A change in flight schedules turns air travel out of Laramie from a thrill-filled bonding experience to mere transportation. It still beats driving to Denver.
4:30 a.m. My rarely used alarm clock buzzes, but I’m already awake. My internal clock knows it is time to hop out of bed so I can shower in a flash, gulp down some coffee and Cheerios, and rush to the airport to catch the 6:17 a.m. flight out of Laramie Regional Airport, bound for Denver International Airport. (That’s DIA, not to be confused with its nickname, DOA.)
I arrive at the Laramie airport an hour before the plane. Workers at the counter are still trying to get the computers, and themselves, booted up. The TSA inspectors need extra coffee to act interested in my quart-sized baggie. Yet the 18 other passengers joining me in the five-minute security line are surprisingly chipper, chatting about travel plans and local sports teams.
Every time I’ve taken this pre-dawn flight, the mood has been the same — a lot like a cocktail party or a really lively wedding reception. I usually bump into someone I haven’t seen for a year and have fun catching up. Locals and tourists form temporary friendships as we board the small plane: Only one on the stairway at a time, please. People laugh and chat for the whole flight, keeping the air sickness bag in sight, as we bounce through turbulent mountain air. Perhaps it is the lifeboat mentality: we’ve all struggled to get here on time and know if we go down, we go down together.
The young pilots of this 19-seat Beechcraft 1900 seem jolly, too. They give us the talk about safety and snicker over the line “In the very unlikely event of a water landing between Laramie and Denver….” Mornings when the flight isn’t full, they arrange us around the cabin to distribute our weight, to the amazement of passengers unused to small airports and smaller planes. Usually the pilots leave the accordion door to the cockpit open. Once in the air we watch from their vantage point as the sky turns from dark gray to pale pink yellow. We see not far below our feet the white peaks of the oh–so-close Rocky Mountains and count the cars along Highway 287.
The flight to Denver is quick: only about 40 minutes. We deplane on the tarmac and walk out in the elements for several hundred feet to building that serves commuter flights. Our terminal amounts to a loading dock behind massive DIA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wonder Bread truck backed up to the door, offloading trays of breakfast pastries. We passengers enter a huge, low-ceilinged garage and nod farewell to one another. We pass one gate after another staffed by airline workers bundled in Carhartt jackets and earmuffs, doors opened to Denver’s seasonal winds and the roar of airplane engines. The colorless walls are lined with chairs, to which iPod-connected teens, old folks with walkers, and parents in charge of too many children appear permanently grounded. The air of dejected yet nervous inertia puts me in mind of how an East German train station might have looked before the Wall fell. The flickering fluorescent lights and muffled crackling of the PA system complete the effect. Occasionally I can make out destinations recited over the PA: Oklahoma City…Garden City…Chadron… Sheridan.
I have taken this pre-dawn flight dozens of times in my 18 years in Wyoming. But abruptly this winter, Great Lakes moved its first flight to 8:25 a.m. Now when flying out of town I can awaken naturally at my usual time, enjoy a relaxed shower, take my dog for a leisurely walk, and have my husband drop me off at the airport on his way to someplace he was already planning to go. No struggles, no nerves. But also no party atmosphere without the cocktails at the airport. I still bump into people I know taking this later flight. After greeting we quietly await the plane with our noses in magazines or portable electronic devices. We move efficiently through security and find our seats on the plane. We politely smile at the pilots’ safety instruction humor, and idly wonder what the weather is like where we’re going.
Now that making this later flight is so easy, it has lost its thrill. I suppose I could get my excitement elsewhere. I could drive two hours to the airport through Denver’s rush hour traffic, pay to park, then enter the sparkling main terminal, bypassing the commuter ghetto. Then I could pass through security with the other thousand strangers in line and head straight for coffee line.