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Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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Happy Flying

By JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

The concept of happy flying is rare amidst the restrictions and uncertainties of travel during our time of discontent with the pandemic, a situation narrowing our focus and our lives, physically and emotionally.
However, this past weekend I experienced a day of air travel that proved surprisingly positive. As background, it may be helpful to understand why this particular trip seemed so necessary to me. Even with a lifelong pattern of exotic travel and trips to be with loved ones, I haven’t been anywhere since I left California to return home to Idaho in early March of 2020. I was spending that time to be close to family, something I have accomplished most winters, especially since the birth of my grandchildren. I have tried staying with friends for short times, renting Airbnb places, taking advantage of home exchange possibilities, and anything that would let me be there in the winter. (Because I am an aging klutz, winter sports aren’t my forte.) By renting out my Ketchum condo, I am able to afford this break from slippery ice.
This year, however, COVID-19 changed everything… the desire to travel equaled the fear of catching or giving others the virus. Fortunately, I received the vaccine, tested negative, finalized arrangements with the same renter from last year, and was gifted with frequent-flyer miles from my daughters. Happily, I cleared closets, spiffed up the rest of the condo, and repaired necessary household glitches.
Then, about two weeks before my scheduled flight, the ravages of a natural progression of deteriorating spinal components hit me, and doctors determined that the constant though thankfully not extreme pain in my back and left leg was caused by a herniated disk, along with mild scoliosis and the appearance of possible future problems with disks.
I received high-quality, caring help from St. Luke’s doctors and decided to fly even if it was uncomfortable. So, on Valentine’s Day, I boarded Delta flights to LAX and then SFO, double masked and using a wheelchair, for the first time ever, to navigate what is usually the very crowded and lengthy terminal space at both airports. I didn’t want to do this but decided that I should arrive relatively pain-free as my grandchildren’s Valentine.
Upon landing at LAX, I awaited the wheelchair by the off-ramp. After several minutes, the pilot got up from his break in the cockpit to ask me if I needed help. He said, “Wait right here. I’ll be back.” In a couple of minutes he returned from the terminal with a wheelchair, personally helped me in it and then assisted me to the waiting area, all with a smile. At both airports, the Delta staff were absolutely polite and concerned, and even a nearby passenger offered to help me open a stubborn water bottle. I was reminded of the time of earlier and simpler airline travel.
I arrived for my stay with a renewed sense of the possibilities for comfort and positive human connection, even after a horrible 2020.

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