Mark (mhaithaca) wrote,

Pleasant surprises in the air

I almost always fly US Airways. It's partly out of habit, partly because they mostly go where I want to, and partly because the options have been limited in Ithaca until the last couple of years. Consolidating frequent flier miles in one place is also a good habit. If I've flown other airlines, it's almost always been because I'm flying from somewhere else (such as when seity1 and I went to Scotland on IcelandAir, or when I go on trips with my parents, leaving from NYC).

This spring's trip to and from Israel was on Continental, so I figured doing a little more travel on Continental could go a long way toward my miles in their program. That's one of the reasons I booked my flights to and from Oklahoma this weekend on two different airlines... Delta out and Continental back.

The first pleasant surprise was checking in at the airport on Thursday for my Delta flights. The ticket agent was standing in front of the counter, not behind it, and didn't insist in a surly manner that I needed to use the self-service kiosk myself before she'd help me. She tapped my name into the kiosk, told me I could pop my suitcase (already paid for) on the luggage-check platform, and happily set me up with an aisle seat for my second, longer flight. After her colleague behind the counter put the routing sticker on my suitcase handle, he didn't hand it back to me and make me take it over to the TSA desk; he told me I was all set.

I ended up giving up my aisle seat on the first flight to a newlywed couple who wanted to sit together en route to Detroit. I figured I could manage for the short ITH-DTW leg, and it meant I got a couple of good photos out the window. The two-leg trip, on a pair of Canadair CRJs rather than what I'm more accustomed to, a commuter plane followed by a full-size plane, was uneventful. (Those CRJs don't have a lot of amenities, but they're fast.)

The trip back yesterday on Continental was fine, though I was reminded that I don't miss the cramped Embraer ERJs that US Airways used extensively out of Ithaca for a while, and I really felt rushed in the massive Houston airport. In fact, I had just enough time to take the monorail thingy from one terminal to the other, go to the men's room, and pick up a sandwich to go at Pappas BBQ, getting to the gate to find they were already boarding. Even though my first flight was early, the 55-minute layover clearly was just barely enough. I wolfed down most of my sandwich and a little of the cole slaw, then tossed the rest and got on board while there was still a little room in the overhead bins.

Continental's pleasant surprise was on that second flight, the Houston to Newark leg. When the flight attendants came through the cabin, they handed out not just free soft drinks, but free food! It wasn't what the average traveler might call a "meal," but it was a hot dog (really, a turkey dog) wrapped in crescent dough, kind of like oversized pigs-in-a-blanket, two packets of baby carrots, a mini Twix bar, and a bag of potato chips. I didn't really need to eat again so soon, but it was nice to see complimentary food on a relatively short (about four hours) flight.

I'd scored the front-row aisle seat for my third and final flight, EWR-ITH, but when the flight attendant asked for volunteers to move from the front three rows to the back two, I decided I could survive back there for yet another short flight. At least I still got an aisle, even if I didn't have enough legroom.

The last big surprise of the trip was that there's a Grand Central Oyster Bar in Terminal C at Newark Airport! It's so new it's not on the directories yet, but having followed a Twitter friend's advice last week to download the GateGuru app for my iPhone, I saw it listed among the eateries in there. (That reminds me, I need to put in a review.) Not fast-food prices, certainly, but it felt affordable for a couple of raw oysters, a fried oyster po'boy, and a beer. (Some of their entrees are quite expensive.) Give it a try next time you fly through EWR. I'm very familiar with the eateries in the Philadelphia airport, and a little less so at LaGuardia, so getting out of my comfort zone by needing to eat in new airports was both a challenge and a treat.

I'm not expecting to get to preferred status on any airlines again anytime soon, since I just haven't been doing enough flying (I know, it doesn't sound that way), but it's nice to know I do have a few options flying out of Ithaca these days.

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