I’ll go ahead and admit up front that an act of monumental stupidity on my part set the wheels in motion for some pretty awful air travel this past Monday. But once the ball got rolling, the airlines and the universe took over.
My girlfriend, Beth, and I traveled to Dallas this past weekend to watch the currently 12-2 Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in AT&T stadium. Going to that stadium is always a blast because it sort of feels like a strip club, football stadium and the Death Star all got together and had a baby. The building itself is a show.
But this particular night we were lucky enough to find ourselves in a swank private box courtesy of a very kind friend who married well. Not only were they great seats, but there were pretty much endless chicken fingers. It was hard to beat.
I’d made plane reservations for 8:30 Monday morning, figuring to get back chained to my desk by 12:30 or 1 p.m. As DFW is one of the world’s biggest and busiest airports, we dutifully showed up unshowered and bleary-eyed at 6:30 a.m. and made it through security with only minimal trouble. A tube of something in my bag that was fine to fly with on Saturday somehow became a problem, so it got tossed.
Just as an aside, let me say I take the various FAA warnings and prohibitions very seriously since failure to do so generally leads to body cavity searches. My traveling companion apparently thinks such rules are suggestions and was giving me a hard time about dutifully putting anything that seemed even remotely close to a liquid state into a Ziploc plastic bag where it couldn’t hurt anyone. She told me “they don’t really care about that.”
Of course as we went through security Saturday and my properly bagged toiletries sailed through all the scanners and sniffers with no problem, her bag was hauled off to the side where the security officer pulled out two aerosol cans the size of SCUBA tanks. He explained that they were both explosive and flammable and definitely not allowed, then threw them away.
I tell this story not to gloat about being right — because soon you will see I have no reason to gloat and also I’m not the type of person who would get a kick out of writing about something like that in the pages of a newspaper. It’s just a cautionary tale.
Anyway … so we’re there at our gate by about 7 a.m. — plenty of time to enjoy some delicious airport garbage we bought for breakfast — when I decided to go up to the desk to see if they could arrange it so we’d be sitting on the same row. As the woman typed our names in she got a puzzled look on her face and said, “You know your flight isn’t until 8:30 tonight?” It was like one of those movie shots where everything in the background suddenly goes out of focus. “What!?” “Yes sir, your flight it at 8:30 p.m.” She stressed “P.M.!” like I might still wear a Mickey Mouse watch.
I immediately went through the four stages of airport grief: 1) Disbelief (“There’s no way I’m this dumb!”), 2) Bargaining (“Well, can you get me on another flight?”), 3) Anger (“The stupid computer shouldn’t have given me a p.m. choice when I specifically told it I wanted a.m. Stupid computer!”) and finally 4) Acceptance (“Um, hey, this is kind of funny honey, but we ACTUALLY don’t fly for another 12 hours. Ha, ha…. (forced laughter stopped by withering glare).)
To her credit it only took Beth a couple of hours to start talking to me again. But her irritation wasn’t helped any by the fact that as we attempted to Uber back to where we’d been staying, our car got plowed by a big ol’ van, giving us both 24-hour whiplash. I could tell the stars were out of alignment for us.
I was also already suffering from airport PTSD. The last time I’d flown out of DFW a couple of years ago, my brother and I wandered away from the gate for a few minutes and when we got back everyone had boarded the plane. The guy behind the desk refused to let us get on even though there was still two minutes of official boarding time remaining. The captain even called him and said it was OK for us to board, but he wouldn’t budge, so we ended up in a hotel overnight.
So Beth and I got back to the airport at 6 P.M.! determined not to have more troubles. But our electronic boarding passes were suddenly not working, so we headed for the American Airlines desk. While in line my phone rang and a robot told me American had just canceled our flight because they didn’t have the employees to fly it. The robot jovially asked if I was cool with all of that or if I might need to talk with a human.
Fortunately the human was more concerned. She explained there was no more room on any flights to Mobile until after Christmas. So American just canceled a flight because of staffing issues, knowing there was no way the people on that flight could actually get where they’re going?
I went back through the four stages of airport grief: 1) Anger (“You can’t just cancel a flight for no good reason with no backup plan! Get the pilot out of the bar and let’s go!”), 2) Pleading (“For the love of God, please just get us to Mobile tonight! I’m going to be murdered and it will ruin Christmas for my children!”), 3) Bargaining (“I will personally write you a check right now!”), 4) Acceptance (“We’ll take anything within a few hours of Mobile as long as it leaves tonight.”)
To her credit, the operator lady scoured the flights and found two seats on a 9 p.m. flight to Pensacola. Sure, my car was at Mobile’s airport, but that was a relatively minor problem.
We nervously waited for the plane as the departure time came and went. Eventually our plane showed up and we were all herded aboard so we could sit for another hour and wait for the “fuel truck” to show up. While waiting, Beth found an interesting article about how American is facing a $1.6 million fine from the FAA for excessively long tarmac delays. Good reading.
Beth’s brother kindly retrieved us from Pensacola International just a few minutes after midnight, and a $20 Uber trip in the morning got me out to get my car, so all’s well that ended well.
If I learned anything more than it’s important to pay attention to whether your plane takes off in the a.m. or p.m., it’s that it is rare only one thing goes wrong when traveling. That and not to eat raw tuna tacos in an airport — but that’s another story.
Merry Christmas and thank you all for another year of allowing us to write for you and serve as the Mobile area’s local newspaper.