Wednesday, December 10, 2008
My business class tickets to Europe may only cost $280, but I pay for them in so many other ways
Talking about airports this morning got me thinking about the many hours I've spent in them. Liz and Red over at Gingers Is The Watchword have both talked about their sometimes hellish travel experiences, and I realized that while I've commented on both of their posts, I've never shared my own travel nightmares on here. Well that ends right now.
I've done a fair amount of traveling. My mom works for Delta Airlines (up in the control tower at La Guardia, how cool is that?) so I've been trekking the globe since I was just a wee babe. While I flew free until I was 23 and still get ridiculous discounts on airfare, my travel experiences haven't always been pleasant. For one, I fly standby. That basically means I get a seat if there's one leftover after all the paying customers and Delta employees get on the plane. That means a lot of waiting around, and sometimes not making it on at all. On the plus side, I do get seated in first or business class if there's space. Which usually makes for a very comfy 8-hour flight to Europe for like 10% of the price of a first class ticket. But who's bragging?!
Seriously though, it's not all warm towelettes and champagne. I've had to spend the night in strange cities on more than one occasion and it's never fun. There are three travel experiences that will forever stand out in my mind as some of the worst days of my life.
#3: July 2006, coming home from Venice. My friends and I had spent two weeks in Europe and were flying home on buddy passes. Buddy pass passengers only get a seat after paying customers, Delta employees and anyone traveling with those employees gets on the plane. When we got to the airport, there were 5 of us and only 4 seats left. One of us had to stay. It made the most sense for me to give up my seat because my priority is higher; it would be much easier for me to get on the next day's flight than it would for one of them. Also, I had already called my boss at the time and his reaction was basically, "Shit happens, see you when I see you." My friends, on the other hand, were all afraid of getting fired. So after much arguing and insisting, they finally agreed that it made the most sense for me to stay behind. I put on a brave face, but inside I was scared. It was the first time I had ever spent the night alone in a strange city, let alone a European one. I had to get a hotel in Italy's most romantic city and eat pasta from room service all by my lonesome. It wasn't all that bad, though. I took a bath and slept for like 13 hours. And the next day at the airport, a gorgeous Italian man asked me why I was traveling alone--I lied and told him I worked for a fashion magazine and I was in Venice for a photo shoot. Best airport lie I have ever told.
#2: January 2007, coming home from Costa Rica. We were supposed to fly from San Jose to Atlanta to New York. Things started out great when I got an aisle seat across from a ridiculously hot Marine. He was 25 and had just spent 10 days surfing in South America. We talked throughout the entire flight until some random people from first class started coming back to coach. Shortly after that, the pilot announced that we would be making an emergency landing in Miami because a dude in first class got deathly ill and projectile vomited all over his fellow passengers. Because we couldn't set foot on American soil without going through customs, we couldn't get off the plane. We were grounded in Miami for about two hours while EMT personnel attended to the sick passenger and the Christian missionary sitting next to me read the Bible out loud. We arrived in Atlanta too late to catch a connecting flight to New York, so we had to spend the night. Without our luggage. Later that night at a hotel bar, a football game was on TV and I made the mistake of rooting for the wrong team. Several angry-looking Southern gentlemen schooled me on the superiority of the Atlanta Falcons or LA Saints and used vulgar curse words when referring to any team east of Ohio. The next morning, at 5am, we arrived back at the airport only to be told that snow in New York had grounded all flights until further notice. When we finally got on the plane 6 hours later, I caught a nasty ear infection and spent the entire flight crying in pain.
#1: August 2007, coming home from Lake Tahoe, CA. I had flown into San Francisco and lost my cell phone the second I got off the plane. I was supposed to fly out of Reno to Salt Lake City and then onto New York. I made it to Salt Lake without incident, but the second I set foot in Utah, shit went crazy. The 3o'clock flight to JFK was oversold. All the extra passengers were given priority for the 6 o'clock flight. By midnight there were so many people trying to get to NY that Delta was offering free hotel stays for anyone willing to give up their seat and fly out in the morning. (I was not eligible for that deal.) With no cell phone and my next shot at getting home in less than 6 hours, I felt like it was silly to waste time and money on a hotel room. Spend the night in the airport, I thought. People do it all the time, it'll be fine. WELL IT WAS NOT FINE. It was cold and uncomfortable and scary. I kept getting woken up by the cleaning crew. I had horrible dreams about being fired from my internship. The nice couple that was sleeping a few rows behind me disappeared in the middle of the night. I woke up the next morning to Mormon boys asking me if I'd heard the good news. After I brushed my teeth IN AN AIRPORT BATHROOM, I walked up to the gate counter at 6am with high hopes.... and was quickly shut down: first flight of the day, oversold. Not only did I have no chance of getting on this flight, but every flight to New York that day was just as bad. What about Atlanta, I asked? All full. Cincinnati? Looks good getting there, but you probably won't be able to get a flight out of Cinci to New York. Your best bet is flying to Pittsburgh. And from Pittsburgh? There's a commuter flight into La Guardia that's wide open. Sounds good to me, let's do it. So I flew to Pittsburgh at 10am and let me tell you: the Pittsburgh airport has a MALL. I'm talking Gap, Louis Vutton, a food court, the works. But as I was eating my chicken teryaki and thinking things were looking up, I got the news that all flights to New York were grounded because of severe thunderstorms. Once I actually did get on the plane 4 hours later, I remembered the gate agent in Salt Lake saying the words "commuter jet." The reality of those words hit me as I stared at my fellow passengers--all 20 of them. The only way to get through this flight was with a stiff drink. Which I spilled all over myself during turbulence. I left Lake Tahoe at 10am on Sunday morning and arrived in New York at 9:30pm on Monday night smelling like a homeless alcoholic. Such fun times!
Honorable mentions: lugging a 100lb suitcase onto a train from Berlin to Amsterdam. Traveling with friends I didn't speak to half the trip because they were acting a fool. Having a woman damn near give birth on a flight. Waiting for 5 hours at JFK with my 80-year old grandmother and cousin who doesn't drink and then sitting on the tarmac for another 3 hours. Hearing a horrible grinding metal sound 10 minutes after taking off in Hawaii, watching as the plane turns around twice over the Pacific Ocean with no mention of what's going on, then having the captain get on the intercom as he's making his 3rd loop over the ocean to tell us the landing gear won't go up and we have to make an emergency landing.