The song “Ghosts that we Knew” wakes me up at 4:30 a.m. I turn on the light and sit up, but my stomach stays sideways sending confused signals to my brain. And nauseous signals back to my stomach. I take my thyroid medication. Wake up my daughter. Find my yoga pants.
I am 100 percent convinced stretchy pants are the perfect article of clothing for travel, or any other activity for that matter, including yoga.
Next, I down a preventative Imodium. You can never be too sure. Trust me.
Saying goodbye to my dog is always the worst. He already knows. He’s known for weeks that we are leaving by my scattered, random energy and the suitcase. I look into his begging eyes, promise I will be back, and close the heavy door behind me.
We arrive at the airport by 6 a.m. for our 7:15 a.m. flight. We board the plane and wait for departure. 7:15 a.m. passes, then 7:30 a.m., then 7:45 a.m. It is dark and too close inside the cabin, and passengers start to become restless. The pilot makes an announcement that there is a mechanical problem and thanks us for continuing to be patient. I hear a collective groan. After over an hour on the runway, we learn that we are sitting inside a plane with a dead battery. We all need to deplane.
Really? … A dead battery? Did someone accidentally leave the dome light on inside the airbus when they were checking the map last night?
The pilot goes on to deliver the very unfortunate news that because our mountain microcity is not a United hub, batteries are not stocked for specific aircrafts and one will have to be flown in from Chicago. And after the battery arrives at some unspecified time later that day, repairs should take no longer than an hour and a half.
I feel a wave of disappointment and panic wash over the crowd and hit me square in the face. People begin to realize they are not going anywhere. Not today, anyway.
Back inside the terminal, a seriously bent out of shape line forms in front of the ticket agent. Most of the people waiting are on their devices yelling, “Agent!” to an unresponsive recording. The 20-something man-boy in front of me and his belly shirt-wearing girlfriend are holding their phones flat in front of their mouths like they are about to take a big bite out of a s’more. The man-boy gets connected to a real person, and begins speaking with the clarity, confidence and purpose of a man-man twice his age. I think to myself that I will never be as forward or as socially put together as this kid, but for the one of the first times in my life, I don’t feel bad about it. It’s just not who I am.
I am in the line for over an hour, scooting my camo messenger bag along the floor as I wait on the phone for the next available agent. The first agent I talk to offers a flight to LAX, followed by a connecting flight to Mexico the next day. I don’t like the idea of spending the night slumped in some crusty corner of the Los Angeles airport, so I make another call. The next agent tells me to just go home and start over the following day. I don’t like that idea either.
I know it’s way better to find out the aircraft has a nonworking battery while on still the ground, but is it not reasonable to expect an aircraft with an actual, working battery at the time of departure?
It is finally my turn to speak to the ticket agent responsible for rebooking an entire plane of angry, disappointed passengers. The very thought of having to do her job sends another wave of panic to my gut, and I unconsciously dig around in my bag for another Imodium.
To her credit, this particular agent did try to get us somewhere. Anywhere. Today. We already missed our 1st connection from Denver to Mexico, so she rebooks us on US Airways from Denver to Phoenix, then from Phoenix to Mexico.
I thank her, find my daughter, walk directly to the to the bar and order a ridiculously overpriced airport beer. At 10:30 a.m.
The pilot is a total class act—as in he wears the uniform, the uniform does not wear him. He personally keeps the crowd informed of the minute-by-minute changes to departure time. When it’s time to re-board the aircraft, the automated ticket scanner malfunctions and the ticket agent has to enter everyone’s boarding pass information by hand. On board, we continue to wait in the dark, non-ventilated plane. Waiting for the computers to reset. I am pretty sure the plane needs computers to fly, so I stay cool. But I am really struggling to find my happy place.
The repairs take longer than expected. We touch down in Denver just as our new connecting flight departs. An agent directs us to the end of another customer service line located somewhere inside the terminal. Where I wait. For an hour.
The line moves slowly. My mind wanders. I think about how cattle must feel during the slow procession to slaughter. Eventually I am face to face with a very stern, thick woman with severe hair. The kind of hair you have to get “done.” I guess she might be a little lite on sympathy, so I decide on the polite approach. I explain that we had already missed 2 connecting flights today, and that we are trying to get to Mexico for a family event.
Nothing. … ClickClickCLICK!
