I've recently come into a batch of bad flying luck. And I'm saying it that way because "batch" sounds light and not permanent (like a batch of cookies!) and I'm hoping that by saying it that way I can will its impermanence into reality. I also hope that by writing about it on this blog after my multi-month negligence, I can right whatever wrong I have done by the universe and stop having the worst motherfucking time trying to ever leave or return to this godforsaken city by commercial air travel. (The "commercial" designation is not necessary since when have I ever flown private but, boy oh boy, is it a dream I have).
I am going to skip telling you about the time I tried to go home to Portland for a long weekend on a 9pm flight, was delayed an hour, then sat on the plane without moving for two, finally left the gate, waited on the tarmac for another hour, then returned to the gate because of FDA regulations about how long you can sit on a plane for, deplaned, waited an hour, and then re-boarded only to then have the flight canceled. I took a $75 cab home from the airport at 2am and then cried profusely to a JetBlue representative over the phone the next morning. I got $175 in flight credit. Cool. Thank you so much. I can't wait to get on a plane again.
I am also going to skip telling you about the time I tried to fly back to New York from Idaho, boarded my connecting flight in Chicago, left the gate, sat on the tarmac for an hour, and then returned to the gate for more fuel, and then was told our flight was canceled. I got rebooked on another connecting flight through Nashville three hours later, sat around in that airport for an hour listening to a man cover Tim McGraw songs, one of which was "Live Like You Were Dying" which a) was an ironic foil to how I was wasting away in Nashville, and b) obviously made me cry because that song is sad and I was in a heightened emotional state. I returned to NYC a mere 7 hours late after traipsing through 4 of our great nation's airports.
Instead what I am going to tell you about is how I tried to go to North Carolina. And really, since I want you to rest easy throughout the telling of this story, please know that I did ultimately make it to North Carolina. The point of this rehashing of these fraught moments is for you to just understand how unbelievably bad my luck is (and to right my karmic wrong-doings, don't forget). It's downright comical. Except that I am never laughing, I just always end up crying. I hope I don't cry while writing this. I might. I hate this story.
Okay, so here I am going to North Carolina. I am going to visit my now-boyfriend (~ooh la la~) who at that point was just my maybe-boyfriend. I have requested my time off. I have booked my flight. My flight leaves at 6:30am on a Thursday out of Newark. I have booked this SPECIFIC flight for three SPECIFIC reasons.
- If I leave at the crack of dawn, there is less opportunity for other flights before mine to be delayed and subsequently delay my flight.
- If I leave out of Newark, I'm slightly more removed from the clusterfuck of congested airspace that is LGA and JFK.
- I just kind of think that weather is better in the mornings? I use a question mark here because I know that isn't a fact but did actually factor into my reasoning.
Here we are at 5pm the evening before my flight. I get a terrible text. It looks like this:
I immediately guffaw, because is has to be a joke. But then actually get a follow up email and confirm that the flight is actually fucking canceled. I text Alex (the maybe-boyfriend who would soon become the now-boyfriend) a screenshot. I call American Airlines, the dastardly aviation overlords ruining my life, and an automated voice tells me there is a FORTY-FIVE MINUTE TO SIXTY-MINUTE HOLD TIME. COOL, I CAN'T WAIT TO GET REBOOKED SUPER PROMPTLY THANKS A MILLION! I opt-in to be called back when I am next in the virtual queue to speak with a representative because my only other option is to sit in the tiny, totally transparent phone room at work, which I have now made into my personal glass box of emotion, for an hour and have my ears assaulted by hold music while I sink deeper into my overdramatic despair.
So instead I go into a meeting because I am still at work. I do not do very well in the meeting. I am basically just internally freaking out and trying to surreptitiously look for new flights. It was not surreptitious. I am certain of that. There are no good options because why would there be when my original flight was supposed to leave in 12 hours.
I finally get on the phone with Micah, my last and tenuous hope for salvaging my trip, and also an American Airlines representative. What transpires next is just the two of us trying to book literally any flight to Charlotte while it seems that every other person is also trying to book any flight to Charlotte. Micah will read me a potential itinerary, and then before he can even tell me how many bizarre, nonsensical connections I am going to make, someone has booked that seat. Do I want to fly to Atlanta at 8am and then layover for 4 hours and then...? Oh wait someone booked it. Okay, wait, one just popped up—1pm to DC and then you get on a....hold on, just kidding, it went away.
I was on a roller coaster of emotion with Micah and honestly going on actual roller coasters with strangers isn't even that fun so why would I want to be on emotional one? I didn't. It sucked. I was very close to crying to yet another airline rep on the phone.
