SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
January 19, 2014

Hot in the Airport, Part 2

 

Flying from New York to Green Bay through Chicago is always a tricky bit of business any time of year, but never more so than In December. Snow or sleet anywhere along the route could leave you trapped in an airport for hours. Worse, it could leave you trapped in an airport in Detroit or Columbus for hours, even though you never planned to go to either place. If it got too cold, or too wet, or too windy, you were fucked. I’d somehow slipped between two major storms and around a potential hostage situation to get out to Green Bay, but now that I was there, the question of getting back to New York again remained.

        By all accounts the weather seemed okay until roughly twelve hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. That’s when the light snow showers forecast for Chicago became heavy snows, and the partly cloudy conditions promised for LaGuardia had been replaced with what they were calling “ice pellets.” That didn’t sound good at all. Still hoping for the best, my mom drove me to the airport and walked me up to the gate with half an hour to spare before boarding. The half hour soon became forty-five minutes, then an hour, then an hour and fifteen minutes as we waited for the plane to arrive. It was a small commuter jet that seated about 35 passengers total and spent all day making the half-hour flight back and forth between Chicago and Green Bay. Thanks to the weather it was having some trouble getting out of Chicago, which meant it’d likely have trouble getting back there, too.

        I stayed unusually calm about all this. If I was stuck in Green Bay another day or two, well, so be it. I’d been having a fine time with my family.

        “Attention passengers waiting for flight 5429 to Chicago . . . ” the woman behind the small check in desk announced, and everyone waiting offered a pre-emptive groan, just to get it out of the way.

        Instead of telling us it’d been cancelled, she merely let us know the plane would be a little late, so anyone with connections to make in Chicago might want to line up and she’d change their arrangements for them.

        I’d never seen such a collection of lined-up assholes in Green Bay before. Then as I listened I learned they were all from out of town, which explains it. Some of the assholes were from Dallas, others San Francisco, one particularly abrasive woman was from New Orleans, and each of them in turn harangued this poor agent in his or her own particular unoriginal way. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times before, and one thing I’ve learned from it is you never harangue someone behind a counter because they can make your life a living hell should they choose to. So when it was my turn I stepped up to the counter and before I even had a chance to say something pleasant the agent said, “You’re going to LaGuardia. we were just talking about you.”

        I never know how to take things like that, so I stammered a bit and told her yes, she was right.

        Moments later she had me on a flight leaving Chicago an hour later than originally planned, which was fine by me. Best of all, it meant I’d be getting back to NYC at the tail end of rush hour. I thanked her cordially and my mom and I returned to our seats to wait for the plane.

        It showed up fifteen minutes later while the agent was still wrangling with an increasingly loud fellow who, I was happy to hear, was going to be stuck in O’Hare a very long time. the agent seemed almost relieved to step away from the desk to walk me to the plane.

        “You’re having quite a day it sounds like,” I said.

        “You have no idea,” she replied, then added, “So . . . when are you coming back to town?”

        What the hell was that? And why do these people know these things about me? Or don’t know as the case might be, but remain curious? “Um, not sure yet,” I said. “Maybe this summer.”

        She handed me off to the flight attendant (traveling blind is a bit like being a human football or baton—you get passed from person to person throughout the entire process), who then put me in a seat across the aisle from the one I’d been assigned. “That’s better, right?” she asked.

        “I guess it is, thank you.” Truth is I couldn’t tell where the hell I was sitting so it didn’t really matter. As long as she was happy with it though I was fine.

        A few minutes after all those assholes who’d been in line began cramming themselves aboard the plane and blocking the aisle, a Frenchman tapped me on the shoulder. “You are in ze wrong seat,” he told me.

        “Okay,” I said. I gathered my things, let the cane flop open, and took the seat across the aisle as he sat his smug French ass down in my old seat.

        Moments later the attendant worked her way down the aisle, slamming shut overhead bins and making sure seat belts were properly buckled. When she reached me, she stopped. “You’re sitting here now?” I merely nodded to the Frenchman, who explained why he had to have that seat. She then turned back to me. “Why don’t you move over and sit next to the window? It’s a nicer seat.”

        “Okay,” I said before gathering my things once again and heaving myself over the armrest. Maybe it was a nicer seat, who knows? Or maybe she just knew something she wasn’t saying about that aisle seat. Something bad.

        Well, once the assholes were all settled in we took off and landed at O’Hare half an hour later. Nothing bad happened to that seat, and considering the time we arrived I still probably could’ve made that first flight. Oh, well. No big deal. Now I had an hour to kill, so I figured I’d give Grinch a call while I was in town.

