Saturday, June 21, 2008

It'd Be Funny If It Weren't Me

I cannot stand movies like Meet The Parents. I hate seeing misfortune after misfortune happen to one person for the sake of a few laughs. It gets repetitive and the whole viewing experience just stresses me out.

The story of my journey from Dublin to Seattle, I think, is akin to one of these ridiculous money makers. I have had a couple of days to tell the harrowing tale of panic and confusion to a few friends, and at each retelling the narrative sounds more and more like something out of a movie. I've even perfected the delivery a bit, punching verbs and pausing at appropriate moments.

So imagine Ben Stiller as you read the play by play. I do. It helps me cope.


I bought my tickets for Dublin to Seattle in early March. On my STA receipt, I had a two and a half layover in London Heathrow. I approached the desk for British Midlands Airlines. Two blue-suited, blond women looked at me as I dragged myself, a purse, a backpack, and about 70 pounds worth of luggage up to the desk.

"Hi, I need to check in." I said.
"The self check-in is right behind you." Blue Suit One clucked, pointing to my left.
"Yes, but I need to check in baggage and I need my ticket for my connecting flight. Can't one of you help me here?"
"That man will assist you," Blue Suit Two clacked.

Yet another Blue Suit was to my left. He fiddled with the kiosks and my passport, sighing and saying, "These haven't been working lately." He moved from kiosk to kiosk, finally moving to the computer behind the desk, right where Blue Suits One and Two were still chirping away, and I moved back into the position I had been in not five minutes prior.

Blue Suit Three checked in my baggage and printed my tickets. He said he didn't have a gate or terminal number for my flight from London to Seattle, so I would have to check the computers when I got off the plane. I nodded, thinking, "I don't usually transfer planes, but how hard can it be?"

While waiting for the flight to London, I noticed that it's departure time was 12:05, not 11:15 like it said on my STA receipt. I knew I would be cutting it close. The minutes passed. 11:15 came and went. 11:30. 11:45. Still no plane. 11:50.

My gut reaction? To cry.

At noon, we finally boarded the plane. After a 25 minute wait, we took off. Me, still crying. I felt sorry for the man next to me. All he wanted to do as enjoy his early afternoon Carlsburg in peace. Instead, he had to deal with an "emotive" twenty one year old who kept sniffling and wiping her face with a seemingly endless length of toilet paper taken from the airplane bathroom, because she didn't bring a travel pack of tissues with her, because she didn't foresee this disaster.

The plane lands. My ticket said that the gate for the flight closed at 2:20pm. I had roughly half and hour to get to where I needed to be. I rushed off and down a flight of stairs. Someone in front of me says, "Oh, looks like we have to take a bus to the terminal."

Cue hysterical, expletive-filled reaction from me.

Get on the bus, rush off the bus, and into Heathrow. I start following purple signs that say "Flight Connections". Suddenly, the signs disappear. I get into a security line that says, "All Departures". I hand the woman my ticket and she looks at me.

"Do you know what gate or terminal you're supposed to be at?" She asks.
"[choke, sob, choke] No."
"I think you're Terminal Four."
"Wha-[strained breath, sniffle], what terminal am I in now?"
"Terminal One. You need to calm down."
"[Internally: YOU calm down!] How do I get there?"

She gave me directions and I went through security. Another man told me to follow the "Flight Connections" signs. So I ran, my eye catching every bit of purple within a two hundred feet radius. Yet again, the signs disappeared. I ran down two different hallways, hyperventilating and sobbing loudly. And yet again, I felt sorry for those around me. I found a British Airways desk. I approached the two people work and asked where I was supposed to be.

"Oh yes, Terminal Four."
"How do I get there?"
"Down this hallway, follow the windows."
"I've been down that hallway. All that's down there is Lufthansa Airlines. Please, there is no one else in line, can you PLEASE take me to where I need to be?"

The older gentleman sighed and said yes. He started leading me down the Lufthansa hallway. Sure enough, nothing was down there. We turned all the way around. He groaned. "Ever since they opened Terminal Five, everything has been switched around here." I didn't want to break it to him that Terminal Five, the project that ate up tabloid front pages and was declared a disaster by the general public, had opened three months ago, which might be enough time to find out which of two hallways contained the way to Terminal Four.

He took me through security again, and pointed me in the direction of the inter-terminal buses. I thanked him and ran yet again, still sobbing, challenging myself to see just how many gallons of tears I could produce in one afternoon. Once down there, I waited approximately three minutes for the next bus to Terminal Four. In those three minutes, I had three different people tell me to calm down.

