Flight One: Chatty Seatmate Suck
“We’ve just had two days from hell,” an older woman says, hovering over my seat in the bulkhead as I fumble (too late) to get my headphones in my ears. “You just wouldn’t believe what happened to us. First, our flight has issues, then we get stuck on the tarmac, then we get out and have to wait in line, then we get to a hotel, then we have to wake up early and get back to the airport and now …”
Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. I clearly pulled the short straw in seat assignments.
I smile feebly and silently curse the woman standing over me.
“So now, we are on this plane and we don’t even get to sit together. I mean, really!”
Don’t look at me lady. I paid good money for this Economy Plus seat.
“My husband? He has had a hell of a time the past month. See, we thought he had a problem with his testes …”
Whoa. Chatty Seatmate crosses over into TMI Seatmate in a matter of seconds.
“Oh goodness,” I feign interest as I struggle to hear the announcement from the pilot about our plans to take off from Dulles and head to San Francisco. But Annoying Seatmate continues her diarrhea of the mouth, sparing me no detail of her husband’s examinations (“thank goodness it wasn’t anything terrible”), family troubles (“my annoying bitch of cousin”) and travel complaints (“I hate United”).
By the grace of god, her daughter comes and sits in between us, giving me the perfect chance to put my headphones in my ears and turn my head to look out the window, letting me enjoy my last sunrise on American soil (or above American soil).
Thankfully, she continues her bitchfest to her daughter instead and I tune out, watching out the cabin window as the plane picks up speed and eventually is airborne, flying over America.
I take it all in, trying to imagine what we are flying over and reliving my road trip adventure from two weeks earlier that brought me from west to east.
Funny I am going backwards to go forward.
Sleep grabs me, but I wake up in time to see the brown of the desert below. I’ve flown to Las Vegas enough times to recognize what is below, and I know it’s not the Vegas desert I am looking at, but it is Nevada. Then, we’re over the mountains, then we are descending into San Francisco.
“Glad you made it home safe,” I mutter to the woman in my aisle as we exit the aircraft, then I head to my next gate.
Flight Two: Delayed Flight Suck and Plane Suck
I look at the departures board, squinting to see my Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. Delayed. By an hour. I do a quick calculation in my head: that leaves me (maybe) one hour catch my connection to Bangkok in China. If I miss that flight, I can’t get to Bangkok until the next day, which leaves me missing my other flight on Air Asia getting me into Chiang Mai.
So, I go into Fix This Mode. I message Air Asia. I get on the phone with Air China. I call my parents and bitch, bitch, bitch.
“This is such a pain in the ass … I am going to have to rebook tickets if I can’t connect.”
“Then, that’s what will happen,” my mom says into the phone.
“Got to love travel,” my dad jokes.
Air Asia tells me if I miss my flight, even with a certificate saying it was Air China’s fault, I still have to pay to book a new flight. And, Air China tells me they can’t do anything to get me to Chiang Mai should I miss my connection.
As a last resort, I approach the gate agent to ask what they can do since my connection will now be cutting it very close.
“Guess you will just have to run,” the woman shrugs.
Almost two hours late, we finally board the plane.
I sink into the seat. Or attempt to sink into the seat. It’s hard as a rock.
At least there is entertainment on long-haul flights.
Then, I look at the seatback in front of me.
There is nothing there. A tray to pull down. No cute little television. Nothing.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Instead of getting pissed I forked out more than a grand for the flight — because that isn’t going to solve anything at the moment — I pull out some little blue Tylenol PMs and pop them. Goodbye, America. Twelve hours later (and with 45 minutes to catch my connection), we land.
The man next to me sits and waits as people from behind us go.
“Sorry,” I say, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and fighting the racing heart pounding in my ears. “I have to catch a flight.”
Flight Three: Security Suck and the Should-Have-Bought-Two-Seats Suck
Groggy, but awake, I bolt off the plane and am greeted by a shuttle to take us through immigration.
Oh please. Please. Drive. Drive. Drive.
