Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve never had great luck with airports. I say that understanding that any flight I spend not plummeting through the sky is a flight with greater-than-marginal success, but in the last five years, I’ve experienced what feels like more than my share of missteps.
There was the connection I missed because United didn’t have the staff to unload the airplane I was waiting to board. The passengers sat and watched our plane sit for an hour before someone from the company finally showed up at the gate. I got to spend the night at a Holiday Inn in Chicago for that one, but only after listening to a man ask the woman at the hotel’s front desk about the variety of “adult entertainment” options on the television.
There was the night I spent doing laundry with the hotel’s complimentary shampoo at the sink of my bathroom in Charlotte because after landing, United didn’t have a gate for us, and couldn’t return my bag. Sitting on the plane, staring longingly at our terminal, I obsessively watched the passage of time, calculating with each fleeting minute what feat I’d have to perform to get across the airport to my connecting flight.
“If we get to the gate now and everyone gets their bags out of the overhead bin quickly and I run and I’m not entirely afraid of having a heart attack, I can make it my next gate in time.”
“If we get to a gate now and I vault over the seat and I obtain the power of flight, I can make it to my next gate in time.”
“If we get to a gate NOW and I knock over that small family and I discover that I’m actually an X-Man with the power to teleport and my X-Man name is Brenda, I can make it to my next gate in time.”
And finally, “I’m not going to make it in time.”
There were the maintenance issues where the pilot parked the plane in the far corner of the taxiway, where the airport keeps the recalled pretzels and the bodies of the Hudson News competitors while we waited for someone to come take a look. On finally landing in Chicago, a fellow passenger was now also at risk of missing her connection, and on letting the flight attendant know, the flight attendant said, “ma’am, there are a lot of people on the plane in the same boat.”
This was the point where the passenger says, “I’m not people. I’m a Fulbright scholar.”
If I’d had the presence of mind at the time, I wish I’d added, “I am also not people. I may or may not be a teleporting X-Man named Brenda. Can I also get off the plane first?”
And it started at the very beginning. On returning from my job interview in Wisconsin in 2014, I was forced to spend the night at a hotel thanks to mysterious maintenance issues with the plane– we were never told what they were– the next morning eating a continental breakfast of a dry bagel and grapes next to a row of fake ficuses and a Roman-styled indoor water feature.
I’ve inhaled Chipotle burritos after being kicked off of planes because of delays, not having time to eat dinner between planned flights and not sure when I would be asked to get back on the plane. I’ve careened through airports, wildly swinging my carry-ons in front of me clearing a path, so I stood a chance of making my next flight. I’ve bellowed down terminals to keep gate agents from closing the door because, “for the love of God, I’m coming!”
Growing exhausted with the prospect of traveling, thanks to my track record, sure that I would spend any trip eating Cheez-its from a hotel vending machine while I watched Shawshank Redemption on HBO, I put together a formula that worked pretty well for me.
Step 1: Never fly United. Just don’t. It’s always going to be a bad call.
Step 2: Try, if you can, to get the first flight out in the morning. The more small and inevitable delays that happen throughout the day, the more bottlenecked an airport gets.
Step 3: DON’T FLY UNITED! Do you think this is a game??!
Thanks to this formula, I slowly and without fanfare started making it to my destinations as expected. I stopped expecting surprises, to the great joy of my libertarian seat mate who tried to convince me that Osama Bin Laden was framed and then asked if we could be Facebook friends. I cautiously stopped calculating terminal running times, and expected to get from point A to point B without having to talk to a customer service hotline even once. But on my trip home for Thanksgiving, I deviated from the formula. I wanted breakfast with my family, so I took an 11:00 flight. Continue reading