I recently took a trip to beautiful Oregon. I stood at the edge of the Pacific Ocean while waves lapped higher and higher. I swam in the vast Columbia river. I hiked to the majestic Bridal Veil Falls. And most importantly, I enjoyed the company of a dear friend I have not seen in a long time. It was an amazing trip.
Until the time came for me to come home, that is.
My trip home involved flying out of Portland to San Francisco, then from San Francisco to Kansas City. The flight from Portland went smoothly, landing in San Francisco twenty minutes early. Since I had a narrow forty-minute layover, I was ecstatic. However, we waited on the ground for so long that we ended up being twenty-five minutes late. By the time we disembarked, I had exactly five minutes to make the final boarding call. I panicked. I walked off the jet bridge and scanned the signs. One direction was for the International Terminal, the other had numbers ascending. I saw 90, assumed gate 95 could not be far beyond it, and took off at a strenuous pace. I alternated between power walking and running. I hurried through crowds of people as adrenaline coursed through me. I reached gate 90, and horror filled me as I saw that the numbers did not go any higher. It was time for my flight to depart, and I was in the wrong place.
I begged an employee to tell me where gate 95 was, a desperation in my voice that I don’t believe I have ever heard come out of my mouth before.
“Oh,” she replied, supremely unconcerned. “That’s in the International Terminal.”
My heart sank. I sheepishly stood in line to re-route my trip home.
But then, oh joy! The flight was delayed! I had ten more minutes to make it! I darted from the line and galloped through the airport back the way I came, and hurried on to the International Terminal. I ran up an escalator, only to find that the International Terminal was enormous. Then, I had to run down another escalator to my gate. Unfortunately, I had pushed my legs past their limit. With the first step down on the the escalator, my knees buckled. I sprained my left ankle—which, by the way, means I now can say I have sprained both ankles in the city of San Francisco. I sprained the right about a year ago while walking toward Fisherman’s Wharf.
But I digress.
I regained my balance, dusted off my posterior, and patiently waited for the escalator to take me the rest of the way down. Alas, all my effort was to no avail. I saw that no jet waited for me at the end of the jet bridge, and the seats around the gate were empty save for a few scattered people.
Panicked, exhausted, and utterly distraught, I picked what I thought was a deserted area and began to sob wildly. I do not mean that a few tears ran down my face. I mean that I bawled. It was ugly crying. I have never lost my composure so completely in public before. Then I looked up. An Asian man sat across from me, clearly avoiding looking at me. I have never seen somebody look so uncomfortable. I have never seen somebody avoid eye contact so carefully in my life. To make a man feel so awkward may be one of my crowning achievements.
I received a notification from my phone. The airline’s app had re-routed me automatically through Chicago to take me back to Kansas City. With a sigh of relief, I rose from my tear-stained chair and hobbled back toward the other end of the airport—the place I had originally wound up, and waited patiently for my flight. Here’s the thing, though. It was 7 P.M. Pacific time when I was re-routed. The flight did not leave for Chicago until 11:50. And, you guessed it, it was delayed by an hour and ten minutes. I had only an hour and fifty-minute layover in Chicago. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I would still have forty minutes. It would be close, to be sure, but I knew I could make it. This time, I was prepared.
I dozed off and on through the flight, finally fully waking at about 7:00 Central to the captain’s voice. Storms on the ground in Chicago prevented us from landing, so we would have to wait. Eventually, however, the plane’s fuel supply ran low and we were diverted to Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’m pretty sure it was the first Boeing 737 ever to land at the small regional airport.
Nevertheless, they dutifully refueled us while I missed my connecting flight out of O’Hare.
After waiting another hour and a half on the plane, the captain announced that everybody needed to go into the airport while we waited for clearance to go back to Chicago. He said it would only be a few hours, so I chose a 1:00 P.M. flight from Chicago to Kansas City and confirmed my seat.
Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the plane would not be departing until 3:30, as this was the soonest a new flight crew could be flown in. The original flight crew had been working for eighteen hours straight and had to take their mandated rest period.
Not to worry, I told myself, though I was daunted by the prospect of waiting so long. I opened the app the pick a later flight, but it no longer allowed me to make changes. I suppose they were suspicious of me by this point in time. So I stood in line along with the other one hundred twenty people who had missed connecting flights too. It took nearly two hours for me to make it to the counter. I was put on a 6:00 flight to Kansas City, which I should have been able to make—ostensibly, anyway. Meanwhile, I waited, and waited, and waited in Green Bay.
When the flight crew arrived, the terminal burst into applause and cheers. Then we waited some more during the boarding process. Because the boarding passes would no longer scan, we had to wait while each individual passenger was crossed off of a physical printed manifest. It took nearly an hour to board.
Finally, we were on our way…except that we weren’t. We sat on the tarmac waiting for clearance to take off. Waiting. And waiting. I watched the minutes tick by like hours. At long last, the plane took off. We landed at O’Hare just as my flight to Kansas City was taking off.
Still unable to use the app, I waited in line along with the other one hundred twenty passengers who had missed their flights. I ended up calling the airline’s customer service line, which was faster, and was elated to discover that I would be able to catch the last flight out of O’Hare to Kansas City. The joy and relief I felt was like nothing I have ever experienced. I was going home. Finally. No more delays—
Except that the flight was delayed by half an hour. Then, once we boarded, we waited on the tarmac for forty more minutes waiting to take off. It was O’Hare, after all.
At 11:38 Central time, the airplane touched down in Kansas City. I disembarked wearily, still limping. But when I went out to the curb, there my husband was, waiting for me with a dozen red roses. I love that man, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him in all my life.
And thus concludes the saga of the long trip home from Portland to Kansas City. A grueling experience, to be sure…but at least I got a story out of it.
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Airplane image courtesy of Alex Grichenko PublicDomainPictures.net.