        First though I thought it best to get to my gate, then I’d figure out the what-for from there. It’s getting harder and harder to find pay phones in airports, I’m telling you.

        Once again the attendant handed me off to a talkative young escort who jogged me through the terminal to a large and crowded gate.

        “You see a battalion of angry old ladies in wheelchairs here?” I asked him.

        The question seemed to confuse him for a moment. “Umm . . . no?”

        “Good man.” I thanked him for his time and help and sent him on his way, then tapped slowly up to the check-in desk, still a bit wary of wheelchairs just in case he was lying.

        “Yes sir,” the young agent said. “Going to LaGuardia?”

        “Good,” I said. “That’s the plan.”

        “And you want to make sure there’ll be someone to assist you over there.”

        “Umm . . . yeah, pretty much.” This whole business of airline agents knowing what I’m going to say or do beforehand was starting to nag at me.

        I heard him tap a few keys on his keyboard, then he stepped around the desk and took my arm. “Okay then, let’s get you aboard.”

        I probably should have stopped him right there for any number of reasons, least of all to let him know I was booked on the flight that left in an hour, but I didn’t. What the hell?

        We were almost to the plane when he stopped. “Wait,” he said. “You’re on the next flight.”

        “Yup.”

        We turned around and headed back to the terminal, but when we got there he leaned me against a wall and told me to wait. “I’ll get you on this one,” he said.

        Seconds later he returned again, grabbed my arm, ran me back to the plane, and dropped me in a seat between an Indian man with an iPad and a Japanese man with a bag of nuts. It was all quite abrupt and unexpected.

        It seems I was back on my original schedule, which meant two things. Three, actually. First, it meant I’d be getting back to New York dead in the heart of rush hour, which meant it would take me two hours to get home from the airport. More importantly, it meant my mom—and Morgan, as my mom was going to call to let her know of the changed flight plan—thought I was on a different flight. And because they thought I was on a different flight, that meant beyond any doubt that the plane I was on now was going to crash into Lake Michigan and no one would know I was on it.

        Oh, I was fucking doomed. I thought for a moment of running up and down the aisle to let people know the plane was going to crash, but I figured I didn’t care much about what happened to any of these other people so I kept it to myself. I was starting to understand however why it was so many airline passengers spend the duration of their flights wrapped up in duct tape. They probably found themselves in this very same situation and, like me, knew what would happen as a result.

        Well, the storm that delayed that morning’s commuter flight had passed on to the east, so we took off on time and made it over Lake Michigan. All seemed well until we were about 120 miles outside of New York. That’s when we began circling.

        “Oh shit,” I thought. “Here we go.” Either they couldn’t get the landing gear down, or they’d learned there was someone on the plane with a bomb in his carry on bag set to go off whenever we dropped below a thousand feet, or something had happened in New York and LaGuardia no longer existed.

        After twenty minutes the pilot got on the intercom and, in that mellow, drunken, distracted voice all pilots use, announced the storms had gotten bad over New York and he was waiting for clearance. If he didn’t hear anything within half an hour, he said, we would either be diverted to Philly or run out of fuel.

        That’s when I nearly did grab the sides of my head and shriek “Oh god no! Not PHILLY!”

        Before I had a chance to make a date with the duct tape, the drunk pilot came back on to announce he’d been given clearance and we were going in.

        As we descended and the winds began buffeting the plane it was easy to sense that everyone aboard that flight knew we weren’t gonna make it. And when we hit that runway hard I think we all knew we weren’t out of it yet, especially since I could feel the wheels sliding around beneath me. We were gonna slam into that terminal and explode and Morgan and my mom would still be looking at the wrong damn flight. Well, crap. eh?

        Eventually we skidded to a stop and the flight attendant apologized.

        I waited until most all the other passengers left before stepping into the aisle myself. Nothing worse than getting stuck in line either in front of or behind a blindo. When I did leave a baggage handler walked me up the jetway to the gate and leaned me against another wall to wait for someone to walk me down to the taxi stand.

        “”Sorry hon,” the agent at the counter said in a gruff Brooklyn accent. “Usually they send me love notes lettin’ me know someone needs assistance.”

        “It’s fine,” I said. “Long story.” Then, noting all the grumbles around me, I asked, “So . . . crazy day here today?”

        “Nahh,” she barked. “Just another typical New York day. But with snow.”

        “So in other words it was madness.”

        “Oh! It was fuckin’ MAYHEM!”

        “Kinda figured.”

        Not long after that a round young woman showed up and walked me outside to the cabs. She loaded me into one and I told the driver where I was headed. There was a moment of silence before he turned around and asked, “You know how to get there?”

        Yeah, I was back alright.

 

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