Let This Be a Lesson to You

This post has taken me an unconscionably long time to write. I didn’t have net access in Nassau–or, more accurately, I didn’t seek out net access in Nassau–and have had a bit of a hard time getting myself going again since I’ve been back. But at last, the Bahamas post, which begins with a cautionary tale of sorts. Or perhaps just a lot of whining.

Bottom line: never, ever brag about your fabulous weekend trip plans. The trip itself was wonderful, but I really paid for it in the getting-there part.

This first stages of the journey–getting up at 4.30 am; getting to the airport by 6 am; getting on the 7 am flight to IAH–went just fine. It was early, and I was exhausted, but things seemed good. And they took a turn for the better at IAH, when my mother and I were both upgraded for our flight to Fort Lauderdale.

Given the opportunity to go back and do it again, I’d happily move back to coach, in exchange for a smoother remainder of the day.

Mom and I had been a bit nervous about our connection at FLL, as we only had 35 minutes, but it turned out that we were flying into gate C1 and back out of C5, so we figured we were safe.

Oops.

Our flight loaded up relatively smoothly at IAH, and pulled away from the jetway on time, and began what seemed to me to be the world’s longest, slowest taxi. Which in fact it may have been: it was well over an hour later before we took off. Turned out there were storms to the north and east, so air traffic control was leaving 15 miles (or 4 minutes) between each takeoff, and we were something on the order of 30th in line. By the time we were airborne, it was clear that we were going to miss our connection. Two questions remained: was there another flight to Nassau today? And did my sister, who was supposed to meet us in FLL, get on the flight or not?

We worried about it some, but figured we’d deal with it on arrival. But our arrival was a little bumpy. As we were making our final approach–and I do mean final; we were less than 100 yards off the ground–the pilot suddenly pulled the plane up and made a hard banking turn to the left. Like fighter plane maneuvers; I’m not sure I knew a 737 could do that. Turned out, as the pilot informed us several minutes later, once we were all the way back up at altitude, there’d been “some traffic on the runway.” So we were going to come around and try it again.

Second go-round, we made it safely all the way down, and my mother immediately dialed my sister, who was sitting in the airport bar immediately across from our gate, waiting for us. We were supposed to have gotten in at about 2, and taken off at 2.35; it was now 3.05, and our flight, needless to say, was long gone. Once we caught up with my sister and got a drink, the better to steel our frazzled nerves, she told us that she’d gotten us on standby on the next two Continental flights to Nassau, one at 5.45 and one at 6.00. But those were the last Continental flights, so in case we didn’t get on either of them, we were booked on a Bahamas Air flight at 8.45 pm.

Both Continental flights turned out to be overbooked. Had they told us that at the outset, we would have started the process of getting onto that Bahamas Air flight much, much sooner, which would have made the entire rest of the evening less stressful. As it was, though, we waited until we definitely did not get on the second flight, and then asked how we needed to proceed.

What we needed to do, we were told, was to go out to Continental ticketing, outside security, where the rebooking process would be finished, and then head over to Terminal 3 to catch the flight. We had two and a half hours, so no sweat.

What about our bags?, we asked. Oh, they’ve been sent on, we were told. They’ll be in Nassau.

Okay, so out to the ticket desk, where a very nice woman–the desk manager–tried very, very hard to get our tickets reissued, and completely, utterly failed. Meantime, a lower-level ticket agent who said she’d never handled a rebooking before managed to get two other people in the same situation taken care of and on their way. While we waited. And waited. And the scattered desk manager kept trying, and failing, to get our tickets reissued, losing the boarding passes we’d handed her in a pile of stuff, printing and reprinting tickets that somehow weren’t right, misplacing her pen, and so on. In the meantime, she’s also trying to deal with a woman flying from Fort Lauderdale via Newark and on to Paris, whose ticket somehow didn’t reflect the fact that she was carrying a cat on board, which she swore she’d confirmed arrangements for eons ago. So while our desk agent is talking on one side to a service guy in Houston, trying to get us straightened out, she’s also talking on this woman’s cell phone to an Air France agent about how the problem with the cat isn’t on the Continental end.

I spent the half-hour-plus we stood at that desk trying really hard not to scream, which was being made even more difficult by the fact that my mother kept appearing at my shoulder saying “what is she doing now? She’s only dealing with one of our tickets? Why are those other people already done and gone?” But finally, we got reissued tickets in hand. I mustered every bit of diplomacy I had left and asked, seeing as we’d been waiting in the airport for four hours, having been put through waiting on standby for two flights that we never had a prayer of getting on, rather than just being sent on to the other airline right off the bat, whether we could get, say, a meal voucher.

And was instantly sorry I asked. Because the meal vouchers had gone missing, and finding them involved our ever-so-organized desk manager making a trip to the safe, and then, once she had them, painfully, slowly, filling out the information they required. Worse yet, I still had one question to go. Because the gate agent had told us that our bags had been sent on to Nassau, but I was dubious. Could she figure out where our bags where?

