A not-so-typical day of a business traveler: when your flights don’t leave on time, life still goes on.
Today in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has come to a standstill. Everything we are used to doing so easily in our daily lives no longer the same. While we all know it will get better — no one can tell when. Looking back, it is easy to recognize how fragile we are: our world, our lives, and our present. Unfortunately, it is in our nature to not fully appreciate what we have day-to-day, often living with aspirations for the future or anchors to the past. Simple things that surround us in our present carry a more meaningful and powerful impact on our well-being. Our thinking and our actions today create our future tomorrow. Let’s take this opportunity to slow down, recognize important things, revisit what we do right or wrong (as individuals and society) and come stronger as a result.
The story below is from the “old times” when airports were busy and planes full. I hope that it will make you smile and help remind to not take what we have for granted. Please enjoy reading.
*** True story. May 2019 ***
Today I have gone to the airport three times. All three times to the same airport trying to leave for the same destination. Boston to Philly. I’ve done this route many-many times over the past four years. It has never taken me that many attempts.
I am a professional traveler with the highest reward level status for American Airlines. Plus, I do a fair number of miles on other carriers. Some travel days are better than others. There are days when I just go back home and leave the following morning. It is not worth it. Not this time.
Now, at the end of the day, I am feeling pretty positive despite many things not going the way I hoped but I am finally in the air, somewhere around 24,000 feet above the Earth. I may even get a drink served. “A tomato juice and a sparkling water.” — “Mixed together?” — “No, two separate glasses, please.” — “Ok.” Guess what?! Three minutes later I get a suspiciously looking fizzy pink drink. One glass. Two liquids mixed together. My neighbor looks at me funny and we start laughing really hard. Oh well. What do I do now? I am not drinking it.
The day started at 6am. My alarm was going off for a few minutes before I had realized what was going on. I did not want to wake up. I did not want to get up. No way. I finally did. It was going to be a long day ahead, first flying to Philadelphia for a day of meetings and then from there taking another flight to Columbus, OH at the end of the day. All seemed to be on time when I got into Uber Black. I decided to check my flight status and it said that I was “green” and already departed. It was still early morning so I had to focus my eyes better to finally see that I was looking at the flight before mine and, of course, I could not have been on it. This was no match. I swiped the screen to the left and saw a “red” sign — my scheduled flight was 2 hours delayed. Typically, I would have received a few travel alerts about the delay but not this time. Maybe because I already departed? But I was still on the ground on my way to the airport.
What’s next? Two hours was not that bad but there might be further delays, so I told the driver to turn around and take me back home. I would deal with the situation later, after I have coffee. It’s time to have one.
I had one more inconvenience to deal with — my boarding pass was no longer showing the TSA-Pre check and I wanted it back. I got married earlier this year and took a new identity. A few days ago, I had changed my last name on the account but the Pre-check did not carry over. I did not realize it until this morning and that’s a pain, because, on a typical week, I travel 2–3 times a week and I value every minute of my time before arriving at the gate. I had to fix that, too.
An airline customer service person on the phone was helping me with rescheduling my flight. I was going to be better off taking the next flight instead of staying on the already 2-hour delayed plane with some maintenance problems. The 10am flight was not available (later I learned that it had been canceled as well as my original 7.30am). She put me on the 10.55am. A seat confirmed in First. All’s great. Now, she needed to help me with changing the name on the reservation, back to my previous name that had the TSA-Pre check attached. She was unable to do that. I had already been checked in and no changes could be made once checked in. Keep this in mind for the future.
Going to the airport for the second time was nothing unusual. Uber Black. All seemed on time as I was checking the flight status on my phone. The driver had a near perfect five-star rating — he must have been very good — but was he? His driving was fine, but he never got out of the car to help with the suitcase, only pressed a button to lift the back door of the SUV. Was I in some kind of a parallel universe? Small things. Really unimportant. I was just noticing because it’s no match. Again. Swipe to the left.
Airport security. Scan my ticket, check my ID. No match. Names different since my driver’s license was still on the old name. I presented additional papers but the agent called a supervisor to clear. Wait for the Super. The queue was moving. I was waiting. The woman in charge finally arrived. She looked at the papers and let me go quickly. There was a match. Sort of.
One laptop out. Two laptop out. Two phones out. Jacket off. Shoes off. Bags on. In line. Hands up. Down. Wait. Collect everything. Phone in hands. The 10.55 flight was showing delayed till 11.07. Was that even a delay? Nothing. We started boarding. Great! My boarding pass scanned. Walking on the bridge to the plane. “All, stop and wait. A computer error. All, go back now.”
