I have flown my whole life. With parents 500 miles apart and both sets of grandparents on the opposite side of the world, I was a frequent flier by the age of ten. Add the post-college wanderlust and vacations, I've logged a lot of air miles. You'd think I was an old pro. A seasoned veteran. A rational, reasonable and sane traveler.
But I am not. Experience has made me the reluctant passenger. You know.... that girl who always arrives early for the delayed flight, the one sitting in between the non-stop talker and the kid that can't stop puking? The sweet, quiet one who somehow invites disaster whenever she flies? Yep, that's me. I've crash landed, emergency exited, re-routed, and diverted. If you see me at the airport DO NOT get on the plane! Bad things will happen.
Every time I purchase a ticket I have visions of grandeur. I dress well in hope of getting upgraded. I am nice to the TSA people. I smile and make small talk with the ticket agents.
It never works. Bad airline karma follows me. Pull up a chair and let me tell you a little story....
My brother came to my home in Northern California for a visit after Christmas. Thinking I'd surprise my parents for New Year's, I decided to drive back to the L.A. area with him and fly home after a few days. So I purchased a one-way ticket on a small commuter airline traveling from Burbank to Chico, CA with a plane change and one hour layover in San Francisco. A total of 500 miles. Easy, right?
Arriving at the airport early, I thought I'd get my boarding pass, check my bag and be free to wander the concourse. Read a few magazines. People watch. There was no one at the counter, just a bank of computers and lines of people jabbing the screens to receive their tickets. A lonely conveyor belt sat empty and unmoving; underemployed by the new bag check charge of $15.00. Determining my heavy bag unworthy of the fee, I threw the strap over my shoulder, grabbed my boarding pass and proceeded to my gate. The plane departed and arrived on time with no apparent mechanical issues, the weather was gorgeous and the flight was made more pleasurable by a neighbor who was engrossed in a very thick novel, and never even lifted his head to order a drink. One more 30 minuted flight and I'd be home in time to do a load of laundry before bed. Piece of cake.
But air-karma never sleeps. The second leg was delayed 2 hours. The gate was changed from 76A to 89A (quite a hike in SFO) and then changed to 77A (the next door over from the original, mind you). My bag was getting heavier with every gate. I noticed a loud man at the bar across from the gate with three drinks lined up in front of him, and laughed to myself.
When the boarding call was finally announced, my shoulder was numb and I was working on a pretty good headache. I noticed the man from the bar stagger to the gate, muttering obscenities and I cringed. I could feel the air shift and I knew things were taking a turn. I boarded quickly and hoped the tiny seat next to me would stay vacant, but there he was. And now he was angry at everyone and seated directly to my left. 30 minutes to home.
About a half an hour later, I noticed a smell. You know the smell. Urinal cake and under-maintained porta-potty smell. Every time we turned. Wait a minute.... we shouldn't be turning....
A voice from the cockpit played in slow motion, "This is your captain speaking. We have enough fuel to make it back to San Francisco, as well as hang out and circle up here for about 15 minutes. We have pretty dense fog with 25 feet visibility and we need 100 feet visibility to land. We'll let you know if we can get down there when we see an opening."
Drunk guy did not like this message. At all. Now everyone on the plane wanted to push him out, and I just hoped we wouldn't have to listen to him all the way back to SFO.
15.... 30.... 45 minutes go by. Every turn brings new smells from the back of the plane. Drunk guy gets louder. I can't see anything out the window. Do we still have enough fuel to make it back? I wonder if this flight is ever going to end.
Suddenly, the landing gear went down. Everyone started clapping. We were landing! The plane hit the runway really hard. Everyone stopped clapping. It dodged left, then right. We were going really fast. A woman screamed. We slowed quite a bit, and then "THUMP!" We went off the runway and into a field. The plane stopped. Everyone clapped. We landed.
We bumped over the soil, back onto the tarmac, and to the terminal. I was first off the plane. Walking towards the gate I caught a glimpse of my husband, waiting nervously at the door. I hugged him tight and gave him a big kiss.
It's good to be home. I don't think I'm going anywhere for a while.