I don’t travel much. Or well. There’s plenty of reasons for this, a large one being traveling is expensive and I am not independently wealthy. Another reason is I am, especially as I’ve gotten older, a bit anxious. Okay, that’s a giant understatement. I am very anxious. I don’t really drive anymore because the last winter we had a car, I turned into everyone’s great Aunt Tillie and drove twelve miles an hour if there was an inch of snow on the ground. And yes, I know exactly how miserable and annoying that is, so I just took myself out of the equation. If someone doesn’t text me back within two minutes, I’m pretty convinced they’re either dead or hate me. Also, every time I see an airplane take off, all I can picture is the Challenger explosion. Yes, I know the Challenger was a rocket and not a plane, and yes, logically I understand I am safer in the air than I am on the ground – especially if I’m driving – and yet here we are.
So when I got the opportunity to go for a mini family reunion in North Carolina a few weeks ago, I had not been on a plane in nearly eight years. Which means I also had not been out of the TriState area in eight years. I had the money. I had the vacation. (Had being the operative word, stay tuned on that one.) It was time to get out of my bubble. So I booked the flight, much prouder of myself than I probably should have been as I am 39 years old and considered mostly fully functional. I was really excited, but I was also nervous as hell. I had to fly to North Carolina via Baltimore, I hate taking off and now had to do it twice, and I was going by myself, which I had never done. By the time it was time to go, I was a gigantic ball of extremely annoying nervousness.
The way there went smoothly. I set four alarms to make sure I didn’t miss my flight, I checked my pocket approximately 597 times to make sure my ID hadn’t jumped out of my zipped coat pocket, I was two hours early, I had a twenty two dollar bloody mary. I was ready. I was immediately stopped at security because my ass set the metal detector off. “Ma’am, do you have anything in your pockets?” “These are leggings. I don’t have pockets.” “Well, something in this area,” (gesturing at my not inconspicuous ass,) “that is setting it off. Please step to the side so we can pat you down.”
Now. There are few things I am 100% certain of. But one of them would be that at any point in time, I am not transporting anything, metal or otherwise, in my ass. Like, I know this. It’s not like someone could sneak it in there without me knowing. So why I broke into a panic sweat, I don’t know, yet here we are. It’s like when I’m downtown and the cops are walking through the Thompson Center with the drug sniffing dogs. I don’t do drugs. I am not carrying drugs. Ever. But every time, my heart starts racing until I get past them. Suffice it to say, they did not find anything wayward in my butt and I was set on my way, shoeless and sweating.
The rest of my arrival went smoothly. Whether it was the vodka sodas, the interesting teenagers on their way to a debate conference, or the smooth flight, I don’t know, but I was fine. I met my sister and niece at baggage claim, my parents picked us up, and off we went. We had a great few days with family, lots of laughs, lots of wine, a boat, and made some great memories. It was a great trip.
My flight home was scheduled for Sunday morning at six am, direct on Southwest from North Carolina to Midway. I would be home by nine thirty am. This was by design. I knew I would want some time to decompress after being outside my element for a few days.
The first wheels fell off Saturday night, when I got a text message saying that my flight was canceled. Apparently, there was no plane. I’m going to tell you right now that this on its own was enough to get the anxiety going. I don’t like when things change. I had that flight number memorized. I knew where I was supposed to go. I knew when I was coming home. I knew my gate. I was already checked in online. My cousin saw my panic and walked me through rebooking. Okay. I had to connect back in Baltimore, but I got a flight at 8:30AM, would have a two hour layover in Baltimore, and then home sweet home. I adjusted! Go me!
My parents dropped me off at the airport, I had a drink, and was on my way. We got to Baltimore, got off the plane, and went to McDonald’s and inhaled a breakfast sandwich. Cheerily talked to a man next to me who was on my next flight, scheduled to depart at 12:30. We went our separate ways, me happily saying, “Okay, maybe I’ll see you on the plane!” Ah, back when there was such sweet, sweet hope. I headed to the bar for a nice relaxing drink while I waited. Talked to a nice man who was delayed to Florida who was slamming Bud Light like it was his job. Look at me! Traveling! Making conversation! Not being awkward!!
EMERGENCY!!! THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!!! EMERGENCY!!!!
