of My Father.

Occasionally, I peered down into the blue to see pretty patterns of clouds lightly floating above the mighty ocean.

Cloud patterns floating over the Pacific Ocean photo by Bill Pike

I tried to block out all references to time and distance. Gradually, the hours clicked away, and I finally heard the sound I wanted to hear— the slowing of the whirling turbines—we were starting our descent toward Honolulu. I looked out my window to see two tiny specks of land with a shoreline of a larger land mass behind.

Just under the edge of the clouds two islands photo by Bill Pike

There was a flurry of activity as agriculture cards were collected, seats returned to upright positions, and we were reminded to collect our personal items.

After a series of turns, the pilot had the plane aligned with the assigned runway. The 777 continued to slowly defy gravity hovering with precision until the hard rubber tires screeched on the tough runway surface— we landed.

We worked our way down the aisles of the plane, into the jet way, and finally the terminal. Despite having the proper QR code on our phones, the line was long to clear this required COVID-19 checkout before finding the baggage area.

Betsy’s sister, Abby, and her husband, Art, picked us up. As we exited the airport, we were promptly greeted by rush hour traffic. Yes, even in Honolulu, they have packed interstates.

With patience, Art drove us toward their home in Waialua.

Once off the interstate, the landscape changed.

We were on a winding, state highway. A range of mountains was off to our left, buffered with acres of agricultural land on both sides. Freshly tilled soil caught our eyes, there was an indescribable richness in the earthly hues of burnt orange and umber.

Splotches of purple and orange blooms sprang off assorted trees and shrubs, with their deep green foliage as a backdrop.

With a few more stops, and turns, Art pulled into a quiet cul-de -sac, where they had been restoring their beautiful home. Just a few steps across the street is the house that a friendly neighbor was renting to us for our stay in Hawaii.

We unloaded our luggage, toured the house. Then, we paused to gaze admiringly into the postcard view of the Pacific from the deck on the back of the house. Just in those few seconds of gawking, I wondered how people ever get back on a plane to return home.

Abby had a delicious pasta dinner for us.

And then, the hustle of the travel finally caught us, we were ready to collapse.

Somewhere in that sleep was a prayer of thanks for the safe travels and the opportunity to be here.

View from the back deck of the rental house photo by Bill Pike

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