I don't think they are going to kill me. But I do believe that there is a vast two-wing conspiracy to do everything possible to disrupt my plans to travel anywhere by air.
Let's just ponder for a few moments the ways that airlines can screw up your travel plans.
- They can cancel your flight for any one of several hundred reasons including weather here, weather there, mechanical problems, flight crew didn't show up, flight crew out of hours, flight crew on strike, plane never arrived, can't find the plane, or "the computer worked out that we'd lose money if we actually honored our contract to take you where you want to go, so we're going to pretend we didn't mean it".
- They can delay your flight so that you are forced to spend several uncomfortable and excruciatingly boring hours in one of those armpits of the world euphemistically known as an airport lounge.
- They can cancel the second leg of your flight so you are forced to rent a car and drive several hundred miles in the middle of the night through some god-forsaken foreign country such as France or Minnesota to reach your destination.
- They can cancel the second leg of your flight but then rebook you on a later flight that ensures that you will miss the ferry you were hoping to catch.
- They can decide in mid-air that it makes more sense to take you somewhere else than they originally promised. This is how I came to visit Wagga Wagga one fascinating night and then travel to my ultimate destination in the early hours of the morning by the appropriately named Wagga Waggon. It is also how my whole family and I came to celebrate one New Year's Eve on the floor of Pittsburgh Airport. Ah, happy days!
- They can damage your luggage.
- They can lose your luggage.
Ah. The crux of the matter. It's that last one that I'm really paranoid about when I fly off on one of my overseas sailing trips. I guess I know that one way or another the airline probably will manage to deliver my body, more or less intact and still in working order, to approximately the right place, probably within the same month that they promised when I bought the ticket. But my checked baggage? That's another issue.
When I used to be one of those businessman types jetting off to visit the far-flung outposts of our corporate empire once or twice a week, of course I never checked baggage. Always stuffed spare shirts and underwear into a carry-on bag and never worried about the lost baggage syndrome. But on a sailing trip I have way too much normal clothing, sailing clothing and sailing gear to use this strategy.
There is nothing worse than showing up for a sailing regatta on the far side of the world missing some or all of your sailing gear. At the Masters Worlds in Spain I met several Australians and New Zealanders in this predicament and, I can tell you, they were a pathetic sight, wandering around disconsolately without their 48 inch carbon fiber tiller extensions. A Laser Master without his tiller is as woeful as John Wayne Bobbit.
So what to do? Well, I have this theory that if you fly non-stop to your ultimate destination the airline basically only has one opportunity to lose your sporting equipment and other luggage. They can just decide not to put it on the plane in the first place. Don't laugh. This has actually happened to me. Not once, but twice. On a ski trip to Vail one winter, and on my trip to the Sunfish Worlds in Colombia, the airlines basically decided that they didn't have room to carry all the passengers' luggage so they just left mine behind. Nice.
But if you have to change planes to reach your target there are a gazillion ways that they can lose your luggage. They can delay the first flight so there is no time for your luggage to make the second flight even if you are on it yourself. They can misplace it at the airport where you are changing planes. They can just forget to transfer it to your second flight. And so on. And so on.
So whenever possible I find a non-stop flight. In travelling to Cabarete for the Carribean Laser Midwinters I decided that I would not fly out of my local major aiport, Boston, because there were no direct flights to Puerto Plata, the closest airport to Caberete in the Dominican Republic. I concluded that it made more sense to drive 200 miles to Newark, stay overnight in an airport hotel (which incidentally let me leave my car in their parking lot while I was away thereby saving me the exorbitant fees for what is laughingly called "economy" parking at Newark airport), and then take the direct flight to Puerto Plata the next morning.
Which is why, two weeks ago, on Thursday night I slipped off to sleep in a slightly anxious mood listening to the hum of the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike ("they've all come to look for America" according to Paul Simon). And on Friday night I drifted off to dreamland to the sounds of the crash of the surf on the reef just off the Punta Cabarete, happy and secure in the knowledge that, once again, I had foiled the best attempts of the US airline industry to separate Tillerman from his tiller.