Buying a flight ticket the Alaska way
Once, I had to order a round ticket to fly out to attend a work meeting in the Lower 48s. I was asked to book my ticket asap even though the trip was not any time soon. Thus, being a good citizen, I obeyed to help save money. I called the number on the East Coast first thing in the morning when I came into my office. The time difference between Alaska time and East Coast time is 4 hours. Thus, when I got the notification on the day before, the East Coast was already putting the dishes from dinner into the dishwasher.
A woman with a young voice answered the phone. After the usual “How are you doing” exchange where actually nobody is interested really wanting to know it, she asked friendly “what can I do for you?” I explained her that I was given her number to order a ticket for the said meeting. She then asked me for my name. As usual, I had to spell my name. I always have to spell my name M O E L D E R S. I heard her typing. She checked that my name was on her list of people for whom she was supposed to book flights and issue tickets. She then asked from where I would fly. “Fairbanks, Alaska” I replied.
We were supposed to be at the meeting place for a reception and dinner on Sunday at 6:30 pm. “At what time do you want to fly?” she asked me in a professional way while I heard her typing again. “At 6:20 am on Sunday” I replied. “Have you already picked out your flights?” she asked me in a friendly voice. “Nope, but there is no other flight to get out of here to have a chance to catch a flight in Sea Tac to get anywhere down South” I replied. “The only alternative is the red eye at 1:40 am.” Again she typed. After a long pause she said “Yes, you are right. And you wouldn’t get an earlier connection in Seattle with the red eye flight.” I heard her typing again. “Yes” I replied. “But you won’t arrive before 6 pm. Do you want to fly a day earlier?” “No, it’s just a 15 minutes ride. When Alaska Airlines is on time, and they usually are, I will be at the meeting on time.” “Ok, then we are st on this one” she replied. “Will you check baggage?” “No, it’s a short trip.” She started typing again.
“When do you want to fly back?” “Whatever flight gets me into Sea Tac on Thursday to catch at least the 11:40 pm to Fairbanks. But I would prefer catching the 7:35 pm one or the one via Anchorage that gets me into Fairbanks at 11:56 pm.” “11:56 pm is quite late. And the 11:40 pm won’t get you into Fairbanks before even 2:22 am the next day.” she said. “Yes, trust me, you won’t get me into Fairbanks any time earlier than 10:15 pm or so, i.e. the 7:35 pm from Seattle, when I have to stay until 5 pm.” “10:18 pm” she said and sounded frustrated. I heard her typing. It sounded like she was in disbelieve frantically trying to find another flight. She is the travel agent, the expert. After a while, she gave up and said “Yes, I guess that’s right.”
“Do you have a flight schedule in front of you” she now asked. “Nope, Ma’m. I live in Fairbanks. Fairbanks is a destination, you don’t come thru anymore by accident like it was in the times of the Iron Curtain. Back then, Fairbanks was a stop for fueling for travels from Europe to Asia. That’s why President Reagan and the Pope met in Fairbanks. Thus, when there are only a few flights to get in and out one better knows them.” I replied. “I never thought of that. But now I understand.”
She asked for my DOB and finished the ticket.
Flying in Alaska is like taking a bus
Alaskans have a strong relationship with flying. Due to the un(der)-developed road network, many destinations in Alaska can only be reached by aircraft or boat. Thus, traveling by air just to go shopping is a second nature to Alaskans, like using public transportation to go shopping is for someone living in a large East or West Coast metropolitan area or a middle size town in Europe.
What I didn’t tell her
I live just a mile (1.6 km) away from the airport. When I see a plane flying over the Chena River seemingly just over the roof of our neighbor’s house across the street, I can jump into our car and be at the baggage claim just when the first passengers come down the escalator. From my office, I can see the planes starting and landing.
I can tell you the time by the air traffic at night. I know the departure and arrivals of planes in Fairbanks by heart like I did know the bus schedule when I lived in that … village when I was a kid and teenager. I can tell you by the starts and landings when air traffic is deviated from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
I didn’t tell her the above because I feared she would hang up and feel like I were kidding her. Of course, I was not and I didn’t even think anything about knowing my flight schedules.
When you live in a place that is a destination, not a come-thru, you better know when to get there and when to get out of there.
Do you know the flight departures and arrivals of your closest airport? Is your closest airport a destination or a come-thru like Seattle? Do you have to fly a lot? What do you wear on a plane? let me know, I am curious.
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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