Monday, July 02, 2007

not for the faint-hearted

WARNING: Do not read this if you are empathetic and don’t have enough money to buy me chocolate…

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I’d like to tell you about a little traveling adventure I had last week.  In all my European travels I never had an experience quite like this one.  A week ago last Wednesday I flew to Florida unexpectedly.  My dear Grandfather passed away on Monday, and I would not even have considered missing his funeral.  He was a wonderful man, always encouraging me to be the best that I could be and offering any aid I needed along the way.  I have a great dad, and that is because he had a great dad for an example.  So on Monday night I needed to buy a plane ticket to Florida.  I had already decided that I wouldn’t leave until Wednesday (the computer had told me that it was impossible to buy tickets online for a flight on Tuesday, so the decision was not a difficult one). 

I am the proud owner of an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) which gives me lots of perks, including travel discounts.  So my first stop on the information highway was the ISIC website, where I attempted to buy a plane ticket.  I found the flights I wanted for prices much better than could be found on other plane ticket websites, and proceeded to the “checkout.”  Every time I got to that point, an error message would come up.  Now, have you ever put your credit card number into a website and then had an error message come up?  It is unnerving, to say the least.  So I called their toll-free help line, and after about five minutes of pushing buttons to tell machines what I wanted, I was connected to a person.  She was actually very nice, but it’s no less disappointing when a nice person tells you that the student priced tickets where actually sold out, but would I like to fly next Monday?  No.  I would not.  So it was.  I bought my plane tickets, emailed my dad to tell him when to pick me up (he was already going to be in Florida), and went to bed.  I worked all the next day, rather than sit at home and have nothing to do, and my coworkers were so supportive.  When I left they gave me a card in which almost everyone in our sizeable office had written a note.  It was so sincere and loving that I had to wait until I got home to read it, or else give a tearful display of emotion in the office.  (I do love working at Calvin.  The people are all so good to one another.)  So then that evening I packed my duffel bag and had it sitting by my door all ready to go in the morning.  My flight was scheduled to depart at 6 A.M. Wednesday morning, so my Grandma (on my mom’s side of the family) was going to drive me to the airport at 4:45.  Everything went smoothly until I was left at the airport. 
I used one of the automatic check-in machines because I didn’t have any luggage to check.  I knew I needed two boarding passes because I had two flights: one from Grand Rapids to Chicago, and one from Chicago to Tampa.  The machine only printed one piece of paper, and I should have looked at it closer, but since it was perforated and the machine reverted to the welcome screen after printing it, I assumed all was as it should be.  Wrong.  But I wouldn’t realize that error until later, because when I went up to go through security I realized that after all my careful packing, I still had forgotten my wallet, which of course had my I.D. in it.  And all my money.  Since I am still cellphone-less in this electronic age, I had to bum 50 cents off an airport worker to use a pay phone to call my grandparents.  My grandpa graciously brought me my wallet, but the airport is a good 15 minutes from their house, so I had to wait for it to arrive.  Once the wallet was safely back in my possession, I proceeded to security again, and this time I was told by the security guard that I only had a Chicago to Tampa boarding pass.  Well it was now 5:30, my flight left in half an hour, and I needed a boarding pass.  So I went back to the machine, where I was informed that it was now too late to check in for that flight.  Ok, don’t panic, just cut in line (in front of about forty people) and use a couple of well-timed tears to get the clerk to print a boarding pass. 
So now it is 5:40 and I still have to go through security.  Of course, this part couldn’t be easy, either.  I had packed my Nalgene water bottle in my duffel bag.  It was empty, because I know the rules about water and airport security.  Somehow, though, the x-ray machine didn’t pick up on the “it’s empty” part, so my bag and I were pulled off to one side so a gloved employee could take everything out of my bag, find the EMPTY water bottle, and then leave me to put everything back.  All right.  5:50 A.M.  And my gate is the farthest one.  Luckily at the Grand Rapids airport even the farthest gate is not that far, so I made it onto the plane at 5:55, they closed the door behind me, and we took off.  That half hour flight was, for me, spent sitting next to a young couple, who proceeded to noisily display their ardent affection.  Ew.  It was 6 o’clock in the morning.  Seriously.  Was that necessary?  Definitely not.  And since the flight was so short, the seatbelt sign was never turned off and the stewardesses never left their seats either.  I was not in a confrontational mood, so I just let it go and tried to sleep, facing the other way. 
We got to Chicago at 5:45 local time (remember the time difference), and my next flight wasn’t until 9:30, so I had quite a bit of wait-time.  Luckily (airports are so thoughtful), my gate was changed four times, so I never had to sit still for very long.  Interestingly enough, we ended up leaving out of the originally assigned gate.  But hey, I love walking all the way down Concourse B from gate 20-something to gate 1 or 2 four times.  With all my luggage because I hadn’t checked it. 
So after sitting in the airport, er, walking around the airport, for three and a half hours, I boarded the plane to Tampa.  And then, oh yes, there’s an “and then,” United Airlines, my carrier of the day, had their computers crash.  Maybe you saw something about that on the nightly news that evening, because United Airlines was crippled for two hours, both of which I spent on the plane sitting in half a seat, because the other half was occupied by the large (and sweating) gentleman next to me.  I was originally scheduled to land in Tampa at 1 pm, so I didn’t bring along substantial food, because I could just grab some lunch when I got there.  Instead, I sat on the plane until 12:30 (Eastern Time), eating my trail mix and wishing for a burger.  We were eventually shown a movie, “Wild Hogs,” which was more enjoyable than I expected, and we arrived in Tampa a little after 3 pm.  My family had been waiting since 1, bless their hearts.  We drove straight to the funeral home, where I changed out of my pajamas and saw the rest of my extended family.  Boy was I ready when we went out for supper at 5. 

The visitation that evening was very nice, and the funeral the next day was exactly as my grandpa would have wanted it.  There was even a bagpiper at the cemetary.  It was good to be with the extended family, to reminisce about our wonderful patriarch, and just to create some good memories together.  Since the funeral was on Thursday, and it would not have done any good work-wise to fly home on Friday, we all just stayed until Sunday (and some until Monday), so we had a couple of days to sit by either the neighborhood pool or on the beach, which was so good.  Just to relax together after the intense sadness of the previous two-days was very healing. 
My trip back to Grand Rapids was uneventful, and now I’m home in Iowa for a week of vacation.  I hope no one else has to endure a travel story like mine, but I know I’m not the only one with horror stories stemming from air travel.  I do hope everyone gets to have a grandfather and family like mine.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 07/02 at 11:59 AM

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