Sitting on an airport bench in days-old clothes guarding our luggage and watching the United front desk lady try to gaslight my mom, I marveled at the ways in which torture manages to reinvent itself. Every year my flight experience is a reimagined nightmare. Not that I can really say I’ve done anything to better my circumstances year to year, like sleep earlier or finally begin meditating or stop flying United.
And I guess the days-old clothes is also misleading because I hadn’t been waiting at the DFW Airport for more than three hours. I just hadn’t felt like doing laundry.
(In my defense… I’d already packed, had been basically sedentary in the clothes I’d been wearing, and am a gross person.)
Mom and I were stuck in airport limbo and we hadn’t even checked in yet. Thursday night, we were scheduled for a flight to Houston, where we’d have a three-hour layover before a 17-hour flight to Taiwan. The Houston flight was delayed a couple hours due to tornado warnings that morning, so Mom was trying to get us onto an earlier flight.
Mom: We’d only have an hour between flights. That’s not enough time, especially if there are more delays.
United Lady: That’s enough time. I can’t move your flight.
United Lady: I can help the next person.
We reluctantly left the line. I sat on the bench across the room, arms spread across our luggage, alternately trying to establish shaming eye contact and refreshing the flight status of our delayed plane. Mom found out the next flight to Taiwan from Dallas would be in three days and held off checking in, still hoping we might be able to get on an earlier flight if our plane got delayed further.
Mom got back in line. I refreshed. Our flight’s ETA extended five minutes. Ten.
She reached the front, only to find that a couple who’d been behind us in line the first time had called the manager and gotten the last two tickets to an earlier flight to Houston.
Mom: You said there weren’t any more spots. You didn’t even check for us. Those tickets should’ve been ours and now we’re going to miss our flight.
United Lady, suddenly polite: Ma’am, those people were in front of you.
Let me just say it’s disconcerting watching people who aren’t me having to defend themselves on increasingly flimsy grounds to Mom.
Our flight finally landed, having been delayed nearly an hour, giving us no buffer. We checked in our luggage anyway because we had no other choice. The next hour was a flurry of security checkpoints and strangers’ deadened expressions as we boarded to Houston and hoped the plane would make it there in time. Upon our landing, my carryon suitcase, containing our jackets, camera, and a pair of socks, flew across tile as we tried to reach the opposite side of the Houston Intercontinental Airport.
There were dark moments. The SkyLink train was under maintenance. Mom mentally prepared to book a hotel in Houston. I considered buying Panda Express.
The turning point came when I managed to accost an officer in the practically empty airport. He told us that both platforms actually took you to the same terminals, despite the signs and that there was a discreet white button to the side to call the SkyLink.
Me: How were we supposed to know this?
Button: PRESS HERE TO CALL SKYTRAIN
Me: Must be one of those things you’re born with.
Incredibly, we made it to the second flight with half an hour to spare. I spent the flight recovering by sinking into a catatonic state in front of four consecutive movies. Seventeen hours later, rolling my carry-on out of the tunnel into Taipei’s airport, we made a mistake.
Mom: Thank God we made that flight. Otherwise we’d have had to wait until Sunday.
Me: Thank God I can finally change into a clean set of clothes.
We jinxed our good fortune.
In baggage claim, airport authorities notified us that, while we’d managed to get on the flight, our luggage, unfortunately, had not traveled with us. If they could locate our baggage, they would send it over in a couple of days. Now only possessing a camera and the now really old clothes on my back, I sighed and acknowledged I’d had it coming.
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Last year’s post: My 12 Defining Moments of 2018