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Publication Date: 05/1/2009
Archive >  May 2009 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Getting Out of Town
Walter Salm, Editor
One of the interesting aspects of my lifestyle — living and working in an RV — is that we get to try out new locations and new airports all the time. Last September, there were no airports at all involved. We had left our summer quarters in Michigan and went to an RV resort not very far from Rockford, Illinois, so I became a commuter for Manufacturing Week and IPC Midwest. It was an unheard-of pleasure to be able to actually go home at night after a tiring day at two different trade shows; no hotel rooms, no restaurant dinners. Just home sweet home.

More recently, the APEX Show in Las Vegas gave me a different set of problems. We had spent the winter in Saint David, Arizona — on the road between Benson and Tombstone (neat place). I investigated the possibility of driving to APEX, but the trip would have been far too long and too exhausting — nearly 700 miles, over half of which would be on 2-lane country roads. So I decided to fly. Checking out flights from Tucson to Las Vegas was an eye-opener; nobody, it seemed, flew directly from TUS to LAS. Instead, Expedia and Travelocity and a couple of other "discount" web services I tried all took me to PHX first and then to LAS with a total travel time of 7 to 8 hours (lots of ground time in Phoenix), and not very attractive prices.

I don't usually endorse specific services or products, but in this era of tight money and tighter schedules, I have to talk about what I consider to be a real find. I actually listened when an Arizona business associate extolled the virtues of Southwest Airlines. "They have lots of direct flights," he told me, "and usually at rock-bottom prices." So I did the unthinkable: I went to an airline's website instead of Travelocity of Expedia. And sure enough, Southwest had at least 4 flights a day directly to LAS, at 1 hour and 15 minutes traveling time, and at good prices. It seems that airlines like Southwest don't give their business to the on-line travel services; they'd have to charge more so they could pay the services their kickback fee. It really opened up my eyes.

Then a couple of weeks after APEX, my baby sister lost her two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. I needed a flight in a hurry and cheap from TUS to RDU. I checked out Travelocity and Expedia, and yes, they had some flights. But Southwest came to the rescue once again with prices that were half of what the other airlines were offering on the "discount" web sites. Admittedly I had to get up in the middle of the night to catch a 6:20 a.m. flight from TUS to the airline's hub in LAS, 2 hours layover time to get from one terminal to another and then on to Raleigh. The return flight left at an almost equally ridiculous hour: 7:00 a.m. I was still operating on Arizona time (same as California this time of year) which meant my hotel alarm clock went off at 1:00 a.m. (biological time — 4.a.m. Eastern Daylight Time). There was no nice hotel breakfast waiting for me because it was too damned early, and at oh-dark-hundred, I hit the road with my rental car to get back to RDU airport fueled only by a hotel-room pot of coffee which helped a little.

Southwest was there when and where I needed them, unlike the much-touted travel services. I did manage to get a good deal on the car rental through (William Shatner finally got through to me) because none of my family members in Raleigh was going to get up at oh-dark-hundred to drive me to the airport. Southwest flies Boeing 737s almost exclusively, and they rarely leave the gate with an empty seat, even when they leave at 6:20 a.m. And they're usually on time.

There are a lot of other special deals like this around; you just have to look for them. My sister-in-law often uses local and specialty airlines like Myrtle Beach Direct or Spirit by watching for special promotions and then popping for tickets to get her back and forth between New Jersey and Myrtle Beach. But I still think that my latest discovery — Southwest Airlines — deserves special kudos. Try them for your next trade show. You might be pleasantly surprised.  

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