This is a throwback post. I started writing it a few weeks after the initial trauma occurred this summer, but it has taken me until now to be ready to actually talk about it (not really. I’m being dramatic. I totally forgot about it).
But let me tell you, it was a heinous experience that will probably trigger all kinds of anxiety next time I have to fly. It was our last morning in Spain; everyone had said their goodbyes and we were making our way to the airport for our various flights home. I was on the same flight as three of my other classmates and we were greeted first thing that morning with the news that our first flight had been delayed by 30 minutes. This immediately made me nervous, because we only had a two hour layover as it was (now an hour and a half).
By the time we got to the airport our flight had been delayed an hour. By the time the plane actually took off, we were going to only have 35 minutes in the Newark airport to go through customs, pick up our luggage, go through security, recheck our luggage, and catch our flight home to Charlotte (why in the world they didn’t send our luggage directly to Charlotte I will never know).
But lets backup to the Madrid airport – as we were boarding, a flight attendant stopped me and told me I would have to check my carry-on because there wasn’t room on the flight for it. Quickly I took everything I wanted on the plane (book, tablet, phone charger, and snacks) out of my purse to make room to still take the fragile things I was bringing home. Annoyed and a little flustered, I made my way on to the plane sans all of my personal belongings only to find that the entire luggage bin above my seat was empty. As was the one across the aisle. They both remained empty for the entire duration of the flight.
What’s more, this airline didn’t have any in-flight TVs (the only international flight I have ever been on without TVs) and I was looking at upwards of 8 hours of twiddling my thumbs because my book had just been stored below the plane. Brilliant.
But also no one has ever died of boredom before, so I was going to be fine. Annoyed, but fine.
Fast forward through some of the emptiest hours of my life to when our flight was finally landing. I wish I could describe the anxiety I felt for the upcoming layover as I watched the New York City skyline come into view in my window (and then sink back out of view as we landed in the New Jersey rip-off — Newark). If I had only known what the next 30 minutes were going to hold for me I don’t know that I would have been able to get off the plane.
As we were standing in line for customs my friends and I all agreed that it was going to have to be every man for himself getting to our next flight. We didn’t all need to get trapped in Newark if one person got held up. I should have known right then that that was bad news for me.
But we made it through customs easily enough and then went to the baggage claim. My bag actually came first! But I had to wait for my carry-on still (you know, the one that shouldn’t have been stowed in the first place). One by one everyone else’s bags came. They gave me sorrowful looks, “Sorry about your bag, Sierra. But we agreed every man for himself.” Two of them left to catch the flight, but one girl stayed behind because she hated to leave me standing there alone looking so pitiful. We waited 10 agonizing minutes for my bag to finally come through. One third of our precious time was already gone.
We took off at a trot and immediately got stuck in a congested line for a security check (one of two that we would have to stand and wait for in the next 20 minutes). My friend called her mom and cried. By the time we made it through we only had 11 minutes left. We took off at a dead run, caught a train to our terminal, and started running again.
5 minutes left.
There was a man making his way through the crowd taking luggage to be rechecked. He scanned the tag of the bag of the woman in front of us.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “There’s no way you’re going to make your flight. You’re going to have to catch the next one.”
She turned back. My friend and I gave each other a nervous look and then we handed him our bags. He scanned them and before he could tell us we didn’t have enough time to make it we interjected,
“Please! We’re willing to run.”
“Alright,” he said, looking dubious, “You might make it if you run. I’ll put your bags on board.”
He took our luggage and we took off. Almost immediately we got stuck in another security line. We jostled our way forward in the line.
“Easy, lady!” Some woman snapped at me as I pushed past her, “We’re all headed for the same flight.”
Too winded to actually respond, I thought snottily if we’re all headed for the same flight you’re not moving nearly fast enough.
The line was positively crawling. We kept passing empty security lines for first class passengers. We begged the employees to please let us through. We had 3 minutes to catch our flight! Please! They remained unmoved. “First class only!” They barked.
