WHY DO WE DO IT? Everyone knows this is the week not to fly and yet we go ahead anyway. Yes I know it is all about family during the holidays, and this is why we subject ourselves to the inevitable – long delays, whinnying babies, and snarky airport workers – but after going through the worst travel day of the year (the day before the day of Turkey) I look back and re-pose the question: why do we do it? Short answer: I don’t fuckin know.
Waking up at 3am sucks. That hour is reserved for glorious celebration, late nights of drinking, dancing, and debauchery. Never, and I mean never should a human be forced to wake at this insane hour. 5am? Hey that’s when farmers and day traders spring out of bed and start a productive day. 6am? Bouncy school children and grinding parents begin their day with little cause for concern. But 3am? Like I said, that’s crazy.
After somehow getting out of bed and packing with my eyes still closed, there I was, standing in the middle of the moon lit road waiting for a shuttle-van to come swoop me up and deliver me to the San Francisco International Airport. Surprised and relieved to begin the day on a good note, the van found my notoriously difficult to find apartment and hastily made it’s way to the airport. By 4:30am I had printed a boarding pass, been fondled by a handsy TSA agent, and ordered a cup of coffee (all while you were still comfortably asleep).
The plane boarded 45 minutes late, at 6:30am and after the usual routine, slowly rolled out onto the runway, thrust its engine, and floated up into the dark morning air.
The sky is quiet in the early morning. Otherwise rambunctious children are still too tired to be annoying, loud or boozy adults are silenced by the pain of the early hour, and the cabin lights are left off – save for the few overhead lights pressed on by reading grannies.
Fading in and out, I was able to recoup almost an hour of sleep before the drink cart smashed into my exposed elbow and re-confirmed the horrible truth: I was up at this hour and still had a full day of air travel. After moments of blurry awakeness and hours of staring into the balding patch of hair 6 inches in front of my face (trying to determine if this passenger had lice or just very bad dandruff) I conceded and opened my laptop to watch “I Love You, Man” for the 78th time.
Still cramped and becoming annoyed with everything around me, I decided to play a fun little game: thinking of questions and answers about life on a plane.
Q.) What is more annoying than a bitchy, hormonal flight attendant? A.) Three of them.
Q.) What is worse than dry, stale, airplane sandwiches? A.) When they cost $11.99.
Q.) How can you be the worst passenger? A.) Take your shoes off, fart incessantly, and let your snotty child climb over everyone.
Touching down in Newark, N.J. the plane was over-flowing with anxiety. Sweat was pouring down tired faces as each passenger tried to wiggle or jump in front of the other. It seemed dozens of us had connecting flights that were taking off in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc…my flight was leaving in 7 minutes and this clearly trumped all and yet I tried to remain calm.
Folding my jacket and pulling the straps tight on my backpack, I was ready to run and shove anyone too fat or slow to get out of my way. As soon as I was off the plane I zig-zagged up the musty, carpeted ramp and out into the terminal (shrugging off angry cries from slower passengers). I confronted a United agent, weezing and asking, “What terminal is flight 4480 leaving from”? Confusion was stamped across his unappealing face, then signs of movement started inside his head, but before he could open his mouth I had to take off. Running and yelling behind me, “Call the gate, tell ‘em to hold it for me”. I bolted past smiling Asian tourists who must have assumed I was filming the fourth Bourne film. Sweaty and out of breath I could see gate 85X and kept going. The gate was empty? Had I missed it? I spun around frantically, looking for someone by the front desk. Then I saw the board. The word “ Delayed” was splashed across every departure time.
That’s when it all started to go down hill.
My flight was supposed to take off at 3:08pm. That’s what was agreed upon and so I ran my ass off to make it. I arrived at the gate at 3:05pm…plenty of time to stroll down the ramp and onto the plane. Wrong. On the big screens, the updates flashed, and now my flight from Newark to Rochester was not scheduled for until 5:45pm. “Ok, not the end of the world”, I said to myself and posted up by gate 85X.
30 minutes past. Then an hour had moved on. The squirrely looking man at the gate’s front desk was continually smacking buttons and looking around as if this was his first day and he did not quite know what he was supposed to do. Tired of wondering, I walked up and asked him, “Hey, so what’s the latest on the plane”? Nervous and jittery, he mumbled with his head down, “Oh, we do not sir, the plane is delayed”. Yes I can see that.
I didn’t want to push it or anything and so I walked away content with his answer. When 5:15, 5:30, and then finally 5:45pm came around with no answer or update, others started getting upset. A large man wearing a thick, black leather jacket reluctantly lifted up from his chair and made his way to the front desk. I watched as he asked several questions, leaning in and peering down at the United worker who clearly wished he had called in sick for the day.
Several other passengers approached and rattled off questions in an angry tone – they probably joined me for the 3am wake up call, “When is our plane leaving…what is going on…?” But the answers all seemed to be the same: hands in the air and head staring down at the computer screen, “I don’t know”.
The man in the leather jacket, after having seen me approach the desk again, made his way toward me and peered down and moved in close to my face. He asked, “So what’d they say” in a molasses slow and slobbery manner. Taking a step back I answered quickly, “That we probably have another ½ hour to wait”. He seemed puzzled, then let out an untamed burp and question at the same instant, “What are you gonna do…go get a BEER?” Bluuuuuuuuuurp. Right in my face. Nostrils burning and now seeing stars, I took several steps back and tried to brush off what I was now tasting on the tip of my lips – the bottom of this man’s stomach: a mix of tuna fish, sauerkraut, and the unholy asparagus. Yuck!
I never even answered…I just turned and jogged to the escalator, heading back up to the main terminal. Ah fresh air.
My flight was delayed three more times and finally left at 8pm (five hours after it was supposed to) and while the burp in the face was the low point, the day of traveling on the day before Thanksgiving was a big bowl of awful. I woke up at 3am PST and did not get in to Rochester until 10pm EST.
It was a long day and as I write this all, I am on my way back to SFO (so far no delays). In the end, I made it for Thanksgiving, so I can’t complain too much. I am sure others experienced far worse.