The Odyssey

I had to go away last weekend to take a course for work. What should have been a reasonably boring and uneventful trip quickly became a frustrating ball of crap, starting with the cancellation of my flights (of which I had many, because when I was booking – well in advance, btw – there were no direct flights at reasonable times or cost).

On the way to Illinois

I arrive at the Halifax airport for my original flight leaving at 1:50 pm. All is well, everything is carefully scheduled and planned in naive spirit. Oops – all flights to where I’m going are canceled because of storms. I have to be in Illinois by 8 am the next day for a certification-based training course. I’ve never been in this situation before: what do I do?

I try to get another flight, they can’t get me there before noon the next day and with all the shuttles etc to get where I’m going, I’d miss the first day of training entirely. I try to call my boss, she’s not available. But how formal is this course? Can I still do it if I miss the first day? Should I still go? I really don’t want to leave just to get stranded somewhere else. Etc.

Finally my boss has a chance to call me back while I’m at the gate, figuring things out. She can’t get a hold of the course organizers but tells me to go anyway even it I can only get there in the afternoon and she’ll beg them to let me attend. That sounds…pretty sketchy. But in the meantime, this became moot because the intrepid American Airlines people found me a flight with Air Canada that can get me to Chicago by 9 pm if I go through Boston instead of NY – 5 hours delayed from my original plans, but at least that same evening. Yay! Problem solved. Phew.

Oh, Kimbo, don’t be silly.

We boarded at 4:40 pm, at which point I unfortunately find out that trying to take off a sweater on a plane without punching a stranger in the head is an exercise in futility. Once we’re on the plane, they tell us we’re delayed until 6 pm. Eff. My connection in Boston is probably not going to work out and the entire point of figuring that out before I left was to avoid getting stranded in some foreign city overnight.

We arrive in Boston late enough that I think I missed my connection. It’s leaving (supposedly) 20 minutes after we land and I have to switch terminals and go through security again and bolt to the gate if I’m going to even barely make it. I try anyway and, when I get there, there’s no plane and no employee (I’m also in such a hurry that I forgot my sweater in the x-ray machine and some lovely citizen managed to find me and bring it to me – though at this point my panic attack was past the point of caring, but thank you to that random person). So I assume that despite my Herculean sprint, I did in fact miss my connection.

At this point I did what any rational person should do in a situation of relatively minor inconvenience – I burst into tears of absolute frustration and try to ask another AA employee for help in what must have been a pathetic display of blubbering nonsense, when she informs me that the plane is merely delayed (contrary to every single goddamn arrival/departure schedule that I bolted past on the way to get there, running down various wrong corridors, telling me that it was still on time). I then go to the bathroom, because crying in an airport bathroom is slightly more dignified than doing it in public.

Normal people would not have this reaction, but normal people generally don’t have panic attacks to entertain themselves. So I calm myself down (“flip out later, this isn’t helping, you made the plane, let’s just do this”) and go sit at the gate to wait for my plane whenever the hell it decides to arrive (which was another hour later). Here’s where I went a bit mad, finding this all a bit hilarious, and got the giggles, which I’m sure just make me look at least as insane as my sweaty running and crying from earlier which has made my face all blotchy and red and my eyes all puffy.

Finally I land in Chicago and catch a break – the sketchy shuttle bus, which is the only bus to where I’m going and only leaves every couple of hours, just happened to be there. If I had been even 10 minutes later I would have had to wait that time until the next one. He was also nice enough to let me on even though I missed my reservation due to the now 5-hour delay.

16 hours after I began, I arrive at my destination. Average time to travel by plane from NS to IL: about 8 hours. Fail. The moral of this day: Things eventually work out for me, but only after chance takes a dump on my chest.

The next morning – An aside

I go down to the hotel lobby for breakfast at about 7 am and there’s someone on the phone at the counter who is apparently a person from my course. She’s trying to call a cab because the hotel employee told her that she couldn’t take the bus. That’s odd, I say, because I printed off the schedule before I left and the route goes to about a block away from where we have to go. “Oh well I didn’t think you’d want to walk.” So strong was this assumption, apparently, that chasing down cabs (that don’t run before 8 am) and rental cars (9:30 am) seemed like more viable options than just walking a single block. Finally my meticulous planning pays off.

So we decide to take the bus and the hotel employee goes “There’s a bus stop out here by the hotel, which I use, but it’s probably easier if you get on by the mall because it’s clearly marked.” Apparently she was also about ready to get off her shift (this is relevant in a minute). So we walk over to the mall – which was just across the street, so not too far – wait around in the crisp morning air, catch the bus, ride around for about 15 minutes in a big circle, and end up at…the hotel…where the hotel lady then got on. At the bus stop right outside. Fail.

Foraging – Another aside

The rest of my time in Illinois was rather boring – go to course, arrange drives with people there with cars, come back and sleep. But on the last day, I went to get some supper before trying to sleep for the next day’s odd travel hours. I walk to the mall and opt for fast food. I get my burger at A&W to go all the way back to the hotel, bite in and – it’s raw. Normal on the outside, so raw on the inside that it’s bled onto the bun (I thought maybe he just hadn’t shaken the ketchup and it was ketchup juice – no dice).