I could have said that Oprah and the Easter Bunny were my birth parents and she would not have reacted. Not stopped typing. Which was unusually loud and aggressive. Angry.
Finally, she matter-of-factly gives me the news I already know is coming. We are not leaving Denver. Not today, anyway.
After some time, she assures me that everything is sorted out, gives me a paper bag with a few sad looking toiletries, a $7 food voucher and a small piece of paper resembling Monopoly money with instructions for how to find the hotel shuttle.
I take the piece of paper and look for my daughter who is hooked up to teenage life support (free WiFi). She is not going to be happy. This I know. I am ready for her reaction that will include fresh combinations of curse words and nouns that make me laugh. In this moment, I decide is this is OUR adventure, however dumb or difficult.
The directions lead us deep into the terminal, onto the train, to what I hope is the west side of the airport and to a door leading to the outside world marked, “508.” I can’t help but feel like we might enter an alternate universe when we walk through door “508.” And what happens if we walk through door “509?”
Outside door “508” is mess of confused, zombiefied travelers looking for transportation, and a reason to live.
We get into a shuttle. I am 97 percent sure it is going to our intended destination. The driver seems to want to avoid all human interaction. Though I understand and even appreciate this desire, it’s not necessarily a behavior I want in a driver. I am hot, tired and dehydrated. I feel my head disconnect from my body as we speed away from Denver International Airport and past the gigantic blue demon stallion guarding its gates.
At the hotel we freshen up using the personal sundry items provided by the airline. Included with the toiletries is a deodorant towelette that resembles a wetnap you would get with a messy rib dinner. The deodorant towelette is just that, a non-antiperspirant, deodorant towelette, and not at all well suited for stressed out air travelers.
In the hotel restaurant, I order a $12 mango habeñero margarita with my $7 food voucher.
The next morning I turn on the news. It is the one-year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Not exactly something I want to be reminded of today. We catch the shuttle to the airport, go back through security and find the gate.
People slowly sift down the jetway, and we follow. The ticket agent glances at my daughter’s passport, scans her boarding pass, and the light on her console turns green. She is cleared to board. The agent then scans the barcode on my boarding pass, and the light flashes red. I know what a red light means, and I feel panic start to crawl up the back of my throat. So I ask the question anyway, “Uh… What does THAT mean?”
“It MEANS you flew yesterday. Have you spoken with an agent?” she says with obvious disgust.
She looks back down.
ClickClickCLICK! More angry typing.
Apparently you not only need to be able to type 60 words per minute to work at an airline, but you must be able to do it with fury.
“I did not fly yesterday, because, OBVIOUSLY, I am here,” I said. I can feel myself starting to sweat—not just perspire—but flop sweat, and I silently curse the United issue deodorant only wetnap.
“Go talk to that man over there,” she says, barely gesturing toward an older man in a sweater vest standing behind a counter about 20 feet from the gate. He looked like he could be a high school physics teacher if he wasn’t already working at the airport.
We grab our stuff, and head over to Sweater Vest.
I look at my daughter and see an expression of horror and disbelief. “Mom, what’s happening? WHAT. IS. HAPPENING. We are going to make this flight, aren’t we MOM? AREN’T WE?! We need to get on the plane NOW. We HAVE to make this (#randomswears) FLIGHT!”
“I don’t know,” I say, leaning on the counter in my smelly 2-day-old travel clothes. “I DON’T KNOW.”
Sweater Vest is typing with purpose now. ClickClickCLICK!
He’s having difficulty getting my (unused) ticket released from US Airways, and I can tell by the frustration radiating from the crack in his forehead there’s a chance he might not be able to. The sassy ticket agent is calling my daughter’s name on the intercom, wanting her to board the plane without me. She yells over to us that she is holding up the flight.
“Mom, what should I do?” she says. Panicky.
“You ignore her and you stay right here, with me.” I say through my teeth.
It is now past departure time. Sweater Vest typing ClickClickCLICK! He is on the phone, off the phone, on the phone, and off the phone, almost running in place trying to undo what’s been done. Then, thrusting a new boarding pass up to the heavens, he turns to us and says, “I’m the guy that shuts the door on the plane, and I’m going to get you on that flight!”
Just as we touch down in Mexico, I get a text saying that our luggage will be arriving on a later flight.
Of course it will.