A Day in Travel Hell
On Saturday my last college roommate, Shekhar Kodali, was scheduled to be married outside Hartford, Connecticut. After a decade of regular weddings this promised to be the last wedding -- barring divorce and remarriage -- for any of my close friends. So yesterday I attempted to fly from Nashville to Hartford to attend the wedding.
Things did not go well.
This is my story.
1. My alarm goes off at 5:52 am and I'm out the door by 6:15.
I'm traveling with one backpack, a shirt and tie rolled up for the wedding, resplendent pink pants in tow. I'm wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, which is all I ever travel in unless it's freezing outside. I am not checking bags because people who check bags should be executed on the spot.
The only thing I'm a bit nervous about is that I have a connecting flight.
I HATE CONNECTING FLIGHTS.
For the past three years any vacation my family has taken has begun with a simple question -- where can we go without changing planes? (And by "not changing planes," I mean taking off and landing once. Don't give me this bullshit about landing and not having to change planes making it better. That's actually worse. You just have to sit on the plane and wait while everyone boards a flight you're already on).
I have a seven and a four year old and a ten month old, all boys. Getting them through security, checking bags -- I know, I know but you try traveling without checking bags with three kids --, surviving their inevitable fights with each other, their parents and security guards when they insist on putting my four year old's light saber through the x-ray machine -- yes, that happened -- and getting them boarded on an airplane takes years off my life and could, potentially, take years off my marriage too.
So I only want to board a plane once. We live in Nashville so this gives us a decent range of options, from Cancun to Seattle to Los Angeles to anywhere on the east coast to Phoenix to Las Vegas, we're fortunate to have quite a few non-stop flights. These are the places we will vacation.
There are no flights direct to Hartford.
2. So I've got my first connection in years.
I'm connecting to a new flight in Baltimore, an airport I know well because I went to college in Washington, D.C. and spent four years flying from Nashville to BWI. You flew from Nashville to BWI to get to Washington, D.C. for one reason -- because it was cheap as hell compared to National -- which is perfectly located -- and Dulles -- which is in the middle of fucking nowhere and makes you ride around on strange, Star Wars-esque people movers.
In order to get from Baltimore to George Washington University, which is where I went to college, the journey was neverending. Upon landing in Baltimore you took a bus to the BWI train station -- the bus always took forever -- then you bought a train ticket to Washington, D.C. -- either the MARC or the AMTRAK depending on whether you were traveling on a weekday or a weekend, the MARC was much cheaper -- waited forever for the train, which took to you to D.C.'s Union Station where you would disembark and take the red line Metro from Union Station to Metro Center, where you switched Metro lines to the orange and blue, then you emerged at Foggy Bottom in D.C.
The entire trip from BWI to D.C. is insane to even write. You literally had to take a plane, a bus, a train, a metro, switch metro lines and then walk several blocks back to your apartment or dorm. You could take a cab, but a cab from BWI to GW was over $60, which was frequently as much, or more, than the actual plane flight from Nashville to Baltimore cost. Plus, as a college kid, that's a lot of money. And I didn't have a lot of money. Otherwise I would have been traveling out of Washington National, like I would do today. Now that I have money if you told me I had to do all these things to get to BWI to save $200, I would be like, "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm taking a $10 cab ride to National."
Anyway, the only reason anyone flew to BWI was because BWI was cheap.
Why was BWI cheap? Because, let's be honest, Baltimore fucking sucks and no one ever wants to go there for any reason. So they had to make the airport cheap to get anyone to land there.
Baltimore is the worst "major" city on the east coast and there isn't even a close second. Baltimore isn't even it's own city, it's just Washington, expanded. Ask anyone who has ever lived on the east coast which city sucks the most and they'll all say Baltimore. Every single person. And Baltimore people know this, they have such low self-esteem in this city that they put up a statue to Ray Lewis, a man charged with double murder who plead guilty to obstruction of justice. And as soon as you rip Ray Lewis, they'll bring up Cal Ripken and his consecutive games streak. Do you know why Cal Ripken played in so many consecutive games with the Orioles? Because there's nothing else to fucking do in Baltimore.
So, anyway, I'm landing in Baltimore.
3. But first I have to board my flight in Nashville.
I'm one of those people who likes to board at the last possible moment before a flight takes off.
I don't understand why anyone wants to be on a plane until the plane is about to take off. Sometimes -- such as when I fly other airlines with an actual seat assigned -- I'll sit outside until the absolute last moment for someone to board a plane and then walk on. Why do I want to sit in a cramped tube and watch people fight over overhead bin space if I don't have to? I've never understood why first class boards first. Shouldn't first class board last?
Anyway, with Southwest they have no assigned seats and a three-tier boarding policy, A 1-60, B 1-60, and C -- you're fucked no matter what number you have.
So everyone boards and claims the aisle and window seats and then the poor losers in the C boarding group are left with middle seats. Middle seats on cross-country flights are legitimately the worst thing on earth. You can argue with me, but you'll be wrong.
Here are my worst things on earth power rankings:
1. Middle seats on cross-country flights
3. The children's television show "Caillou"
Southwest doesn't have assigned seats and they board insanely early. For instance, if your flight leaves at noon, Southwest will board at approximately 9:30 in the morning.
My flight to Baltimore leaves at 7:35 am. At 7:05 am, as I'm leisurely strolling down the airport terminal, they announce my name on the loudspeaker throughout the entire airport to let me know that my plane is about to depart.
IN THIRTY MINUTES.
4. I land in Baltimore and decide to eat Chinese food.
At the airport.
It seems like a harmless decision at the time.
My flight is leaving at 11:20 so we're all boarded by ten in the morning.
We pull off the gate, prepare for our 45 minute flight to Hartford and then the captain comes on the speaker. "Well," he laughs, "we almost made it."
This is the worst thing your pilot can say to you while you're still on the ground.
Turns out, air traffic control just crashed and all of the Washington, D.C. area is shut down. (In typical Baltimore fashion, none of the news stories even mention Baltimore. It's just an appendage to D.C.)
5. We disembark.
I do a live Periscope feed from the airport. You can watch that here if you like live videos from airports slowly starting to go insane. At this point I still have some optimism. It can't be that bad, right? Just reboot the air traffic control thingy and we'll all be good to go. (Full disclosure: my only move when any technology isn't working is to turn it off and restart it. Doesn't matter what the issue is, I'm convinced it will be fixed if you just turn it off and restart it.)
After two hours of sitting at the gate, our pilot comes out and announces they've canceled our flight.
There's an immediate rush to add to the long lines that already exist at the Southwest counters. But I pull out my phone and call Southwest instead. This is when my descent into the ninth circle of hell begins.
6. You can't rebook a flight with Southwest once you have boarded the plane.
You'll recall that we boarded and then disembarked. Once Southwest has you in the system as boarding a plane, you can't be assisted by Southwest people on the phone. No matter how many supervisors you request, you have to speak to someone at the airport.
That's even if, as you repeat over and over, "BUT MY FLIGHT IS CANCELED. I JUST BOARDED, WE NEVER LEFT."
That doesn't matter.
Air traffic control glitch meet Southwest glitch, part one.
Rather than stand in line for hours, I decide to take advantage of my Southwest miles -- I have like 500,000 right now because despite having a love/hate relationship with them I fly Southwest everywhere -- and book an entirely new flight back to Nashville before all of those flights fill up. All flights to Hartford on the departure screen -- where I'm supposed to be headed for a wedding -- have been canceled. So much for making that.
7. Bedlam is beginning to set in at the airport and it has only been a couple of hours of no planes taking off.
New people are arriving to find that their flights are canceled or are significantly delayed. Lines to speak to gate agents stretch interminably down the length of the terminal. The scant few electrical outlets are worth their weight in gold.
I check my phone to ensure that my Nashville flight is showing up on my Southwest app.
