I’m an intrepid traveler. I’ve lived, visited, or worked in 20+ countries on four continents. I’ve stayed in four-star hotels and slept above pigpens. I’ve ignored State Department travel warnings (Don’t tell my mother.) and navigated across entire countries relying armed only with shameful foreign language skills and an underappreciated gift for Charades. My misadventures include helicopter evacuations out of the Himalayas. I know a thing or two about appreciating the journey.
It’s a long haul and a few hops from rural North Carolina to sub-Saharan Africa, but with a new book of crosswords and some creature comforts, I was ready for the ride.
Thunderstorms “building a wall” around Philly? Five hours between flights. No problem. It’s been six hours since we’ve diverted to Richmond? Not good. The flight’s ready to go to Philly now. Now-now! When we land, I’ll go to British Airways to rebook my flight.
Eight-hours into a two-day trip and I’m only 500 miles from home. Philly airport has the worst signage I’ve seen (not seen) since riding buses in rural Laos. The BA counter is closed for the night and their automated customer service line is useless. My trusty smartphone reveals another flight to London tomorrow night, but no London-Lusaka flight until Friday. I’m supposed to start work in Zambia on Wednesday. Um, Plan C?
Delta has a daily flight from Atlanta to Joburg. I’d arrive on Thursday – manageable. Hi, Sir. Crazy situation, but can I get my checked bag? It’s already gone to the international terminal even though the flight is gone and no one’s there? There’s no way I can get it back tonight? Try again at 6am? Thanks a lot, Mr. Baggage Claim. I know it’s not your fault, but it’s been a long day.
Email the client and her travel agent, splurge on a nice hotel and take a glass of wine up to my room. Wake at 6am to call BA. Even the local number goes to that damn automated system. I do not fit into your mold, dammit!
Take a short run as a gesture toward normalcy, shower, and pocket the leftover hotel bath products (Aveda!). Back to airport. Travel agent reserves the Delta routing through Atlanta and somehow find a person to issue a refund for the flight I missed. My new, expensive ticket needs client approval and the clock is ticking. Off to BA to find my luggage.
BA in Philly closes up by 11pm and apparently don’t open until 3pm. Huh. Nice work if you can get it. Back to USAir where I started. Did I mention that Philly airport has shitty signage and the only way between terminals if you don’t clear security (requiring a boarding pass) is by walking outdoors? Oh, and it’s 95+ degrees and I’m dressed for a layover in London? Awesome.
I’m taking the employee shuttle bus. Whatever. Kick me off if you don’t like it.
Bless you, Thomas B., for making a few calls and for getting your guy to walk over to where the bags for BA are and to redirect my bag to Delta. You are amazing and I’ve already told your supervisor. I’m also going to write to USAir and tell them because big companies like that sort of thing. I hope you get an extra vacation day out of it and maybe I’ll see your photo in the in-flight magazine one of these days.
Ticket approved and issued. Not a minute too soon. PHL to ATL, 1h 20m layover, ATL to JNB. A little tight, but I can do it. Boarded, seat belt buckled, emergency exits located (the closest one was, in fact behind me). Thunderstorms in Atlanta? Are you kidding me?
Two hours, but we can make up a lot of that in the air, says the pilot me. Most flights in or out of Atlanta are also delayed. Landed. Dash off plane. Gate agents are 10-people-deep behind counters. I run down escalators and across moving sidewalks. My husband is following play-by-play via SMS and FlightTracker. He texts me my gate number and tells me my connection is delayed. For the love of God, people STAND TO THE RIGHT!
Terminal E is apparently in Tennessee.
The flight to Johannesburg taxis away without me. Delta rebooks me for tomorrow’s flight, confirms that my luggage is in Atlanta, and offers a discounted rate at a sketchy-but-clean airport hotel. I buy a clean shirt, wash my undies in the sink with Aveda bath soap, grab a glass of wine, and email the client and travel agent (“You’re not going to believe this…”).
Coffee in the lobby, quick run, hungry. Country ham, red-eye gravy, grits, and a biscuit? Don’t mind if I do.
Check-in seven hours early. I’m not taking any chances. Gate agent asks why I don’t have any luggage if I’m going all the way to Africa. I explain about Thomas B.
“We have no record of your luggage, ma’am. You should talk to USAir.”
“No, Thomas B. said you have my luggage.”
“Well, maybe the Delta baggage office can help.”
I didn’t catch your name, French lady at Delta baggage, but I appreciate that you located my luggage and validated my faith in Thomas B.
Hours pass. Urgent email arrives: Delta reissued my ticket and “un-checked” me in so I need to check in again immediately or risk losing my seat. I hear the gate agent asking for volunteers to give up their seat on my overbooked flight. Ponder laugh vs. cry.
Delta gate agent re-checks me in for the fully booked, 15-hour flight and hands me a boarding pass for business class.
Now about appreciating that journey…