Until a few weeks ago, I had not flown since this whole pandemic thing began. Of course, Lady Jane and I have managed to get around the country via car in the past couple years, biting off chunks of the country, actually 15 states’ worth.
The purpose of my Southwest Airlines flight from Columbus to Fort Myers, Florida, in mid-March was to spend some time with my only sis, Joanie, and brother-in-law, John, and several of their friends that also spend considerable time in the Sunshine State when the Midwest is in winter’s grip.
As for changes I immediately noted after entering John Glenn International Airport in mid-March, well, of course, there were all those masked countenances. Had I been provided a glimpse of the future the last time I flew, to Ireland and back in late 2019, I wouldn’t have comprehended why all those faces were covered up.
Since I was only going for four days, I only had my carry-on bag and was able to proceed right to the TSA line. There must be something about my face that’s a bit sinister because, yet again, while going through, I was pulled aside and given, shall I say, a more intimate check by a TSA agent.
The last time I was pulled aside was flying into Dulles International from that Irish sojourn in ‘19. I made the mistake of having an orange in a zippered side pocket of my carry-on. The scent was picked up by a canine agent, and his human security partner led me to a separate room where the contents of my bag were pretty thoroughly searched. I was also asked a battery of questions, none of which, to my surprise, had anything to do with fruits or vegetables. Perhaps I’m still on some dangerous fruit-lovers’ list.
As for the pat-down, I was told it was my option to do it just inside the scanning portal or go somewhere more private if I would feel self-conscious. I told him, “Hey, we’re all friends here, right? So just do what you have to do.”
Now, the worst part of the pat-down for this guy who’s crafted an unparalleled résumé of hitching his pants up because, truth be told, I have no hips of which to speak, was the fear of my beltless pants falling down while Mr. TSA was doing his thing. It required a double-thumb belt-loop maneuver on my part to keep my drawers in place.
After being deemed a solid enough citizen to fly, I joined the rest of my fellow flyers at Gate 5 and settled in for some serious people-watching. You see, I have the same gene for that activity as my mother, now a celestial citizen, but once upon her mortal time, a world-class people watcher.
It was then I heard the magic words that many a flier longs to hear. The counter rep announced that the flight was overbooked by two seats, and if anyone was willing to play the airline version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” trading his or her seat to fly later in exchange for a 600-dollar voucher, he or she should come on down. Since I’m always willing to listen to an offer, I got up and headed toward the counter.
Since three others got to the counter first, frankly, I didn’t think my chances were very good, especially after I saw an elderly lady (probably my age, truth be told) who was first in line, grab the first slot, take her voucher, turn and leave. However, the next two were not able to match up with a later flight that suited their desires.
When I reached the counter, I gave the rep my must-haves. First, I told her I needed to be in Fort Myers on that day and, second, I needed to be there by no later than 5 p.m., so my brother-in-law wasn’t driving to pick me up in the dark.
She pursed her lips and said she’d need to work on this and sent me back to my seat, telling me she’d see if she could accommodate my needs. Tapping away on the screen, about 15 minutes later she came over and said she found a match, from Columbus to Midway in Chicago and then on to Fort Myers. Because the layover was actually moving directionally farther back before moving forward southerly, the voucher suddenly went from $600 to $800.
The landing in Fort Myers would indeed be at 5 p.m., just four hours later than my original flight would have landed. To me, this was an absolute no-brainer. The voucher ensures I’ll fly for free at least once and perhaps twice when I need to scratch that persistent travel itch, provided it’s within a calendar year.
While I wasn’t crazy about the TSA friskiest of frisks or that blasted mask, both at the airport and on the plane, I surely enjoyed that voucher. Throw in quality time with Joan and John, some golfing and nice 80-degree weather over my four-day visit, and I think my first flight in almost three years was an overwhelming success.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]