Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When One Window Closes...

My reasons for arriving at LAX three and a half hours before my flight to Dallas were two-fold. (1) I wanted to get on standby for one of the two hourly departures that were scheduled to go off before mine, and (2) Pauly wanted to watch the NFL playoffs. I had noticed a few days prior that I had an extremely narrow window between the first leg from LAX to DFW and the second, longer, far more important leg from DFW to Santiago, Chile. I didn't even know how the PokerStars travel guy was able to book an international flight with a 40 minute connection window. Thus, I gave myself plenty of time to try and rectify the situation.

I stared at the visible dark roots on the ticket agent's platinum blonde hair as she retrieved my itinerary.

"Oh... you have an international ticket. I'm sorry hun, we can't change that on the same day."

"But you see my problem, right? I have only 40 minutes to get on my flight to Chile. You know how huge that Dallas airport is."

"I do... well, I can put you right in the front of the plane so you can run once it lands?"

"Seriously, there's no possibility of letting me go standby on the 1:40? Or the 2:25?"

"I'm sorry, no. It's federal law. How about seat 7B?"

Ergo, due to this federal law I'd never heard of before, I waited out the three hours before I could board in the back of the Terminal 4 Chili's Too. I ate a mediocre salad and played two SNGs on PokerStars as the noise from the NFL games drifted in from the bar area. I won one, took second in the other.

Finally, it was time to board. I avoided the clusterfuck line and slipped on as the final boarding call went out. As I strapped myself into 7B next to a woman who looked like my elementary school librarian, I reached up to crank the A/C. It wasn't working. I turned around and half the plane was fanning themselves with their boarding passes. Then, I heard a loud grinding sound from the belly of the plane. Something wasn't right. I checked the clock on my iPod. 3:25. We should have been pulling back from the gate by now.

"Attention passengers, this is your captain speaking..."

Well, that's never a good sign.

Evidently, the device which pumps pressurized air into the engines in order to start them was broken. They were bringing over another one from a different gate. In the captain's current estimation it would be a 15 minute delay.

Well, his current estimation was dead fucking wrong.

They brought over the new air thingy. The new air thingy didn't work. Then they had to tie the two air thingys together to see if both of them together could produce enough air get the engine started. That worked, but the entire process took over an hour. We pulled back from the gate at 4:30. Our new estimated arrival time was at 9:00 p.m.

My flight to Santiago was scheduled to leave at 9:10.

And so began a mad series of calls and texts to Pauly to see if there was any other way I could get on a plane to Santiago tonight. There was a flight out of Miami at 11:30 but I had no possibility of making that. Everything on other airlines was leaving at the same time or would have already left by the time I landed in Dallas. I popped half a Xanax as we took off and tried my best not to freak out.

About an hour before we were scheduled to land, I tried to flag down a passing flight attendant to see if he had any news on our time of arrival.

"I'm sorry, I have to take care of something else right now" he said as he brushed past me and headed toward the rear of the plane.


Ten minutes later, I rang my call button. A tall redhead emerged from the first class cabin.

"Hi. I'm in a situation where I have an extremely tight international connection. Do you have any information on the status of Flight XYZ to Santiago?"

"No, I don't have any information for you."

"Could you please try and check on it for me? Even if you could tell me what gate it's leaving from so I can plan my running route through the terminal?"

"Everyone else is in the same situation, ma'am. They can probably re-route you through Miami or New York."

"Well, not exactly," I said as calmly as possible, trying to keep my cool. "This is the last flight to South America on any airline tonight."

"I'm sorry, I can't help you."


Thirty seconds later, the redhead was back in first class, offering warm raisin cookies with cool glasses of milk to her passengers. I sat there steaming, imagining that if I were seated on the other side of that curtain, I'd be getting a bit more than the brush-off.

We touched down in Dallas at 9:00. I was off the plane and sprinting from the C gates to the D gates by 9:05. As I ran, I imagined that if there were federal laws prohibiting me from changing the domestic portion of an international ticket, there were probably federal laws barring a red-faced, sweaty passenger from boarding an international flight only seconds before departure.

That wouldn't matter, though. By the time I found gate D-29, the plane was on the runway. The crabby gate agent told me to go to the ticketing counter to re-book and make hotel arrangements.

(This is the point in the story where your heroine truly understands her fate. Tears well up in her eyes as she realizes that more likely than not, she's going to be stuck here for the next 24 hours, have to cough up money for a hotel room, and miss the first day of her assignment. The Xanax has definitely worn off.)

I stood hunched over the ticket counter as the rotund gentleman pecked away at the keyboard. Suddenly, his eyes went wide and he dashed away from his station to dial a phone.

"Ma'am if you'll gather your things and follow me please. Go back through security as quickly as possible and meet me at Gate D-23. The Santiago flight has returned to the gate."


"The aircraft got a flat tire and has returned to the gate. Please, we don't have much time."

He ran ahead while I broke everything down for security in record time. Shoes. Hoodie. Laptop. I took off for D-23, still wearing only socks. Once I arrived there, my new hero, fat ticket guy, not only got me on the plane, but got me an aisle seat next to an unoccupied window seat.

My smile was as wide as Texas itself as I triumphantly marched down the plane and collapsed into seat 24B. A white-haired man with military tattoos on his arms sat across the aisle from me.

"Wow, did you get lucky!" he replied after I hastily told him my story.

"Yeah. Sucked out on the river BIG TIME," I answered.

24 hours later, I was reporting Day 1 of the LAPT Vina del Mar. I had arrived safely in Chile, though my luggage was still stuck in Dallas. And there he was, the man with the military tattoos, wearing a media badge. He was one of the camera operators for 441 Productions, the company who films poker tournaments for ESPN.

"It's you! You're the one who almost missed the flight!"

"You know, I knew you were a poker guy when I saw your reaction to me telling the whole airplane about how I sucked out on the river!"

"I'm Joe," he said, offering his hand.

"Change," I replied. "I'm glad we made it, Joe."


Jennifer said...

You have the most interesting airline stories! So glad you made that flight. Maybe it was good karma. :)

cheer_dad said...

I've learned two things from your story. 1.) A flat tire is not always a bad thing. 2.) I will never, ever go to a river showdown against you!

Great, entertaining post.



BWoP said...

Fantastic post!

I'm discovering (second-hand) the sheer nuttiness involved in flying all over the world to cover poker tournaments.

(Word verification: awelin)

Ian said...

Awesome! Congrats on making the flight.

Some advice? The fail to start was mechanical, the airline would have had to put you up for the night.

I flew back from the UK to DC, up to Boston for a night then back to DC for work over the new year. When i landed in DC the first time I got a text saying my boston flight was cancelled due to weather (usually at that point you're hosed. they'd rebooked me in the morning, obviously not spotting I was coming back to DC before that flight TO boston).

After some complaining, explaining it wasn't the agents fault and telling them not to rebook me, I would instead go speak to one of their competitors they found me a flight out of reagan 90 minutes later and also paid for the cab ride there.

You just gotta tell em it's their fault and you can spend your money elsewhere.

Either way, mechanical is their fault and you should never sleep in an airport or pay for the hotel because of it. Demand a hotel voucher and if its late a food one too.

change100 said...

Thanks for the advice, Ian!

Unknown said...

The good guys win at the airport for once!

OhCaptain said...

What a great post! Congrats on the suck out.