A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Flying with Frank

Although I enjoy being light hearted, there are also times to be serious. And there are times when something serious turns into something light hearted. Maybe those are the best times.

In 2010, before my father in law Frank passed away, he was not doing well. My wife and I thought that it would really be good for him if he would not have to spend another winter in New England. So she talked about it with her siblings, and it was decided that we would fly him (and Benji his dog) down to join my wife at our house in Florida for the winter.

By this point Frank could not travel alone, he needed a wheelchair, and one of those oxygen concentrators to aid his breathing. He was not healthy. But that old fart still had the spirit and spunk he had shown as a tank gunner in WW-II, and no matter how he felt on any given day, his eyes always managed a sparkle. To get a mental image of this guy, picture a small and thin man, just over 5 feet tall, with very little hair left on top, and one heck of a goatee covering the lower half of his face. Frank was almost always wearing his WW-II veteran cap in public, and if you gave him half a chance, he’d sit with you for hours talking about anything you wanted. Up north we call people like him “nice old farts”, and there is no disrespect at all in that expression.


So I am in Taiwan, my wife is in Florida, and Frank and his dog are outside of Boston. To arrange all this (and by the way Thank-You United) I cashed in some miles and flew the 24 hrs back to Boston, where I landed during an unexpected snowstorm. I rented a car, bought a dog carrying crate, and drove through the snow to Frank’s. Frank had only been in an airplane a few times in his life, and I wanted to make this trip really special for him. So instead of booking coach tickets, I worked with some great customer service people and I used enough miles for two First Class tickets for us from BOS through ORD, and then to MCO. I figured if Frank (and Benji) were going to take this trip, I wanted it to be memorable.

And it was

The next morning I loaded Frank, his luggage, our carry-on bags, his oxygen concentrator, his wheelchair, Benji , and the crate into my rental and headed east from central Massachusetts on Rt-2 (one of New England’s famous icy roads) for the 50 mile drive to Logan. Frank of course made me stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way, and I admit that after being in Asia, the smell and taste of a DD coffee did make the drive easier. Logistically, Logan was going to be a problem. If I tried to return the car before dropping Frank off, I would have to get Frank + wheelchair + luggage + 2 carry-on bags + oxygen concentrator + dog/crate into a shuttle van for the ride back to the airport. If I dropped (see all the above) off at the airport, then Frank would be alone for the 45 minutes I needed to return the car and get back. But there was no third choice. I would have to drop Frank off.

When we got to the United terminal, I pulled in behind a State Police cruiser and got out to explain the situation to her (not a him), and that it was going to take me a few minutes to get the dog in the crate, get Frank in his wheelchair, and then bring him and his luggage, and the dog/crate into the terminal. This officer was just great. She came over to Frank’s window in the car, chatted with him briefly, and then she walked over to the terminal and went inside. She was back out in a minute with one of the UA counter agents, and they headed right to the car. The three of us made quick work of getting Frank out and into his wheelchair, putting Benji in his crate, and getting all that and the luggage over to some warm seats inside the entry way at the terminal. I thanked them, and told Frank to sit tight and I’d be back as quickly as possible. Which in bad weather, on a weekday morning at Logan, might not be very quick. And it wasn’t.

It couldn’t be helped, there was traffic, there was snow, I was delayed, and it was over an hour before I got back to the terminal where I had left Frank. Yup, you guessed it. Frank, his luggage, the dog, the crate, the wheelchair, were all missing from the seats in the entry way. Not yet at a panic, I went all the way to the UA counter, still looking for Frank, but not seeing him. I also did not see the counter agent who had come outside (in the slush) to help us. Now I am worried.

Didn’t take long, I heard his laugh from around the backside of the counter on the side facing the security screening area. I walked around, and there was Frank, seated like royalty and holding court in Logan airport. He was the center of attention sitting in his wheelchair. Benji was on his lap, a fresh cup of coffee in his hand, his luggage next to him, and a half circle of UA, police, and TSA all there with him. Everybody was laughing with him at one of his stories.

I hated to break up the party, but it had to be done. The UA inspector checked out the crate, we loaded Benji into it, said “goodbye” to him, and I filled out all the dog paperwork. My wife had done all the homework, so I had all the papers with me from Benji’s veterinarian that UA needed to allow Benji to fly. While we were getting Benji set to travel, the counter agent took our IDs and Frank’s luggage, and quickly came back with our First Class boarding passes and a baggage claim check.

I wheeled Frank to security with a light load now, just our carry-ons and his oxygen supply. TSA saw us coming, and opened up a lane for us so we got right to the screening. There was one awkward moment because Frank didn’t understand the difference between an oxygen tank, and his portable oxygen concentrator. It was easy to explain to TSA that when Frank said he was bringing oxygen with him, it wasn’t what they thought. So in the end, it was no problem.

Got down by the gate and went into the United Club, where I knew one of the ladies working that morning (Pat M). Introduced her to Frank, he liberated a few mints from her bowl, and we settled in for a coffee and some bagels. Surprisingly, everything was on schedule that morning BOS/ORD. We got to the gate just before boarding, and were let on early since Frank obviously qualified as needing the extra time.

End of the jetway, an FA gave me a hand and we brought the wheelchair into the plane, then we both helped Frank get up and take the few steps to our seats in the last row of FC. By the time I turned around, the FAs had already pulled the wheelchair back, folded it, and put a gate check tag on it. You can’t ask for better than that. While the rest of the Pax were boarding, Frank turned to ask me if I was sure Benji was being loaded onto the flight. Before I could answer, someone from the UA ground crew showed up at our seats and handed me the paperwork confirming that Benji (even had his name on it!) had been loaded for the flight to ORD and connecting to MCO.  A very simple thing to do, and it sure relieved Frank.

The flight to ORD was great, it was nowhere near full, and although I wanted to sleep (jet lag from Taiwan) I didn’t because it’s such a short flight. The FA in our cabin made sure Frank had plenty of coffee, and he seemed to really enjoy the flight and the attention our FA gave to him. Frank could not believe how large and comfortable the seat was (remember, he is just over 5 feet tall, but I’m 6’5”), and he said flying like this might have made him try flying more often. I remember that I had a good laugh about that.

We arrived in ORD, waited on the plane until last, the ground team brought in his wheelchair, and we rolled over to the ORD United Club. Got inside, and I made the mistake of leaving Frank too close to the breakfast food supplies. That old fart stuffed his winter jacket pockets with bagels, muffins, and fruit. Someone had told him they don’t feed you on domestic flights, so he didn’t want to go hungry. But he didn’t know about First Class travel. Anyways, I didn’t learn about his ten-finger discounts until much later on in the day. The team at ORD let us know when it was almost boarding time, and again we had super service getting on the flight early. Another slip of paper was handed to me; Benji had made the transfer, and I showed it to Frank. He just nodded his head. At this point I think he was getting tired. I know I was.

Takeoff, cruising altitude, and the FA came by with hot towels, linens for the tray table, and she asks us what we want for breakfast. I had to explain to Frank that it’s all included. He just shook his head, and repeated that he really would have flown more if he could fly like this.

Not much more to tell really. I slept for most of the flight to MCO, and Frank talked the ears off of the First Class FA. We landed right on time, Frank got reunited with Benji, and my wife was there at the baggage claim to meet us. 48 hours later I was on a flight back to Taiwan.

Eight months later I came back to Boston, this time flying from Houston, for Frank’s funeral.

I still miss that old fart, and want to thank him every day for the nicest present anyone has ever given me. After all, 27 years ago he did let me marry his youngest daughter.

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This entry was posted on September 25, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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