Summer Travel Nightmare (Part One)

The scene was straight out of a movie.

There I was, sprinting through the Denver aiport. I had a backpack on and a four-wheeled suitcase in one hand, but I never broke stride. Not when I jumped on the moving walkway and not when I jumped off, and not as I grew faint from sprinting what felt like a 5k at five thousand feet above sea level. I didn’t slow a step as I dodged fellow travelers who obviously did not have my problem — I was about to miss my connecting flight.

Friday, 3:00 a.m. CST

I woke up in Fort Thompson, South Dakota to catch a 7:05 flight out of Sioux City, South Dakota, two and a half hours away. Despite stopping for gas and coffee and dodging some thunderstorms, I made it to the airport with time to spare.

Friday, 6:00 a.m. CST

I got another cup of coffee (did I mention I woke up at 3 a.m.?) and settled into my seat, awaiting the boarding announcement. It never came.

Friday, 6:55 a.m. CST

What came instead was a failed attempt at humor that “we have a little problem.” The little problem was actually a big problem — the pilot had spotted an issue with a part that keeps airplanes from being struck by lightning. By “an issue” I mean that we needed that part. With the aforementioned thunderstorms still circling, this was a big deal. When they knew more, we would too. For now, the flight was still on.

Friday, 10:35 a.m. CST

Almost four hours later, we learn that the part is en route from Chicago and won’t be in Sioux Falls until about noon.

The initial announcement had sent me scrambling. I needed to make my connection in Dallas so I could get back to Houston in time to take my six year old son to camp. It was the whole reason I was bailing on my mission trip early — a hectic summer spent away from my family could only be pushed so far. I decided to cut my work on an Indian reservation short so me and my boy could enjoy some quality time in the Texas woods. If I got to Houston by noon I’d have plenty of time to go home, unpack, repack, and make it to camp on time. Now the part wouldn’t even get there until noon let alone be installed.

I asked the gate agent what my options were. With the flight not cancelled, I wasn’t supposed to be bumped to another airline, but I asked if it was permissible in this case.

The polite gate agent said, “Technically, no.”

“What about not technically,” I asked, ignoring every rule-follower bone in my body.

She called over to another airline and got me a ticket. Though her airline would remain responsible for everything that followed, and thus remains one of the objects of my scorn, she abdicated any direct responsibility from then on. I was another company’s problem now. I raced down the terminal (the one in Sioux Falls is much smaller than the one in Denver, and I arrived with my full breath in tact) and secured my seat. I would leave Sioux Falls at 11:30, hit Denver at 12:10 after swapping time zones, have a super quick turnaround, leave Denver at 12:40, and make it to Houston by 4:00.

I verbalized my concern with the gate agent about the quick connection time. She assured me I’d make it.

Friday, 11:30 a.m. CST

My new airline had some trouble swapping out front tires, so my plane was late getting into Sioux Falls. We left twenty minutes late, but everyone assured me I’d make my connection despite the quick connection.

Friday, 11:55 a.m. CST

When we boarded the plane I hit a second snafu. I had a bag–standard carry-on size. However, for this tiny plane none were allowed on. I was forced to check my carry-on bag as I boarded the plane, and my heart began to sink. This was going to be close.

Friday, 12:30 p.m. MST

We landed in Denver at 12:30. I raced out of the jetway and found the nearest gate agent. I asked her what gate the Houston flight was and asked her to call and let them know I was on my way. She agreed and assured me–again–that I’d make it. I raced back down the jetway, butted in front of every human being there, and waited for my bag.

And waited.

When it arrived I grabbed it and started running. Up the jetway, out into the terminal, over moving walkways and around all the mere mortals sharing space with Titus Benton, world class sprinter. I ran the world’s first two minute mile carrying twenty-five pounds of baggage and arrived at my gate, proud and optimistic.

Friday, 12:41 p.m. MST

To my horror, the door was closed. But they had to have just closed it. I approached the agent, sweat pouring off my face. I may as well have just ran a triathlon, from the look of me.

airport-waiting-iStock_000004797777Medium-MAIN

(Stock Photo)

“Oh, you just missed it,” Agent One said with a smile. I thought she was pulling my chain.

“You were soooo close,” Agent Two said with a matching grin. They were joking, right?

“We did what we could,” Agent Three said, and I about jumped out of my flip flops (which on this day capably doubled as sprinting shoes).

“Are you serious,” I asked, completely out of breath. “Everyone told me I’d make it. I’m late because of mechanical failures and they made me check my bag and you’ve been running late all day. The gate agent called and told you I was coming. Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Agent One said, still smiling. Why was she smiling? I was not smiling! I was sweating and frowning and breathing loud. I was not out for a pleasant stroll, exactly. I had a plane to catch, and every airline employee I had come into contact with on this day had disappointed me. It wasn’t her fault, but the next thing she said spoke for all of them, all day. I silently hoped she would not say something condescending, patronizing, or unpleasant. I was on the edge–as on the edge as I get, anyway–and all I could see was the face of my son as he reacted to the news that I wasn’t going to make it home that night.

“Sorry, sir. We don’t hold planes for anyone. It was a gallant effort, though.”

Gallant effort? That was condescending and patronizing and unpleasant. I looked over Agent Two’s shoulder at my plane as the jetway only now began to back away from the plane. I had missed it by two minutes. I didn’t need everything to go right the past eight hours, I just needed one less thing to go wrong and I would’ve made it.

Why were they still smiling at me?

Friday, 12:43 MST

Somehow, I didn’t go all Chuck Norris on the overly friendly gate agents. Not when they kept smiling. Not when they explained the company policy to me without being asked. Not when they told me that there might be people on that plane trying to get home, too, and it wouldn’t be fair to them to hold the plane for one person. Never mind that it was their baggage policy and their front wheel and their snail-paced pilots that put me in this spot. That was all fair, of course. But now it was all about fairness to others. I didn’t even bust out any ninja moves when Agent Three snatched my boarding pass out of my hand to “see what he could do.” Even then I kept my composure, relatively.

It was only when I was by myself in a corner that I slammed my suitcase down and pouted openly for a few minutes. Then I got some lousy airport food (I hadn’t eaten all day, which probably didn’t help my mood) and got on my flight home.

Friday, 1:35 p.m.

Thunderstorms roll in and delay my flight another half hour. No joke.

Friday, 4:55 p.m. CST

I got home that night and my son and I were only about four hours late for camp.

All’s well that ends well. Every business person who travels regularly has had a similar experience, so I know there won’t be many people that feel sorry for me out there. To the airlines that almost ruined my weekend with my boy, I forgive you. I will never fly on your planes again, if I can at all help it, but I forgive you nonetheless. I haven’t even mentioned your names in this blog, as a gesture of goodwill. I firmly believe we should be United as Americans, and there’s nothing to be gained from outing you publicly. It would just be poor taste, really.

What’s important is I made it home in one piece. Between the mechanical failures and weather delays and getting bounced from one airline to another the only thing that didn’t go wrong was the plane crashing.

The moral of the story is it could have been a lot worse. In fact, five days earlier it was. But that’s a story for another day.