Monday, October 09, 2006

Flying the Friendly Skies

I admit it. I’m not a good flyer. You’d think I would be better at it, given how much I fly. But, nope, not me. I’m that toddler that you have to bring an entire box of Cheerios for, or the ten year-old that has to have the latest Gameboy game or DVD to keep him occupied. I’m good for about 2-3 hours and then I start to lose it. Unfortunately for Dan, or whoever is sitting next to me, it’s a 9.5 hour flight to Atlanta – followed by another 4+ hour flight to San Diego. To put that into perspective, we’ve moved way beyond the Cheerios and have gone straight to the Benadryl.

To add insult to injury, airplanes now have those GPS screens that allow you to track – in real-time – the course of the flight. Some call it technology. I see it more as a torture device. I’m basically okay from Brussels to Greenland, but it’s all downhill from there. By the time we hit Goose Bay, I’d sell my soul, much less state secrets.

In this day of heightened security, I’ve found that my bad mood starts to kick in way before we have reached cruising altitude. I would say, oh, at about check-in. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for increased security measures. I don’t mind the bag searches, the long lines, the secondary screenings, and the shoe-checks for explosives. I’m sure it all serves a very valid purpose, if only to keep people employed. I am, however, a little concerned if our response to terror threats comes down to Ziploc baggies. But, hey, that’s just me.

Last Thursday morning, I left the apartment at 7:00 am for a 10:40 flight to San Diego. Dan dropped me off at the airport at 7:23, leaving me with what I thought would be plenty of time to check-in, hit the duty-free shops, and go through the various security checkpoints. Silly Cindy!

I was already a little edgy, having not slept a wink the night before, and having had only one Diet Coke for the morning. After waiting in a 15 minute line, I reached the Delta check-in counter in a reasonably good mood, considering that I had to answer not only the routine security questions (who packed your luggage? have your belongings been in your possession at all times? have you received anything from a stranger? etc.), but also some new ones, which I’m sure must serve some purpose in the matter of national security, although, personally, I don’t see when I bought my ipod, when and where I purchased my cell phone, and who gave me my laptop is that far removed from the plastic baggie response to terrorism, especially since all of these items will be x-rayed and inspected – more than once.

My personal favorite was this exchange:

Lady to Cindy: How did you arrive at the airport?
Cindy to Lady: By private car.
Lady to Cindy: Where is it now?
Cindy to Lady: I have no idea, but I’m guessing somewhere on the Ring or possibly the 201.
Lady to Cindy: Oh, so you’re husband dropped you off.
Cindy (in her head) to Lady: No, I’ve managed to clone myself and Twindy is now stuck somewhere in Brussels’ traffic. (Clearly, a Bill Engvall “here’s your sign” moment.)
Cindy to Lady: Yes, I was dropped off.
Lady to Cindy: Where is your husband going now?
Cindy to Lady: To work.
Lady to Cindy: Did he tell you that?
Cindy to Lady: Yes.
Lady to Cindy: Is he driving the car?
Cindy to Lady: Yes, I would presume so. (“Here’s your sign …)
Lady to Cindy: Ok you can pass.

At the check-in counter, I handed the lady my passport and my itinerary and then placed my baggage on the conveyor belt. She punched in some numbers, looked at her screen and asked me for my paper ticket. “I don’t have a paper ticket,” I told her. “Yes you do”, she replied. “No, I don’t.” “Yes, you do. It was exchanged.” I was prepared to give the lady the benefit of the doubt. How could she possibly know that she was dancing on my last non-caffeinated nerve? I took a deep breath, exhaled and smiled. “No, ma’am, I only have an e-ticket.”

Completely un-phased, the lady said to me, with absolute and total conviction, “Well, you have lost it. You will have to pay 100 euros to replace it.” I took another deep calming breath. With only the slightest hint of irritation in my voice, I said, “I can’t lose something that I have never had. Is it possible that you are mistaken about the exchange?” Apparently, I had now found her last nerve.

She picked up the Delta phone and called the Delta god who confirmed that my ticket had been exchanged. Unfortunately for me, the Delta god’s omnipotence was limited that day, as he could not (or would not) answer how, by whom, or even when the ticket was exchanged. I went from one person telling me, rather matter-of-factly, that I had lost my ticket, to four people telling me: the initial agent, the guy on the phone, the supervisor that had walked over, and the agent from the neighboring computer terminal who had absolutely no business in the exchange yet felt compelled to lean over and tell me that, yes, my ticket had, in fact, been exchanged.

Trying to avoid another Galleria Inno incident (See December 2005 archives, Good Global Citizen to Nasty American), I asked the initial agent what exactly she would have me to do. She told me that I would have to go over to the ticketing counter and discuss it with an agent over there. Having clearly won, she apologized for the inconvenience and told me that I would have to take my bags with me to the ticket counter. Not a problem. I asked her to please back up the conveyor belt so that I could reach them. Problem.

