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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: With air service like this, maybe we’ll drive next time

Published:

It was right here on another New Year’s Day back in 1914 that the world changed.

It was on Jan. 1, 1914, that Tony Jannus lifted his Benoist flying boat out of a St. Petersburg bay and 23 minutes later landed in Tampa.

Because he was carrying a mail bag, along with the mayor of St. Petersburg as a passenger, the flight was honored as being the first scheduled commercial flight.

We commemorated the event this past week with a re-creation of the flight as several hundred turned out on a rainy morning to mark the occasion.

You know, we celebrate a lot of things around here, from pirates to Buccaneers, but this was truly the beginning of a revolution in transportation and worth remembering.

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You would expect that a hundred years down the line things would have changed for the better. I mean, after a century of polishing and fine tuning, surely commercial aviation would be a model form of transportation. I grew up flying here and there, and there was a time when you were not only treated like a human, there was some status to being an airline passenger.

But that was back before you were lucky to get a bag of peanuts. And if you purchased a seat back then, you had an expectation of actually getting on board.

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Two days before Christmas my son, who lives in Washington, D.C., thought he would surprise us by flying in and staying with another son.

He showed up at Reagan National Airport with a ticket purchased online about 45 minutes before his scheduled departure on a U.S. Air flight.

The agent told him he was too late and that his overbooked flight was full. He was sent to another line on another floor.

An hour into that line another agent told him there were no flights left into Tampa and there was only a 50-50 chance of even getting a flight that night.

He decided to abandon the line, which he had already been in three times longer than Jannus’ flight, buy another ticket on his own and give up the online ticket. He flew into Orlando, rented a car and drove to Tampa.

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The agent on the phone told him she could get a price that was as good as the original one, and he bought it.

“It was a madhouse,” he admits, “and I thought she said $345 for a coach to Orlando.”

He took the flight and made it to Orlando (after another hour of waiting for a wheel to be fixed). It was when he arrived in Orlando that the text message popped up from the airline, telling him he owed $1,200 for the one-way coach ticket, which included a processing fee.

I have to tell you the Christmas spirit was lacking just a tad when he got the note from the airline.

It didn’t improve as he worked his way through the airline complaint departments and was denied help at each one.

Well, the kid is back in Washington, where he is used to lousy service and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

But he is also looking into what it would cost to take the train to Florida the next time he comes our way.

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