Now, keep in mind this is a fast food joint. Their burgers are pretty regimented. They are all paper thin and cooked for the same length of time at the same temperature, specifically to prevent this from ever happening – no variation in fast food, everything the same. So I was almost equally as impressed that this was even possible as I was frustrated that I just wasted about 6 bucks and was still hungry. But I ordered it, said irrational brain, so of course it was shite. Usually I would just absorb this and give up and go to sleep, but feeling the need for a victory no matter how small I called, went back, and got a refund.

Because this is America. And in America, when something sucks, you get your money back – Stan Marsh.

On the way home

My shuttle left infrequently in large time increments so to get my 7 am plane on time, I had to take the 1:15 am shuttle which got me to the airport around 3:30 am. I tried to sleep a bit before leaving, but it was Saturday night and apparently some people decided to party on my floor – yelling, slamming doors, etc. They did eventually all go to one room – right next to mine.

So I’m on about a cumulative hour’s sleep at O’Hare. After a couple of hours waiting for security to open, I go through and catch my plane – nothing interesting there to report other than something went smoothly for once. I thought “maybe this will be an indication of the day – that this trip will be better than on the way here”.

Again, silly me.

I get to my next destination, La Guardia in NY – a garbage dump full of rude assholes masquerading as an airport. We board the plane, but there’s a problem. The fuel people over-fueled the plane by 1000 frakking pounds, making us a few hundred pounds too overweight to take off.

At this point I almost felt I should apologize to my fellow passengers. I mean, why should this relatively unusual event happen to our plane of all the planes taking off and landing without issue? Because I’m on it. Sorry, folks.

We either have to defuel or have a few people deplane and get new flights. The adorably optimistic staff figure it’ll be easier/faster to convince a few frustrated travelers to give up their tickets, find their luggage, and take a new flights than to drain the few extra hundred pounds of fuel. An hour after our scheduled departure, we take off.

I had about 10 minutes after our scheduled landing before my next flight was to begin boarding, so I’m sitting there thinking I’m not going to get home that day because I’m going to miss my flight and how many flights are there to Halifax from Philadelphia anyway and it’s me and the way this trip is going even if I make it we’ll crash and I’ll be responsible for killing dozens of people omgdie.

Sense has no place in catastrophizing.

We land and I have 5 minutes to get to my flight before its scheduled departure. Maybe I can make it! My gate is only like 10 feet away, if only I can get off, get my bag and go go go go go. Hurry hurry hurry. Stupid ramp taking for ever to get to the door, don’t you realize I have a plane to catch?! “Will passengers with connections to X, Y, and Halifax please see the staff at Gate 1 for new boarding passes?” Eff. It’s over. I missed it. I’m filled with a sense of exhaustion. I just want to be home. Or at least in Canada. I’ll take a flight to Toronto at this point. I don’t care.

“Hi, I was told to report to you. Going to Halifax.”

“Oh the plane’s been delayed. You’re lucky. Gate 5.”

I’m lucky?! I see what she meant, but two delayed planes is not luck. Having your first plane delayed by juuuuuuuuust enough so that you could, if only things were about 5 minutes sooner, have still made it – giving yourself a heart attack in despair and being overwhelmed by a feeling of general wretchedness only to have that all been for nothing (because you can’t predict the future) because your second plane is also frakked out of its gourd is not very “lucky”, imho.

Again I feel like apologizing to my fellow passengers for even existing because the plane delay drags on forever, while we get halfhearted “updates” that the mechanics are looking at something. At one point everyone stands up and starts walking away. What the? There was no announcement. A few of us ask what’s going on and someone says “apparently we’re moving to gate 32”.

Shit. Do I go or not? On the one hand, everyone else has moved. On the other, there was no announcement and the way things have been going… We still don’t know how much time we have before boarding. But the flight attendant comes out and we ask her. Yes, we are in fact moving to gate 32. Apparently the problem with the plane was severe enough that the repair was going to be a significant delay (well, more so) so we had to change planes entirely. I’m like a magnet for unusual and annoying events. There was never any announcement of this. I hope everyone made the plane.

So I’m finally on my flight home. We land safely on the ground. I’m actually amazed. I go through customs and answer his inane questions about where I was and why, trying to contain my catharsis. If he’d said “welcome home” like they always do, the dam would have burst. But he didn’t. My awesome husband greets me with a sign with my last name on it, some pizza, and Advil. I try not to blubber too much as he escorts me to the car. “You must be so relieved”, he says.

Understatement.

Epilogue

Air travel can be inherently frustrating. Especially multiple issues on the same weekend-long trip when professional reputation and qualifications are on the line. But I know there are worse things to happen than delays and cancellations. These happen all the time. It’s still frustrating and stressful to go through. My husband and I are going to Europe in a few weeks, too, and given that I’ll be there and there’s a terror alert for US travelers to Europe, I’m pretty confident that we will explode.

Have a horrible travel story of your own? Share in the comments.

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