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I travel a lot. I’m not a particularly high maintenance traveller as I can sleep from wheels up to wheels down on most flights. When I fly west to east I usually fly at night; east to west I usually fly early in the morning (much to the chagrin of my partners who don’t enjoy getting up at 4:15am to go to the airport quite as much as I do.)
I’m running a marathon on Sunday in Newport, Rhode Island and decided I didn’t want to take a redeye from San Francisco to Boston three days before the marathon. As a result, I’m flying “all day” – leaving SFO at 9am and getting in to Boston around 6pm.
I often fly Virgin America from SFO or LAX to BOS or NY. It’s unambiguously the most comfortable cross country flight and I always feel a little hipper when I’m chilling out in a plane in white seats with purple mood lights. But that’s just the feel good bonus. Here’s how this morning is playing out.
I show up at Virgin and notice that they have a Chromebook kiosk. Neat – there’s a bunch of computers that are connected that anyone can use while waiting for the flight. Then I realize they are giving away free Chromebooks to use on the flight. You only get to use them during the flight, but they are free and include a free WiFi connection. Double neat. Then I sit down, open up my MacBook, and immediately see my Skype WiFi app pop up and tell me I can connect to WiFi for $0.10 / minute. Since I don’t have a Boingo subscription, and there’s not any other obvious free WiFi right here, I just click yes. Oh – and there’s a nice desk area and power.
I have a five hour flight where I expect to get a solid four hours or so of online time. A decade ago, even though everyone was talking about “wireless networking on airplanes”, it didn’t really work. Today, I’m online without much effort for as much time as I want.
Virgin makes this experience seamless. When I think about my United trips, I just cringe. No WiFi on the plane, generally crummy gate setups with no power, and a very predictable “sorry – we have a maintenance problem that we are looking into.” It’s actually kind of enjoyable to be spending the day on Virgin America flying across the country.
I’ve felt unsettled since we landed in DC on Saturday. During my run this afternoon on the Washington Mall, I decided to attribute some of it to the redeye I took from Seattle mid-week and some of it to Washington DC itself.
Let’s start with the redeye. I’m 43. When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, I regularly took redeye’s (often as frequently as once a week). Five hours of sleep on the plane due to my superpower of being able to sleep from wheels up to wheels down, a quick shower, an extra long toothbrushing session, and I was good for a full day. Wednesday night I took JetBlue from Seattle to Boston. Five solid hours of sleep followed by a ride to my hotel. I brushed my teeth and then crawled into bed at 8am for a little more sleep. I woke up at 1pm, had a meeting, and then went back to sleep until 5pm. After dinner I went to sleep around 10 and slept until 7. I felt like shit when I woke up, had a full day, and crashed again at 10pm Friday night. It’s Sunday and I finally don’t feel tired. Yesterday, I sent my assistant Kelly a note that said “Don’t ever let me fly on a redeye again.”
Yesterday was a pretty day in DC – a little cold, but sunny. Today has been beautiful – in the 60s and sunny. Amy and I are here mostly to go to the Supreme Court tomorrow and hear the oral arguments on re Bilski. Yesterday was a mellow walk around day with dinner with college friends at Vidalia (mildly ironic since I’m allergic to onions). Today, we went to the National Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History – if you are in DC and you are an art lover you should absolutely make time to see the Meyerhoff Collection – it is amazing. We also got lucky and saw Leo Villareal’s Multiverse light sculpture before it was removed. All I remember from the National Museum of Natural History is the passel of children and the dinosaurs.
Now for the other half of what is making me unsettled. As I ran on the Washington Mall I had chunks of time with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Both invoke deep American pride – I find that the best description of the emotion I felt while taking a short break from my run and staring up at Abe Lincoln. However, something just felt wrong. DC feels too busy, the restaurants are too full, there is too much traffic, and just too much stuff. I remembered thinking about the office buildings between Dulles Airport and DC – virtually all of them were filled with companies that generate massive amounts of money from the federal government. Several of the buildings undergoing renovation (such as the Hoover Building) had big pictures of Barak Obama on the signs talking about the scope of the renovations. I started comparing DC to several of the other capital cities, such as London and Paris, and realized that DC is all about the business of government, whereas the other capitals that I’m familiar with are much broader in scope.
Between the damage I did to myself with the redeye and my sense of being overwhelmed by “the business of government”, I think I need to go hide in the mountains for a few days.
At dinner tonight we started telling miserable airplane travel stories. Everyone has a least one (or 7,321) so it’s fun to hear some of the really abysmal ones, especially the night before I head to the airport to catch an early morning flight.
We were also talking about various philosophies of life and how to deal with difficult stuff. After a while the conversation circled back to air travel. And then I heard the best line of the night.
“When I travel I pretend I’m luggage. From the moment I set foot in the airport, my expectation is that I’ll be treated no better than my luggage gets treated. As a result, my expectations are so low that any little bit of happiness and politeness brings me great pleasure.”
I laughed out loud. It was said with a sardonic grin, so the backdrop was framed appropriately. There was a quiet pause after my laughter. And then I pondered it – and thought how incredibly right this approach was.
Rather than bitch endlessly about the misery of our air travel experiences, let’s all spend November pretending we are luggage. The only goal of the plane is to get us from point A to point B. I guess there are circumstances where this won’t happen, but in most cases we’ll eventually get there. Time doesn’t really matter to a piece of luggage, nor does comfort. Politeness? I’ve shoved many a piece of luggage into a space that it didn’t fit without even saying “excuse me.” Oh – and I’ve put my smelly feet on my luggage many, many times.
In addition to pretending I’m luggage, I’m also going to make sure I use my super power on every plane flight this month. Luggage is very good at sleeping on planes, as am I. Luggage sleepers unite.
See you at the airport.
I had a great flight home from LA on Southwest Airlines on Friday. My boycott on United has been going pretty well, but Amy and I are flying on it tomorrow to New York as it seems to be the only reasonable way to get from Denver to New York. I’m pessimistic. Plus I have a nasty cold so that’ll just make it more enjoyable.
But – I digress. When I got off the plane I went to the bathroom. As I lined up in my little stall next to 10 of my newest friends, I noticed that five of them had either iPhone’s or BlackBerry’s out and were typing as they went about their business. Now – I’ll admit to doing this occasionally, but in this particular case I was kind of stunned by the density of the juxtaposition of peeing and smartphones.
It dawned on me that while most were probably checking their email (it’s really super urgent you know), a few might be tweeting their location – or – better yet – checking in with Foursquare (“DIA Terminal C Men’s Bathroom”). Yeah – that sounds kind of weird. I’m betting there isn’t an app for that. Yet.
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I am so totally, utterly, and completely sick of air travel. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve had to put up with me whining for the past week on my Denver to Seattle to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Denver travel fiasco (hint: not a single plane was on time.) I hurt my back playing tennis ten days ago so the extra stimuli of lower back pain made the experience extra-special enjoyable.
I fly a lot – mostly on United (for the compulsively curious, take a look at my Daytum page which lists all my travel from the beginning on 2009.) I usually refer to it as Untied. I’ve decided to start referring to it as United-Sucks.
As I sit in the San Francisco Red Carpet Club waiting for yet another three hour delayed flight (sorry – the airplane broke – but guess what – we found another one – just wait a while), I decided I’m not going to travel by air at all in August. I’m just worn out, cranky, and not doing anyone (especially my twitter followers) any favors by adding insult to injury.
Let’s see if a month of no air travel fixes my very bad attitude.