My husband’s old college buddy has a second home in Aspen, Colorado. He invited us for a summer visit. Because I still value my natural knees and no longer ski, July suited me. As we sped along I -40 toward Raleigh-Durham Airport that mid-July, 2017 Wednesday afternoon, we marveled at the lack of traffic, thanking our lucky stars. The American skycap was friendly and efficient. Except for making me remove one pound from my suitcase to my carry-on tote, no hassles. I removed my REI hiking boots.
I proceeded toward the atrium while my husband drove off to seek a parking space. Twenty minutes later he’d not shown up where I waited on a bench in front of the security gates. I thought to myself how lucky we’d been thus far because we still had time before boarding, and we had pre-TSA printed on our tickets, and the lines weren’t long. I phoned my husband just as he ascended the elevator, out- of- breath and hustling. As we lickity- splitted it thru TSA, I asked what took so long. “No parking spaces near the airport,” Byron said. “I had to go to satellite parking and was lucky to spot a bus just as it was leaving. I sprinted.”
My husband, like me, is out of shape or rather we have new shapes that we didn’t have when young. Thus, his winded appearance. We hustled through the TSA screening and for the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t instructed to go through a separate machine, have a pat down, and my hands sprayed. “Gee, can you believe how perfectly smoothly this has worked out today?” I asked my husband. “No real delays except for the parking.” I looked out the large panes at our gate. “And, there’s our jet, idling there for us. This has been the shortest waiting period ever!”
Those words doomed us.
Barely had we arranged ourselves in chairs to await our boarding call, which was supposed to be imminent, when we were informed that our connection through O’ Hell Airport in Chicago would be postponed, due to storms there. “A ground stop in Chicago,” the agent bellowed. Apparently, the weather was so bad that we had to wait 20 minutes before our plane could leave RDU. Before the 20 minutes were up, it was announced that it would be another 50 minutes, due to Chicago’s horrible weather. We sat. We ate nothing. We hoped the weather would clear up in The Windy City, and we’d be summoned to board. Another 50-minute delay was announced. The increments were coming in 50-minute segments. That’s when we realized we’d not make our American connection in Chicago. So, like a thousand-other sheep, we approached the counter. A long queue! The American agent seemed helpful and placed us on a United connection from O’Hare that would leave later around six o clock. Because there’s only one flight per day on American Airlines from O Hare to Aspen, we’d have to switch to United; we’d already missed that American connection. The choice was either making it to the United Flight or spending a night in Chicago on our own dime and taking the American Airlines flight the next day. The agent instructed us to find an American agent in Chicago when we did land to ensure that we were, indeed, placed on the United Flight. “Sometimes, the computer is not right,” were her parting words.
Finally, we boarded. We knew making it to the new United connection would be tight, but doable. And so, we were still optimistic about meeting our friends that evening and seeing the show they’d gotten us tickets for.
Then, the pilot announced we had to wait for traffic control to let us go. During this wait, the plane got hotter and hotter.
“Sorry folk, we’re waiting now on an air cart. We’ve run out of cool air. The flight attendant will bring you water.”
Another 20 minutes elapsed.
“We’re going to miss the United connection,” my husband said, “unless that plane’s held up.”
We flew. An uneventful flight. Nothing for nourishment but half a cup of ginger ale and a microscopic bag of pretzels, which were also miniscule in size. When we taxied up to the airport, it was past the time of the United Flight’s departure for Aspen. When we reached the gate, no one could get off.
“Sorry again, Folks, there’s really no excuse for this. There is no jetway operator.”
So, we twiddled our thumbs for another 20 minutes before the fellow came to attach the jetway to our jet. The pilot said something about a comedy of errors.
When we entered O’ Hare, hordes of people hustled everywhere in all directions, and those who weren’t hustling cooled their heels in serpentine lines to speak with an agent. No agent was assigned to help with missed connections. Down the corridor we saw an attractive young blonde girl, an American employee handing out postcards with the American phone number on them. She suggested we call, rather than stand in line. My husband pulled out his cell phone while I raced to the ladies’ room and back. He was still listening to music on the phone holding for an agent to talk to when I approached. He had inquired about the status of the United flight, if it had left. The agent on the phone didn’t know. The agent on the phone told him we’d been assigned to an American flight to leave the next day, and we’d have to spend the night in Chicago. Of course, it would be at our expense since the delays were weather- related.
“Not all of them,” my husband replied. “Some were screw-ups.”
Byron turned to me “We might as well see if there is another United flight to Aspen. Let’s find a monitor.” He had the flight number of our missed connection but to find a monitor one must go to the United Terminal. We ran. We located the monitor and the flight number. Voila! The flight hadn’t left, after all. It had been delayed but would depart in five minutes.
So, we galloped. Fat giggled everywhere.
We reached the gate panting, winded, with images of A fib dancing in my head. My husband arrived before me and had already spoken to the United agent at his post. “I can’t believe the plane hasn’t left. Did we run that fast?” I asked as I caught my breath.
“No,” my husband said. “The United plane has a flat tire!”
“Great! What a lucky break!”
“We’re going to have to wait for them to change the tire.”
And so, we sat for an hour. The silver lining was that there was a McDonald’s nearby, and I had a McFlurry during our delay, which is fattening, but I needed those calories because my body wasn’t meant to fast for 12 hours!
We traipsed onto the Skyway Express. As we settled into our airplane seats, Byron’s cell phone rang. A nurse from the nursing home back home had some questions to ask. He answered them as the flight attendants were instructing all passengers to turn off their devices, All DEVICES. A large, intimidating, dyed blonde attendant hovered over us.
“Sir, power down!”
My husband continued to talk.
The flight attendant then hollered down the aisle to the other one. “We can’t take off. He’s still on his cell phone!” Visions of Alec Baldwin playing Scrabble with Friends danced in my head accompanied by the footage of the Vietnamese doc dragged off the plane bumping his head on each chair arm as he was jettisoned.
“Get off, now, Byron!” I ordered my doctor husband.
“I have to go,” he said as the nurse still prattled on. “The stewardess insists.” The flight attendant glowered.
We reached Aspen. It felt like winter in July. I was glad I’d on my white, thin, summer jacket as we descended “en pleine air.” In Aspen, you walk outside to the building. We’d been assigned the last seats on the plane and therefore were the last to get off.
Our old college friend John was there. His face brightened. “ Finally!” he said. We hugged.
And now, dear reader and traveler, I’d like to write we picked up our luggage, piled into his jeep and varoomed away to mountain adventure.
Not so fast. We looked over at the empty carousel. “Not good,” John said.
You can guess the perfect ending to this flying saga.
YUP!—our luggage was lost!