Sunday, January 11, 2015

Flight Plan


This past week I discovered that I have a better chance of solving one of the Clay Mathematics Institute unsolved Millennium Prize Problems than booking a flight from California to Philadelphia that costs less than my monthly mortgage payment. Since I can’t even add up my score in a game of cards without assistance from my husband and a calculator, I was contemplating hiring a think tank at Columbia U. to work out my air travel when I remembered that Einstein (or was it Newton?) invented travel agents.

This odyssey began last weekend when I blithely went online to look at ticket prices for the first time. My nephew Ben is having his Bar Mitzvah in Yardley, Pennsylvania in the spring. Ron and I, Yael, and Sudi and his girlfriend are planning to go. My father has taken to referring to the event as “Ben’s B.M.” in his email communications. My brother Dan and I are trying to work out how to make him stop doing this, but so far we have no viable strategy since Mom is no longer living (she had a lot of clout with Dad) and Dad finds this nomenclature infinitely amusing. This means that I spent the better part of the afternoon last Sunday considering the prospect of paying $800 a pop for five tickets to see Ben’s B.M. (Or should I say $800 a poop?)

Usually we fly Southwest Airlines within California as well as back and forth to Chicago to see Ron’s family. But Southwest doesn’t fly into Philadelphia Airport (PHL) or Newark Airport, our two choices for this trip. There are precious few nonstop flights from San Francisco or L.A. (our departure cities) to PHL or Newark; and added to the challenge is the fact that we stopped flying United Airlines in 1995 when they held us captive in an airplane on the tarmac in San Francisco before take-off with three young children for nearly four hours. We never did find out exactly what caused the delay (or why we couldn’t wait out the problem inside the terminal as opposed to sitting in the airplane exactly 16 inches from the door to the terminal, which was locked shut and guarded by Attila the Hun), but I believe to this day that we were part of a covert science experiment conducted by the CIA to determine how long a random cross-section of the population could survive on honey-roasted peanuts. (The answer is approximately 15 minutes before children turn the seat cushions into flotation devices and bash each other with them while business executives get drunk on complimentary drinks and hallucinate that flight attendants are robots wearing signs that say “abuse me.”) With United out of the equation, that leaves few options for direct flights to Newark.

When we flew East a few years ago for Anna’s B.M. (sorry, blame Dad), I suffered a traumatic airline check-in experience. I was attempting to check in to a U.S. Airways flight online the day before our departure from Philly when I arrived at a screen that asked for payment for our bags. This was a surprise to me since we usually fly Southwest and they have no bag fees. In my haste to rush through my friend Janine’s house to find my wallet that contained my credit card (to pay the bag fee before the screen timed out), I took a wrong turn and fell fully clothed into Janine’s hot tub with my wallet in my hand. (Janine has a hot tub in her living room and the lights were off.) When I surfaced, Ron stood at the edge of the tub with his camera. “If you take that picture, I will divorce you,” I said. He did not take the picture, we are still married, but I continue to suffer post-traumatic stress over bag fees; even though I did successfully dry out all the pictures in my wallet. (But my dress shrunk in the dryer and had to be given away.) Janine subsequently bought a cover for the hot tub. Needless to say, this would never have occurred had we been flying on Southwest, which has no bag fees.

My brother Dan went online to look at airplane tickets last weekend as well. He came up with a proposal, which he emailed to me. I think he was trying to help out because he felt guilty for claiming that I mailed his children nothing but seaweed for Hanukkah in his holiday letter, when he knows perfectly well that this is a far stretch of the truth. He sent me an impressively complex email suggesting that if I were to sign up for a U.S. Airways credit card then I could purchase a ticket to PHL for $850 for a flight out of SFO that would stop in Phoenix on the way and I could get a spare ticket for $120 to use for another flight to PHL another time plus some bonus points (woo-hoo, bonus points!, wait, what are bonus points? are they edible?) and a free flight to Flint, Michigan in February 2016 as long as I boarded the flight in Zone 2 of the departure airport. The catch was that I had to fly on Thursday instead of Monday, which was unfortunate since I have plans for things I want to do on the East Coast on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But I would also get 50,000 bonus miles (not to be confused with bonus points), although I’m not sure what to do with those. Maybe I can use them on the space shuttle. How far away is the moon? (I’ll have to check that out on googlemaps.) Since Ben is my brother’s youngest child, I assume there are no more B.M.s to view after this one (I really miss my mother), so I would not be making this trip again in time to use the bonus miles on another B.M. before they expire. Unless they are infinite. That is a brainteaser I do not care to contemplate. I have always had trouble with the concept of infinity. I mean, what about infinity plus one? Frankly, I am suspicious that Dan’s email was not actually flight information but rather the proof for one of the Clay Mathematics Institute unsolved problems. My brother is, after all, a rocket scientist with a graduate degree in aerospace engineering. (You would think that someone with those credentials could recognize the difference between excellent dark chocolate and seaweed. But no.)

I emailed Dan back and begged him not to spend any more time searching for tickets for us as I had, by that time, realized that I needed to employ a travel agent. I suggested that he stop channeling Mom, who was the biggest problem-solver of them all, and asked him if I was correct in inferring from his email that he and his wife had moved Ben’s B.M. to Phoenix. I could handle Phoenix since Southwest flies nonstop to Phoenix, doesn’t charge bag fees (so I would not be at risk of falling in any hot tubs), and tickets are much more reasonable. Dan responded that the B.M. would be in Phoenix but the reception would be in Yardley. I was pondering the option of skipping the reception altogether to save on airfare, but what good is the B.M. without eating lunch afterward? Then I realized he was just joking.

On Thursday, my brilliant travel agent booked all of us on Virgin Airlines, got us tickets for under $400 each, didn’t require us to get any new credit cards, secured nonstop flights to Newark, rescued us from bonus points, and solved several Clay Mathematics Institute unsolved problems for 2015. This goes to show that it pays to hire a professional. We are looking forward to the trip and expect Ben to execute the B.M. efficiently. Ron says he is excited to be flying Virgin because it will be his first time.

I am using this photo for this blog post because there is, mercifully,
 no picture of me in the hot tub with my dripping wallet.
I also could not find a photo of infinity.

P.S. I have no idea why there is a white background on this week's blog post. Perhaps Blogspot automatically puts all blog posts with the word "virgin" in them against a white background.

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