On Tuesday, I had the great pleasure of "flying the friendly skies" in order to make my way from the West Coast to the East Coast. Up to now, my flying experiences have been pretty mundane: I breeze through check-in, security, and the terminal to reach the appointed gate at least an hour in advance so that I can sit in total relaxation and read whatever riveting material I've brought along. This time, there was a hiccup (more of a bronchospasm, really) that set the tone for the entire day.
We left the house with plenty of time to arrive with an hour to spare. Traffic was very light and I was secure in the knowledge that missed flights are things that happen only to Other People. Most likely because Other People are notorious for not planning ahead, unlike Me. After all, I'm very close friends with Justin Case.
The closer we got to San Jose, however, the heavier the traffic became. But by this point I could see the airplanes coming and going from the airport, and the GPS assured me that we were only eight minutes away from our destination. And yet it took us a good half hour to knock five minutes off that estimation; and I could clearly see myself wearing that horrible Missed Flight stigma that would forever label Me as Other People. Despite what my sister may tell you, I was nowhere near the puking point of panicking, but I was definitely stressed and ready to scream/cry/hit something; or possibly just drag my bags behind me as I sprinted through traffic, carrying the GPS for guidance.
All thoughts of goodbye hugs, and tender farewells in the terminal had long since fled the scene, and as we pulled up to the curb, my only thought was "Get all three bags into the airport now!" The extra adrenaline made heaving my fifty pound suitcase out of the trunk much easier than it should have been, and I was off.
An American agent saw my rush and offered to check my bag at their curbside station. I gratefully accepted and informed him that my flight was due to leave in just over half an hour, and he assured me that I still had two minutes before the deadline for checked luggage. Oh, and do you have another form of payment? My card-reader doesn't like your debit card.
Since I had no other form of payment, he led me inside where everyone was nice enough to let me cut in line to get my %#&@ bag checked. This time the debit card was accepted. I was given my boarding passes and the news that my flight was already boarding.
Slinging my computer bag over my shoulder and grabbing my carryon, I sprinted up the escalator and through the maze of barriers to security. Thankfully, the line was infinitesimal and I was able to shove all of my stuff through in very little time. Unfortunately, the Smurfs running the show were using the full body scanner rather than the metal detector, so I had to swallow my pride and hold my hands up in surrender before they would grant me entry to their kingdom.
But Snoopy Smurf didn't like the look of my carryon, so she had me stand by and watch her dig through it before sending it back through the x-ray. Then she wiped it down and told me I was free to pack it back up and be on my way. How gracious.
It was at this point that I decided I better figure out where I was headed. So while I was power-walking down the hallway, I scanned my boarding pass, trying to locate a gate number. That box was notably blank. I remembered the ticket agent giving me that information verbally as I sprinted away from him, but I hadn't really been listening at that point, figuring it would be - oh, I don't know - written on my ticket. So I did my best Shawn Spencer impersonation, which isn't very impressive on a good day, and headed to the corresponding gate. Amazingly, I picked the right one.
When I reached the appointed doorway, they were packing the last few people onto a very full flight, and turning away pathetic hopefuls who'd been put on Standby due to a cancelled flight the night before. Thankfully, I still had a seat. There just wasn't anymore overhead storage. So my carryon was checked all the way through to Richmond. All I could do was pray it didn't get lost along the way.
The flight itself was wonderfully uneventful and actually very boring - a glorious change from the high-stress morning. Although I was disappointed to discover that they charge money for their in-flight WiFi; and all their snacks were off-limits due to my diet. Still, by the time we reached DFW, my good spirits were back in place and I had a smile on my face: I was in Texas!
I was a little miffed that I had to make my way from Terminal A to Terminal C, but I had a good two hours to kill before my connecting flight. Along the way, I stopped in every single gift shop and quickly discovered that they all carried the exact same stuff for the exact same price. Sadly, I bought nothing except a bottle of water.
By the time I found my new gate, I still had plenty of time and the stress-levels were wonderfully low. I called home to let them know I had made it on time and wasn't stranded in California. Then I called the Dallas relatives, just to chat. Then I tried out a few more stores nearby, just because I could. Yes, sir, life was good and I was home free.
Until I settled in to wait and was joined by two Asian ladies. The younger of the two very politely inquired about my plans: was I going to take this flight? At my affirmative, she smiled and asked if I would mind helping her mother. Daughter lives in Fort Worth and was done traveling for the day, but Mother needed to take this last flight. The only problem was that Mother doesn't speak English, and Daughter was worried that if the gate was changed or some other problem arose, Mother would end up on the wrong flight. So could I please make sure she boarded the proper flight at the appropriate time?
And I, being the brave, caring, generous spirit that I am (read: a pushover who's too timid to say no) said that it would be my pleasure. No problem at all. The whole time imagining all the possible problems that could arise from this situation.
Daughter thanked me and left.
Suddenly, I was no longer lounging in the warm cocoon of Plenty Of Time before the last leg of my journey. No, now I was chained to the uncomfortable airport chair - unable to walk even to the bathroom for fear my new charge would assume we were changing gates, or simply disappear while I was gone. The rest of the wait was spent trying to figure out how to handle several different hypothetical situations should they arise.
Despite Daugher's claim that her mother spoke no English, I'm pretty sure she understood what the word "boarding" meant. For it was around this time that the gate agent announced that the in-bound crew had called for maintenance before they left. Our flight crew had yet to arrive, and the mechanics had not yet determined the extent of needed repairs, and so it was possible that they would have to delay boarding.
At the sound of that magical "b" word, Mother came close to jumping to her feet and heading down the jetway. But the lack of movement from all the other waiting people informed her that it wasn't time yet.
Three more times the gate agent let us know that we couldn't start boarding yet, and each time she jerked as if someone had shocked her, ready to leap to her feet. By the time he announced that we were finally boarding and still scheduled to leave on time, Mother was ready to get the show on the road! When she saw everyone else start getting in line, she began waving impatiently to me, wanting me to hurry it up so we could all get on board. The only problem was that they were only boarding First Class, and she was in Group 6.
I managed to communicate the need to wait using the universal raised index finger and a smile; but when they called up the next group, she was off again and once more I had to stop her. We went through this for First Class, Party Class, and Groups 1-5. Each time she seemed to get a little more impatient, and managed to inch her way a little closer to the line. By the time they called Group 6, I was convinced that she thought I was some crazy American who was trying to keep her off the flight. Meanwhile, my mind was conjuring an image of her butting through the line, not understanding when the agents tried to correct her, and me ending up in jail for somehow being entangled with a disorderly passenger.
Thankfully, her group was called and we could both board (I was supposed to be in Group 4). The last I saw of her, she was crawling into her row, tossing me a smile and a wave over her shoulder as I headed further down the aisle. I was happy to let her go.
This time, I was finally granted a window seat. To make matters even sweeter, there wasn't anyone in the middle seat, so there was more elbow room for myself and the lady in the aisle seat. But by the time we were airborne, the sun was already setting and the lightbulb over my seat didn't work, so reading was out. The majority of the flight was spent trying to sleep and failing miserably. Even with the extra seat to stretch out on, I was in the row in front of the Emergency Exit, so I couldn't lean my seat back. Not very comfortable.
We managed to reach our final destination five minutes early, despite a shaky start and a rainy finish. All of my bags made it; I wasn't beaten/shot/stabbed/kidnapped/mugged while waiting for my ride home; and best of all, I avoided that horrible circumstance of becoming Other People!
And now it is very early in the morning and I'm enjoying JETLAG!! Whoopie!!