I decided to get off this plane. It’s not worth it. The delay was at least 1.20h. A customer service agent across the hall was super nice helping me with changing to a later flight. Again. That’s okay, as by now I was missing most of the day in the office anyway, so I would rather do some work from home, then fly to Philly in late afternoon to connect to Columbus, as was originally planned.
While waiting for my ride back home, I called the AA Executive Platinum line to revert the name change back to the one with a TSA number linked. She said she could fix that right away, which was great. It would take overnight to update in all their systems. Oh well. Today I am not that lucky, but as of the next trip I will be back to the normal routine, I hope.
What a busy day it is. I am at home, working away a long list of issues and I need more time to finish. I check for other options using same-day flight change — looks like there is a seat on a flight departing half hour later, which still offers plenty of time before the connection. I take it. This resets the check in. Yay. I am calling the airline again, this time to change the last name on my reservation. I was previously told that they could do it. Well, not really. Because it is less than 3 hours before the flight and cannot be done on the phone, but I can do it in person at the airport. Sure thing. There is still a chance. And by the way, my new flight now has a 40-minute delay.
Going to the airport, again. Third time is a charm. No Black. Not even Uber. It is Audi, the old brown boot. My Love is driving me away. It is a rush hour, almost 5pm. The new departure time is at 6.06pm. I am at the airport with one hour to spare. The customer service desk is running out of options trying to update the name on my reservation. Many issues. It is not worth it. I am Julia Graf and I am flying as Julia Graf today. Period.
Security checkpoint. Scan my ticket, check my ID. No match. A supervisor clears it a few minutes later. One laptop out. Two laptop out. Two phones out. Jacket off. Shoes off. Bags are on. Hands up. Down… I don’t like this.
It is around 5.30pm now. The plane has not arrived yet but shortly people start to come out of the gate. That means we are likely to be on schedule (per the delayed schedule). They cleaned the plane fast. Faster than usual. Boarding First class. I am on a plane, in my seat. It is 2A. Not my usual spot, but I am good. It is cold on this plane. A passenger comes in and complains that his seat 3A is taken by someone else. Two other passengers have swapped places and the flight attendant is confused as to who is supposed to be where. 3A is taken. But it is someone else’s seat and that passenger wants it back. 1A is available but the unseated passenger does not want it. No match. 2D ends up taking 1A, freeing up his seat for the original 3A, who is now happy and everyone settles in. Musical chairs.
The boarding is finished quickly, by 6.10pm. A cheerful crew is trying to get everything moving. The captain announces for the second time that it is going to be a short flight, one hour and 3 minutes only. They will be bringing us to Philly in no time. The bridge is off the plane. 15 minutes later the plane is still near its gate. The captain keeps repeating with a cheerful voice about a short flight of 1h3m and that they would be taking a more direct route so it is going to be a very quick journey. We are starting to move 10 minutes later. We finally take off at 6.55pm. Exactly 1h3m after I board. I could have been in Philly already. In fact, I should have been in Philly already. Twice.
I feel thirsty and hungry. The flight attendant is offering me a drink. I ask for a glass of sparkling water and for a glass of tomato juice. “Mixed together?”, she asks. I say, “two separate glasses”.
I ended up drinking that fizzy pink drink, which turned out to be not so bad. Sometimes, life gives you a strange mix. You can become upset or angry. You can leave it aside. Or, you can drink it and see what happens — maybe that becomes your new favorite. In my case, at least I was no longer thirsty.
My Boston to Philly flight landed at 8pm and we waited at gate C30 for about 10 more minutes. My next flight for Columbus was departing from C31 at 8.40pm. It was on time and just about to start boarding. So close they were — gates C30 and C31 — and so unreachable for a few minutes. I could have been there in PHL and still not made my flight. I luckily did.
The connecting flight was on time. Everyone was in their own seats. A flight attendant asked the first-class passengers if we could remain in our places once we land. There was a military man in the first row of the next cabin rushing to his wife who was in labor. He was trying to make it to be with her. We should let him get off the plane first. Once in the air, the flight was going to take 1 hour and 10 minutes. We pulled off the gate, taxied without much wait and took off. We flew under the night sky, over the earth full of lights and darkness. We landed in Columbus ahead of time. There was a new father on our plane. He was on the way to see his new child, who arrived into this world while the man was in the air. It’s a Match!
I wrote this story in May 2019 to document a day of quite an unusual travel experience. It is important to mention that since then American Airlines has recognized their ongoing problems with the maintenance and taken significant efforts to improve the wide-spread situation. Thank you for that.