"Ah, for the days when aviation was a gentleman's pursuit - before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham."
- Sideshow Bob
I am completely incapable of traveling by air without complication. In the past I have been bumped off my flight numerous times. I have traveled on a different aircraft than my luggage on more than one occasion. I have been taken off a plane and bussed to another airport to fly out 11 hours later. It just never goes smoothly for me.
I traveled home to Philadelphia for Christmas on December 22nd with a layover in Dallas-Fort Worth. The flight actually started normally and I arrived at DFW with no problems whatsoever. I had arranged to meet an internet friend who lives in the Dallas area since my layover was three hours long. It went well and she was as spectacular as I had hoped. Surely I should have known that everything was going a little too well. But I did not.
I made it back through security and to my gate with moments to spare. As luck would have it, I was seated next to a strikingly pretty woman who was also traveling from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for the holidays. Amazingly, she had moved across the country to LA only two months after I had back in 1997. I have frequently lamented that I have never been seated next to an English-speaking woman of any age or attractiveness level before, let alone one that shared ice-breaking coincidences with me. I am usually seated next to a trucker-hatted beefy ex-linebacker whose amorphous body swallows the shared armrest or a douchebag workaholic who tries to concentrate on his laptop and assorted paperwork from the middle seat. I have had the good fortune to be seated next to a small child once, and aside from a beautiful woman a child is the absolute best seat partner. They don't try to talk to you, and the armrest is yours for the taking.
We were still waiting to taxi away from the gate while I struck up a nice conversation with my fellow Philly-to-LA transplant. I slowly noticed that my throat was feeling dry and the air was almost imperceptibly hazy. I asked, "Is it just me or is it getting cloudy in here?" as the man across the aisle was saying the same thing to his wife. Within a minute or two, the air in the cabin was filled with a talcum-powder like substance to the point that you could see the beams from the overhead reading lights. The pilot announced that the powder was coming from the plane's air conditioning unit and that they would turn the A/C off to see if the air cleared. After about 10 minutes this move proved futile. That's when we heard the announcement that every air traveler dreads. "Sorry folks, but for now we're going to have to ask everyone to deplane until we can figure this out."
As we trudged back into the terminal, I was certain that I'd be sleeping in the airport. We've all heard stories of passengers kept on planes for eight hours or more, and I figured if they were taking us off the plane they must anticipate a really long delay. The part that bothered me most was that I was stuck in the airport and had I known beforehand, I could have spent a lot more than 90 minutes with Dallas Girl and in a much nicer place than baggage claim. The gate agent told us that it would be at least an hour until we knew anything, so everyone headed to the bar to watch Monday Night Football. After some bad Mexican and good beer, we were herded onto a new plane and left only two hours late. Luckily, DFW is American Airlines' hub and there was a spare plane laying around. I continued my chat with my pretty seatmate, although not without difficulty. My ears were completely plugged up as they normally are when I have a cold, and not only could I not hear very well, but I was unable to judge the volume of my speaking voice. Predictably, the conversation was peppered with "Huh?"s and "What?"s on both sides. I'm certain that right now she is blogging about the very trying Christmas flight where she had the misfortune to be seated next to a deaf-mute.
My trip back to Los Angeles was no less eventful. After another painless first leg back to DFW, I was bumped from my connecting flight. In keeping with the airline's policy of overselling flights, this flight was oversold. Eight of us got bumped. I was placed on a short flight to Austin two hours later, after which I would fly from Austin to Los Angeles, getting in four hours later than originally planned. It was New Year's Eve, which caused much grumbling among the inconvenienced. Luckily I hadn't made any New Year's Eve plans, knowing that I'd just want to go home and relax after traveling all day. I wasn't that upset. I thought a four hour delay and an extra connection was worth the $300 voucher they gave me.
The short flight to Austin was uneventful and I was soon waiting in the terminal to board my final flight of the day. Suddenly, I froze with fear as I was paged by the gate agent. "Will passenger WWW please check in at the counter." Great. The perfect end to this trip would be to be bumped off a second consecutive flight. I wondered where they would send me this time, hoping for Las Vegas. "At least this will make a funny blog entry", I thought. I shuffled up to the counter like a dead man walking and announced myself. The gate agent slid a boarding pass across the counter and said, "This is on us. Happy New Year." I was shocked to look down and find none other than a first class ticket waiting for me.
I don't know why they did it. Maybe it was because I'd been bumped and there were empty seats in first class. Maybe it was because I'm a Super Awesome Grand Poobah Hot Shit member of their mileage program. Maybe someone was just being nice at the holidays. But whatever the reason, it made me want to kiss Todd the gate agent on the lips. I'd never flown first class, and it was always a frivolous life goal. It was everything I thought it would be and more. A dude hung up my sportcoat, they fed me actual food, they got me tipsy, and the generous seat was a fat guy's dream. It was almost too much - I spent the entire time waiting for someone to discover that my bank account was smaller than the flight attendant's and that I was a fraud. I will also confess that when they came around and passed out hot moist towels, I had to spy on the other passengers to learn what the hell I was supposed to do with it. Apparently it's so you can clean your hands before dinner. Who knew? If I were left to my own device, I would have wiped my face with it. This is why they don't normally let people like me in first class.
I had very little time online over the holidays, so I am well behind on reading and commenting other blogs. Rest assured I still love each and every one of you (yes, even you) and that I will now be back to normal. I hope you all had a happy holiday of your choice, even if it was just a couple of days off from work. Please enjoy looking at but not eating this plate of homemade Christmas cookies that could have been yours if you had just pretended to like me more: