My flight was booked for 6:05 a.m. A connection in Salt Lake, then I would arrive in Memphis at 1:45 this afternoon. I see my family once a year—always during Christmas. Christmas is what we do well. I reserved a parking spot at a hotel near the airport. The shuttle to the airport was scheduled for 4 a.m.
I left my place at 3:30. It was just starting to rain. When I arrived at the hotel, I noticed the parking lot was packed. I ran into the lobby to ask the man at the desk how the procedure worked. He said to park in any spot I could find. “Do I need to put my reservation notice on my dashboard?”
“There’s no need,” he answered. I got the feeling that most of the cars there were parked for free.
I circled the lot twice but didn’t see a spot anywhere. I ran back into the lobby—just as the shuttle was arriving—and asked the man what to do. He advised me to park in the Westin lot across the street, then gave me his umbrella, as the rain had picked up.
“Can you tell the driver to wait for me?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
I drove to the Westin lot and found a spot rather easily. When I opened the car door, a winter squall hit. Was like the weather was reading from a script: When Michael steps out of car, cue the wind and rain. It blasted me. I raised the umbrella while grabbing my coat and bag from the backseat. The wind was so strong it blew me sideways across the lot, as the rain stung my face. Then the umbrella turned completely inside out and every wire came loose from the fabric. So much for that—I got drenched the rest of the way.
“Your umbrella didn’t make it,” I told the man at the front desk.
“That’s okay,” he answered. “I saw how bad it was was from here. Oh, the shuttle already left.”
“Of course it did.”
Twenty minutes later, the next shuttle arrived and took the other passengers and me to the airport. When I self-checked in, the machine didn’t print out my connecting flight boarding pass. I asked the attendant about it.
“You get your seat assignment when you check in at the gate. Then they give you your boarding pass.”
I made it through security painlessly and arrived at my gate at 4:40. A Delta employee, a man wearing an unresponsive expression, arrived five minutes later and took a seat at the monitor next to the boarding line. I walked over and asked if I could get my seat assignment.
“The woman who does that will be here in a few minutes,” he said, hardly looking at me.
I stood at the main counter to wait—the first in line. Hopefully I’d be able to get a window seat. Soon, a man wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the front stood behind me. “What are you here for?” he asked.
“The guy said the woman would be here in a minute to give seat assignments,” I told him.
Several more passengers lined up behind us. The unresponsive Delta attendant lifted the microphone. Ladies and gentlemen…if you’re waiting for a seat assignment, there’s no reason to stand in line. Seats are assigned automatically. Once you’re cleared for a seat, you can board.
I took a seat and brought out my Kindle. Took a sip of coffee. Okay, I can relax now. I’ll be home soon. Every now and then, I looked up. The woman assigning seats still had not shown up. We were already late in boarding. Another attendant was standing behind the counter: a man with only hand. His other arm was shortened with a nub at the end. He spoke over the microphone: If anyone with flexible travel plans would be willing to give up his or her seat in exchange for a cash voucher…
Half hour later, the unresponsive attendant (I renamed him Bad Attitude; of course, I wouldn’t want to work a graveyard shift at the airport during the Christmas season, either) picked up the microphone again. “Zone 1 passengers can now begin boarding.”
“Do you have a seat number?” I asked a woman in line.
“When did they assign it?”
A little worried now. I hurried to the counter. The one-handed man (Alexander was his name) was arguing with a man who looked ready to cry. He had been listed on standby and wasn’t going to make it onboard. I waited impatiently for the argument to finish. The man with the skull shirt stood behind me.
“I thought they were going to assign us seats,” he said. So did I.
I jumped out of line and interrupted Bad Attitude. “I didn’t get a seat assignment,” I told him.
“The flight’s oversold,” he said matter-of-factly. “We’re trying to work something out.”
Work something out? Let me clarify…
“I paid $800 for this ticket,” I said. “I’ve got to be in Memphis by 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.”
“There aren’t any seats left. Nothing we can do.”
“We were the first ones here,” I argued, pointing to Skull Shirt.
“Just have a seat,” he said.
I joined the man who was about ready to cry and Skull Shirt at the main counter. Skull Shirt said he was going to Memphis also. Alexander put down the phone and told us, ““The best I can do is get you on a flight leaving December 25th.”
December 25th? This was looking bleak, and images of a lonely Christmas in a new city flooded my mind. I decided to call upon my experience as an actor. “Alexander,” I said trying to look sad (even felt the beginnings of a tear), “I only see my family once a year. I fly back on the 25th. I have to work the next day.” Six of us had been bumped from the flight, including two Japanese girls holding passports who hardly spoke a word of English. I pointed to them all and said. “Delta is ruining our Christmas.”
“There’s nothing available,” he said.
The final passengers boarded. Alexander made one last call for volunteers to give up their seats. Yeah, right—like that’s going to happen. “This has to frustrate you, doesn’t it?” I asked.
Alexander gave us an If you only you knew smirk. “It gets a little old,” he admitted. “Especially at this time of year.”
I glared at Bad Attitude. “Why didn’t you tell us we weren’t going to get a seat?” I was surprised how loud my voice came out and reminded myself to tone it down. Anger doesn’t help in these situations. Just then, we heard shouting from across the way—the gate for a Los Angeles flight. A man—accompanied by his wife and two children, both in strollers—tried to push his way past the gate attendant, a woman.
“We have tickets!” he shouted.
“You can’t arrive three minutes before your flight takes off,” the attendant shouted back.
“I’ve got tickets!” he screamed. “You can’t keep us off this plane.”
Everyone gave raised eyebrow looks (I’m sure we’ve all seen Meet The Parents). “It’s never a good idea to start yelling in an airport,” said Skull Shirt.
Alexander dashed over to give assistance. “Okay, sir. Just calm down.”
I won’t calm down!
They were able to calm the man down. When Alexander returned, I asked what had happened.
“He and his family got on the plane,” he said. “They found seats for them.”
Funny how that works. Finally, Bad Attitude took a seat at the main counter. “All right, Mr. Green. I might have a red eye that leaves tonight…”
In the end, Skull Shirt and I booked tickets on a red eye flight arriving in Memphis tomorrow morning. Not much of a Christmas vacation, but the disappointment was softened by the cash voucher they gave me—not to mention three meal vouchers as an added throw-in. Once Alexander handed me the check, we were able to smile and depart on friendly terms. I thanked him and wished him a merry Christmas. He apologized for the inconvenience.
So I’m at the airport, having just used my three $6 meal vouchers on the worst Eggs Benedict I’ve ever tasted, trying to figure if I should deal with the hotel shuttle again or marathon it at the airport. I’m leaning towards the marathon.
Holiday travel—got to love it.