How (Not) to Catch a Plane

Chase Caldwell Smith 13 January 2015

“What time is it? Boarding must be soon –”

“You don’t want to know.”

Sprawled wildly on the tiles of John F. Kennedy Airport, I’m cramming a jumble of books into my luggage, jamming shoes on top, stuffing socks in between. I pause, wiping my forehead. “How many Cambridge students does it take to pack a suitcase?”

Nervously checking her watch, my traveling companion takes matters into her own hands. “Two,” she retorts, thumping my luggage shut: “one to sit…” She parks herself atop my belongings… “and the other to zip. Now get zipping!”

Airports are meant to be simple, designed as they are for the clever travellers, the ones who weigh their bags before leaving home, who schedule sufficient time to swallow any hassle, who actually possess common sense – travellers who are essentially the opposite of me. Imagine my complete surprise then, as I stand, approximately 10 minutes earlier, at the baggage-check counter, passport at the ready, boarding pass unfolded, innocent smile plastered to my face. The attendant actually grimaces as I struggle to lift my suitcase onto the scale.

“Honey, this bag is so overweight that you’ll have to buy another one.”

I exchange a hurried glance with my by-this-time checked-in friend. “Umm, I think we’re running a little late for our flight.”

The attendant is unconcerned. “You’ll be fine.”

So I stumble, desperately, down two flights of stairs, rush into a random magazine shop, and buy a duffel bag that for some unknown reason is being sold there. Panting, I re-climb the stairs, and begin my sprawling wildly on the tiles. Much stuffing ensues, and then with a laborious zip the bag is closed. We sprint back to the counter.

“Honey… this is still overweight.”

Another exchange of glances. I make a split second decision. “No it’s all right – we don’t have any more time.”

So she carries on, with stickers and labels and much warning that this will cost rather a lot. And then, suddenly, taking a look at my boarding pass, her face clouds. She looks at the computer screen. And then back at the paper.

“Honey… are you sure you’re sitting in economy?” She reaches for the phone. “I need to check on something.” She dials. We stand in shock for a straight minute.

By this point, I am actually starting to take yoga breaths from the strain (caused entirely by myself, I know). I reach for my phone to check the time but my friend stops me. “Boarding was five minutes ago.”

All seems lost – melodrama is at hand. And then, rather unexpectedly, the lady cracks a smile. She sets down the phone…..“Turns out the fuss was that you’ve both been upgraded to premium economy! By the way, you get another free baggage check with that.”

I nearly faint.

“But…” I froze, “You still have to pay for that overweight bag. The line’s over there.”

And so, our missing-the-flight fears reinvigorated, we stagger in the direction of her pointing hand, waiting, distressed, behind a family with two squirming children. After a few uneasy minutes, during which the line appears to be going nowhere, I hear a now familiar voice – “That’s the wrong line! The other one ‘over there!’”

And so we run, again. This time there’s no line, but the lady at the customer service desk appears to be busy. “Could you give me a few minutes please?”

No, I think, I most certainly cannot! But out loud I say, “Oh of course, ma’am, please take your time.”

We wait, I pay, we run, we wait at security, we run again. And as we approach the gate, to our amazement, our infinite joy, the plane has not yet left. Still breathing heavily, we plop down into our seats, exhausted. Grinning at our luck, we attempt a high five. We miss; we try again. “Phew… that was … way too … close.”

Suddenly, a concerned British voice crackles through the overhead speakers. “Thank you for your patience, passengers who have boarded.” We exchange glances, again. “Staff will be by to offer refreshments – it appears that we will be sitting here at the gate for some time. Unfortunately, there appears to be a truck frozen to the asphalt behind the plane.”

We laugh, maniacally, loudly, outrageously.

“I never knew why people drink when they’re stressed.” Her smile broadens uncomfortably.

“I understand now.”