Out of nowhere, all of the emergency lights started blaring, all of the sirens in the airport started going off, and the automated voice was screaming that we were in an emergency. So much for not being awkward. I jumped off my stool in a panic, grabbed my purse, and was a solid five feet away before the bartender said, “Oh, honey, it’s just a drill. We’re safe.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I would still like someone to explain to me why they were blasting the words EMERGENCY instead of THIS IS A DRILL so the less savvy of us travelers could perhaps not piss our pants during the duration of said drill. I slammed my drink and immediately ordered another to to bring my heart out of my throat and back into my chest where it belongs.
Okay! Time to go! Go to the security line, and literally as I’m standing in the vestibule thing where they scan you, I feel my Garmin vibrate with a text message. I glance at it and all I see is the word, “Cancelled.” I pretend like this isn’t happening because obviously it can’t be and proceed to my gate, where there are about 150 people lined up at the gate. I just stood there, in line, like I had any idea what I was doing. I called my sister – who is not a spaz and travels frequently – and plaintively said, “What do I do?” She tells me to see what they say, then immediately calls back to say all Southwest flights are grounded until Monday and I need to go right now to an American or United counter to get a ticket out of there before everyone else realizes it.
Except I don’t know where those gates are. I knew where Southwest was. I had not planned on going to another gate. I do not do well when the script is flipped completely upside down on me. Also, the flight she found on United was 375 dollars. I did not have 375 dollars. I mean, I did, but that was going to throw a wrench into paying my electric bill and eating food for the next week. I planned money for vacation. I did not plan for a four hundred dollar emergency. She said she’d call her husband – who travels all the time for work – and see what he thought I should do. He can get me a flight to O’Hare at 3:30 with his airline miles. (Side note? I love my sister and brother in law. A whole lot. They are good people. I still have a sneaking suspicion said flight was not exactly free but they were concerned I was going to have an absolute breakdown in the airport.) At this point, Southwest is saying they can book me on a flight at four pm, but it might not go. Call my brother in law and just said, tearily, “What do you think I should do?” He says he’s just going to book it and send me the confirmation, to go to American Airlines and pick up my boarding pass. It is 1:30PM.
I heroically find the AA counter all by myself and wait in line for an increasingly maddening 42 minutes while the agents help the only two people in front of me. Apparently they are missing connecting flights to Europe. I do not care. I need a ticket, something tangible to tell me that I am, in fact, leaving Baltimore. Finally get said boarding pass and head back to my girl Melissa at the bar, who lets me charge my phone and brings me quesadillas. I’m actually still in decent spirits. I can go with the flow! Especially if I have the help of six people!
Text – flight is delayed to four pm.
Text – flight is delayed to four thirty pm.
Text – flight is delayed to five pm.
Text – flight is delayed to five thirty pm.
Begin to get irrationally angry at both my phone and Garmin watch with their cheery vibrating with all of this garbage ass news. My Bud Light swigging friend from the morning is also still stranded. He leaves for his gate and says, very seriously, “You’re a very nice girl. But I hope to to hell I never see you again.” Same goes, buddy. I am all alone. Blatantly plead for sympathy on Facebook with posts like, “I live in Baltimore now. My new address is Gate 4C, Baltimore, Maryland.” People respond with the laughing emoji and I swear at them a little bit. I have no idea where my bags are. Baltimore? North Carolina? Texas?
It’s now a quarter to five. Head back through security, vowing not to explode if my watch vibrates so as not to get arrested in the Baltimore airport. Get to the gate. My plane is here! All of us weary travelers nod knowingly at each other. We’re getting out of here!
“Folks, your plane is here! We just have a slight maintenance delay and then we’ll get you out of here.”
Despite overwhelming reasons not to be, I am still an extreme optimist. Just a slight delay and I’m going home.
“Uh, folks, really sorry to say this, but this plane isn’t going anywhere tonight.”
I had been halfway out of my seat, expecting them to say we were boarding. I sat back down, literally stunned. Who has three flights cancel in one day? Do I really live here now? The girl next to me swears and immediately gets on her phone to rebook. I do nothing. I’m just sitting there, staring at the plane. I can’t even move. My sister texts me right then saying, “Boarding yet?” and I just respond, “Just canceled.” She immediately calls, swearing a blue streak that would have otherwise made me quite proud, and says, “You tell them you booked this flight on points, you’re a priority flier, tell them they have to get you out of there tonight!!!”
