Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How I Managed to Miss my Flight While Seated at my Gate

I am the first to admit that I'm not a morning person. Otherwise stationary objects are magnetically attracted to me before noon: tables skid across floors into my knees, wall corners appear out of thin air to smack me in the shoulder, cupboard doors fly open and hit me in the face. It's like the laws of physics cease to apply before I've had my cup of coffee. I've also been known to make appearances at the breakfast table with my pajamas turned inside out and backwards, the hood of a sweatshirt like a make-shift bib around my neck.

So why I scheduled a 6 a.m. flight to Virginia to see my dear, sweet parents, I don't know. I can only assume that it was done BC (Before Coffee), and that my vision was too blurry at the time to make out the little "a" in "a.m." All I know is that no one should ever have to be up at 4 in the morning. If you're at all curious as to what it looks like, I'll save you some time: It looks incredibly dark and out-of-focus.

At first, I was excited: The airport is eerily quiet in the wee hours. I floated through security and got to my gate with tons of time to spare. I pulled out a magazine to pass the time. It was only when they called us to board half an hour later that I discovered I was in trouble--I had read only one sentence—on the front cover. Clearly, I had not gotten enough sleep. I drank another cup of coffee on the plane and prayed for the best.

When I arrived at Dulles for the last leg of my trip, I was over-tired and jittery. The coffee had only succeeded in accelerating my heart rate to a level where even cokeheads fear to tread. I looked around the chaotic room. For those who don't know, there are about 15 gates all lined up in a row in one gigantic room at Dulles Airport for shuttle service. There are constantly flights coming in and out at 15 minute intervals of each other, and attendants make minute-by-minute announcements and wave their hands wildly for late passengers like stock traders on Wall Street.

Since I had arrived more than an hour early, I decided to inspect the magazine stand, thinking I had tons of time to kill. When I exited the kiosque, still a good twenty minutes before my departure, the room had turned into a complete ghost town. I plopped down in front of my gate and watched some tumbleweed blow by. I figured, in my semiconscious state, that the twenty people still left scattered around the room were the rest of my flight and waited for the boarding announcement.

My eyes were so heavy, I had to hold them up with my fingers, watching as the hands on the clock kept getting closer and closer to my departure time. I was getting a little nervous, but apparently not nervous enough to exert the tremendous amount of effort it would've taken to get out of my seat and walk the two steps to ask an attendant about the status of my flight.

Even as the clock showed 10 a.m., the time of my take-off, I was confident that my flight was merely delayed, so I waited. I turned my gaze to the gate. To my relief, the flight still appeared on the screen, status unchanged. I blew out some air and continued to watch as the clock changed to 10:05, then 10:10. I turned again to the board and watched, horrified, as the flight status slowly clicked to "Departed" before my very tired eyes.

What? How could this be? I didn't even get a "last call to board" announcement! In a trance, I finally walked up to the counter.

"Um, has flight 203 really departed?"

The attendant looked at me like I had two heads growing out of my neck, each with only one eye and crazy purple hair.

"Are you AC? We've been calling your name on the loudspeaker! We even had someone going through all the rows looking for you!"

She turned to her computer screen and violently tapped away at the board. "I show that your flight from Boston got in early! I don't understand …"

"I don't know! Well, you see, I had to wake up really early, and I didn't get much sleep and I'm really, really tired … Can I just schedule another flight?"

"Yeah, honey, I'm putting you on the next one out. Leaves in three hours. Maybe we can get you a special name tag so that we don't miss you this time around."

Oh no. Now I was "special." I thought if I were I'd at least have an excuse. As it was, I had managed to miss my flight while sitting not three feet from my gate all because I'd chosen to stay up until midnight to watch a special edition of Most Outrageous TV Moments. I swear they put crack in those shows.

The thought of spending the entire day in the airport was draining to say the least. I dialed my dad, who had graciously offered to pick me up from the airport … in Virginia.

"Hi, Dad! How are you? Hey, listen, I uh, I kind of missed my flight."

"Oh no! Did your flight from Boston get delayed?"

"No, no, uh, we actually got in an hour early."

Silence. "OK, dear, I'll pick you up at Dulles."

I hung up the phone, suddenly realizing the immensity of what had happened: I'd finally lost the ability to shock my parents. This was not good.

As I was relating my tragic traveler's tale to my dad in the car, I suddenly remembered I had booked another flight.

"Hold on, Dad, I just need to call to let them know I won't be on this next one either, lest my name make it on some United black list."

"Hello, this is customer service, how can I help you?"

"Yes, this is AC. I wanted to let you know that I won't be needing the 1:00 flight out of Dulles after all."

Sound of furious typing. There must have been smoke coming out of that keyboard I tell you. "I don't understand, so how are you getting to Virginia?"

Oh, for the love of ... "I have a ride! I just wanted to let you know so you weren't expecting
me …"

"But I see that you arrived at Dulles an hour early? Why did you need to reschedule?"

"Well, see, I'm really just not a morning person, and last night I stayed up waaay too late because I'm addicted to this show, Most Outrageous … Wait, why am I explaining this to you? Can I please just cancel my reservation?"

"Do you still need your return flight back?"

"Yes! Yes! Don't cancel that! I'll be on that flight! I'm just really tired today..."

Click. Dial tone.

I stared at the phone in disbelief. My dad looked at me nervously. "I think we should call to confirm your flight before we head out next week What do you think?"

"I think I need to start taking the train."