Flight to Frustration

With a layover at Crankytown.

I’d been looking forward for months to my trip to San Diego. I would spend the long weekend catching up with my friends Tristan and (Crunchable contributor) Jill for the first time since their wedding, not to mention swimming in the Pacific, sampling some fine Southern California cuisine, catching a Padres game in Petco Park, and of course escaping the 90 percent humidity of Baltimore in mid-summer.

But making it across the country was easier said than done.

I had booked a flight from Baltimore to San Diego that included a change of planes in Atlanta. I got to BWI-Marshall Airport several hours before my 4:08 flight and quickly passed through security. When I found my gate, and I noticed the flight ahead of mine had been delayed. With nearly two hours until the scheduled departure, I wandered over to one of the airport bars. After all, it’s not every Thursday afternoon that I get the chance to have a beer and watch an Orioles game on a flat screen TV.

It was 3:15 by the time the O’s closed out a 7-3 win, and I headed back to the gate … only to find that my flight had been delayed until 4:45 due to bad weather in Atlanta. Considering that my connecting flight to San Diego was scheduled to take off at 6:50, this was a problem.

I approached the Delta Airlines desk and asked the attendant for a little guidance. The good news: We were still expected to touch down at 6:25 (as I waited in line at the desk, the estimated departure had been moved up to 4:30). The bad news: If there were any further delays and I missed my connection, the next flight to San Diego was not until 9:25 p.m. I would have to be put on standby and, in the words of the Delta employee, that flight was already “pretty tight”. As the clock rolled past four, I became increasingly anxious. By the time I boarded the plane and took my seat in the coach section, it was already 4:30. I sat and quietly stewed as the passengers continued to slowly shuffle down the aisle for the next 15 minutes. We weren’t actually airborne until 5 p.m.

We made good time down the Eastern Seaboard, and landed at 6:30 — then we sat on the tarmac for another 10 minutes. By this time, my only real hope of not being stranded in the Peach State was a delay to my outbound flight. After all, if incoming traffic was bogged down, it stood to reason that no one was taking off on schedule either. After what seemed like an eternity, I pulled my small brown suitcase from the overhead compartment and started running towards the terminal. I whirled around and located my next flight on the overhead screen. It had been delayed until 7:15. Thank God.

I had 20 minutes to make it to Gate A26, which was approximately 2.7 miles away. I ran at a light sprint (well, as light as I could manage with my luggage in tow) through the terminal and finally pulled up in front of the gate, huffing and puffing and looking a little frenzied. A fellow passenger noticed my sad state and remarked dryly, “You made it. We haven’t even boarded yet.”

The delays kept changing at the gate; when the new departure time settled at 8:05, I decided to risk a trip to the food court. I chowed down on some gristly, subpar Chinese food and gazed out the window at the overcast skies and the puddles on the tarmac. I didn’t even take enough time to savor my meal, such as it was, because I was worried about the departure time being moved up. I guess that was wishful thinking.

At 7:45, I returned to the gate, expecting a boarding announcement at any moment. I plopped down next to my bag and played a matching game on my cell phone, not looking up until I heard a groan from the throng of would-be travelers. How about 8:30 p.m.? Now I was watching the overhead screen like a hawk, willing the plane to board without further setbacks. As luck would have it, we were able to board on time, only to find ourselves stuck once again on the runway, waiting to take off.

If there was any saving grace in this ordeal, it was that both flights were uneventful. During the four-and-a-half hours across the southern United States, the little personal TV set embedded in the seatback allowed me to catch up on recent episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” as well as old broadcasts of AWA Wrestling and American Gladiators (thank you ESPN Classic). Just to run the cultural gamut, I also read a bit from the copy of The Age of Innocence I’d brought with me. Edith Wharton and Larry Csonka: Two great tastes that taste great together.

By the time I de-planed and Jill and Tristan made it through the airport traffic to pick me up, it was 11 p.m. Pacific time, nearly three hours after my scheduled arrival time. My ears still hadn’t popped from the multiple changes in altitude, I had been awake for 16 hours, I hadn’t seen anything but the inside of airports and cramped commercial airplanes for the past 12 hours, and I was more than a little irritable.

“I hope you enjoy my company,” I told my friends, “because I am NEVER getting on an airplane again.”

Article © 2009 by Kevin Brotzman