Minnesota in February


No one in their right mind goes to Minnesota in February, unless they have to. But I did. My oldest sister Florence is terminally ill and I wanted to have a chance to say goodbye.

You know you're on the way to Minnesota when the returning snowbird who sits next to you on the flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis actually reads the safety brochure and actually cranes her head around searching for the nearest emergency exit. Minnesotans respect authority, and if an authoritative voice says to read the booklet, they read the booklet and point out those emergency exits to their traveling companions. This isn't a bad thing, of course, but it is an unusual degree of compliance, even in these days of terror all day, every day.

Byetta syringe

This would be my first air trip since starting a new med, Byetta, that comes in a syringe that must be kept cold at all times, but never frozen. The advice I found on the internet was to pack it in a ziplock bag with ice, in turn wrapped in bubble wrap. Ordinary freezable gel packs, it was said, might be too cold and freeze the Byetta, rendering it useless. I ran a test the day before to check the efficacy of the ice-packed-in-bubble wrap method and found that after six hours only about half the ice had melted. In anticipation of a hassle at the airport because of the no-gels, no-liquids rules, I printed off the page from the TSA website saying that ice and gels for medical needs was approved.

Imagine my surprise when not an eyebrow was raised! All the frenzy about gels and liquids that had been in evidence in the Fall was notably absent, so much so that people were, in fact, bringing bottles of water and cups of coffee onto the planes. So much for the latest terror crise du jour.

arrival scene

Arriving at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport (MSP) I was disconcerted to see the ramp crew bundled up with protective face masks, dancing a jig and slapping their arms to ward off the cold. What have I gotten myself into?

plugged in

I picked up a rental car and headed south. It was a bit nippy out, but it could have been worse. A lot worse. The sight of extension cords and plugged-in vehicles in the parking lot reminded me of that. As if I needed any reminding.

I did have a nice visit with Sis and the various children taking turns at 24/7 care. I looked in on brother-in-law Carl, AKA "Bionic Man," recovering from his latest surgery. Brother Harold has new digs in a very nice assisted-living facility, and with any luck at all, he'll never notice that his car has been taken away. Sister Ethel is still bustling about with astonishing energy for someone past the age of four-score.

The return trip was a replay of the US Airways fiasco during our trip to New York. I checked in very early to allow time for a leisurely dinner before a 9:30pm departure, and was told at check-in that the flight would be delayed until 10:05pm. At the gate, however, they waited until boarding had actually begun to announce that those making connections in Las Vegas would miss them and should therefore not get on the plane until they were rebooked! And by the way, if you decide to go as far as Las Vegas, there are no hotels there. Confusion and anger burst forth as desperate travelers besieged the podium.

It was insane. The people wanting to go to San Francisco were told they couldn't go, even though the same plane would go on from Las Vegas to Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco, a short BART ride away. I stood in line for a couple of minutes, but decided to get on the plane anyway. "I'm connecting in Las Vegas, but I'll take my chances there," I said.

Once underway, the pilots made up time, and we arrived in Las Vegas just a few minutes after the scheduled arrival time. We emerged from the gate to find that the connecting flights we would supposedly miss had not even begun boarding yet! There was the flight to Palm Springs. There was the plane to San Francisco. There were they all.

What a terrific example of how not to run an airline. Instead of consulting with the flight crew to find out what ETA they expected; instead of simply warning passengers about the possibility of missed connections and assuring them of best-efforts to get them to their destinations ASAP; instead of using the half-hour delay to do the rebooking they thought they would have to do — US Airlines chose to fix something that wasn't yet broken, angering and alienating passengers (i.e. paying customers) unnecessarily.

It ain't rocket science, folks! Meanwhile at JFK airport in New York, Jet Blue let some passengers sit for over six hours in planes on the tarmac waiting to deplane. American Airlines did the same in Dallas a while ago. You can't tell me that bright people couldn't have found a way to get those passengers off the plane and into the terminal, if they had wanted to. Airline to passengers: "We don't give a damn!"

I didn't take many photographs this trip, but the few I did take are in a slideshow (see sidebar).