Monday, December 6, 2010

From First Class to Commoner

My husband and I flew to Orlando, Florida a couple of weeks ago. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to first class, thanks to my husband’s extensive traveling. We arrived at the airport early and spent the first hour in the airline club. It was holiday time and few business people were traveling. There were some couples like us, dressed casually and either on vacation or visiting family. It was quiet, almost a hushed atmosphere. There were plush seats, nice coffee and end tables, magazines and newspapers, a wet bar and snack bar.
We walked to the gate a few minutes before boarding time. Usually first class passengers board first. The announcer allowed those traveling with children under the age of five to board immediately. That was half the plane. A long line of strollers, kids, parents lugging kids and all kinds of accessories – blankets, toys, dolls, babies, food - paraded out of the terminal and onto the plane.
Everyone settled in quickly, and we were off. The airport was not crowded. Our plane was full (the reason we were upgraded), but in general it was a quiet travel period.
First class was nice, but not what it used to be. There were two seats across instead of three. That was the main advantage of our first class experience. Our ever-expanding butts can use all the extra space. There is a table between the two seats large enough for drinks and papers. And there was plenty of leg room. We did not get any special food or drinks; blame it on austerity measures on the part of the airlines.
The flight was, thankfully, uneventful. I was surprised how quiet and relaxed the flight went, despite all the kids and babies. I envisioned crying kids for three hours. We were lucky.
Arriving at the airport, we immediately turned into commoners. We had decided to take the public bus to our hotel. OK, we are cheap. Rather than splurge on a $50 or $60 taxi ride, I discovered a city bus went right by our hotel. It sounded easy enough when planning the trip in the comfort of our home.
It took a very long walk around two levels of the airport before locating the appropriate bus stop. We found Disney buses, tour buses, private limousines, and taxis; just one small section of the transportation area was reserved for three or four public buses. We finally found the area, and asked a bus driver when our bus would come. Well, there were complications. It was raining, there were traffic jams, and the bus was delayed. It was Black Friday. The driver told us to take another bus which had just pulled into the terminal and transfer.
We piled on the bus with our suitcases and back packs. About twenty minutes later, after a short stint on the highway, down busy city streets, and a longer detour through a mall (we just couldn’t avoid a mall on Black Friday), the driver said get out – this is where we transfer. It was now close to 6:00 p.m., getting dark, and we were tired. I attempted to converse with the one woman waiting for a bus. She only spoke Spanish.  She told us she had been waiting about five minutes, the bus came every half hour, and she wasn’t sure when it would come. At least I think that is what she said. I really have to practice my Spanish.
We waited a few minutes. No bus came. We looked at each other and said – enough. We were on a main road with a couple of hotels and stores around us. When we saw a taxi we stepped onto the road and tried to hail the cab. The third cab pulled over. We piled in, gave him the address, and in five minutes arrived at our hotel. The taxi ride cost $10. The bus had been about $2.00 each.
I doubt most people will make such a circuitous trip to their vacation destination, in Orlando or anywhere else. I must confess, however, that we are bus people, commoners. We are used to figuring out public transportation systems in various cities, and some countries. In one Latin American country we were warned not to use the public buses. They were in poor shape, packed with people standing and hanging out of the buses, broke down often, and had a lot of accidents. We might be adventurous, but we try not to be stupid.