I don’t fly often. Since July 2007 (the first time I ever went on a plane, ever), I’ve flown, on average, about once a year. That’s not enough to destroy the novelty of flying, but just enough to have a horror story or two to regale friends with.
Here’s mine. In July 2009 I moved to Sydney, Australia for four months. I guess because it was cheap, I found myself flying out of JFK Airport. Yes, that JFK Airport. I had my family drive me up because I don’t have a license.
Part 1: the drive to New York City
The problems started before we even arrived in New York.
We’re going east on I-287 when we decide to stop someplace to use the bathroom and get some donuts. (It’s really early in the morning, although my flight doesn’t leave until midafternoon, because we’re quite sensibly worried that we’ll get lost.) It wouldn’t be that big a deal, except North Jersey interchanges are mazes designed by three-year-olds. With crayon. This is Exit 10 off I-287, one of the more sensibly-designed junctions, with the Dunkin Donuts marked with that red arrow on the lower right.
Here, naturally, is our route to the shop.
And here is our route back to the freeway.
We stayed on that road for about two more miles before it clicked that we were going the wrong way and turned around. Moral of the story: we have no sense of direction.
Part 2: Kennedy Airport
Anyway, we arrived at JFK, got some lunch, and I said my goodbyes and went through the security area and all that. My connecting flight to Los Angeles was still far enough into the future that it still wasn’t listed on the departure boards. So I sit down somewhere and bust out my laptop, only to discover that (a) the battery, which had previously shown signs of terminal illness, conked out completely, so the laptop has to be constantly plugged in, and (b) there’s no free Internet. Which means I’m stuck in New York for at least five hours with nothing to do.
At some point I get the bright idea to wander the terminal to kill time. Which is all right with me, Terminal 4 isn’t the ugliest terminal I’ve ever been to (that honour goes to the complex in Philly), and it’s nice and long, which is good. Except–because I’m pretty much moving house, too cheap to pay for checked luggage, and paranoid that someone will steal my stuff when I’m not looking–I am hauling 40 pounds of carry-on everywhere I go. Including the bathroom. I’m pretty sure I leaned perceptively to the right.
Finally my flight gets a time (2:00) and a gate assignment. Except it’s not exactly a gate. B23 is more a glorified bus shelter than anything. Apparently, they couldn’t find a spot right up against the terminal, and they have to shuttle everyone out to the tarmac. Okay. Not the end of the world.
2:00 passes. The shuttles to the left are going to a plane bound for Memphis. The shuttles to the right are going to Terminal 3 (Delta has a hub there). The shuttle in front of me isn’t going anywhere. It’s just sitting there. And it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. The flight for Memphis starts boarding. You can hear the announcements going, “Zone 1 will now board.” “Zone 2 will now board.” “Zone 3 will now board.” “We apologise for the inconvenience, but there has been a medical emergency on [the flight to Los Angeles].” Wait, what?
Someone had kidney failure on board. I wish I was kidding. (This, of course, means I have no right to complain about anything that’s happening.) They say they’re getting an ambulance up there real quick-like and then clean up the mess. They told us that at…3:00, what I presume is an hour after the plane landed. It’s like, really? Sounds like the situation’s a bit too urgent to dither around for an hour and then tell us that!
Anyway, at around 3:30, with the poor soul what had kidney failure on her way to the hospital, our shuttles finally start picking people up. Zone 1 boards. Zone 2 boards. (I’m Zone 3.) And then the shuttles don’t return, leaving the Zone 3 and 4 guys there, dirty, grumpy, and irritable.
Now it’s 4:00. The shuttles to the left (now bound for a plane to Detroit) start loading up passengers. People start breaking certain unwritten etiquette conventions and start actively grousing about how long it’s taking to get everyone on the plane. I’m fairly sure there’s going to be a riot soon, with people storming the desk and demanding that they bring the shuttles back. What’s going on?
Just in time, there’s an announcement. The plane is still not cleaned up, and the shuttles are sitting there on the tarmac, full of passengers every bit as stressed out as we are. Meanwhile, the plane for Detroit, fully loaded, takes off. Finally, at 4:30, our shuttle buses start moving again, we (slowly) fill the plane, the plane takes off for Los Angeles, and we all live happily ever after, right?
Part 3: the flight
So I get in, load all my junk into the overhead thing, and sit down. Then I have to change seats with someone because he wanted to be with his family. Okay, sure. Sounds reasonable. I wind up next to a nice lady who brought a dog with her. I’m looking at it, curious. She notices.
“You’re not allergic, are you?”
“Actually, I kind of am…”
“Do you want to switch seats? I don’t want the dog affecting you at all…”
“No, no, I’m good, honest! I’m not going to bloat or stop breathing if I’m next to the dog, I’m all right, really!”
“It’s okay, it’s okay!”
The guy in front of me turns around. “What’s going on?”
“Uh, he’s allergic to dogs, and I don’t want him to get sick.”
“I said it was okay!”
“Well, let’s see if we can find someone who’d be willing to switch seats with you.”
“But I already switched seats once, and I’d really rather not do it again!”
Enter a flight attendant. “What’s going on?” Oh God…
“He’s allergic to dogs, and I don’t want him to get sick.”
“I said it was okay!”
“Tell you what we can do. You can deplane…”
“Or we can get someone to switch seats with you.”
I throw my hands up in surrender and say, “Okay, fine. If it will make everyone feel better, I will move to another seat. I just didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, that’s all.”
They eventually found someone willing to switch seats (again) with me. And finally, three hours after the scheduled departure time, the plane takes off for Los Angeles, and I’m thanking the heavens I have a five-hour layover.