I’m writing this blog from a weird airport bar while drinking the smallest $12 glass of wine I’ve ever seen, feeling both relieved and very stupid. Earlier today I was supposed to take a flight from JFK to Seattle to visit one of my college roommates. Our other college roommate was flying in from D.C. and we were planning to do some crazy shit, like make bagels. I was so excited that I did something I never do and packed my bag well ahead of time. It was sitting by the door, and I congratulated myself on my forethought and preparation. That complacency was my undoing. The flight left as scheduled, at 3:50 p.m., without me on it.
I had checked Google Maps the night before and was informed that the trip to the airport would take 25 minutes by car. Perfect. I called the car around 2:30, feeling great and thinking I’d have plenty of time to get through security and to my gate. Then I saw that the trip to the airport was now expected to take an hour because, you might be interested to know, there is more traffic on a Friday afternoon than at 1 a.m. The drive actually took longer than that. I realized that I was bound to miss my flight and called Delta to try and get on the next one, but my economy ticket was “use it or lose it.”
My helpless crying had no effect on the Delta people, who had no doubt dealt with countless other blubbering and timing-challenged idiots before. Still, I had spent all my credit card points on the first ticket and couldn’t fathom buying a new one. Luckily, my boyfriend is a kind and loving soul who is also a Delta whisperer. He got on the phone with customer service, and emailed me a new ticket to Seattle. I have asked him not to get me a Christmas present this year. Here are everyone else’s top airport fuck-ups.
A few years ago, I attempted to book a ticket on Southwest to go to Portland for the weekend. Like a true dumbass, I accidentally swapped my arrival and departure cities and bought a ticket from Portland to Sacramento instead of the other way around. I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I got an email from the plane company that said something like “Your trip to Sacramento is coming up!
My worst flight fuck up is obviously this heinous event. My second-worst flight fuck up is the time I went to check in for a flight back to New York the night before I was set to leave, only to realize that I had purchased a return flight that was leaving not the next day, but the next month. I quietly purchased myself a brand-new flight for the next day that night and never told anyone about the error.
A few years back I booked a flight for my wife and me to Florida for a vacation. We left super early and drove to the airport, but had trouble checking in because they couldn’t find our reservation. It turned out that I had booked the flight from DCA (Reagan National) when our usual airport is IAD (Dulles). We ran to the car and drove like the wind to DCA, which is not close, but God parted the seas and we made it with enough time that we still stood a chance of making our flight.
But the only way to the terminal from where we parked required using a parking shuttle, which took fucking 30 minutes to arrive. We sat in the stupid shuttle stop shelter and watched the clock as the minutes ticked away, and then watched our goddamn plane lift off in the distance. An awful start to the vacation. We wound up getting tickets from DCA for much later that day, and spent hours in a damn airport bar.
I have missed more buses than I can even remember at this point, and the number of trains that I have missed over the course of my life is so great that I feel compelled to mention it myself. I am now and have long been a late person, and while I’m better now than I was when I used to meet people 90 minutes late like that wasn’t a crazy thing to do, I still tend to make things like this more interesting than they should be. There are some elemental reasons for this: if I am someplace, which I almost always am, I generally don’t like leaving it. Also I am just a huge idiot overall.
But while I’m still pretty powerless before this particular idiocy of mine, there is at least something latent within it that respects the realities of cost. I have missed a lot of inexpensive buses and a retrospectively depressing number of more-expensive trains, but I have only missed one flight. I didn’t miss it by very much, but they all look like You Fucked Ups in the box score.
I was flying to Minneapolis, where I would meet friends and then drive with them to a house by a lake in Wisconsin; I don’t remember whose family it was that afforded us access to the lake place, but I remember that everything in the house was very brown, there was thick carpeting even on some of the walls, and that it was impossible to escape the sense that some heavy sex stuff had probably gone down there during the Ford Administration. I love the place and we went back several times over the years. I decided to honor my love for the place and my friends by leaving myself precisely zero slack on the long trip out to JFK via subway and “air train,” the infuriating grafted-on shit-tram that takes travelers from subway stops in far Queens to various airport terminals. I was targeting an arrival time of precisely one hour before the plane departed, which is an acceptable time to arrive only in the sense that arriving 59 minutes before the plane departs is generally not actually acceptable.
There is a lot of room to fuck up in a trip that long, which is why most people account for things like The Possibility That Something Might Get Fucked Up. This time, it was the AirTrain that got me—it was late and it was slow and somewhere around the stop at Car Rental Circle or wherever I realized that there was a chance I’d miss the flight. Not because the flight would leave before I got to the airport, but because I would not get to the airport until like 50 minutes before the flight was going to leave. As long as the flight was on the ground, though, I figured I had hope. I had no luggage to check and trusted that my agreeability and devastating good looks would carry the day—that I could get through in time to board, if not with my boarding group or much time to spare, and that the desk attendants would come out of the interaction thinking that I was a nice young man to boot.
I suppose it is to their credit that this did not happen. I was told that 45 minutes before the flight left—AirTrain and my concept of time accounted for some additional lost time—was not early enough, and that rules were rules, and that I could rebook on another airline for like $1200 if I needed to get out that day, or for the same rate on the next day’s version of the flight that I had not yet technically missed but was simultaneously in the process of missing. Another pair of ticket-holders that arrived around when I did were making a similar case, in what amounted to a sort of informal A/B test on how to fail at an airport. I did my Nice Young Man thing and they yelled and fumed and said that it was “unacceptable.” Which was plainly wrong because there we all were, gradually, accepting it.
I still made it to the lake, albeit a day later, and it was good. I was also out a few hundred dollars at a time when I did not have a few hundred dollars to spare. I would love to tell you that I learned my lesson, but mostly I just try to arrive an hour and five minutes before my flights leave now. Maybe at some point in my life I will be less bad.
I have never come anywhere close to missing a flight because I get to the airport at least two hours early like a damn dad. HOWEVER once, when forced to fly out of fucking Newark for a week-long trip, I decided to park there because I had a coupon and figured it’d be easier than roping in a friend to move my car for street sweeping.
It sounded like a great plan until, as the plane was taking off, I realized with horror that the return flight was going to LaGuardia, which is an hour-and-a-half away with even moderate traffic. The worst part is, even though it was 100 percent my fuckup, somehow my husband ended up being the one to trek out to Newark on some horrible New Jersey Transit bus situation, so I ended up both an idiot and an asshole.
I have never fucked up a flight because I leave my house three hours before flight time.
I was in Seattle on a 72-hour business trip, way back in 2009, long before I worked here and shortly after my first kid’s birth. My flight back to D.C. was a very late-departing overnight with a stopover in Philadelphia, but the hotel checkout time was, like, 10:00am and the rental car had to be returned before noon. Mind you, I had very little money to spend and even less latitude to expense stuff to the company I worked for; also, pertinently, I am a big idiot, a skittish traveler, and a very early riser when staying in hotels. So when I’d finished showering and dressing and packing my suitcase—it was like 8:30 in the morning—I checked out of the hotel, drove to the airport, returned the car, and spent the next 12 hours wandering around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I bought a cheap paperback copy of, uh, The Road, and read the whole thing, then read most of it again. God knows how many busy travelers or puzzled airport cops took note, over the ensuing half a day, of the schlubby doofus in the cheap, ill-fitting business casual costume literally weeping over a paperback book in that airport.
When we got to Philadelphia it was snowing. By the time I got home, nearly two days had elapsed since I’d checked out of my hotel in Seattle. Don’t show up 12 hours early for a flight.