Note: I understand that in this day and age of post-9/11 paranoia, getting hysterical in an airport is probably not the best idea, and I understand why airport workers would want me to calm down. However, I did not have the time to tell each of these people that I had been royally screwed by the Blue Suits at British Midlands, and as a result may have to miss my flight to Seattle, and after three months in their country I was ready to go home.

I made it to Terminal Four. 2:20 had come and went. It was now 2:40 as I ran through the Terminal and into another security check. I tried to tell the people working that I had been through security twice already, but no one was able to listen to me because they were, you know, preventing terrorism. The people in front of me let me go in front of them. I threw off my backpack, tripped over my purse, and yanked off my boots, ripping the lining completely out of the right one. I noticed, in a moment of sartorial genius, that I had paired my black dress, yellow undershirt and gray cardigan with a pair of bright purple socks. Unable to fix my boots, I grabbed them and thrust my ticket to the woman sitting at a computer.

"Gate 1 C."

I took off in my glorious purple socks.

When I got to Gate 1 C, the sign said Toronto. I ran up to the woman at the desk, who instructed me to go to Gate 1 A, but not Gate 1 A, the one behind 1 A. I ran down this mystery gate and was greeted by yet another woman behind a desk. She took my ticket, check me in, and directed me to go and wait in the bus down on the tarmac.

I ran down a winding hallway, still crying, still having trouble breathing. Once inside the bus, I collapsed on a seat.

"Are you alright, love?"
"[Internally: Is that you, Jesus?. Wipes eyes to find English business man sitting across, the only other person in the bus.] Oh yes-now-yes-I think-maybe-I mean...I broke my boot!"

The man laughed and talked me down. He listened as I recounted every step of my misadventure and made sure to get out of the way of my dramatic hand gestures. He smiled. "Well, the flight hasn't left yet. You're amongst friends now. And now you have nine hours to sit and relax. Good things happen to good people. You're fine."

I don't know if he knew, or if he'll ever know, how much these few words meant to me. Everything he said was exactly what I needed to hear. He didn't try and tell me calm down or give me a look like I was a leper. He just listened and offered his support. He even offered a mini-lesson on karma.

This respite was short-lived however. An American man and his wife came in and sat next to me on the row of inward-facing seats. I was moisturizing my face, trying to make myself look halfway decent, and held the pot of lotion in my hand. The American leaned in towards me. "They let you through security with that? My bottle of aftershave was not much bigger and they didn't let it through. They let Osama Bin Laden's number one guy out of jail today, and they wouldn't let me through with my aftershave!"

It took everything in me not to say, "So, because you're a middle-aged, white, American male , they should let you through with whatever you choose?"

But instead I said, "Huh."

He continued, listing every incident Number One Guy had been accused but not convicted of. He described bombings, weapons trades, the Tuesday morning slaughter that will always and forever be branded on my mind whenever I see, hear, or am in an airplane. He honestly believed the man could be anywhere, perhaps even on this flight.

After the manic episode I had just experienced, where I believe I had my first ever panic attack, I decided adamantly that the last thing I needed to hear about was terrorism. I looked the man in the eyes, smiled and toothless smile, gathered my things, and moved to the other end of the bus.

I made it onto the plane, and like the prophet on the bus said, I had nine hours to sit and relax. I read most of On The Road, watched the "Best of British Comedy" and Anthony Minghella's second-to-last film, Breaking and Entering. I landed in sunny Seattle (believe!), and would have cried with joy had I not been deathly afraid of risking further dehydration.

And then British Airways lost my luggage.



Captain Julie said...

Oh my god.
I cannot read this now, because I do not have the mental energy (due to Garage Sale) to do so....
but, I am very excited to imagine it vividly scene by scene, when I do.

Oh Knee Coal.

whimsicalred said...

Dude. This is like my last flight out of New York... late shuttle, stuck in traffic/motion sickness, dropped off at the wrong terminal at JFK, weeping as I run to the shack of a temporary terminal in which my flight is boarding... etc.

I feel for you, homeslice. Glad you made it home.

Megan said...

They probably gave you a hard time/lost your luggage because you're related to me. Seriously. I don't think I've had a trip in years where my luggage was not lost on one leg of it. I'm rather used to it.

So used to it that when I FINALLY got home after my three-day plane trip from Brazil to St. Thomas (via New York, which is a pretty logical stopover point, don't you think?) the woman at the baggage counter was wondering why I wasn't more hysterical that my luggage hadn't made it with me.

I just can't wait to fly with those new baggage fees, where I will PAY people to lose my luggage.