Posted by: stillironic | March 16, 2015

Please Drive with Aloha

Part 1

Retired in 2008 at the height of the crash, with no regrets. Loved my work, loved my colleagues, but my bosses?—think petty tyrants at the helm of a banana republic. So I grabbed my State of Maryland benefits and ran.

Six years later, with my spouse, Jon, now fully retired, we decided to start our new life—“everyday is Saturday”—and travel to Hawaii and LA in the dead of winter. We live in Baltimore where the winters can be mild. “Can” being the operative word here. Past two winters have been brutal, by our standards. Even by the standards of Canadian friends, who play ice hockey and swim in half-frozen ponds (and drink Baileys in their morning coffee instead of cream). This year we would escape the frigid mid-Atlantic, at least for three weeks.

Problem is, when you plan a winter getaway that involves flying, you take the chance of a winter storm sabotaging your flight plans. And sure enough, three days before take off, my son, Matt—who lives in Hawaii on the Big Island—texted hearing about a snowstorm of historic proportions hitting the East Coast. Jon, who practically tracks the weather, claimed the forecast didn’t implicate the mid-Atlantic. I hadn’t heard anything because I was knee deep in a freelance editing project that it was increasingly clear I wasn’t going to finish before we left.

Usually, I do the editing and hand the manuscript over to a graphic designer for design and layout. This time I decided, hey, I’m not too bad at InDesign, the layout program. This project isn’t nearly as complex as last year’s. In over my head a little? That can be a good thing, right? I can use last year’s layout as a template. I. Can. Do. This. Myself. (And make more money!)

Which actually would have worked out fine if you didn’t count the forty-some hours of online tutorials learning Adobe Illustrator and new stuff I needed to learn about InDesign (thank God for Lynda.com) and the additional hours spent googling the likes of “problems importing Acrobat files into InDesign,” which supposedly shouldn’t be any problem at all, but is, for a surprisingly large number of people.

So I’m racing to finesse unforeseen pages of appendices into the layout, which involved amazing acrobatics on my part. I finish packing the day before we leave, which has happened only once before in my lifetime—for a trip to Africa, and only that because I was stopping in New York overnight before the flight—I’ve vacuumed the downstairs and cleaned the kitchen floor and Jon’s written the house instructions.

And what happens? January 26 we get a text from United Airlines. Flight to Newark cancelled by Baltimore’s air traffic controllers. What the what? And why did I book a flight to Hawaii through Newark in the first place? Well, currently, there are no direct flights between BWI and LAX. And I wanted to avoid Chicago, that black hole of air travel. The reason, actually, was the flight to Newark left B’more at a civilized hour—10:30 a.m.—and landed in LA, where we were spending the night before flying the following day, direct, to Hilo on the Big Island.

Now this was the first time my husband was traveling with me to Hawaii, which I try to visit every winter. I fly in what can take from 12 to 17 hours, depending, in one long day. I just want to get there. But Jon, in his incredible wisdom—or wussiness—wanted a layover. So we weren’t flying to Hilo till Tuesday and this was Sunday night. His wisdom and/or wussiness had bought us time.

Meanwhile, as everyone now knows, weather forecasters were predicting gloom and doom. NYC and the whole state of New Jersey were shutting down. We might get stuck in Baltimore for days before we could get to the West Coast.

In a near panic, we both dial United customer service. Jon can’t get a connection, but I get put on hold…for an hour and forty minutes before being cut off. With great relief, however, we discover flights to LA through the southwestern U.S. are flying, and seats are available, maybe. Jon books us on a flight via Houston, which he has to pay for through Paypal because for some mysterious reason our credit card, paid off in full every month, won’t accept the charge because of a “security issue.” And he can’t choose our seats. It’s 2 a.m. and the flight leaves at 7:30 a.m. No longer do we give a flying f*ck about flying out of B’more at a quote unquote civilized hour.

As our new flight isn’t a certainty, we want to arrive at the airport as early as possible. Luckily, BWI is only a 12-minute drive from home. After three hours of Twilight-Zone-like sleep, we hop in a taxi, hopeful but anxious. Butterflies-in-the-acid-stomach kind of anxious.

As much as I’ve cursed United in the past, as indifferent as the service has been and contemptuous the staff—gate personnel at O’Hare barking orders like prison guards; Princess Leia (flight attendant) upbraiding Chewbacca (me) for not appreciating that the only food available on our six-hour flight was not-even Spam palm oil potato starch maltodextrin for twelve dollars and fifty cents credit card only—the customer service rep behind the counter was fantastic.

She refunded us for the flights Jon had booked, which were full. She got us seats on BWI to Houston and then Houston to LA. At first for the second leg, she could only put us on two different flights. But by keeping an eagle eye on the seating charts on her screen, she caught seats opening up on Jon’s flight, the earlier of the two, and booked us both, sitting together. When flights are getting cancelled wholesale, she said, seats on passengers’ second and third legs flash open and close, like fireflies blinking on a summer night.

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