It is, with one major issue, in order to get a boarding pass I need to go to a counter -- the lines are hours long -- or go to a Southwest ticket kiosk and print one off. There are, you guessed it, no Southwest kiosks inside the terminal.
So I decide I'll leave the terminal, print my boarding pass off at the kiosk and then come back through security. After all, I've just got a backpack.
8. On top of that, I shouldn't have eaten Chinese at the airport.
My stomach is not doing well.
I make a quick run to the bathroom and it's a total mess. Airport bathrooms are always disgusting, but what about if there is no one able to leave and there are way too many people in the terminal? It's a disaster zone in there, FEMA should be called in. There are no telling how many pathogens are in here right now.
The only thing worse than having to shit in an airport bathroom is having to wait in line to shit in an airport bathroom. Because you see all the people shitting before you. And no one shitting at an airport bathroom ever looks normal. I just stand there thinking, "That guy definitely has herpes." "This guy with the mustache, he's not even going to the bathroom, he's just jerking off in there. Not even fast jerking off either, like a slow jerk off while he listens to the sounds of other people shitting."
Eventually, it's my turn and I try to wide squat over the toilet to avoid touching the toilet and dying of some disease that hasn't even been discovered yet, but ever since I read about Senator Larry Craig getting arrested for rubbing feet with the guy in the stall next to him as a sign he wanted gay sex, I've been terrified this will happen to me in an airport bathroom.
The Senator claimed he just had a wide stance while he shit and WHAT IF IT WERE TRUE?
What if he, like me, had an unblemished record of heterosexuality and he was just trying not to get Ebola from the Baltimore airport shitter and he stood as wide as he could above the toilet and he touched another man's foot and they charged him with attempting to have gay sex in the bathroom?
That's exactly the kind of shit they would pull at the Baltimore airport.
This could happen to me.
So I shit with my ankles bent inward to ensure that they don't leave the confines of my stall.
9. Then I exit security to try and print my boarding pass.
I get to the kiosk and put my credit card in and the kiosk prints me off a pass.
"Yes!" I think
Only my pass says in big letters, "This is not a boarding pass, see gate agent."
So I have to stand in line to go back through security and once I get back inside the terminal I have to go stand in one of those neverending lines.
This seems ridiculous so I call Southwest once I'm back through security and say, "Why can't I just get a boarding pass sent to my phone?"
They ask me, and I should have written about this earlier because it's the first thing you get asked every time you call, for my confirmation number. I always want to respond: "WHO THE FUCK KNOWS THEIR CONFIRMATION NUMBER?" Who ever says, "Oh, yeah, I'm glad you asked, my confirmation number is 48BF76QTIVFUCKME."
No, I don't know my confirmation number. It's in my phone. The same phone that I'm currently trying to talk to you on.
And what's the next thing they ask? Do you know your flight number? Again, who knows their flight number? I have never known the flight number of any flight I've ever been on. The only time anyone ever knows the flight number of a plane is if it crashes. I know the city and the time.
Why can't you just give them your name and social security number? Or your frequent flier number? Or the cities you're trying to fly between?
Anyway, this time I do happen to have my confirmation number -- on the worthless sheet of paper in my hand -- but even if you have it, they never understand what you say. My confirmation number happens to begin HJ.
So I say that and the guy goes, "A as in ALPHA and D as in DOG?"
What's the first two words that you think of when you see H and J side by side.
For me, it's hand and job. Which I'm not kidding about at all. So I say, "No, it's H as in Hand and J as in JOB."
No reaction at all from the Southwest dude. I mean, come on, how do you not laugh at that? All of you are laughing.
Turns out it's impossible for me to get a boarding pass sent to your phone.
Why is that?
I have no idea.
10. So I get into a line for a boarding pass.
For the next two hours and forty five minutes, almost the length of "Titanic," I slowly make my way to the ladies at the desk.
All so I can get a boarding pass. For a flight that may or may not ever take off. All I can think is, "At least I don't have my kids or my wife with me." My kids because kids are a disaster at airports even if everything is perfectly on time and my wife because somehow the fact that air traffic control shut down would be my fault. At some point she would say, "Why didn't you think about the fact that air traffic control might shut down on the day you were trying to go to a wedding?"
And I would say, "BECAUSE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL NEVER SHUTS DOWN LIKE THIS!" And I would say it like that and she would say, "I don't know why you're yelling at me."
And this, boys and girls, is marriage in three sentences.
11. While I'm waiting in line I get all sorts of pictures from the wedding, everyone is drinking and partying and having a great time.
My college roommate arrives for his wedding riding a horse and carrying a sword. (That's the picture up top). And I'm missing all of this for the Baltimore airport.
While we're waiting in line they cancel a flight to Columbus at the gate we're waiting in line beside and a middle aged woman loses it and tries to cut the line. This long ass line that we're all waiting in. The line is near riot level and she eventually relents and walks away.
Thirty minutes later, I've moved like four people by now, she comes back pushed in a wheelchair by a Southwest gate agent to the front of the line and says, "I had a knee replacement and I can't stand in line."
To her credit the Southwest gate agent points out that she can sit in the wheelchair in line. She also gestures to one of the lady's traveling partners, potentially her son, a mouth breathing dope standing beside her, and says, "Why can't he stand in line while you sit?" and this woman says, "He has a medical condition too."
(She's wearing a Maryland Terrapins sweatshirt and I hope Maryland goes 0-12 this season in football just because of this bitch).
12. I start to get concerned that they'll cancel my Nashville flight today and I'll be stuck in Baltimore overnight.
So I call Southwest again to make sure that if I have to book a hotel room in Baltimore overnight my return flight on Sunday will still be good.
Only, you guessed it, wrong.
Turns out, in our third major glitch of the day, I have to board my flight in Hartford in order to lock in my flight home from Baltimore to Nashville. Otherwise, my flight doesn't exist.
Catch meet 22.
I'm close to losing it.
"So let me get this straight, I'm supposed to fly back from Hartford to Baltimore tomorrow morning and then catch an entirely new flight from Baltimore to Nashville. But if I don't board tomorrow morning in Hartford -- a place I can't get to because I'm stuck in Baltimore -- then I lose my flight from Baltimore to Nashville?"
Southwest agent: "That's correct. But I can get you on a Monday morning flight from Baltimore to Nashville."
I want to ram my head into the wall over and over again.
Am I really going to spend two days at the Baltimore airport?
13. Some of you might be wondering, why not rent a car?
I did reserve a car, but according to Google maps it's a seven hour drive to the wedding. And that's with no traffic. The east coast is filled with traffic. I've made this drive before -- with Shekhar, my old college roommate getting married, and I know that it's fraught with peril. You have to drive through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City traffic. Not to mention all of New Jersey, which is just one big suburb. That's a non-starter. And I could drive back to Nashville, but I've made that drive a ton of times and it's over 700 miles too.
Plus, I kept thinking, surely it can't take that long to restart the air traffic control computer. I figured this outage would last three hours tops. And I hate long drives.
So that's the answer as to why I didn't drive, it wasn't really viable.
14. Did I mention that there are only two people working the Southwest counter and one of them has a yellow sign in front of her that says, "Please be patient agent in training."
I'm no expert on airport training.
But I think a supervisor might have thought, "You know what, maybe today -- WITH THE ENTIRE AIRPORT SHUT DOWN -- is the not the best day to train someone in how to work a ticket counter."
But evidently this thought never occurred to them. Because the trainee is working.
15. As I finally reach the front of the line -- I mean the actual guy next in line to go -- a guy steps right in front of me and cuts the line.
The entire line, seeing the line cutter, is coming undone behind me. A woman who, God bless her, has been standing in line for almost three hours with two children under three, is about to use her baby as a battle axe.
So I say to the guy, "Excuse me, what are you doing?" And he says, "I'm a Marine."
And I'm immediately thinking, "Are you fighting ISIS tomorrow or are you in a Southwest terminal in blue jeans? Because it looks to me like you're in a Southwest terminal in blue jeans."