According to the agent, the conveyor system only goes forward – not in reverse. Her solution was for me to crawl under the counter and up the conveyor belt to retrieve my bags. And here I was thinking that it would be so much easier if she just leaned her fat ass (ok, she really didn’t have a fat ass, it just makes me feel better to refer to her this way) over and push them back down the conveyor belt towards me. Since my fat ass was definitely not crawling under the counter and up the belt, I just gave her my best you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me look. She felt the need to tell me, again, that I had to take my bags with me to the ticket counter, all the while apologizing for any “inconvenience.”

When I opened my mouth to tell her exactly what I thought about her "apology", there must have been some sort of divine intervention, and not the Delta kind, because what came out was, “can you please push my bags to me?” Clearly irritated, the agent made a big production over leaning over -- several inches -- and pushing my bags towards me. I thanked her, apologized to her for any inconvenience she may have experienced while during her job, and went off to wait in the ticket counter line.

At the ticket line, I stood in the shorter of the two lines. When it was my turn, I approached the counter and told the lady that there was some confusion as to whether my ticket had been exchanged. The male agent manning the other ticket window leaned over and said something to the lady in Flemish. Other than what I have learned from reading the subtitles on Charmed, I don’t know any Flemish, but somehow I knew that the man was telling her that I had lost my ticket. (I now knew who the Delta god was that the first agent was talking to on the phone!) I’m not sure if she was atheistic or agnostic, but, God love her, she basically ignored the guy.

The Angel at the ticket counter tracked the problem back to my initial flight into Brussels in the first of August. All of a sudden, everything made sense to me. (See August 2006 archives, Don’t Horse Around With Airport Security). Let’s see, I believe she was referring to the day that my flight was delayed (3 times), cancelled, rebooked, delayed again, rerouted, delayed again, the system manually overridden in Atlanta just so that I could board the plane, followed by a surreal experience in the Manchester airport, after which I finally arrived in Brussels without any luggage. Is it possible during one of the single-worst travel days of my life that someone at Delta, perhaps the lady that manually overrode the system for instance, may have entered something into the computer incorrectly? Apparently not.

After signing a form stating that I had lost my ticket, the agent then printed me out a new one and sent me back to the check-in line. After assuring the very same security lady that interrogated me earlier that I had not accepted anything from a stranger nor had I left my luggage unattended from the time that I left the Delta check-in counter and walked over to the Delta ticket counter (all of which she witnessed), I waited in line, again, to check-in.

Over two hours after arriving at the airport, I finally made it to the gate. Seventeen hours later, I made it back into San Diego, just in time to see one of the most spectacular sunsets I have seen in a long time. Ah, the friendly skies!

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.


Blogger woman wandering said...


This was the wrong thing to read today ... Gert woke to an impromtu lecture by Di on all on that is wrong with his Kafka-like country and then I was forced to read your experience of trying to leave it aloud to him.

Enjoy Sand Diego ... grey, drizzling and a promise of 22oC here.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous RD said...

Remind me never to do any traveling with you, Cindy. I'm not sure how you can even bring yourself to re-live your travel woes in your writing, but it makes for good storytelling. I've never for a minute believed the skies were friendly. Flying is torture for me--not the sitting on a plane, but the getting to and from the plane at either end. I'm waiting for the Star Trek Teleporter, which I understand is very close to becoming a reality!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Rod said...

Next time, why don't you try going by boat?

4:53 PM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

You had me at "Twindy"

7:34 PM  
Blogger woman wandering said...

I shouldn't have come over to read you ... sigh. I arrived and had an immediate flashback to your Tex-Mex food. Here I am, 3.40am and wishing some of your food was in my fridge :)

I imagine all is delicious over there. Don't forget those of us who lack wings require the occasional blog to maintain our vicarious lifestyle.

3:48 AM  
Blogger Cindy Lane said...

Hey RD,

I don't know what a teleporter is, but if it will get me to my final destination without the lines/security/travel time, I'm all for it!


4:32 PM  
Blogger Cindy Lane said...

Not in a boat. Not with a goat. Not in a box. Not with a fox ... (Thought this would sound familiar to you Rod!)

4:33 PM  
Blogger Cindy Lane said...

Hey Di,

For what it is worth, while I have all the Mexican food I can eat, I miss my wire-fi in the apartment!

Loved the "European Man" photo series. Great shot of the guy with glasses!!!


4:35 PM  
Blogger woman wandering said...

Mmmm ... lol I almost titled that particular photograph 'A reason to stay in Europe'.

7:13 PM  

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