When I first started traveling as a necessary part of keeping a job, I covered a pretty big stretch of territory in the Southeast, from north Florida to the Delmarva Peninsula. I quickly learned the value of time management and decided that any trip requiring more than a four-hour drive would necessitate air travel. I was young and still somewhat awed by the miracle of flight. And you got free cokes and peanuts!

Several years later, and several instances of lost luggage, numerous cancelled flights, interminable delays and an increasing frustration with the process of being herded on and off packed airplanes, to say nothing of the puddle-jumper, prop-driven flights I took that would put roller coasters to shame, Wilbur and Orville's idea of fun began to lose its luster.

I changed my formula. Anything requiring more than a six-hour drive and I would fly, reluctantly.

I moved to the Southwest and altered the equation once more. I probably could justify a flight from Dallas to San Antonio or Houston, but I enjoy taking off on those blue highways to see if I can find a good field of cotton or corn, or a picturesque herd of cattle grazing ‘neath the mesquite bushes. And I thoroughly enjoy driving through Oklahoma. The terrain is fascinating: red dirt, rocky outcrops, rolling hills and lots and lots of country.

So, if I can drive it in less than eight hours, I stay away from the airport. I'm about to alter the formula again.

Recently, I left my home in Denton around 10 a.m. in plenty of time to catch a 12:55 p.m. flight to Atlanta, with connections to Panama City, Fla., where I was scheduled to cover a meeting. I got to DFW in plenty of time to check luggage and relax in those comfortable airport chairs before boarding the plane.

Plenty of time! About 12:30, officials announced that a hydraulic leak had been discovered in the plane we were scheduled to soar to more than 30,000 feet in, and that repairs would have to be made before we risked that adventure. Good idea.

At 2:30, officials determined they could not repair the plane in time for some of us to make necessary connections in Atlanta (where flights are always late anyway) so they got another plane. Another good idea.

We boarded around 2:45. An official (I think it was the actual captain this time.) announced that a mechanical problem would delay us further. They had sent someone to get a part and he would be right back. He must have gotten lost. About an hour later the plane was repaired and we took off. We got free drinks, stronger than cokes but not strong enough.

I missed my connection, naturally. And I was the last passenger to get a seat on the 8:10 flight to Panama City. I had a headache. I finally made it. My luggage did not. My aspirin were in my luggage.

The limo trip to the hotel was uneventful and, fortunately, smooth. A tram took me to my room. (It was a big place.) My key didn't work. My head still hurt. It was getting on toward 10:30, more than 12 hours since I had left home.

In Atlanta, on the way home, I had just boarded the plane when the captain (I hate it when the captain comes on the intercom before you take off.) informed us that a little engine in back of the plane that is necessary to start the big engines that actually make it fly, was broke. I don't like to hear the word “BROKE” when I'm sitting in a hunk of metal that will soon be suspended thousands of feet above the earth.

But, no problem, they have portable engines they drive up to the plane to start the big ones. Sorta like jumper cables for jets. They need two to start the engines. Only one would work. They sent someone to find another one. I think they have employees hanging around just to go get stuff.

I will not divulge the airline, but suffice it to say, they were not ready to fly when I was. I was ready at 12:55 on the first leg of the trip. They weren't ready for three hours. They seem to thrive in an atmosphere of unreadiness.

So I've revised my equation. If I can't drive in, say, a day and a half, maybe I'll fly. I ought to make it by then.

ron_smith@primediabusines.com