The next thing I think is, "This is how I'm going to make Fox News. Somebody is going to pull out their phone and video this interaction and Fox News is going to say I don't support the troops enough."
I'm already a gay Muslim racist. The last thing I need to add to this set of descriptors is "troop non-supporter."
But screw that. Because he's a Marine he doesn't have to stand in line like every other person with every other job in America today? Look, I'm all for supporting the troops, but does anyone else even have the gall to pull this line based on their profession? If some lady did this and then explained herself by saying, "I'm a teacher," you'd be like, "So?"
But then the lady with two kid steps in and she's like, "You've got to go to the back of the line. We've been waiting for almost three hours."
And he goes to the back of the line.
16. So, of course, I get the trainee.
And the trainee prints off my boarding pass -- nearly three hours for this piece of paper -- and I say, "I just want to make sure that if this flight gets canceled that I'm on the flight tomorrow morning from Baltimore to Nashville even though I'm not going to be able to take off from Hartford."
And the trainee says, "I've got you," and puts out his fist.
And I just stand there thinking, "Does he really want me to fist pound?" I just stood in line for three hours for a boarding pass and this is my resolution?
The person training him looks at me and says, "He's got you."
So we fist pound.
17. Fuck me.
I go search for an electrical outlet and there are none anywhere.
How is this possible? The only thing airports of the 21st century need is free wifi and as many electrical outfits as are possible. Screw artwork, every airport wall should be covered with working electrical outlets.
But there are none.
And the wifi is Boingo, which might as well call itself Fuckyougo because that company sucks total ass and never works. I signed up for Boingo once and later on I found out they charged my credit card a monthly fee for the next six months.
Again, why isn't wifi all free at airports? This should be a law.
18. Our gate changes.
Flights have begun to take off. But which flights will be taking off and which will be canceled? No one knows. It's like the Hunger Games, airport edition.
While I'm sitting down, I hear this announcement at six eastern, over eight hours after I arrived in the Baltimore airport, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're ready for our on time departure to Flint."
THAT FLIGHT IS ON TIME?
If you had to pick the biggest collection of losers in the entire Baltimore airport is there any doubt that it's the people flying direct from Baltimore to Flint? How does this flight even exist? And how in the world is it on time?
I hate these people.
19. Everyone is drunk at the wedding -- they're kind enough to send pictures -- and Southwest agents are walking around looking for missing kids.
Because some people put their kids on airplanes without supervision and now those kids are stuck in the Baltimore airport with no idea what to do because the entire airport is a zoo.
Meaning that some dad somewhere -- who inevitably made this decision -- is having to listen to his wife say over and over again, "I can't believe I listened to you and put our kids on a plane flight to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
20. I'd like to get drunk, but I'm afraid to go anywhere because for the past three hours my phone buzzes every 15 minutes letting me know that my flight departure time has been moved back to the present time.
Thanks for this.
It's always great to get an update letting you know that you're going to be taking off at the exact same time the update arrives while you're sitting at a gate with no pilot or crew.
If I go get drunk the flight will definitely leave without me. And I will probably die in the Baltimore airport.
I have zero doubts about this.
I call Southwest to check on the flight status and the person tells me our flight has been canceled. This is the second time I've been told this.
Only the flight hasn't been canceled.
Nice work, Southwest.
21. Pilots arrive at the gate. And a crew too!
Everyone at the gate cheers.
We board and then sit for the next hour while someone tries to track down a pair of 13 and 14 year old kids who are supposed to be on our flight.
Only no one can find them.
Tough luck, kids.
Eventually we take off at 7:50 eastern.
After ten hours on the ground at the Baltimore airport, I'm headed back to Nashville.
22. At 9:15 pm, fifteen hours after I left my house, I'm back home.
My four year and seven year old are curled up in our bed watching "In the Woods," with their mom.
I slump down in bed beside them.
"Hey, dad," says my four year old, "did you bring me anything from your trip?"