Travel is hard enough under any circumstances, but winter presents a certain seasonal challenge that adds to the mix. As I watched while my flight boarded this morning, I began to consider the pros and cons. Here is my basic list:
You get to where you need to go. Weil, usually you do. One of my sons had to go back to New York from Chicago last week. He had a direct flight. It left two days late, then went to Columbus, where he was told he would be held there for two more days. Being determined and creative (two very helpful attributes for winter travel), he managed to change his flight to go into Washington, then up to Boston. He arrived very, very late and met is girlfriend who drove him to NY the next morning. Score one for the girlfriend.
Where to start? This is a partial list, to say the least. As mentioned above, the predictability of your travel goes down so if you really need to be some place, you might want to go early. Next, it's really crowded. Really really crowded. Especially in early January, where every says "Now I really have to get back to work" and are determined to make that trip they have been putting off.
What stands out the most, though, is the shortage of space and what reveals about people. The shortage of space is a huge con, but the people aspect is a pro and a con. It can be inspiring ad depressing all at once. If you board a flight early (usually a function of status on the airline) and just really watch people board the flight, it can be a terribly interesting study in humanity. Just this morning I saw everything from the kindness of the person helping another with their heavy bag into the overhead storage, to the patience of the woman waiting behind the guy who is holding up the flow while he gets out his laptop, glasses, and pens from his briefcase, then reassembles his briefcase before getting it and his suit jacket and overcoat into the overhead, being sure to fold it just perfectly first. Do you think it occurs to this guy that he is holding up 87 people while he takes his time? Apparently not. It clearly also doesn't occur to him that within two minutes, his meticulously folded suit coat will be removed and replaced several times, each time getting crammed more than the last. He tops off this performance by now awkwardly trying to play the courteous role (ill-fitting) by letting the patient woman by him before sitting down. To let her by, be backs (literally) into another woman sitting in front of me, who is not impressed one bit that this guy's ass is in her face. What planet is he from?
Then comes the iPod listening guy who seems to have whacking people in the face with his nylon trade show logo computer bag down to an art form. This is both sad and hilarious to watch. He is also carrying a roll-aboard bag that he will almost certainly now have to gate check, but doesn't know that yet. His computer bag over his shoulder. As he makes his way down the isle, he seems to tack back and forth like a sailboat, all the while looking from side to side, as if there is something spectacular he might miss if he fails to do this, and with each shift, his computer bag is hitting someone's shoulder or face. Nobody seems amused by this but surprisingly, nobody is calling him out on it, either. A few people actually notice and dodge the bag before the blow.
Then there are the overheads themselves. In winter, these pose something akin to an onboard IQ test that people take and fail in very public ways. The biggest offenders are the ones with overstuffed bags. This morning it is a very disheveled guy who appears to be returning from holiday. He pushes and pushes thinking that despite the fact that nothing is budging, that one last push will no longer present the barrier that has been there for the first 13 attempts. When finally forced to gate check the bag, he announces (for pretty much everyone to hear) "well it fit into United". Right. Perhaps it did. But since their overhead bins that accommodate roll-aboards are the same size as the similar ones on this American flight, perhaps it if because this time his bag had heavy ski apparel, extra boots, and Christmas presents he was bringing home, and last time it had a swimsuit and people magazine.
My advice. Three things. First don't travel in the winter unless you have to. Second, if you do, go someplace out of the way where the flight won't be crowded like Topeka or Birmingham. It doesn't matter that you need to go to New York and not Birmingham, the New York flight will be awful and the Birmingham will be better. Well, better, except that when you land you will be in Birmingham. Third, travel at off times, like on a Tuesday a one thirty. That may not be convenient, but at this point you are really just trading one inconvenience for another, right?
If all else fails, go where you go, when you need to go, board early, pack as light as possible, and enjoy the show.