At this point, I’m literally standing in line, tears rolling down my face and desperately needing to blow my nose, and just wail, “I don’t think they’re going to believe me!!!!!” Because clearly I am not a priority traveler. Clearly I need to stay in my apartment forever. Clearly I am never leaving Baltimore. My mind is racing. Do I take a voucher for a hotel? Do I have to pay for a hotel? Is Baltimore safe? Do they have Uber? Keep in mind, I am running on three hours of sleep, vodka, and a quesadilla. I am in no shape to make any decisions. She tells me to see what they say, if they offer a flight tonight to take it, if not, the rest of my family is working on a hotel and transportation. (Have I mentioned my family is amazing? The group text from this day is GOLD.) I get to the agent, who says there is a flight to O’Hare at nine pm.
Pathetically, still fighting tears, I ask, “Is it actually going to Chicago tonight?”
“I sure hope so, honey.”
I trudge back to my new family at the bar. Melissa takes one look at me – keep in mind I have been there for her ENTIRE shift – and just says, “Oh, honey. Again?” I nod mutely at her. She hands me a drink on the house and plugs my phone back in. (Two things to note here – I for sure posted a glowing review of the bar on their Facebook. Also, while it seems as though I drank a heroic amount of vodka this day, I was not drunk. I assure you, nothing will sober you up faster than having three flights cancel on you while you’re by yourself in a city you’ve never been in with zero concept of time and the outside world.)
Flight is delayed to nine thirty.
Flight is delayed to nine fifty.
Melissa reminds me the kitchen is closing and I order french fries.
Flight is delayed to ten fifteen.
Melissa brings me another drink and apologetically tells me they’re closing soon.
I head back to the gate. Am now a pro at security, wordlessly taking off my shoes and coat, secretly calling all of the happy travelers who are just arriving at this godforsaken airport who are clearly going on vacation assholes.
“Folks, your plane has landed from New York!!! We’re going to do a very fast turnaround and get you to Chicago.”
Entire gate goes up in cheers, me excluded. I do not believe them. Until this damn plane is in the air, I have no hope.
People are plastered against the window, looking for our escape. One man says, “Oh fuck. It’s one of those super small planes.”
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME???
We finally get to board the American Eagle, otherwise known as “My First Airplane.” They ask if I am willing to help in an emergency as I’m in the exit row. My eyes were literally glowing by this point because I’ve been inside circulated air for sixteen hours and my contacts are dried to my eyeballs, and I’m pretty sure I was delirious. I couldn’t have helped someone cross the street, let alone operate machinery. I have no shame in saying I looked her right in the eye and said, “Absolutely.”
I have to DUCK to get onto the plane. I’m 5’4. This is the smallest plane I have ever been on. I try and breathe deeply. I am going home. I decide I’m going to sleep because I was too afraid to in the terminal, (because you know my ass would have missed the plane or gotten robbed,) and immediately abandon that plan as we’re ascending because it felt like the plane was doing somersaults. Looks like we’re back to my old friend vodka.
The flight attendant comes down the tiny aisle offering drinks. I politely ask for a vodka soda and she comes back with a cup of soda and a mini-bottle of Titos. Score! This will make me two drinks and get me home! Then she says, “That will be eight dollars, and we only take cash.”
I had spent my last cash tipping Melissa. All of the other airlines said they only take credit cards. I researched it!
“But…but. I don’t have any cash. I spent it all because I’ve been in the airport for fourteen hours.”
She looks at me closely and says, “Oh, honey. You just take it.” God bless you, air service person. I love you almost as much as Melissa.
We start to descend and I have my face pressed against the window, all fear of flying gone. I see the familiar grid lights of Chicago and legit start to cry. I am home!
I am the second person off of the plane, despite being in the middle. I walk, unseeing, through O’Hare, following the signs that say “Ground Transport.” The first vehicle I see, I vow to get in. I walk out to the beautiful, freezing, Chicago air, call a Lyft, fall into it and thank Santa that my driver doesn’t want to talk. Finally get home, pour the the giantest, bestest glass of wine ever, and sit on my couch in dead silence for forty minutes.
And then I got the flu from sitting in an airport for fourteen hours and being on four different airplanes and couldn’t leave my bed for a week, leaving me with a grand total of five vacation days for the next ten months.