Thankfully, she passed us on to the lower-level ticket agent, who was focused and clear-headed enough to know how to handle this: she called the baggage room, where she discovered that my bag and my mother’s bags were waiting. My sister’s bag had, in fact, gone on to Nassau. So no problem, right?

Except that now we had to go down to baggage claim, pick up our suitcases, get on the shuttle to the Bahamas Air terminal, and check back in. Finding the bags was hard. The shuttle was a trial. But nothing so far compared to the line at the Bahamas Air desk, which was long enough and slow moving enough that I actually got on the phone with Continental to ask what our options were if we didn’t make this flight. It’s now about a quarter to eight. We’ve been standing in lines and dealing with various ticketing and baggage personnel since 6.15. And my patience is absolutely shot.

We did manage to get checked in for the flight, though the desk agent yelled at us for trying to check in bags this late. (Trust me, I said, it wasn’t our first choice, either.) But she begrudgingly gave us seats–in the second-to-last row–told us where to drop our bags for screening, and gave us our boarding passes.

Which she had triple-S’d.

So when we went through security, all three of us automatically got called aside for secondary screening. All of our carry-ons were searched, and we were quite thoroughly wanded and patted down.

It is now 8.40, and the flight we’re trying to get on leaves at 8.45.

Theoretically, at least. Once we’d regathered our stuff, we rushed through the terminal to our gate, to find that the plane hadn’t started boarding yet. So I took our hard-won meal vouchers and went to see what I could get with them. Which turned out to be nothing, as all of the terminal’s services had closed at 8.30. So we sat and waited, and tried not to think about the fact that we hadn’t eaten since before noon, or that we were insanely thirsty.

The flight finally boarded (in one crazy rush; none of your rear-of-the-aircraft-forward stuff here) around 9, and we slowly made our way through the extremely old airplane to our seats, which smelled quite significantly of chemical lavatory. Fortunately, this would be the shortest flight of the day. Unfortunately, even with whatever near-miss we had landing in Fort Lauderdale, it was also the scariest. As the plane accelerated for takeoff, the tail section–with us in it–fishtailed madly down the runway, and the entire plane shuddered so badly we were quite convinced that it was going to break apart. This was not the most reassuring contraption I’ve ever flown in, and my confidence was not built by the fact that whenever the guy in front of me moved, my tray table landed in my lap.

But: we made it. And my suitcase, and my mother’s suitcases, made it. All that remained was to hunt down my sister’s suitcase–which nobody had any idea where it could be, except to gesture generally toward a bunch of bags scattered around by the various carousels and say “it might be over there,” which, thankfully, it turned out it was–and get a cab to our hotel. We were supposed to have gotten in at around 3.30 that afternoon. It was now almost 11 pm.

The cab was quick, though, and we were ecstatic to be at the hotel once we got there. Except that, oddly, the hotel’s nightclub is in the center of the lobby, right next to the registration desk, so we couldn’t hear anything that the young woman behind the desk said as we attempted to check in. We did manage to hear, though, when she said she was going to put us in room 104, because my mother had reserved and paid in advance for a deluxe room, which is supposed to be on the upper floors of the hotel. After some exceedingly slow clicking around on her computer, and some inaudible consultation with the other woman working the desk, our agent disappeared into the back office. For a long time.

While she was gone, my mother dug out the confirmation notice she’d printed showing that she’d paid for our upper-floor room. I just stood there, elbows on the desk, head resting in my hands, trying to pull together every little bit of maturity I could possibly raise, so as to prevent myself from bursting into hysterical, exhausted tears. Which was not helped by the fact that when the desk agent came back, and my mother showed her the confirmation notice, the agent said, “yes, I see that, but there aren’t any rooms available.”

I believe that this was about the point at which my sister leaned in to me and whispered “Do you think it would help if I threw myself on the floor and had a tantrum?” Oddly, this made me feel better, because at least it wasn’t just me.

It turns out that what the desk agent meant–which I still don’t quite understand–is that while there were deluxe rooms available, as in rooms that didn’t currently have people staying in them, those rooms were not available available, as in free to be given to paying customers who would like to stay in them. She had to wait for her boss to release the rooms. While she waited, we completed some other paperwork, asked whether it was going to be possible to get any food this late (thank god, it was), and generally tried not to look quite as pained as we were.

But the brilliant part is that the pain ended there. The hotel was lovely, we had a wonderful time together, we rested and had fun, and our trip back in this direction was–at least comparatively–a piece of cake.

I didn’t spend the time I thought I would pondering work-related matters, sorting out my summer plans, or anything of the sort. I’ve got a big mess in front of me, in fact, as I prepare for my very, very imminent return to California (while still attempting to get done some things that I swore I’d have done by mid-May). But, after that travel day, all I wanted to do was stare at the ocean and wait for the next breeze.

If things are quiet in the coming days, know that I’m trying to recapture that feeling. Or trying to make up for having had it.

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