When I was a freshman in college I had to write a paper on falling into the abyss. Or looking into the abyss. Or walking along the edge of the abyss. Something like that. I don’t think I even knew what an abyss was (I certainly couldn’t pronounce it.)
So I found myself thinking of that paper on my PHL to CLT trip this week. Before I start describing my slow descent into travel hell, I should acknowledging that I know, this is not a real abyss. This is a mini abyss. An abyss for the blessed.
Last week I was BOS to PHL hustling my way past the TSA-pre-check guard when she said, “You’re not TSA Pre-check.” Yes I am! I always am. Sure enough my ticket didn’t have the “Get Out of Jail Free” equivalent moniker below my name. She let me through anyway and I figured, “fluke.”
So this week on the way to the airport, I glanced down at my boarding pass and noticed the moniker missing. Again. I called the US Air help desk and after a 20 minute wait was told that my number was missing but she would reinstate it and all would be good again. (Spoiler: things weren’t all good.)
I decide not to deal with this on the way out since security was short. And, who know, maybe the person really did fix things. So, I land, go to meetings, take a walk, have dinner, and then decide to get my boarding pass for tomorrow’s flight home. Not only is the pre-check still MIA, but I’ve been demoted to Zone 2. That’s flirting with trouble because anything less than Zone 1 when you’re traveling hub to hub means your bag won’t be joining you in the cabin. So, I press a couple buttons and do some fancy footwork and guess what happens? The website stops recognizing me. Completely.
What do you do when technology starts winning? Go to bed. Deal with it tomorrow. So the next day I saunter up to the concierge desk for help. Well, apparently this hotel doesn’t get out of towners because I found myself giving them a tutorial on boarding pass retrieval. So, I manage to get to my reservation when the unthinkable happens. The unimaginable. The abyss. My boarding pass says “Zone 6.”
ZONE 6! It is literally the zone reserved for children and families who haven’t flown since 1995.
In a day I have gone from pre-check to no pre-check, from status to no status, from zone 1 to the dregs of zone 6. It made losing pre-check look like no big deal. It made zone 2 look like a gift from above.
I’ll cut to the chase and admit that once at the airport I got things sorted out enough so that I was reinstated at Zone 1 (at least for today) but then decided to tempt fate. There was another flight leaving for PHL two hours before mine. I put myself in the stand-by queue and after watching 50 teenagers, several dogs, and a priest board, my name was called and I was rushed onto the flight just as the big metal door clicked behind me. And because I was now the equivalent of Zone 7, they insisted on taking my bag before I even stepped on the plane.
I head down to the last row, window seat. I notice there is actually tons of room in the overhead for my bag. Exhale. No big deal. You’re going to be home two hours early.
And then the real abyss. The flight attendant comes to my row and tells me I have to get off the plane. They had miscounted. I’ve never been thrown off a plane before. You’re thinking, “Well, I’m sure they felt really bad and apologized.” Nope. “Well, perhaps they offered you a coupon for a drink on your next flight?” Nope. “They figured out a way to give you your bag back – the one they insisted you check when there was plenty of room not to?” Na, uh.
I was pissed. I mean, mad. It wasn’t what happened so much as no one was willing to just say, “I’m sorry.” That’s all. A small amount of contrition. Something besides it all being the merger’s fault. Something that humanized the whole thing.
When I got on my real flight, I decided to tell the flight attendant what had happened to me. I don’t know why. I just needed to vent. Then I went about munching on the popcorn I had bought and listened to my new seatmate blab on her phone. We were about to leave when the new flight attendant wiggled her finger at me. ME? “Are you going to throw me off this plane, too?”
She had other plans. She single-handedly pulled me from the flight hell abyss, raised me high above the other passengers and deposited me into one circular, privacy induced business-class seat. The kind with its own TV. Its own foot rest, its horizontal reclining capabilities. And the sweet sounds of a bird emerging from its nest in early spring came next, “What can I get you to drink?”
Within minutes, “Flight attendants take your seats. We are number three for take off.” How could things go badly now? Surely the abyss was behind me.
Pause. “Uh, this is the Captain again. We have a small problem. We’re heading back to the gate.”