Just took the new(ish) flight from Watertown to Chicago. First, the high points (and it’s almost all high points):
1) Non-stop. No connecting flight. No worries about missing that second leg, etc.
2) Jet service: when you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way. And you go faster, smoother. Air time to Chicago: two hours. Air time back: one hour, 15 minutes.
Propeller planes of any size are loud, slow and rough. But those nightmare 9-seat puddle jumpers from Ogdensburg, Massena and Saranac Lake really test the limits of intestinal fortitude.
After boarding the plane to Chicago, I asked the flight attendant if this would be a bumpy ride. (It should be. You go over Lakes Ontario, Erie and Michigan.) He said he originally thought it would be, but was surprised by the smoothness. I was, too.
No time is a good time for this air route, but winter has to be the worst. Those who fly professionally (like the flight attendant) refer to “air columns,” which is a nice euphemism until the plane you’re on slams into turbulent air and the contents of your stomach look to exit through the in door. And yet, it was fine. No bumps, no bruises, no nauseating dips or dives.
3) Watertown airport: it’s a one-gate terminal and this has advantages, like free parking. Name any other U.S. airport—that offers jet service—that would charge less than $100 for the pleasure of parking for eight days. I didn’t pay a dime.
And another advantage: driving to Watertown means not driving to Syracuse: no snow belt to go through.
4) The American Airlines flight crews: both (there and back again) were professional and personable.
Now, the low points:
1) As any North Country misanthrope will tell you, hell is other people. There is no view of humanity so dim that it can’t be made worse by climbing onto a narrow metal tube where other members of your own species are confounded over which seat is ‘A’ and which isn’t.
Truthfully, this is not rocket science: three seats in each row. Seat ‘A’ is to the right of the aisle. This is, in fact, why there’s a big letter ‘A’ over these seats. Really. Each row. “And there it was, just as plain as dammit,” as Bertie Wooster once said about something even less patently obvious than seat ‘A.’
Seats ‘B’ and ‘C’ are on the left. They’re labeled as such. Yes, on each row. And they’re together, like pain and suffering. And yet, both going to and returning from Chicago, someone was in my ‘A’ seat. I know this is a first-world problem and ordinarily I don’t care about such things. Finding someone in my seat, I usually grab another nearby. But I was told the flight to Watertown would be full. Still, I had no intention of digging in my heels and insisting on any seat in particular—at least not until I heard the response of the woman occupying my ‘A’ seat.
“But where’s seat ‘B?’”
Struck momentarily dumb, I pointed with my thumb. Eventually, I managed to spit out, “It’s right there.”
The light, as it were, seemed to dawn.
“Ohhh… that makes sense,” she said. And then, once she’d folded the prodigiousness of what I’ll charitably describe as her bulk into the faux-leather embrace of Seat ‘B’—next to her traveling companion, who was luxuriating in the veritable Versailles of Seat ‘C’—she said, “Ohhh, this is much better.”
Seriously, the airline provides oxygen for this? It seems a bit much. Still, even in these circumstances and despite such demonstrable merit, they won’t make an example of passengers like this and force them to ride on the roof. It’s a pity, really.
2) The landing in Watertown.
I know a little about powered flight, just enough to be nervous about it. I know the pilot must maintain lift, even while slowing the plane for landing. As you begin the final approach to the airport and leave the light(s) of Watertown behind you, you’re flying somewhere between 500 and 1,000 feet. It feels like your next destination is the crash site. The minute throttle adjustments seem an existential threat, simultaneously loud and discomfiting.
Seeing the runway appear (almost magically) didn’t really make me feel better. We were going very, very fast.
Reverse thrust is one of those 20th-Century inventions that gets almost no mention or recognition. Fans of the thing can now rejoice. The landing in Watertown is a celebration of it. We went from approximately 360 miles an hour to about 40 in a space most North Country residents would consider “shovel-able.” That is to say, less than the length of my driveway.
Most of us will never know what it’s like to land on an aircraft carrier. For us, there’s Watertown.
Eventually, the impression of the seat-tray latch on your forehead will vanish. Give it time.
3) The plow driver at the Watertown airport.
A lot of snow fell during my trip. I knew this because I’m an American and a very small percentage of my taxes goes to NOAA, which packages weather info and makes it available to everyone. Meaning that, even if I didn’t have a smart phone, everyone I know would still tell me all about “all that snow falling on northern New York.”
Bless his heart, the plow driver really wanted me to know how much snow had fallen. So he graciously pushed as much of it as possible against my car. Even though both door and window were shut, a frozen block of snow—about a foot high and six inches thick—was packed inside, between the door and the driver’s seat of my car.
I brushed out as much as possible, but the remnants melting against my leg on the drive home made me recall that age-old maxim: “Ain’t nothin’ free. Not even free parking.”
But these low points weren’t so bad and might be unique to my trip. There are two other tidbits I’d like to mention:
I rented a car at Payless. It was cheap and off the airport, meaning that—once I got into the car—I didn’t have to contend with the dizzying vortex of O’Hare traffic. I reserved an all-wheel drive car and that’s what I got, despite the recent blizzard that passed through the northern Midwest. And here’s the kicker: the shuttle driver (who loaded my bags outside the terminal) got my rental as I signed the paperwork inside. When I walked out the door next to the rental desk, my car was running—with the heat on—and my bags were loaded in the back. I have never said this about a rental-car company and I’m pleasantly amazed to say it now: everyone I dealt with at Payless was wonderful. Really, everyone, and I strongly recommend giving them a try next time you land at O’Hare.
And finally, I flew to Chicago on a dark and foggy Christmas Eve. O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world, offering lots of opportunities to see other planes aloft while you’re in flight. And so it was easy to tap my wife’s shoulder, point out the window at a red blinking light in the distance and say, “Look. There’s Rudolph.”
She smiled and nodded. And she agrees, this flight from Watertown to Chicago is a gift.