Ups and downs of flying during the pandemic surge
September 1, 2021 | View PDF
I am sitting in the Juneau "International" Airport waiting for the milk run from Juneau to Sitka to Ketchikan to Seattle, when an Alaska Airlines agent announces that, due to fog, our flight's captain has missed his initial approach and doesn't know if he has enough fuel to try another.
I have never heard of this - have you?
And when it is broadcast the plane will not land and rebooking will be necessary, we travel-savvy Alaskans make like a thundering herd of caribou for downstairs and the ticket agents as our luggage begin their death circle round the carousel.
I am in line when I realize that perhaps I need my bags in hand and ask the woman behind me to save my space and run over and grab them. On my return, I save hers.
While she is gone, the woman behind us begins to move into her space.
Why do people think that crawling up the backside of people in front of them will make a line move faster? And in this time of COVID, what does six feet mean to you?
I remind her that another person is coming back and she insists she will move. But because she has moved up, others behind her have too, making her promise an impossibility. I tell her she is being rude. She seemed surprised at this.
As I age, I find I deal with situational turmoil better than with people and their lack of manners. Since I flew to Alaska in February, I have been decompressing in Tenakee Springs, recovering from the pandemic time back East where it was a daily battle to deal with people who would not adhere to medical advice on how to prevent contracting or transmitting COVID-19.
In this line, I remained in control of my emotions because seeing my son and his family for the first time since October 2019, due to the pandemic, would actually happen - although delayed for six hours.
The ticket agent was kind and professional and rebooking was not as onerous as I thought. Instead of arriving at midnight in Chicago it would be 6 a.m.
The time is no more when you could simply take your wild fish or game and freeze it, either shrink-wrapped or in plastic film, wrap it in newspaper, roll it in your clothes, and pack it in your suitcase for a trip Outside to share Alaska's bounty with friends and relatives.
Now it must be in an airtight container with dry ice (no ice cubes) and each species identified on a provided sticker with the weight of the item noted.
I had my sockeye filets, smoked sockeye tail, Dungeness crab claws, salmonberries, blueberries, nagoonberries, thimbleberries, and red chili berries frozen in Ziplock bags, wrapped in an emergency reflective blanket, inside a plastic garbage bag, in an insulated shopping bag, in a rolling soft-sided cooler I bought on sale at Fred Meyer's.
It passed inspection, but that was on rebooking. When I first brought my baggage to the Juneau airport, the agent at that time asked if there was frozen food in the cooler but did not ask me to fill out a sticker. So it seems oversight is uneven at times, but follow the rules because you don't want to arrive empty handed after it's been confiscated.
On to Anchorage
Instead of my original route, I was rebooked through Anchorage with a quick one-hour turnaround and out on another plane to Seattle, where I found myself sitting between two men from Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow, although Alaska Airlines still refers to it as Barrow). I heard one call the other "Price," and having lived there I turned to him and asked if he was Price Brower and with that quick wit I learned to love and laugh with when living there, he replied "I have been called that."
That's the thing about traveling in the state, you always run into someone you know, or someone who knows someone you know. It's a big state with a small population.
On approach to Seattle, I heard stewardesses say that two people refused to wear their masks. If they had at the beginning of the flight, they would have been denied boarding, and they knew that.
An itinerary change has its rewards
I was surprised when I looked at my boarding pass to see the leg from Seattle to Chicago was in first class, and in seat 1A to boot. I was the second person to board, but soon fell asleep so if there were any perks, I missed them. Still, it was nice to have a bathroom nearby visited by less people, if you know what I mean.
I usually fall asleep before the plane leaves the ground because I am relieved of any responsibilities, have nowhere I have to go because I can't go anywhere, and I'm not driving.
I don't find flying as relaxing or as entertaining as riding the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries, which have all the comforts - good food, interesting fellow travelers, sometimes a movie or a talk by a National Park Service naturalist, and great scenery and wildlife viewing.
Plus, you can get away from snoring people, unlike now on this flight where the male steward is snoring like a bear on the other side of the divider.
I have two more hours to go before landing and seeing my son, daughter-in-law and precious four-year-old granddaughter again, and also seeing if everything arrived still frozen.
(Everything was more frozen than thawed and easily refrozen.)
Arriving right on time
Because I was rebooked, my flights were all on Alaska Airlines so I got all those miles added to my mileage plan, because Delta is no longer a mileage partner.
I sprinted to baggage claim and retrieved one bag, but the carousel did not spit out my big bag. I asked and it was tracked down within 10 minutes.
Low fuel not unusual
Out of curiosity I emailed Tim Thompson in the Alaska Airlines public affairs office about the pilot coming into Juneau with low fuel.
"Not unusual at all," Thompson emailed. "As you know, South East (sic) is no stranger to bad weather, summer or winter. First, let me add that safety is our first priority, and our pilots are the best at flying in the Alaska environment.
"We are usually able to make most landings (and takeoffs) into Juneau with our RNP (Required System Navigation) system. We have several different approach patterns we can use that are specific for Alaska Airlines aircraft and allow for safe operations. It appears in this case, the minimums for a safe approach were too low. Looking back at the history of this flight, it looks like they made two attempts for Juneau before moving on. It appears they did a flyover of Sitka (next destination) and proceeded to Ketchikan. Our aircraft always carry enough fuel to make a few approaches but at some point, the captain will make the decision (based on current weather patterns) to move to the next stop or a divert airport."