I glance at my phone nervously. 30 minutes. 30 minutes. 30 minutes.
When the doors open, I race through the halls, rounding corners with astonishing speed for someone weighted down not only with a carry on, but also a completely full Pac Safe tote.
I race through an arch that takes my temperature, head to immigration where I am directed to another immigration. When I am finally allowed to pass, I am the first one to get to security.
I’ve traveled a lot. I know what can stay in my bag and what needs to be taken out. I start to pull out my laptops.
“You have camera?” The security agent asks.
“Yeah,” I say, getting antsy.
“You take it out.”
I remove my camera and put it into a bin, along with my laptops, then wait for everything on the other side of security.
The bags move through the belt and stop. Then move a little. Then stop. Then, they come out. Along with a security agent.
“You have chords in here?”
“Yeah,” I say, heat rising in my face.
What the hell?
I go to open up my bag to take them out, but the agent reaches for it, too. He opens my bag and dumps out my charger for my laptop and my phone. Then, he opens my carry-on and begins to rummage through that. Then, its back through the X-Ray machine.
Anxiety sweeps over my body.
The bags come out again.
“You have battery?”
Again, the agent goes into my carry-on, this time basically dumping the entirety of its contents into bins. Business cards. Make up bag. Journal.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“Please, please,” I beg. “My flight. I have 10 minutes.”
Four bins go back through the X-Ray machine. I break into a sweat as I watch them examine the screens, looking for who-knows-what. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, four bins come out. My four bins.
“OK,” security tells me as I fight tears, looking at both of my bags, entirely unpacked, sitting in front of me.
I toss everything into them without caring what is where, and run to my gate.
With two minutes to spare, I get onto the plane and sink into my seat. My aisle seat because, even though I had spoken on the phone with Air China and was insured I would have a window, the ticket said otherwise. This time my seatmate takes up nearly my seat and hers.
I pop another Tylenol PM, blow up my neck pillow, arrange myself to fit into a corner of my seat and pray the carts don’t run over my toes, and close my eyes.
The Intermission Suck
I stand, scanning the luggage on the belt once we arrive in Bangkok.
Where’s my bag?
Fortunately, I’m with a few other girls I met in San Francisco who are headed to Elephant Nature Park, too. And, there bags aren’t here.
We survey the carousel a few more times, then look to find a representative from Air China to help us. Of course, there aren’t any. Instead, we are directed to Thai Airlines customer service.
“Try Carousel 7.”
We head there. Nothing.
“Try Carousel 9.”
Finally, we are brought into a room where they track our bags.
“Your bag is still in Beijing,” the rep explains to me. “It said it got on an earlier flight, but it did not.”
“How would it get on an earlier flight? Did it get scanned when I landed in San Francisco?”
“And it was scanned again when I got to China?”
“Then, how did it get on an earlier flight to Bangkok or how did it say it got on an earlier flight to Bangkok when I arrived with 30 minutes to board my connection?”
“It will be here in a few days.”
“I need it here sooner than that,” I sigh.
I fill out the paperwork and head into the airport to get some food, some wifi and some rest.
As I lay down, at 2 a.m., people begin to crowd around me, talking loudly.
Finally, I decide sleep isn’t going to happen and, when I can, I head over to Air Asia to check in to my final flight.
Flight Four: The No Refund Suck
I stand at the Air Asia counter, trying to explain Air China has misplaced my bag, trying to explain I wanted on refund on the $100 I spent to check a phantom bag.
“Sorry,” the ticketing agent says. “You need to cancel at least four hours before to get a refund.”
“But, you just opened and this only happened five hours ago.”
It’s just not worth the fight.
I head to my gate and board the plane.
As we fly over the emerald green mountains of Thailand and begin to descend into Chiang Mai, all of the Suck from the past 30-something hours of traveling dissipates.
I look out onto the land and feel warm. Glowing. Thrilled.
This … this is my new home.
Then, the smile doesn’t leave my face.
When has travel sucked for you?