Local Dispatch / An 80-year-old flies the newfangled skies (puzzlement ensues)

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I believe in arriving early for everything. You never know if an overturned semi or flash flood might suddenly hold up traffic.

(I also believe one should carry a substantial amount of food, but I usually settle for a pumpkin muffin, my choice for survival food: "Have muffin, will travel.")

Daylight was beginning as my son and I started the 25-minute drive to Pittsburgh International Airport. After parking in the short-term parking lot, we entered and took an escalator up to US Airways to get my electronic ticket to Hartford, Conn. Right then I knew the parameters of flying had changed since the last time I made a trip.

The ticketing was a do-it-yourself job, and I get numb in front of computer screens. My son managed the feat, but not before the attendant had repacked my moisturizer and deodorant in plastic and put the bag into the outside zippered pouch of my suitcase. "Maybe this will get through," she said. I thought only liquids over 3 ounces were forbidden, not gels and pastes and all manner of gooey stuff.

Back down the escalator we went, luggage in tow. We hugged goodbye and I was on my own, 80 years old with no recent flying experience. I went through security, and no one unzippered the pouch with my contraband.

At the metal detector, I stood on the footprint design and raised my arms for the scan. I really, really wanted to ask for a souvenir copy of the scan, but I guessed the grim-faced examiners would not find the idea entertaining. I still think of how raising my arms gave me a figure I haven't even imagined for a few decades.

I hiked to the train to take me to the airside terminal. It was a 1-minute ride, which is my idea of big fun. Then I bumped my suitcase up two sets of escalators and looked for the right concourse. I hiked to the moving walkway and hiked some more after I stepped off. I sat down an hour and a half before the departure time of 9:20.

Then came the announcement: "Flight 3517 to Hartford has been canceled."

Wasn't it good I had all that extra time, I told myself. Ever optimistic, I hiked to another gate and received two options: Wait for a direct flight, which would leave at 1:30, or catch a flight leaving shortly for Philadelphia, where I could catch another flight that would get me to Hartford at 12:41 instead of the 3 p.m. arrival time of the direct flight.

At this point it was anyone's guess what might be canceled next. I opted for the plane to Philly. Another belief of mine is to keep moving if possible.

I surveyed all my fellow passengers with a sense of sorrow. "So, these are the people I'm going to die with. What a shame. They seem so nice. Except for the terrorist across the aisle."

Having misjudged the old man across from me, we made it to Philly. This kind of advance worrying seems to work, but I can't guarantee it. I watched my fellow passengers confidently rush off while I had no idea where to go. I just had to go across to the gate on the opposite side of the corridor, but when you don't know, you might as well be in Turkmenistan.

At the next boarding gate, I was told, "You have to check your luggage."

"But I just bought this carry-on so I wouldn't have to go to baggage."

Well, that was wasted indignation. Seems it was a bitty plane, and there was no room for luggage in the overhead.

I sat down and ate my pumpkin muffin.

Arriving on time in Hartford, I knew my daughter would be waiting for me. Somewhere. We figured it was a small enough airport that we couldn't miss each other.

I headed down the main concourse, only to reach a dead end. Retracing my steps, I found the right exit, and there she was, patiently standing at the end of the ramp. I suspect she saw me sail by but was too far away to yell out "Mom!" She has patience.

My return trip was uneventful except that my toothpaste was confiscated. Was it OK to dispose of it, the examiner wanted to know. I suppose she was wondering if I was planning on flying back to Hartford to pick it up someday.

travel - neigh_west - intelligencer - neigh_south

Lorraine Loiselle of Bethel Park, a retired elementary school teacher, can be reached at lorloi@yahoo.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published June 20, 2012 4:00 AM


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