Those of you who travel for a living will no doubt understand the appeal of abandoning the office and heading out into the world to see new places and meet new people, all while separated from both your families – and often your luggage – by many hundreds of miles. Like all my road-warrior brethren, I’m eager for any excuse to avoid sitting at my desk, so I was excited to head to the airport recently and leave it all behind for a few days for a series of off-site events. Or at least I would’ve been, had my flight not been on Easter Sunday – they should really print those floating holidays in larger font on calendars. Leaving on Easter Sunday meant that I had to run to early church with the family (but not “sunrise service” early – that’s just ridiculous; my general feeling is that he is still risen indeed at 10am – alleluia), rush through the rest of the morning, and pack to head out the door by two for a 4pm flight. The flight was subsequently delayed to 4:30, then 5, then 5:30, and finally to…4:45? However, considering that last estimate was based on the assumption that the airline – who will not be named, but rhymes with “Schamerican” – could “find another aircraft” – as if they were just SURE they’d seen one laying around here SOMEWHERE, if they could just remember where they’d put it – I figured this was my cue to get off. Call it Frequent Traveler’s Intuition (FTI) or just being generally jaded, but I did not like their chances of finding a new aircraft, considering that I live in St. Louis, which is not a major hub, and has exactly zero hangars for storage of spare planes. Because the 4:45 estimate struck me as a bold-faced lie, and because it still would’ve caused me to miss my connection in Dallas, I immediately jumped on the phone with first the airline, and then my corporate travel department, all while waiting in line to talk to the gate agents about the rebooking they claimed to have already done for passengers with connecting flight.
The gate agents were actually pretty helpful, which was a surprise, given that the general feeling I get from this particular airline is that you can hand over your credit card and kiss their tail rudder. As an example, when I booked my flight – several weeks in advance – there were a fair number of seats available, however EVERY SINGLE ONE of them required an upgrade fee of varying amounts to reserve. I think I speak for everyone in the entire world when I say, “Go to hell, Schamerican Airlines”. Just charge what you need to charge so that passengers can select any seat on the aircraft, because there is nothing particularly special about the majority of those ‘premium’ seats. (WOW! An extra INCH of legroom! I feel like a Rockefeller!) And while you’re at it, work the price of bags into your tickets fees too, so that I don’t have to drop an extra $25 once I get to the airport just for the privilege of having my clothes possibly arrive at the same destination as me. But I digress…
As it turned out, the only option that met schedule constraints was a flight that connected through LA, so to California I went! Upon arriving there, I was forced to board a bus and ride across the airport, adeptly dodging large, taxiing aircraft as we went, to be deposited at a very small, very remote terminal with no services. I arrived just in time to walk outside and take the stairs up to the side of my aircraft. That flight landed nearly three hours after the original was scheduled to arrive and, after the 60min drive to the hotel in what was surely the crappiest car on the rental lot – a Soviet era Mitsubishi Lancer – I lurched up to the check-in desk slightly after 1am body time. Excited to get my contacts out and set the alarm for 5:30 the next morning, I handed my license and credit card to the gentleman behind the counter, who politely informed me that I had no reservations. My coworkers – whose rooms I had booked at the same time as mine, and who I hated profusely at this point – all had reservations safely stored in the system, awaiting their arrivals over the coming days. But no worries, for a mere twenty minutes, two email reviews, and several free water coupons later, I was off to restless sleep! Ahhhh, travel – it breeds resilience!
I was awakened later that morning not by my alarm, but by a suspicious chime from my phone indicating that it had dropped below a minimum battery level. This was bad for a couple of reasons; number one, because my phone is my alarm; and number two, because it had been plugged in for several hours at the time, meaning that my charger had died on day 1 of a 5 day excursion. Luckily the phone still charged when plugged into the computer, so I was able to create a room-lighting daisy-chain of electronics every night to keep my lines of communication alive. Travel also breeds ingenuity.
That evening, after a well-deserved nap, I made a trip to the hotel fitness center in order to convince myself that all the drinks, appetizers, and desserts I was planning to gorge myself with every night were nothing to worry about – exercise burns more calories when you’re on travel, after all! But upon returning to my room, I found that my key wouldn’t work. I also found that they were STILL, at 4 in the afternoon, working on the room across the hall, with not only standard cleaning supplies, but varnish, and I SWEAR a bag of Lyme. Sneaking past the murder room, I ran back downstairs for new keys and then securely locked my door. I had a similar situation the following night after coming back from the fitness center, however, that time – after trying the key 4 or 5 times and then pounding on the door and verbally expressing my frustration via four letter exclamation – I looked at the number on the door, only to realize that it was not, in fact, my room. I ran much faster down that hall than I had on the treadmill and once again locked myself securely in my actual room. Travel teaches humility.
The following day was filled with issues – last minute schedule changes forced us to work from a Subway, key personnel had to leave before we could get into the office, leaving me to fumble through their tasks myself, and out-of-date maps led me on a multi-U-turn wild goose chase to a building where they had no knowledge of my afternoon meeting. Pretty standard stuff, really. Travel demands flexibility…and extra mayo.
Eventually, though, it’s all over and they let you come home, typically on a 6am flight so there’s still time to stop by the office once you land. I got a reprieve this time and didn’t have to take off until 8, which meant that got to sleep until nearly 5:30am before grabbing breakfast and heading to the airport! All that extra sleep helped me stay calm as my corporate credit card was declined at the airline kiosk because the good people at Mastercard were confused by my multicity itinerary, and I had to check my bag using my personal card. It also helped regulate my mood as the machine printed out a boarding pass with no seat assignment, and as the gate agent handed me a new ticket for the very back corner of the airplane next to the engine.
I would rather have ridden in the crapper. I did not get enough sleep, however, to quell the rage that burned inside of me for the entirety of the flight due to the fetid stranger who sat next to me after having apparently bathed in cheap cologne. I have to believe he drank the stuff and emanated the foul stench from his pores as well, given the intensity of the putrid cloud that surrounded him. However, I refrained from smacking the stank off his stupid face, because travel demands patience, even when your departure airport has no Starbucks to help calm your nerves.
Eventually –as always – I made it home and resumed my mundane office life, but it never lasts too long. That memorable experience was more than three weeks ago already, and here I sit at the same gate, waiting for the same airline, which has once again delayed my connecting flight. This time I have my foot in a medical boot on account of a broken toe. It made the trek through the airport more challenging, but on the plus side, I only had to pack one of each shoe. I can feel my luck changing already! Sometimes the best thing to do when you travel is to throw out everything you’ve learned, and just load up on Dunkin’ Donuts and blind optimism. And leave your cologne at home.