30 June 2006

Leslie and the Airport... A Tale of Woe

You would think I’d learn my lesson about travel and just stay put. Or maybe just walk everywhere… Or maybe a buggy… I bet I could handle a buggy. But this airplane thing, it seems the Fates are against me and my ever-present wanderlust.

Perhaps you saw that last post, where I was heading to Missouri? All a ruse, a mere pipe dream of hours in the pool with homemade ice cream…

Yes, don’t we all need a good Leslie travel debacle story to give us a chuckle? Perhaps I’ll start a book of travel tales. Perhaps they’ll be the next Sherlock Holmes stories, written by someone who just wants things to go swimmingly so he can attend to important matters (like talking with the dead and taking pictures of fairies in their natural habitats)*, yet the public demands more stories. Not that you, my friends and fellow knitters, demand more tales of horror travel. You’re not that cruel. I’m assuming it’s the Fates reading this blog. “He, he,” they laugh. “She’s been way too jolly with that knitting nonsense of late. Let’s get her! We want airport farce. Oh, she’s packing. Sit back and laugh when the story comes.”

Yesterday morning at the entirely uncivilized hour of 3.30 a.m., I yank myself from the covers and struggle into the bathroom after only three hours of fitful sleep. You’d think that by now, I could pack a suitcase with nary a thought but no, I wait until the last minute and then debate over every article of clothing. But I’ll sleep on the plane, I think in all my delusional innocence. Despite the hour, the morning goes smoothly… too smoothly. The last bits of laundry are tossed into my bag, the bathroom articles dried after the shower, and I’m actually waiting on the porch fifteen minutes ahead of my 5 a.m. cab. It’s very dark, quiet and peaceful on my street that early. I relaxed and thought this was a good sign, a refreshing start to what I hoped would be a refreshing weekend away.

Even my cab driver remarked about how peaceful it was that morning as the sun was starting to come up. “You’ll have a nice day for travel. Not a storm in sight.”

“Well,” I replied in my usual pessimism, “I’m sure if there’s a storm I’ll find it. I have a travel curse. I try not to get too optimistic about actually getting to my destination on time and in one piece.”

“But this will be your lucky day,” he smiled in return. “You’ll break the curse.”

Boy, was he wrong.

At 5.30 a.m., the airport was already a madhouse. There was a line for curbside check-in, but it was shorter than the inside line so I gave it a go. Better to breathe the exhaust fumes for a bit and get a few minutes of outside air before the stale airport environment. Dave, the friendly porter, took my ID and started punching in my information, getting increasingly more frustrated as he worked. “Honey, you’re not in my system. Here, come around the look at the screen.” He probably shouldn’t have done that, but he wanted me to see that I was, in fact, missing. “Go inside to the first class line and tell them that Dave sent you because he couldn’t find you.”

Not a good sign.

I wheeled in behind an uppity woman who was waiting for her husband who was out parking the Saab and patiently waited. I’ve always wanted to be in the first class line, but not because Dave sent me. The man took my ID, started punching in my info, and telling me that I wasn’t in the system. I started getting frustrated. “I know this is my flight. I wrote it down. See?” As if my chicken scratches on an old notepad were going to get me on the plane. “Where can I get to the internet to check my email?” The first time I’ve tried to fly without printing my itinerary and of course, it’s the first time I actually needed it.

“I don’t know, miss. You’re not in the system. That’s all I know.”

Oh the helpfulness of airport employees…

Finally, I found an airline with no early morning flights and therefore, two smiling employees chit chatting and laughing at their fellow ticket counter workers facing lines that snaked all the way to the door. I just needed to check my email and get this all straightened out. “Well, the only place to get to an internet machine is past security, which won’t help you. I’d let you use my laptop and get on wireless, but I didn’t bring it today. I’ll give you the 1-800 numbers of the airlines if that will help.”

After a little digging through his computer system, he came up with the number for Expedia and the two airlines where I was supposed to have reservations. (Yes, just to give me an extra challenge, Expedia had put me on a different airline for the outgoing and return flights.) Of course, just to prove what a glorious day it was going to be, I get the one person at the call center that I can’t understand… and that frustrated me as much as the whole not-in-the-system debacle. I always try very hard to avoid the stereotype of the “ugly American” who refuses to listen to any accent, point of view, lifestyle but my own. But the stress and the lack of sleep and caffeine had shut off my brain entirely. I couldn’t understand her accent. I cringed as I had to say, “I don’t understand you. What should I do?”

Just to get me off the line, she told me to go to Delta. I go to Delta. The very upset woman there tells me to go to U.S. Airway, the place I started my airport adventure. Oh, the circle is complete. I refuse to start over so I pick up the Delta phone and try to talk to someone there, hoping they will find me “in the system.” After many tense moments of trying to explain my situation and knowing that I’ll never make the 6.30 flight I thought I should be on, I finally am found “in the system.”

“Okay, miss, it looks like you missed your flight.”
“Well, yes, I think I will. There’s no way I’m going to make it through that line now.”

“No, your flight was yesterday.”

Huh… what?

Seems that I’m in need of more caffeine and sleep than I even knew. Yes, I booked a trip home, but I booked it for the wrong day.

“Okay, so can I get to Kansas City today?”

“Well, I doubt it, but I’ll check. You know this will cost you.”

My stomach churned and my head started pounding. “Check for empty seats, but tell me how much it’ll be before you book anything.”

“I can get you on standby for a flight tomorrow… for $850.”

Gulp. Yeah, not gonna work. She started asked questions in airport code, the kind where if you say yes or no, they’re going to do some computer magic and you’re going to sign over your first born or get shipped to Egypt without even realizing it. At one point, I laid it all on the line. “Look, speak to me with plain words, not airline speak. Let’s just assume I’m the stupidest person you’ve ever talked to. Use small words and speak slowly and loudly. I’m stuck in the airport with no sleep or caffeine. I just realized that I screwed up royally and am going to miss out on a weekend at the pool. What are my options? Even better, what should I do?”

I’m still not really sure what happened at that point, but she gave me a whole string of numbers and I think that if I book with Delta in the next year I can get part of my ticket value. I think.

So I called home to let mom know she didn’t need to drive to the airport. Later, I realized that I called her hours before she needed to be awake, let alone leave home. Oops, sorry. I trudged back to the line of taxis, the only arrival that early in the morning. And wouldn’t you know the same driver that had picked me up an hour before was at the front of the line. “I’m back. Told you I have the worst flying luck.”

“What happened? Shouldn’t you be on a plane, enjoying the calm weather and easy flying?”

“Yeah, I should, but I’m not. Remember my address?”

I couldn’t confess to him that I screwed up so I mumbled something about someone else getting my reservation wrong. Dejected and embarrassed, I crawled back into bed immediately upon returning home… and I didn’t wake up until noon.

So, kids, the lessons of this story…

1. Never travel with Leslie. She’s cursed.

2. Never let Leslie make airline reservations. She’s cursed at that too.

3. Never let Leslie borrow your buggy. She only thinks that it will be a superior form of travel. She’ll be cursed at that too. And with a buggy, the curse will probably affect the horses. It could get very messy.

The only good part of this little tale… Yarn Kitty, I had a perfect opportunity to test out the stress relieving qualities of the aromatherapy bath salts, scrubbing lotion and cool washcloths. They work. They work especially well if you add a good strong drink.

Pics of my latest package to come soon… after I unpack and find my camera again.

*That Doc Doyle was quite something. Of course anyone who makes a violin-playing cocaine-addict into the world’s greatest detective has to be on the “creative” side. The fairy pics are actually pretty cool, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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