My friend and I both started to cry this time. Two grown women. Standing in a security line in the airport. Sobbing. We weren’t going to make it.
The women in line in front of us tried to comfort us, “Don’t worry” they said, “the airline will put you up in a hotel if you miss your flight. It’s not your fault your first flight was delayed.”
“B-b-but we don’t want to stay in Newwwarrrk!” we sobbed, “We wanna go h-h-hooome!”
After 5 weeks abroad, one more minute away from our families seemed like a burden that was too great to be borne.
Finally we made it through the line. “LET’S GO!” My friend shouted, breaking into a run. “I’ll tell them you’re behind me” she yelled back over one shoulder as the gap between us widened. In a matter of seconds, she was gone.
She, a literal triathlon runner, left pudgy, pasty, asthmatic me (in a maxi dress and sandals no less) in the dust. I was waddling at full speed, my carry-on banging into my ankle, determined not to be the only one left behind. I was red faced and wheezing as I made my way up to the gate. Several concerned bystanders asked if I was okay as my wheezing got louder and louder. I nodded breathlessly, and soldiered on.
Finally, 4 minutes after boarding had officially ended, I made it to my gate. “Are you Sierra Patterson?” an airport employee asked.
“I am!” I sobbed, so shaky I could barely stand.
“Your friend said you were coming! You need to get on board.”
“Thank you so much!” I said, walking forward.
“Ma’am,” she said, reaching out to block my way. “We still need your boarding pass.”
“Oh, right” I huffed, feeling around in my bag for it. “Here” I said, handing her the first piece of paper my fingers touched.
“Ma’am, that’s a receipt” she said.
“Oh” I felt around in my bag and produced another piece of paper, “Try this one.”
“Yes, this is it. Go ahead and get on” she said. As I made my way down the tunnel a flight attendant stopped me.
“Ma’am, we’re going to have to check your carry-on” he said.
“Of course you are” I sighed, handing it over.
But it didn’t matter. I had made it! As I stepped on the plane I made eye contact with my three beaming classmates.
“You made it!” They cheered.
Still out of breath, sweaty, and red faced, I pumped a single fist in the air in triumph (end of The Breakfast Club style) and fell into my seat.
I didn’t even care that I was bored for the whole next flight. I was going home.
When we landed in Charlotte my phone was on 4% and I was frantically trying to get in touch with Bryce (who had come to pick me up) before it died, because they wouldn’t let us off the plane. They said there was lightning in the area and the safest place for us to be was on the plane until it had passed. I wasn’t convinced that that was true, but they kept us sitting there for another 30 minutes nonetheless. When I did finally get inside (after a very triumphant reunion with my darling boyfriend) I collected my carry-on from the baggage claim and waited for my other bag. I said goodbye to my friends once again as each of their bags came through one by one and they headed home.
Guess whose checked bag never showed up? I stood there watching the empty belt go round and round — it wasn’t there.
I was crushed.
Over the course of the next four hours (that’s right, four hours) Bryce and I tracked down the person we needed to talk to resolve the problem. He scanned my little bar code sticker, “Ma’am, your bag never left Newark. It’ll be here on the next flight in about five hours.”
I called my mom, defeated. She said, “No, baby, don’t wait for it. Come home. We’ll go back and get it tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I whimpered.
“Is there anything I can get you for dinner?” Bryce asked as we left.
“You know, some Chic-fil-A sounds pretty good” I said, starting to perk up after my 21 hour day of traveling at the thought of some good ol’ American nugs.
We plugged it in to the GPS and started driving. After about 30 minutes we started seeing signs for the airport again…
Y’all, if you would believe it, the Chic-fil-A Google had decided to take us to was the one in the terminal we had just left. Maps had taken us in a giant loop around the airport and brought us right back to where we started…. I screamed.
And that, dear readership, is the story of how I was traumatized this summer by Delta Airlines.
Until next time,