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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Helta-Skelta Airlines

What ever happened to airline travel?  It used to be glamorous and extremely comfortable to fly.  Even the birds were envious, if you believed Wally Bird in the 70’s as he nestled up against the tail of a well-known aircraft, telling us it was the “Only way to fly.”  One of my personal favorites dubbed the big blue beyond their very own “Friendly Skies.”  That, my friends, was long ago, on a tarmac far away.  Flying is now a chore.  More accurately, it’s a pain.  I’m afraid it is also an unfortunate and necessary evil, if you’re going to cross any large body of water.

My recent trip overseas with an airline whose catch phrase used to be “We love to fly and it shows” was actually not so lovely.  I do not think they mean what they say anymore.

In order to be at the airport three hours before my flight, I was up at dawn and got to experience a beautiful summer sunrise over the high desert in my rearview mirror as I slowly made my way down multiple jam-packed freeways toward Los Angeles.  My stomach was growling, but I ignored it, thinking I’d eat on the plane, since my flight was at 9:00am PST and scheduled to arrive in New Yorkat 5:30pm EST.  The idea that we’d board a flight around breakfast, fly straight through lunch and land close to the dinner hour surely meant there would be food, at some point.  I foolishly believed that an airline with a triangular logo would know a thing or two about balance and organization and would likely have a basic understanding and respect for the food pyramid.

I was wrong.

My boarding pass indicated that I would be seated in row 30 FED – which turned out to be ironic, since at no time during my flight were there signs that anybody was going to be FED.  They did toss us a very teensy weensy (.8 oz) and hermetically sealed (in some NASA-grade material that cannot be torn) packet of peanuts.  I ended up eating more packaging than peanuts, since I had to tear it open with my teeth, but it wasn’t very filling.  .8 ounces is goldfish food.

Exhausted, I chose to hibernate for the reminder of the flight, first thanking my seatmate for her absorbent looking fabric, knowing that drooling was a real possibility.  Snoring drowned out hunger pangs, until the Captain’s creepy hoarse whispering (do they ALL do that?) announced that, due to a storm, we’d been hovering and circling NYC long enough to “just about run out of fuel” and that we’d be stopping in Pennsylvania for gas. Harrisburg,PAwas his pit stop of choice.  One without potty privileges.  Or beef jerky.  The whole thing smacked of travelling in a densely packed station wagon with an overzealous dad who says, “Oh, we’ll stop.  But NOBODY relieves their bladder or eats until we arrive at our destination!”

We did finally arrive, over an hour later than originally planned.  But before we were allowed to unbuckle, a really loud and chirpy voice came over the intercom assuring us that they’d already re-booked us on our connecting flights and that a similarly dressed agent would greet us at the gate to further instruct us.

At the gate, the six of us going on to Madrid were handed slips of paper marked “Interrupted Travel” and were instructed to mosey on over to Gate B-22.  At Gate B-22 we were told that we had to go to the “other Gate B-22” located in a “totally different terminal” which was accessible only by shuttle from Gate 11 (those of you at home, thank you, for keeping score).  The other five travelers decided to reclaim the lost potty break, because two of them were toddlers and two of them brought a tiny dog with a tiny bladder as carry-on.  Alone, I ventured on to Gate 11, where I was informed by three uniformed team members that I could not board the shuttle until the other travelers arrived.  Then, rather abruptly and apropos of nothing, the winkiest of the three flexed her muscle, took charge, lifted the velvet rope and waved me through.  After a seven minute bus ride, I went in search of the new Gate B-22, which was, as alternate universes are prone to be: decorated in exactly the same colors and furnishings of that other Gate B-22 (which I found out later is just as confusing to the people who work there).

The multi-tasking crew member at this new Gate B-22 had one hand holding a phone to her ear and one hand in the air.  She took one look at me and my “Interrupted Travel” slip and said, “No flight for you.  You’re late.”  I smiled and said, “Not my fault.  Captain had to stop for gas.  Maybe even directions, truth be told.”  In no mood for me and my story, she shuffled the phone to her other ear, shooed me away with the new free hand and said, “Tell it to Air Europa.  You’re no longer on this flight.”

Air Europa’s desk was occupied by two people, on bar stools that looked like they were sadly missing beer steins, in no humor to hear my story, either.  “Lady, there’s nobody can help you until tomorrow morning.”  They repeated this information three times and pointed in the direction of the desk of my originating airline.

After waiting in line for 18 minutes, Helta-Skelta airlines informed me that because I was late for my flight, I could board the next available flight in 32 hours,  Once again, I explained about the Captain’s potty-free pit stop.  If I thought the Air Europa staff was humorless and in need of frosty mugs of beer as attitude adjustment, the woman behind this desk needed something a whole lot stronger.  Mostly to go with the hair on her chest and the cajones she displayed when she suggested I find a bench somewhere and settle in for the night.

Searching for a hotel room for old bones turned out to be even harder than locating compassion.  For four hours, with a draining cell phone battery, I called and called.  Turns out, having three airports close for a few hours due to rain, will fill up any and all hotels in a 50 mile radius mighty fast.  No rooms near the airport,Manhattan,Queens,New Jersey.  There was no room at any inn.  At 2am, sweet friends on Facebook, located 2,777 miles away, found a room (after many hours on their own phones and computers) in the heart of New York City.  I wept in gratitude and taxied in toManhattanto sleep for six glorious hours.  NOT on a bench.

Three days after I began my journey I finally arrived in Spain.  I had an incredible week, but have decided that flying is for the birds.  But, the sad fact is that even with delays, there’s still no faster way to get to where you’re going, if you’re going overseas (FYI: The world record for fastest sailing time from NYC to Barcelona was 12 days, 06 hours, 03 minutes and 48 seconds).  Honestly, if I ever have to travel over a large body of water again, I’m thinking I’d better pack a cooler with a minimum of two meals, snacks and a pillow — in case benches are involved (but, I’d draw the line at a catheter).  It’s the only way to fly.

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