Now that I’m semi-retired and toying with the idea of fully retiring—some day—people ask me what I want to do in my free time. And most of them ask, “Will you travel?” Many of my retired friends do travel, and with a capital T. Tanzania, Myanmar, St.Petersburg (that’s Russia, not Florida).
When I worked full-time, I went to a lot of conferences in far-away places: Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Venezuela, Spain, Australia, Qatar … They were all great experiences. Unfortunately, they all involved air travel, of which I’m not a fan. And most of those trips took place before going through security was so stressful.
Now I no longer travel for work, but my husband and I usually take one trip a year. So maybe I’m out of practice or maybe my patience is getting thin, but my recent experience on the way home from a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C., has me singing “Home, Sweet Home.”
On a Monday night, after five days of trekking through museums and soaking up the culture of our American capital, we headed for home. I’d selected an 8:55 p.m. flight, figuring we’d have an extra day of sightseeing. It was a good day, but we could have done without the hours we had to kill waiting until it was time for SuperShuttle to pick us up.
The weather was ideal, and Washington has these lovely parks, where you can sit and read and relax. So the hours crawled peacefully by, and we were at Reagan Airport a couple of hours before the flight. We checked in, went through that lovely routine known as security (where a TSA Agent gently reminded me that I forgot to remove my water bottle), and we settled in at Gate 30.
Then I got up to look at the Departures board. Take-off time was now moved later by a half-hour. That’s not so bad, we thought, and continued to read and people-watch. On the way to the bathroom, I checked again. Another half-hour added to take-off. This went on until the announcements started coming from the American Airlines personnel at the gate desk.
When the updates reached an anticipated departure of 12:24 a.m., getting out seemed iffy—especially when it was also announced that they weren’t sure the plane could get to Reagan because they no longer had a crew that could fly the plane without breaking FAA rules for avoiding pilot fatigue. (I have no problem with that rule; who wants a groggy pilot?) Since that was the last flight to Chicago, we were rebooked for a 6 a.m. flight the next morning. “All the nearby hotels are fully booked,” the agent said. We were skeptical. that’s one way the airline gets out of paying for our lodging, but what other option did we have?) So we knew we would have to spend the night in the airport. What we didn’t expect was to be directed to baggage claim to retrieve our suitcases—which meant we had to schlep said baggage around with us but couldn’t go back to the gate area. It also meant that, early the next day, we’d have to check in again and (sigh) go through security once more.
Before we left the gate , I noticed that all the restaurants and food stands had closed. I had a jar of peanuts and a granola bar with me, but… Not to worry, the agent told us. Dunkin Donuts on the baggage claim level stays open all night.
So there we were, carting around our big bags, carry-on bags, and fresh sandwiches, looking for a place to roost. There were a few of us who had become fast (temporary) friends, and we all settled on a bank of seats nearby. The seats are leather and comfy enough, but the arms don’t raise like they do on planes, so there’s no way to stretch out over a row. I wriggled around in my seat, trying to find a position that would support my back and wishing I wish I had brought a pillow. Our suitcases provided foot rests.
I suppose if you’re tired enough, you can sleep almost anywhere. Except at the airport in the middle of the night. First, there was the obnoxious, loud music playing over a loudspeaker. Then, every half hour, like clockwork—real clockwork—a robust female voice announced, “The local time is now 2:30 a.m.” “The local time is now 3:00 a.m.” So even if you dozed off, you were assured of being jolted awake every 30 minutes. Then there were the maintenance personnel riding large machines that went “beep-beep” repeatedly every time they passed us.
When the voice told us it was 4:30 a.m. and the airport started to come to life, we decided to start the check-in process again. This time I had a 23-ounce bottle of water that I remembered to dump.
We survived re-check-in and re-security hell, and the flight took off on time. We were back home at about 8:00 a.m. and slept away the rest of the day.
I may not forget this event, but time will make it seem less miserable and more amusing. Maybe then I’ll be ready to board a plane again. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I’m still singing “Home, Sweet Home.”