Right now I'm supposed to be in Minneapolis. Instead, I'm still in Manhattan.
Consider what follows to be me laying out the corpse of my craziest and worst ever airline experience, whipping out a scalpel, and doing the autopsy.
This morning at work I checked in online for my late afternoon flight from New York to Minneapolis. I printed my boarding pass and tucked it into my carry on. I never check baggage when I travel if I can help it, especially when flying in and out of New York, mostly so I can skip the check-in desk and accompanied snaking line of bored and frustrated travelers.
I left my office for the day at two o'clock, carrying my suitcase instead of rolling it due to ample amounts of sludgy slushy stuff filling the sidewalks and streets, and ducked into the subway system.
By four o'clock I was at JFK, settled into my terminal. I called Josh and we chatted as I kept my eyes glued to the series of monitors which reported the departure and gate information for outgoing flights.
An odd thing happened, though, something which has never happened to me before. My flight, scheduled to go out at 5:40 p.m., showed up on the monitors, but a departure gate wasn't listed. Only a few other flights on the board didn't list departure gates. I dialed Josh and watched as several flights, including ones to Los Angeles and Paris, suddenly popped up on the screens as canceled.
"It says your flight is delayed, but will depart at 6:40," Josh told me after some sleuthing on my airline's website.
As the clock struck six there still wasn't a departure gate listed next to my flight. I started to worry, realizing that if the flight really did take off at 6:40 that I would need to get through security quickly before they closed the doors at 6:25. The terminal is divided into two separate sections, though, and which one was I supposed to enter to look for my gate?
Suddenly it was 6:10, then 6:20. There was still nothing on any of the flight monitors I could find. Panic set in. I headed back to the ticketing counters, running around looking for my airline's desk. A few months back my airline's terminal had changed, and I'd never been to the airline check-in desk in this terminal because I always traveled with carry-ons only in an effort to bypass check-in lines.
I put in several hasty calls to the airline. The automated information confirmed that the takeoff was scheduled for 6:40.
At half past six I finally found my airline's ticketing desk, holed away in the furthest, best-hidden corner of the sprawling terminal.
There was nobody in line.
"What's going on with the 6:40 flight from Minneapolis?" I asked one of only two young ticket counter workers.
"The 6:40? I'm sorry, baby, you just missed it."
"It just left, completely full. Standbys filled it all up."
"But--but wait, the flight was never listed on any of the monitors in the airport! How did anybody find the gate and get on board?"
The woman looked at the terminal in front of her and clicked a few keys on her keyboard. "Well, did you check in here? Because we told everyone it was going out of B23."
I played the Midwestern sweetheart card with her to see if anything could be done. In her thick Queens accent, as she perused her computer, I got her dishing about this crazy woman who was "callin' her man" and trying to "get in on" him, and she had kids, and what was she supposed to do with a crazy woman calling her cell phone tonight while she was at work? I smiled, I batted eyelashes, I made all the appropriate and concerned listening noises. I inquired if there was any way they could put me on a flight with another airline, or work anything else out. (Nope, sorry.)
There were no more flights from the airline that night, or the following morning, or even the next afternoon. The next flight would be following night. Oh, and that flight was booked. Solid. The only thing left was standby. (She put me on the list. I smiled harder--furiously actually, until my cheeks burned--and she moved me to the top of the standby list.)
A last-ditch call to the airline's reservations number revealed that my flight had been delayed until 7:40 because of the weather. Apparently the plane was just sitting on the tarmac, getting deiced.
Suddenly, I had a plan. I started running for the gate at full throttle. I flew through security at record speed, throwing my laptop into the gray security bucket, stripping off my shoes and coat, and then ran the rest of the way to B23.
Then, the fatal blow.
B23 is one of those really special gates where a bus has to come and pick up the passengers and take them on a ride out near the runway where passengers then disembark and climb a move-away staircase to get onto the plane. The ticket agent for my gate had long since departed, and in her place sat a single ticket agent for another airline surrounded by a mob of a few dozen frazzled passengers wondering what the hell was up with their massively delayed flight to Puerto Rico. (I backed away slowly.)
The only way I was getting on my flight (which was still sitting on the tarmac) was if I hijacked a bus, rolled up to my airplane, got the move-away staircase back into place, boarded the airplane, threw one passenger and their baggage off the plane, and then assumed seat 6B.
Time of death: 6:58 p.m.
Needless to say, a fairly defeated and deflated Josh got back on the Air Train and headed back to the subway.
Shortly after 9:30, more than seven and a half hours after leaving my office for the airport, I arrived at Dylan's empty apartment. (He's away on business until Wednesday. He's in Hawaii for a few days and then Los Angeles. I'm kind of thinking he got the better end of the deal.) I set down my bag and wheeled my sopping suitcase onto a pile of paper towels and collapsed onto the couch.
In what may be the sickest twist to the story, it sounds like tomorrow night I'll be going back for more.