Monday, May 27, 2013

The flight home... seat recliners, carry on space hogs, the Beagle Brigade and the TSA...

StarGroup Taxi Services picked us up promptly at 8:30am.  I had been a little nervous about the timing, since the cab driver who had taken us to the hotel mentioned that Athens has a lot of traffic in the morning.  Having once lived in the DC and Atlanta areas, my husband and I have seen some serious traffic snarls.  We wondered if three hours was enough time, since we had no idea what Athens' traffic really looks like.  We asked the hotel clerk about it and she said we wouldn't have a problem making it on time for our 11:25am flight if we left at 8:30am.  She added with a smile that we'd even have time for coffee.

I want to reiterate that StarGroup Taxi Services did a great job.  I would definitely recommend them to anyone who needs a taxi in Athens.  Our driver even fetched a luggage trolley for us and loaded our bags onto it.

We dropped off our bags at US Airways, then set about finding our gate.  Security wasn't difficult at all in Athens, though we did have to go through additional screening at the gate because we were headed to America.  I wasn't looking forward to the flight, since it was scheduled to be about eleven hours.  I haven't been to eastern Asia, so that was the longest non-stop flight I've ever taken in my life.  When I was booking the flight, I gave thought to using a different airline and breaking it up, possibly staying overnight in Paris or Amsterdam.  But in the end, US Airways offered the best prices and the most direct route home.  Besides, if I'm going to spend the night in a European city, I want to actually be able to see it.

Our flight was slightly delayed, but it turned out the headwinds were favorable, which meant we might shave a little time off the total flying time anyway.  I was glad for that.  Like many people, I find flying to be a pretty miserable experience these days.  From the terrible food to the cramped seats to the fact that a lot of folks just don't care about anyone but themselves, long haul flights on most carriers are the pits, especially if you're flying in coach.  As it turned out, our flight wasn't completely full.  A couple of people even got the entire middle rows to themselves.  There was no such luck for Bill and me, though.  As we made our way to seats 20A and 20B, we found some guy already sitting there.

"Excuse me, you're in my seat." I said.

The guy looked at his ticket and realized he had overshot his seat, which was 19B.  He moved, but then as Bill was trying to stow our carry on baggage, he decided to get involved.  He said, "I want to make sure there's enough room for my wife's bags."  Obviously, the fact that Bill also has a wife with one carry on bag was irrelevant to him.  Fortunately, since the flight wasn't totally packed, we found space in the bin across the aisle.  When Bill and I fly, we often don't bring on carry on bags, mainly because as a servicemember, he can often check bags for free.  But on long haul flights, I like to have a bag with me, just in case something happens with the checked luggage.


Flying out of Greece...

The guy's wife turned out to be a very slim and pretty blonde I noticed at the gate.  She looked like she was quite a bit younger than he was.  Later, we heard them say they had just gotten married.  As soon as the plane was in the air, they both reclined their seats as far back as they could and stayed that way until we landed in Philadelphia.  In fact, when the announcement was made that people needed to return their seats to the upright position, these two had to be reminded personally.  I also noticed that the guy gave me a dirty look when I sneezed or coughed.  It's not like I could help it.



I know the issue of seat reclining is controversial.  Personally, I'm in the camp that is against it in coach, because it really does take space away from the people sitting behind you.  I never recline my seat, even on long haul flights, because I don't find that it makes me that much more comfortable and I empathize with the people who have to sit behind me.  At the same time, I know that some people are more comfortable when they can recline.  I think that's okay, as long as people are considerate about it.  I have short legs, so the leg space isn't usually a huge issue, but reclining does make it hard to use the tray table or stand up to go to the bathroom.  I find that a lot of times, if you have to steady yourself by grabbing on to the seat in front of you as you're standing up, some seat recliners get a bit pissy.  In any case, while I realize that the seats recline and people have the "right" to recline if they want to, I also think it's very inconsiderate to recline all the way for the whole flight, especially when people are trying to eat.  I ended up with a really nasty charley horse at one point that took several minutes minutes to abate thanks to these two.  By the time we landed, I was feeling pretty agitated.  It's amazing how quickly my own sense of decency can erode when people are very inconsiderate to me.




I was so excited ten hours later when I spotted land below...

Once we landed in Philly, we quickly got through passport control and customs with no issues.  While we were waiting to pick up our bags, the Beagle Brigade came through to check peoples' luggage for agricultural products.  Since Bill and I rescue beagles and didn't have any contraband produce, we welcomed the sight of the adorable little hound doing her job.  It so happened the lady standing next to us had packed an apple in her bag.  The beagle made a beeline for her bag and sniffed it thoroughly, then sat down.  She looked up at the woman as if to say, "Sorry, you're busted!"  The dog's handler was very pleasant and professional, unlike the jerky TSA agent I later encountered on yet another security check.

Bill and I were in line, waiting to go through security again.  It was very hot, and I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and cranky.  I don't remember saying anything that inflammatory.  I was just exhausted and generally crabby and probably looked pissed off.  Next thing I know, a TSA agent snapped, "Are you okay, Ma'am?"  His tone struck me as rather belligerent.  I shot back that I needed a drink... then clarified that I wanted lemonade, ice water, or chocolate milk.  I wasn't about to get into trouble for being drunk when I hadn't had a drop to drink.  ;-)

Frankly, that TSA agent really annoyed me.  I know the TSA is supposed to be about keeping things secure, but there's no need to deliberately screw with people, especially when they're jet lagged.  Air travel is undignified enough without hostile TSA agents harassing travelers and provoking them to respond angrily.  The experience was unpleasant enough to make me wonder if I really wanted to endure air travel again anytime soon.  Sadly, we do have to fly to Texas soon to find our next home.

After we cleared security, we stopped by Vino Volo.  Vino Volo is a wine tasting bar.  Back in June 2011, Bill and I spent a very nice hour in one at the otherwise unpleasant Newark Airport.  The one we visited in Philly was just a kiosk and not nearly as nice.  I ordered a sandwich that was supposed to have melted Brie on it.  The Brie was cold, so I gave it to Bill.  We did enjoy tasting a few wines and even met a really nice lady from Texas who gave us some tips on where to look for our next home when we move in a few weeks.

The flight to RDU was very full, but it was only an hour.  I fell asleep at some point after takeoff.  Bill woke me up for a cup of water.  That probably wasn't the smartest thing to do!  We got home at about 9:30 or so...  I was very irritated, but glad the travel day was finally over.  We are considering going to Ireland on our next trip, but maybe it would be smarter to stay stateside and go somewhere we can drive to... or maybe just book a transatlantic cruise!  I've been wanting to do that anyway.


Even the beautiful views from above makes me hesitate to book another long haul flight...

Virgin America Airlines and Method came up with a handy video to remind people about courtesy...

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