So we’re in the middle of a pandemic, right? My family has been following CDC guidelines quite well and we’re staying virus-free. One of the last things I’ve been wanting to do is a flight across the country. This is a story of how I did just that.

Setting the Stage

My mother’s side of our family, the Davenport’s in northwestern Pennsylvania, has been having reunions going back to about 1932. It’s a streak of 87 years that was in danger of being broken because of COVID-19. A few weeks ago they were given the green light by the powers that be to have their outside reunion. I also learned that one of my brothers, his daughter, a granddaughter of his and our son were going. My wife and I had planned a trip to Pennsylvania and Michigan this summer, but she needs to wait until her father’s nursing home allows visitors. It may not even happen this year, so we agreed I should go visit our son in Philadelphia and accompany him to the reunion. We hadn’t seen him for two years, so that played into our decision as well.

I checked into flights and found a great deal to Philadelphia from Tucson. I wouldn’t need a rental car because I’d be riding with our son in a car he just bought. Everything was falling into place.

Ignoring the Signs

Case numbers have been spiking in Arizona and in other states. The airline would have me fly first to Seattle-Tacoma for a destination of Philadelphia. The state of Washington was one of the hardest hit in the nation in the early days. I didn’t check to see their current situation, but they had reached an unprecedented high for daily new cases just several days before my flight.

I chose to fly Alaska Airlines because they had instituted a policy of blocking out the middle seats. The only problem was that when my return flight was booked, American was the airline I was given and they had no such policy. A two and a half-hour layover in Seattle and a nearly four hour layover in Phoenix on the return flight meant I would be spending about 12 hours on planes or in airports on the way and almost 11 hours on the way back. All that exposure to the public in closed quarters definitely caused me great concern, but I pressed on and consummated the reservation.

The Long and Winding Maze

I boarded the first plane at 6:45 AM and was pleased to find I was the only passenger in my row. We soon learned there was a mechanical issue with the cargo door and there would be a delay, presumably a short one. Numerous announcements followed and incrementally we reached a delay of approximately two hours, 15 minutes. Now it was obvious there would be a tight window for making my connecting flight.

Despite my concern, I was easily distracted by the beauty of Washington’s Cascade Mountains in June as seen from above. Snow-capped peaks dotted the landscape, culminating in Mount Rainier with its massive glacier. Angle Lake also accented the area around the airport.

I checked my gate number on my boarding pass before I deplaned, then hustled to that gate with almost 10 minutes to spare. There was no one at the gate! I checked with an American Airlines employee nearby and she accessed the system for me. The gate number had been changed, now leaving from another terminal. I had to take a train across the airport. On the way to that, I came across an Alaska customer service desk. They told me exactly how to get to the correct gate and said they would call ahead for me to let them know I was coming.

I found my way to the train I needed. I had about five minutes to get to the gate. I ran when I reached the new terminal, weaving in and out of the travelers, panting into my mask. Breathless, I arrived at the gate only to be told the closed door to the plane could not be reopened. I headed back to the customer service counter and asked for the next flight out. “No more flights today,” the representative informed me. They offered to put me up in a hotel and get me on the next day’s flight, which would get me there almost 24 hours after my expected arrival. “I’ll miss a whole day with my son,” I complained. When a trip is planned for only seven days, every day is precious. “How about another airline?” I learned Alaska was my best option in this time of reduced flight schedules. I stood there in a sullen daze as the rep went about setting up a hotel and my flight reservation.

Someone may have taken the reservation before she could get it booked. She called over a Supervisor and they worked for about 10 minutes before coming up with another option. I could fly to Baltimore and arrive that night. Our son might pick me up or I could take a train to Philadelphia. I took them up on that and reached Baltimore by about 11:00. Our son had worked out an arrangement with Alaska that they would pay for a hotel and rental car to get me to Philadelphia.

Once in the Baltimore-Washington airport, I shuttled over to the off-site rental facility where I learned that all but one of the rental agencies would not rent on a one-way basis. The only one that would, Hertz, wanted to charge me $154 for less than 24 hours. I refused to pay such an exorbitant fee and rode back to the airport. Meanwhile, my phone was down to about 6% charge and I had forgotten my charge cable. This meant I couldn’t call hotels to send a shuttle to me. It was after midnight by that time and I was standing in the pickup area for hotel shuttles, not knowing if any would even be coming at that time of the night.

Faith…you have to have faith. Suddenly, a shuttle from Doubletree arrived to pick up another man who had a reservation. I jumped aboard and was able to get a room on the spot. Momentum was on my side then. They provided a shuttle to the Amtrak station the next day. I had a nice train ride to Philadelphia, where our son picked me up.

Philadelphia Railway Station on 30th Street

(To be continued next time)