Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring 'Break' Travelogue

One week ago Friday I left the freezing rain and wind in Denver for the wind-driven snow of Omaha for a job interview. I was dutiful in arriving at DIA an hour and 45 minutes ahead of my departure time, only to be met by a mass of humanity comprised of two of the larger groups of travelers that still appear to be active even in this economy; spring break and collegiate athletes.

This wasn't the college-age spring breakers headed to Florida or Mexico; these were families with several groups of teens and tweens in tow, who seemed hell-bent on packing their entire wardrobes along with them. This made for an interesting combination with the men's and women's track and field teams from the Air Force Academy.

To make a long line short, myself and my luggage barely made it to the plane in time.

I spent a good portion of the day trying to familiarize myself with Omaha and its surroundings, should anything come of my interview, which seemed to go well. That evening I flew to Pittsburgh to spend some time with Leslie and check on my mother, who fell a couple of weeks ago and sustained a shoulder injury.

Leslie's daughter Michaela was looking well at the beginning of the week; she was talkative and somewhat more energetic than she had been in past visits. We enjoyed some springtime activities to go with the sunny, 60-plus degree weather, playing miniature golf and eating ice cream.

By mid-week, however, both the weather and her disposition had changed. Recurrent bouts of nausea and vomiting had us in the ER at Children's Hospital twice, primarily for IV fluids and anti-vomiting drugs to try to keep Michaela from becoming dehydrated. Near the end of the week, she started receiving these fluids and meds at home.

Michaela is due for a follow-up visit at Children's in Philadelphia, which will hopefully show that the MIBG radiation she had earlier this year is beating back the neuroblastoma that she has fought for over 4 years now. Your prayers and kind thoughts are welcome as always.

I was also at a local hospital with my mother, so that she could have an MRI scan of her injured shoulder. The concern here is identifying a need for surgical intervention, and if none is required how much rest and healing is needed before starting any rehabilitation. Either way, the goal is to preserve as much function of the joint as possible.

My Hometown.

Mom's convalescence was further complicated by some type of flu-like illness toward the end of last week. I made a couple of grocery runs for her, and when I left on Saturday she was starting to feel slightly better. I'm hoping that the trend continues for both her and Michaela, and as I make my way back again soon I'll hopefully be able to see some smiles again firsthand.


I extended my visit by a couple of days, and the clamor of Spring Break reared its ugly head again when trying to plan a return trip. In this context I really can't say enough about Southwest Airlines. Their method of operations, efficiency, and level of customer service really stood out on this trip, and they deserve some props for the way that they conduct themselves in an industry that is largely perceived as an essential but nonetheless unpleasant experience.

At a min
imum, you can change flights and use the same funds you initially paid without penalty. They charge no baggage fees in the majority of circumstances. If you book far enough ahead of time, their fares are hard to beat. One of their customer service reps spent a good 45 minutes on the phone with me trying to connect the dots from Pittsburgh to Denver without extensive layovers. She was patient, efficient, and knew her stuff.

Southwest's gate operations are as efficient as they can possibly make them. They turn an aircraft around and move people better than just about anyone. They do this with a pleasant disposition and even a sense of humor. An example is below, from a few trips ago:
(Upon touchdown) "And believe it or not, that was his first try..Ladies and gentlemen, we at Southwest Airlines would like to be the first to welcome you to Pittsburgh. Please remain seated, with your seat belts fastened, until Captain America brings us to a screeching halt at the gate."
People seem to get this about Southwest, because nearly every seat was full on every flight this time around. Nice job, folks.

Say what you want about the airline industry. Michael Moore made a few good points about that in his latest film. Yeah, I'm trying to find work in this business, and it's not easy. $10 and hour to dispatch planes in Memphis? How about I just flip burgers in GJ or Denver or Pittsburgh for 9?

And yes, it can be an unpleasant to be intruded upon by our security infrastructure and then stuffed into a 500 MPH sardine can. There are ways to deal with this (see Up In The Air - for more than just this reason), and it helps when simple human decency trumps the unpleasantness of the situation.

In fact, just about everyone I interacted with seemed to be quiet, pleasant, patient, and mindful of others, despite some of the circumstances they were encountering.

Well, not quite everyone...

Have a good week ahead.

Addendum, 3/29/10, 4:40 PM: Today's Denver Post featured a story on the Aircraft Dispatcher training program at Jeppesen that I attended last year. It's a great program, and appears to be available without costs for residents of several metro Denver counties. Reading this will give you an idea about the situation many older workers find themselves in.

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