Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fear of Not Flying

I mentioned that there was a story to our having missed our flight out of Boston coming home from my reunion. I’m afraid that was a little bit of an empty promise. It’s not much of a story. Just a cautionary tale.

I remembered the flight as being at 5:30 pm. I realized around noon that I was off by 15 minutes—it was really at 5:15—but I didn’t worry. It seemed like it would be easy to make up the time, and how much difference could 15 minutes make anyway?

What followed was one of those anxiety-dream situations where nothing goes horribly wrong, but nothing goes really well, either. I just couldn’t get ahead of anything no matter how fast I worked. There was always one more thing to check online, one more lost belonging to track down, and one more errand to run before we could get out the door. I never did catch up, and ended up leaving the house about 15 minutes later than I wanted to, without having managed to check us in for our flight.

None of this should have been a big deal, because I can still get to get to the Mass Pike from Northampton in my sleep, and the airport is now very easy to find from I90. Traffic wasn’t bad. We lost a little time waiting for a shuttle at the car-rental drop-off point, but because neither of us had to check anything, I remained hopeful right until I tried to check in. By my watch I had a half hour before the flight departed, which I knew to be close, but the security line was short so it all ought to have worked.

Except that when United says they want you checked in 90 minutes early, they mean it. The kiosk told me it was too late to issue boarding passes.

It’s a very frustrating thing to be told you’ve missed a flight that you know is still sitting there at the gate. It’s depressing to know that a machine doesn’t believe that you are capable of hustling down an airport corridor. But that’s the way it works. And now I know.

The story has a mostly happy ending. After a few false starts, including a United customer service telephone agent who tried to charge us $900 to change our tickets, we talked to a real person at Logan. She got Pipi the last seat on a direct flight that got home earlier than our original itinerary at no extra charge. I ended up on a later flight to Chicago. Due to bad weather in the Mid-West, I caught up with our original ORD-SFO flight, which was very delayed. Someone who looked a lot like the actor Alan Cumming was in the boarding area, so I was able to while away the waiting time stalking him to determine if it were he. (It was.)

The only bad part was that I got home after 3am. But I learned a lesson about time management on the road, which, now that I’ve caught up on my sleep, I appreciate. (I’m also hoping this episode will put an end to a recurring dream I have about missing planes. Now that I know it’s not the end of the world, maybe my subconscious will stop tormenting me.)

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