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OPINION | KAREN MARTIN: Pleasures of travel prove elusive

by Karen Martin | November 22, 2020 at 9:07 a.m.
Karen Martin

Flying feels safe. But it doesn't feel like fun.

After canceling an annual trek to New York's Tribeca Film Festival in late April--Manhattan was not the place to be for anyone concerned about contracting covid-19 at that time--credit for the cost of the flight was available to us on American Airlines in the form of a voucher.

Back then, autumn seemed way off. And so did the concept of the pandemic sticking around more than a month or two. Having missed out on Tribeca, it seemed reasonable to think that the Savannah Film Festival, a frequent October destination for film critics, would be worth using some of that airline credit to attend. Plus my husband's family lives there, so we could spend some time with them.

It was surprising--in a good way--to discover that airfare from Little Rock to Savannah on our chosen dates was $173 each. It's usually closer to $400 apiece. Since that's about what the flights to LaGuardia had cost, we had voucher money left over.

As the summer wore on, it became apparent that the Savannah festival was going to be virtual. We could attend without actually attending. But despite concerns about flying, we were getting restless, as well as anxious to visit with relatives (unusual for me), so we decided to go anyway.

After arranging for our treasured dog-sitter to stay with the girls, we got packed (not difficult; the weather in Savannah was forecast to be sunny, with highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 60s, and besides, we wouldn't be going anywhere that required an extensive wardrobe) and figured we'd drive to Clinton National Airport since we had a 7 a.m. flight, and not even the truest of friends is much interested in fetching anyone at 5:45 a.m. on a Saturday.

Then, a couple of days before departure, I got an email from American saying that our flight was "very busy," and if we wanted to reschedule later in the day, there might be some remuneration to be had.

Since I'd booked that early-morning flight in anticipation of spending much of the day at the festival--which wasn't going to happen--I jumped on the offer. We rebooked on a 4 p.m. flight that got us into Savannah at 9:30 p.m. Added benefit: We each got 2,500 miles added to our Aadvantage accounts, and it's not hard to line up a friendly airport drop-off when leaving in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

On the negative side: Philip's mom had a bottle of wine for us, but forgot that we wouldn't be eating en route and neglected to make anything for a late supper. Luckily cheese and crackers were on hand. And the wine.

Little Rock's airport was eerily quiet. We have TSA pre-check, but it hardly mattered, since the number of other passengers heading out wasn't overwhelming, so screening lines were short. The airlines had alerted us that there wouldn't be any food or beverage service, so I brought a couple of empty water bottles to fill at the airport as well as some Luna bars.

Good thing, too, because the only food sellers open were Great American Bagel Company and Hudson News. No Starbucks (the concourse branch is open from 5 a.m.-noon). No Chick-fil-A. No Chili's (closed on Saturdays, although its bank of TVs allowed travelers to watch Saturday afternoon football from outside the restaurant). No alcoholic beverages.

As usual, the Wi-Fi worked flawlessly. Little Rock led the way with fully functioning Wi-Fi--at no charge--well ahead of other airports.

"We're currently at 44.5 percent of the passenger traffic as compared to this time last year," said Shane Carter, the airport's director of public affairs and governmental relations, via email last week. "The number of departing passengers largely determines how many food and beverage offerings and other services are available. Departing passengers are used as the metric, as they typically spend more time in the airport.

"A newly renovated Starbucks in the concourse opened Oct. 26. HMS Host will re-open Chick-fil-A on Dec. 15. We're also working to reopen curbside check-in, but at this point don't have a date."

Good thing I brought those Luna bars.

There were more facilities open--restaurants, bars, shops--at the American hub in Charlotte Douglas International Airport, thanks to its larger number of passengers. We didn't contribute to any of the retailers' sales numbers while there before connecting to our plane heading to Savannah.

The action at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport at 9:30 p.m. resembled what we had left in Little Rock: little to nothing.

After a few pleasant but unexciting days in one of my favorite cities--many of the activities we enjoy there were shut down--we headed home.

And, although we've still got some airline voucher money to burn, we'd had enough of trying to duplicate the fun of flying. We'll wait until that can be done.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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