After many decades of traveling on business, I was sure I had experienced every possible surprise that could happen to a person being served by the delightful airline and hotel industries. But I was wrong. Last month I traveled to the Midwest with a group of business associates, and I got to enjoy six completely new travel-related adventures. (And I am, of course, using the definition of the word “enjoy” that means: “Arrrgggh! Why does God hate me?!!”)
First, my flight to Atlanta was diverted to Charlotte because of bad weather. Over the years, I’ve been delayed more times than I can count, and missed dozens of connecting flights, but this was the first time I was ever diverted. As thunderstorms rolled through Atlanta, we flew in circles for about an hour waiting for the weather to clear. But then the pilot came on the PA system and said, “Because we’ve been in this holding pattern so long, we’re running low on fuel. So, they’re diverting us to Charlotte.”
I didn’t really think much about Charlotte, because all my brain cells were focused on the idea that we were low on fuel. “Exactly how low?” I wondered. “Charlotte may be nearby, but it’s also 35,000 feet straight down. I don’t think MD-88’s glide very well, and I’m pretty sure Triple-A won’t send out a guy with a 2-gallon can to get us to the nearest gas station.”
Well, we made it to Charlotte okay, and while sitting there for two hours, I was informed our connecting flight just took off from Atlanta. The customer service agent re-booked us onto a flight early the next morning, and gave us a bunch of room vouchers for a hotel near the Atlanta airport.
The second new experience for me was discovering, at about midnight, that airline-issued room vouchers are not even worth the paper they’re printed on. The very pleasant woman at the front desk said, “Oh honey, those are just airline vouchers. They mean you can have a room at a discount rate — IF a room is available. But we’re completely full tonight.”
After a frantic hour of calling around to every hotel in northern Georgia, we finally found a place not too far away that had a couple rooms left. (There were six of us in my group. We were about to get to know each other much better.)
My third new experience was checking into a hotel, well after 1 a.m., and discovering my room was not empty. Rather than get to know total strangers much better, the front desk finally found another room.
My fourth new experience was staying in a hotel room overnight (well, three hours of sleep isn’t quite overnight, I guess), and not even having a chance to take a shower.
The fifth new experience for me was going through airport security twice in a 10-minute period. This was because after collecting my stuff after it went through the X-ray machine, my sleep-deprived brain said, “Um, here’s my shoes and belt and backpack, but where’s my duffle bag?” That’s when I remembered I put it down out in the main entrance area so I could hand out the boarding passes to the other guys, and I, well, I couldn’t remember actually picking the duffle bag back up again.
So, I frantically raced out of the security area, went back to the airport’s main entrance, and enjoyed the sixth and final new experience of my trip: trying to explain to a really angry cop that my unattended duffle bag was stuffed with clothing rather than explosives. He finally muttered into his radio, “Never mind. It’s just another moron.”
All in all, it was a lovely trip.