The Art of Travel: The Stopover (Part One)

I should have resisted but, lacking will power, I’d committed a heinous travel sin and now had to pay.

I wasn’t going to hell, but an overly long stopover in Atlanta loomed.

You see, I had been tempted by the cheap, the nasty, the sordid – a ticket on a budget airline with a stopover/change of plane en-route to the destination.

I was racked with guilt from the very start, but I’d left it until late to make my travel plans and the non-stop flights on airlines with planes from the 21st century cost considerably more than YoureGonnaDie Air, or whoever it was that flew the stuffed-bucket service I found myself on … and on … and on  … and

Years ago I did something similar. I took a flight with a stopover from New York to somewhere in central Canada. It cost me a few hundred bucks for the ticket and several days of my life that I’ll never get back. I literally can’t remember the change of plane location: I’ve blocked it out, but remember crying a fair bit, eh?

On my eventual, triumphant return to my then rat-infested hole of an apartment in New York it had never looked so luxurious. I kissed the floorboards – the 24 hour vomiting spell was worth it – and vowed to never again take an unnecessary stopover journey again.

But there I was in a seat smaller than my daughter’s kindergarten pew surrounded by people as unhappy as me. We all looked like we’d been up for 48 hours straight or punched in the face as children only to never quite recover, physically or emotionally.

New York hasn’t had any snow this winter but, because I am the kiss of death, just before heading to the airport, it came down like it does in Siberia. And you know how messy the roads get in Siberia. To make matters worse the airport was, gulp, LaGuardia.

It’s rumored that planes taxied out to depart from LGA years ago, but the line was so long; the runway wait so extreme, they tumbled into some time warp and a funky, twirly space thing narrated by Rod Serling and seemed to disappear. They may still be on the runway somewhere but everyone just wants out of there so nobody has taken the time to look.

My second misstep in this list of things only really stupid people do was to fail to book a car to the airport on a Saturday morning when it was snowing in Manhattan. I spent an hour trying to get a cab: most of them mysteriously busy. When I did spot a vacant taxi approaching, trained NYC cab-kidnappers would appear out of nowhere and madly flag down the thing before it reached me. Surely this is a felony?

Shaking my fist and flaunting with apoplexy didn’t help me any and just made the kidnappers smile as they cruised – seemingly in slow motion – past me.

Eventually, desperate, I kind of dived in front of a yellow vehicle I hoped was a taxi. OK, I may have nudged an old lady out of the way, I’m not sure, but soft snow breaks falls. Regardless, I got in and told the good man to take me to gulp, LaGuardia.

“How are the roads?” I said, interrupting his stream of consciousness in Arabic that I thought addressed to me but later established was part of a ‘Bluetooth’ discussion he was having with an interesting person.

“No good,” he said as he accelerated to 70 mph. We slid all the way there in good time, but I was still late and panicked enough to tumble over at the curb as I got out.

My new phone, which I can’t operate, fell onto the road.

It still makes a few sounds but fails to respond to some things like “Siri, are you there you impossibly annoying idiot?”

I rushed into the terminal and saw the inevitable note next to my flight details: “delayed”. It was bad enough I’d have to eat large pretzels for lunch at the gate while I waited (it’s compulsory in New York), but what if I missed the connecting flight in Atlanta?

I wanted to get to the gate quickly to see if I could be accommodated on a different connecting flight, maybe one out of Hawaii, which was about as logical as Atlanta as my planned, ‘final’ destination was Denver.

So I tore off my clothes like I was preparing to streak at a sports event and dumped my shoes, coat, belt, change, computer, wallet, phone-I-don’t-know-how-to-use, comb, two of my daughters’ hairpins (princesses on both), six pieces of chewing gum and a plastic hotel key from (where was that from?) in two screening trays at security. Fearing a cavity search — I spend a lot of time doing that for no real reason — I tried to sashay through the detector thingo and up to the agent.

I was sent back. Oh no, surely they wouldn’t … not THAT orifice, please!

Oh.

Turned out she wasn’t ready for me. I ambled through again, was waved on and for no reason what-so-ever felt a triumphant rush as if I just beaten the system.

Clumps of dejected people were wandering about at the gate like the undead when I got there. The plane wasn’t only delayed it wasn’t even in sight out there in the snow, which has got to be a problem, right?

At the comically named ‘service’ counter I was ignored for several minutes by a surly uniformed woman, no doubt following protocol. Seems she was on a TSA-approved, baguette-eating mission. It was unsettling as she didn’t appear to be breathing while eating and the last bit of the bread roll disappeared down her gullet as a sword might in a circus act.

Still chewing, she turned slowly and, without a word, lifted her eyebrows.

“I know the plane is delayed, just wondering if you could tell me if I’m a chance to make my connection? I don’t think I will,” I said, meekly.

“I’m not on,” she spat. A little bit of mayo was camped on the top lip.

I tried telephoning the airline, but only managed to switch on the Angry Birds app. When I finally mastered the phone part of the phone, I waited for 35 minutes to be told the flight was delayed.

No one was ‘on’ for some considerable time. Maybe they were outside looking for the plane? “Don’t they know it’s LaGuardia?” I thought. “They’ll never find it.”

Meanwhile, over the next hour or so the undead and I were engaged in a fierce battle to claim vacant power outlets, a prize as coveted at airport terminals as cigarettes in jail (I’m told). Some people were just rude about it: I saw one guy literally pull someone’s phone out and stick his device’s power chord in.

Others were sneaky. They’d loiter – loiter reeeal close — pretending not to watch as people would, eventually, unplug. It was on then: we’d all do that half-run, half-walk trying to get there first, but the loiterers were all over it. I’m pretty sure they are the same people who kidnap cabs.

Some considerable time after my computer battery had died, someone “came on”. The loiterers got to her first but I waited patiently and was rewarded, two sandwiches and a crap coffee later, with a happy greeting from the YoureGonnaDie Air assistant.

I explained my situation and she told me it didn’t look good, especially as the plane had yet to arrive.

“And they’ve got storms in Atlanta too, so nothing’s moving at the moment,” she said with an inexplicable smile.

Soon after, the plane arrived at the gate. “Let them deplane,” another not-so jovial assistant barked, using what is surely one of the world’s most annoying expressions. Not sure why she had to boss the undead around — perhaps she expected us to tackle the arriving passengers.

People gushed out through the gate door as if someone had finally managed to find a way out of a house engulfed by flames. Apparently they’d been circling for a considerable time: “for days” according to one woman, prone to the same sort of exaggeration as me.

Once they deplaned we, er, planed and you all have a pretty good idea of what happened next, so allow me to summarize.

We had to wait an hour to be de-iced then another hour in line on the tarmac behind hundreds of planes (there I go again) for our turn to take off. Once up in the air, nothing in the clunker of a plane worked and the only on-flight entertainment was the guy diagonally opposite who provided a running commentary to no one in particular as he watched I-Pad home movies featuring his family belching.

This induced great guffaws from the moviemaker and only the moviemaker. The rest of us pretended not to be horrified, but I saw a lot of people grimacing. They, like me, were probably contemplating what gross act would feature in the sequel.

By the time our flying machine collapsed on to the runway in Atlanta most of the daylight hours were gone and the only connector to my destination was an already full flight later that night.

A night bunking near Atlanta Airport was in my immediate future and I couldn’t have been more depressed. But in the scheme of things it wasn’t such a big deal: I had my health, my family and the ever abiding chip on my shoulder.

Bring it on Atlanta Airport and surrounds. Bring it on.

To be continued

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