So, we left behind the aqua-marine of the Caribbean sea and launched ourselves back into hell, aka: the American airline system. No sooner had the carefree lyrics of the Marley classic, "Don't Worry About a Thing", started to fade than they were replaced by the word "delay".
Air travel sucks butt.
It all started out so well in Montego Bay. Our flight was on time, it even took off a few minutes early. We were stylin'. All much to our relief, given we only had 90 minutes to get into Charlotte, deplane, get through immigration, pick up our bags, pass through customs, re-check our bags, go back through security (laptop out, shoes off, belt off, little baggie on display, repear in reverse), and hot-foot it across two terminals to our new gate - all of which we did without a hitch. We arrived at our gate approximately 20 minutes before boarding, downing a Burger King value meal on-the-run, and sat down with a sigh of relief. The departure boards in the terminal and at the gate said the flight was going out on time and we would be in Orange County in time to hit one of our favorite restaurants for a late dinner. Woo hoo!
Which was right about when Hubby noticed that there was no plane at the end of the moveable gateway thingumy. Strange, we thought, but we continued to devour our large-size fries and Whopper. And then the words every traveler dreads... "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you're traveling on flight 123 to xyz..."
Yup, that's right, all of a sudden, right there and then, despite every US Airways person and board informing us otherwise not moments before, the flight was going to be delayed 90 minutes. Aparently, despite the incoming flight having left two hours late and having been in the air for 2.5 hours already, they only just realized that it wouldn't be here in time to get us off the ground at our scheduled departure time. Amazing. It's like getting up an hour and a half late for work, sitting in two hours of traffic, and then calling in to your boss five minutes before you're about to arrive to inform them you're going to be late. No shit Sherlock.
Now we're not going to get into LAX until 10pm, which means that, by the time we've negotiated baggage-claim, the car rental shuttle, the car rental counter, and the drive, we probably won't hit our hotel in OC until near midnight. Extended vacation? Not.
The worst part is that I know our situation is not the most dire of all the travelers here at this airport right now. Both the US Airways Special Services counters we passed had lines 50 weary people deep and the departure board read as a sorry list of delays and cancellations. Some people have probably missed the only connecting flight to their destination today, or it has been cancelled, so my grumblings seem like a petty inconvenience in comparison.
The fact of the matter is that airline travel in the U.S. is not just no fun any more, it's literally a nightmare. Rising prices, shrinking legroom, scaled-back services (on a 2.5 hour flight you don't even get a pack of peanuts any more), new costs ($25 for your second suitcase, $7 for a stale sandwich, $15 for a decent seat), rolled-back schedules, and frustrating delays are only adding to the bottle-necks the airlines created with the "hub" system. It's now literally more hassle to fly across America in most cases, than it is to fly across the Atlantic. At least with the latter: (a) the hassle is proportionate to the distance (b) the travel time is mostly in the air going somewhere, and (c) there is still some pretense at maintaining services on a transatlantic flight. In the time it takes to get from Sacramento to the east coast, I could have flown all the way to England, probably with time to spare.
Which all really sucks because I never used to feel this way about the journey - I used to enjoy getting on the plane and viewed arriving at the airport as the 'beginning' of my vacation. Not so any more. Maintaining a positive attitude througout the travel experience now requires a laser focus on the pay-off.... which on the way home is much harder to do.