Finally, after probably 25 minutes of sweating (just me, probably not Micah) and high-pitched, I'm-about-to-cry voice (again, just me) I get booked on an 8am flight from LGA through Roanoke with a 2 hour layover. Plan B has been made.
The next morning I arrive at LGA on time. This is not when things go wrong for me. I am very prompt for arriving at the airport. I board the plane out of a gate that is split into 2A and 2B because the gate is not even legit enough to just be the number 2. 2A and 2B are just doors that lead onto the tarmac. Because the plane I'm getting on to go to Roanoke is so small that they don't even give it a jet bridge. We board late, which just kicks my anxiety into gear. I literally trust nothing when it comes to flights now. Someone announces a 15 minute delay? What's to say it won't turn into a two-hour one! We can't board yet? Is it because of a mechanical failure? Or are we missing our flight crew? There are endless possible ways for a flight to go wrong, and endless possible ways for you to get your hopes up and then have them dashed. Is this depressing? Sorry.
Okay. I get onto the plane, again I cannot emphasize how small this plane is. It is a joke plane. I am sitting in a row that consists of one seat. There are 3 seats across the entire width of the plane. Not like 3 seats on either side of the aisle. Like me in a single seat on one side and two seats on the other side. 3 seats total. A plane for ants.
So the flight attendant starts reading the safety rules, a good sign. The door to the plane is closed. She is taking one last walk down the aisle. I am watching her, waiting for any sign of this being about to go wrong. I see her peer at a man's lap, and then look up and walk briskly to the front of the plane. Lucky me, something has gone wrong. After 15 minutes of walking back and forth from the front of the plane to the man in question, we get an announcement. The man's seatbelt is broken, and because there are weight distribution requirements for this plane he cannot be moved to the empty seat at the front of the plane. It would compromise take-off.
At this moment, what I am saying to myself in my head is along the lines of: THIS FEELS SAFE. I FEEL SAFE AND I FEEL CALM. Neither are true. I have started trying to accept that I might not go to North Carolina at all at this point. And even if I do take off, the weight of humans and luggage is just going to shift around and we will nose dive straight back to earth. Two good feelings.
We wait for a mechanic to come and assess the seat belt situation. The mechanic comes, he inspects, he leaves again. He returns with an auxiliary seat belt. He fixes the seat belt. An hour and a half has passed. At this point, I'm going through my internal list of things that would indicate we are maybe actually going to be taking off (which I know because at this point I'm half way to being a pilot just from the amount of hours I've logged in proximity to airplanes):
The seatbelt is fixed. Check.
Mechanic updates the pilot and leaves the plane. Check.
Flight attendant closes the plane door. Check.
The engine turns on. Check.
We leave the gate. Check.
I'm checking my watch, are we going to hit the 3 hour limit for sitting on a plane and have to go back to the gate? Are we going to run out of fuel? Are we going to get bumped for take-off priority because there are more important flights than one with 50 people on a toy plane going to Roanoke?
Despite my totally unproductive internal monologue, we take off. We make it to Roanoke. Trip is 50% complete.
Okay so here we are in Roanoke. I now feel pretty mollified because if worse comes to worst, Alex will drive here and pick me up. He's three hours away. This doesn't feel like an awesome alternative but at least I am not in fucking New York City any more.
The airport in Roanoke is basically 5 gates. I walk 3 yards from where I just got off a plane to my new gate and see that there is a flight for Charlotte leaving at 11am before the one I'm booked on at 12:40pm. Is this an opportunity?! I go to the check-in desk at the gate and ask to get on standby for the 11am flight. There are two women working here, and I quickly learn (because she told me) that the one helping me is here on her first day of work. The more senior woman is half supervising first-day-of-work girl over her shoulder and half taking care of a slew of other people's problems on the phone from what was, I gather, an earlier flight delay.
First-day-of-work girl gets me on standby. I wait 20 minutes. The 11am flight's boarding time is approaching. I get off of standby! It seems like we should be boarding but we aren't. The boarding time has come and gone but no one seems concerned? Finally first-day-of-work desk girl comes over to me while I'm looking around in bewilderment at the gate and whispers that the plane for the 11am flight has a mechanical error, so she's put me back on the 12:40 flight. Wow, amazing. Thank you. I am genuinely relieved. Crisis averted...dramatic pause...OR SO I THOUGHT.
