Thank you for your oh so timely advice. I need all the travel help I can get as I may soon find myself moved from the category of “meet and assist” to “annoy and detain.” With that caveat, I too would like to also offer some tips based on my recent airplane experience. Travel is one of the recurring themes in the Peace Corps Experience books, the genre created by Coyne and Haley-Beil. If you want to get to Timbuktu, there are Peace Corps book to tell you how, and not all are written by Paul Theroux. But it wasn’t Timbuktu, this time, I just wanted to go to Washington DC and back to Denver.
I could still probably hail a truck on the Pan Am Highway, but I wasn’t sure about finding gates in an unfamiliar airport. So, being now a conscientious traveler, I asked the airlines for help. No problem. An attendant would “meet and assist” me to make sure I made my connections.
Well, not exactly. What happened was that I was handed a scribbled note about blue buses as I deplaned at Minneapolis/St. Paul. I searched in vain for the blue buses. The time got shorter. Finally, a friendly, elderly Volunteer asked me what was the problem. When he stopped laughing, he explained, and this is my first travel tip: There are no blue buses in the Minneapolis/St. Paul terminal. There are blue chairs where one can wait for an electric cart to take to one’s gate, if one has time. But, he explained, I didn’t. He pointed me in the general direction of my far away gate, gave a determined shove and said, “Go.” It was just like rappeling down the stadium wall at UNM during Outward Bound training. Only this time, I made it.
I had a great time in DC and to maximize that time, I had scheduled a late flight out of National. (There are two groups in the world: those who say Reagan National and those of us who only say National. I believe Air Controllers are in the latter group, which may explain a whole lot.) At the ticket counter, the attendant thoughtfully rescheduled my flights so that I could still make the connection in Dallas to Denver. Even though the sky was bright, and clear in DC, a slight weather disturbance over the Ohio Valley was causing delays. How helpful this airline was. They really do know why I fly.
I was to reassess as the evening wore on. The sky remained clear, but flights were cancelled or rescheduled and the counter lines grew longer and the changes more confusing. Once I was scheduled to transfer in O’Hare to a flight leaving from Dallas; more and more “conversations” with ticket agents. They kept offering me a wheelchair. ”I don’t want a wheelchair, I want a plane!”
Travel tip #2: If offered a wheelchair, know that it is airport code for “This passenger is really concerned.” (Okay, so the technical term is “out of control.”) Finally, the truth: the attendant screamed at me: “You can sleep in DC, you can sleep in Dallas, or you can sleep in Chicago, but you are not going to sleep in Denver, tonight.” I choose Chicago.
At about 10:00, a helpful voice announced “Those of you waiting for the 9:05 to Chicago, your plane is now in our air space, although it hasn’t actually landed yet. “ Travel tip #3: Do not attempt to manually wave down an airplane. TSA has no sense of humor. (See: Mishelle Shepard: The Hand Swab, the Knife and the Stowaway)
On the Tarmac at midnight, ready to go: Travel Tip #4: When the little screens drop down and it is not the captain speaking, but rather a video of rushing mountain creeks and grazing cows, it is not a beer commercial, it is trouble. Sure enough, soon it was the captain speaking. Travel Tip #5: If there is a slight weather disturbance anywhere in the world, sooner or later, Reagan Airport will close. (Okay, I do exaggerate and I am very grateful for all the safety precautions.)
Hours later, into the storm and we finally attained O’Hare. There really wasn’t time to use the offered hotel voucher, but there is a place to sleep in O’Hare. Cots are set up for stranded passengers. Travel Tip #6: When they tell you can sleep on the cots at O’Hare until 5 AM, they really mean 4 AM. Ha Ha. And travel Tip #7: O’Hare wakes up at 4AM. It was just like a bus stop on the Pan Am, hustling, shouts, and the smell of coffee. All I missed were the potatoes roasted in old kerosene cans. Okay, so it wasn’t too bad.
I arrived at my final gate, H8, double-checking the number before I sat down. But when I went to ask the attendant what time my flight arrived in Denver, I found out I was at the wrong gate. Travel Tip #8: Some airlines may know why you fly, but they still can change their gates every hour. “You should be at K1,” she said. K1 sounded as remote as Everest. “Besides,” she continued, “you are way too early. Your flight doesn’t leave until 0827.” “Lady,” I said, smugly, “that is not the departure time. You are reading my flight number.” I was right. She glared. “Do you want a wheelchair?” Final travel tip: Sometimes, you just have to take the wheelchair.