The Second Half: Flying the friendly skies of Rockford Airport

April 6, 2011

The Second Half

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

Taking a trip is full of unexpected surprises, good and bad, but in my Second Half, I want to minimize the bad. As an infrequent traveler, this new age of Internet travel planning and high-security air transport gave me pause. Allow me to share my recent traveling experience and offer some humble advice.

My Christmas gift to Hubby this year was a trip to Arizona. I figured he could use a nice getaway after the year he had: thrown from a horse = cracked ribs, chainsaw massacre = a million stiches in his leg, tree falling on him = a week in the hospital, plus the eventual surgery to minimize the damage from said tree. Who wouldn’t need a break?

My advice: When scheduling a trip online, especially if you have never done this before, get someone younger than 30 to help you—preferably someone who likes you and is enthusiastic about helping.

I wisely chose Laura Rae, daughter-in-law-to-be, as my guide to Internet travel planning. She sat me down at the computer, and we booked this thing together.

Our first step was to log on to the Chicago Rockford Airport website, www.flyRFD.com. In a perfect world, I would never fly anywhere but from our own airport: small terminals; easy drive avoiding Chicago or Milwaukee traffic; and parking that is both close to the terminal and FREE!

My assistant listed the numerous locations available to me. “Hubby is not a big fan of Florida, and spring break in Cancun sounds too crazy; Arizona is warm in March,” I pondered out loud, while Laura Rae listened patiently. “And neither of us has ever vacationed there.” I chose Phoenix.

“Do you want to get just airfare, airfare plus hotel, airfare plus car, or all three in one package?” she asked me, fingers poised at the keyboard.

After hemming and hawing, I decided, “Let’s just get air plus vehicle, so we can travel wherever we want without being tied to a hotel.” This, I discovered, was my moment of genius. Arizona in March can be plagued by turbulent weather, so our destinations were ultimately influenced by climatic conditions.

My advice: Decide ahead of time where you want to stay and for which nights, especially if you are staying put in one area. If you are free-wheeling like me, don’t tie yourself down, but investigate hotels in the areas you hope to travel: I like Best Western for their consistency, and they seem to be everywhere.

Besides, they give an AARP discount, and most of them offer food. Our first stop had both a hot breakfast and “a light supper buffet” included in the room price!

As soon as you know where you want to bed down, call to make a reservation. We waited to book a room one mid-week night because we figured we were off-season—“How crowded can they be?”—and had to stay in a less-desirable hotel that smelled like Lysol. If you know in advance, book ahead!

The next decision before me: “What kind of vehicle do you want?” I knew the answer to this one—an SUV. We would likely be traveling on dicey mountain roads that required maneuverability; besides, I didn’t want Hubby to be climbing in and out of a mid-sized car with his newly-rehabilitated leg—another moment of genius.

My advice: Always reserve a vehicle that offers your most-desired level of comfort, even if it costs a bit more. In our Second Half, we deserve it. We ended up with a comfy SUV that handled the mountain roads well, and gave us between 25 and 28 mpg in a state where gas prices were about 20 cents cheaper than home—woohoo!

“How much luggage will you be bringing?” Poor Laura Rae was stepping on a minefield here. After my ranting about having to pay for luggage, she suggested: “How about you pay for one suitcase besides your two free carry-ons? That way, you’ll have plenty of space to bring home souvenirs.” Great kid!

After all was said and done, Allegiant Airlines even checked our carry-on bags for free both ways, “As a courtesy, since the flight is full.” That made it much easier going through security, although Hubby’s bag got opened at the gate because, they told us, “We couldn’t figure out what that thing was!”

He was lugging my souvenir from the Petrified Forest, because my suitcase was already full. It seems a slab of petrified wood looks like something dangerous on an X-ray, in case you ever need to know.

My advice: Pay for an extra bag. You will avoid that embarrassing moment where you have to explain to security why you are wearing four layers of clothing: “I’m not a terrorist with explosives strapped to my torso; I just couldn’t fit this stuff in my carry-on!” And aside from space for souvenirs, I suspect my clothes of retaining water—like me, they just seem puffier on the trip home.

Here’s the best part: at the Phoenix-Mesa Airport, the pilot announced, “This flight is full and, since everyone’s here, we are leaving 15 minutes early and will arrive in Rockford about 30 minutes ahead of schedule!” After the cheering, he gave us 5 minutes to contact our connecting parties so we wouldn’t have to wait around the airport. Thanks, Captain Kirk!
Great flights, no lost luggage, and on-time or early arrivals = happy passengers.
My advice: Always fly RFD!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the April 6-12, 2011 issue

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