Okay so fine, now I am waiting another hour and a half for my flight to board. I spend 20 minutes trying to get on the wifi. I check my Facebook and watch no fewer than 3 make-up contouring videos that I find absolutely unable to stop watching and are constantly in my newsfeed. I look around and realize that the only people in this airport are at the gate to go to Charlotte. Roanoke is a purgatory for the North Carolina-bound.
Finally, 10 minutes before my flight is supposed to board, first-day-of-work girl waves me over to the check-in desk. I am filled with dread.
"So..." she starts off. It already feels bad. "I'm really sorry...but...you've been bumped from the 12:40 flight."
W. H. A. T. Actually WHAT are you telling me. (I ask this, but without spelling out the word "what" because it doesn't have the same effect verbally).
What she tries to explain to me is that because I was taken off the 12:40 flight and booked on the 11am when I got off standby, I was the last person to check in for the 12:40 flight when she put me back on that one. And now because the crew for the 11am flight (which had just gotten progressively more delayed) needs to get to another airport, I've been bumped to accommodate them. If I could have melted into the floor as a steaming pile of disbelief, I would have.
At first I just squint at first-day-of-work girl. Because what possible words are there that would convey to her my last three months of horrendous flight experiences that were all culminating in this moment? There weren't any.
I ask her why if, I had checked in, there were people cleared for the flight who had been on standby, as the reader board indicated there were? She looks around. She tries to get the attention of the more senior woman who is still on the phone and typing furiously into her computer and huffing into the phone. What transpires next was honestly the biggest failure of human communication that I have ever witnessed and while I will try to explain it to you, even I don't really know what happened. And I was there. Watching it. Firsthand.
First-day-of-work girl kind of gets senior woman's attention, she asks senior woman my question about the standby passengers. Senior woman looks at me and says "this is passenger Leonard?" and I say "no, I'm Lundquist". Senior woman tells first-day-of-work girl to hold on and starts ignoring us again. Then she turns back and says "what are you guys trying to figure out?" First-day-of-work girl tries to ask again why I've been bumped and senior woman just says "check and see if she's on the list". First-day-of-work girl gets on the phone to call someone about "the list" because apparently the computer in front of her can't tell her that information. The person on the phone seems to think I'm on "the list", so first-day-of-work girl turns to senior woman and says "John says shes on the list, so why would it say that she's not?" while pointing at the computer. Senior woman waves her hand and says "I don't know, I don't think she's on the list, we will just have to find out!"
ARE WE NOT TRYING TO "FIND OUT" RIGHT NOW? JOHN SAYS I'M ON THE LIST. AND YOU JUST "THINK" THAT I'M NOT?
I ask senior woman "how is there no way to know if I am on the plane? I have a boarding pass and I have a seat number. But you are telling me that's not true?". To which senior woman simply says "we will just have to see when we scan your boarding pass!"
OH I'M SORRY, DID I ACCIDENTALLY BUY A LOTTERY TICKET INSTEAD OF A FLIGHT? IS THAT HOW FLYING WORKS? EVERYONE JUST WILLY-NILLY GETS A BOARDING PASS AND THEN WE JUST "SEE" WHO GETS TO BE ON THE PLANE WHEN WE SCAN THEIR BOARDING PASS?!
Again, the puddle of steaming disbelief. But it's too late because she has already started announcing boarding the plane and scanning boarding passes and pointedly ignoring me and first-day-of-work girl is clearly at a loss and has just been shrugging sympathetically at me for the last 5 minutes and senior woman is DONE. TALKING. TO. ME.
So instead I stand in the boarding area, waiting as she calls for pre-board, and premium first class whatever, and then groups 1 and 2, and then active-duty military members, and then groups 1 through 4, and then groups 1 though 5. And then finally she calls group 6. Because heaven forbid I just scan my pass at the beginning of this whole process and see whether I'm on the god forsaken plane or not and cut all the suspense.
I walk up to her and give her a look thats like "uhhh, yeah I'm still here, and remember when you told me that you couldn't tell me if I was on a flight without scanning my boarding pass?" (it was a complicated facial expression). To which she says "okay let's see if this works." OKAY YEAH LET'S DO THAT.
You guys, the boarding pass scans. The boarding pass motherfucking scans. Because I am a passenger on the plane. But apparently that was absolutely impossible to discern prior to this very tense moment. So I get on the plane. And I fly to Charlotte. And I arrive as planned according to plan B, despite all of the hundred words of things I've written about what happened between departure and arrival. It was a lot. I feel tired even writing it. If you've made it here, you deserve an award and I deserve an award and I hope that award is painless air travel for the rest of my life. I hope the universe feels like I've paid my dues.