It’s not a phobia when it’s rational

Warning: I do an enormous amount of bitching in the following. This is enormous, compared to my usual level of bitching. I’m not particularly trying to make it entertaining either, so feel free to skip.

Our tale begins at 9:27 yesterday morning, when I checked in for my flight and handed off my bag. I never check a bag when flying. I’m a hardcore member of the, “If you can’t carry it yourself, you overpacked,” school of thought, but between this being a Christmas trip with many Christmas presents to bring and a rib deciding that its intended position in my skeleton was optional, I broke pattern. Remember this, 9:27am, passed off the bag.

The plane boards on time, but we spend so much time de-icing that we’re late to Detroit. By the time we land our gate has been reassigned to somebody else and we have to wait for another one to become available. There are lots of empty gates, but no crews to pull the plan in and deal with that, so it takes a while. By the time we land I have twenty minutes to get from one end of the Detroit airport to the other before my next flight begins to board.

Except that the next flight isn’t there and has been delayed an hour. I call Nannie and Pappa to tell them not to pick me up in Richmond as the previously planned time. I proceed to sit in the terminal and read furiously so as to not notice the fact that I’m sitting in an airport, and my luggage is sitting in an airport, but neither of us knows where the other is. I put two books in my carry on bag and stopped myself from putting another one in with “I am not going to read both books in four hours, and I shouldn’t be adding unnecessary weight to this bag.”

Lady named Fayad stops me when I get off phone with update for Pappa. She has a piece of paper explaining that she doesn’t speak English, and that she’s trying to get to Richmond on this flight, and please call her son-in-law at this number, and she gestures to my phone. Notes on the side are written in Arabic. Aside from recognizing the phone number copied again I can’t read any of it (because Arabic kicked my ass and continues to shame me), but I’m amused by the prospect of a little old lady rambling in Arabic on my phone in the middle of an airport, so I fork it over. Watch her like a hawk until she gives it back. Decide I like the lady.

Panic sets in when I realize I’m two thirds of the way through the second book and they’ve just pushed our departure back another hour. The plane’s here now, as are both pilots, but we need a flight attendant. I ask for a job application and point out that I have a winning smile and good balance while serving drinks. My career as a flight attendant does not exist.

At 8:30pm they cancel the flight to Richmond. The would-be passengers, who have developed a sense of camaraderie at this point, form a long line for rebooking. Try to call Pappa to tell him about the cancellation, call Fayad’s son-in-law back by mistake. Tell him her flight was cancelled, apologize for mistake, call Pappa. Some time later somebody comes and says that half the people should follow her and she’ll take care of us. I’m near the back of the line so I follow her. She sends us off to any of the lower C gates. Only one of them is actually willing to rebook us, but I don’t find this out until visiting the other three. Meanwhile I’m frantically calling Nannie and Pappa to find out how far they’re willing to drive to pick me up. I finally take a flight to Charlottsville that’s supposed to leave at 8:55pm.

I talk to my sister to maintain sanity. She puts up with me for a while before pleading finals-induced exhaustion. I call Claire, and she puts up with me until my battery is dying and the fifteen-minute mechanical delay is well past its expiration date. I go to the desk attendant. “My grandfather is driving from Richmond to Charlottsville to pick me up, so if there’s a chance of this flight being canceled I’d really appreciate a warning now so I can tell him to wait until we’re taking off.” Desk attendant won’t say anything about delay status, but strongly advises me to send Pappa home. She also books me on a flight to Richmond for this evening. Plug in phone to charge since it cut off while talking to desk attendant. Decide smartest thing I’ve ever done was not checking the phone charger.

Charlottsville flight is canceled. Desk attendant puts me at the front of the line because we already have a booking in progress. She can’t print my itinerary or boarding pass because her printer isn’t working. She can’t print my hotel voucher because they’re blaming the cancellation on weather. What actually happened is that the crew timed out because the mechanical delay put them over their permitted time. Passengers (who are mostly from the earlier Richmond flight) begin to protest, loudly. I am told to go to any Northwest gate to get my stuff printed. I do. It’s a lie. While there, they say they’re out of hotel vouchers. I become pleased that I’m bleeding Marriot points and, one way or another, will have a free hotel bed waiting for me when this day finally resolves into being stuck in Detroit. Feel spoiled and entitled for it. Tell myself to fuck off because it’s the one thing to work out right all day.

Go back to Charlottsville gate, wait in line. Warn line members that upstairs gate was out of hotel vouchers, downstairs gate is likely the same. Suggest to business-looking guy with woman who may be his wife or might just be hanging out companionably due to mutual adversity, the hotel-point rescue. He books with Marriot. Very friendly desk attendant (who’s been at work since six am. Is now after eleven) does everything she can to get everybody to where they actually want to go. Rebooks me on a morning flight to Norfolk for the next morning. Gets us vouchers for hotels and meals. No sign of Fayad. I’m hoping she skipped to a Richmond flight for the next day and is already in a hotel. Go to Crown Plaza, decide I like Marriot better on account of softer beds, decide that definitely is spoiled and I don’t give a fuck. Schedule wake-up call for ass-crack of dawn, prepare for bed, turn off lights, watch Jumanji until exhaustion kicks in. Don’t make it half an hour.

Ass-crack of dawn arrives, put on yesterday’s clothes again, decide that the smartest thing I’ve ever done was packing my hair brush in my backpack, or possibly picking black as my primary wardrobe color because my clothes still look fresh, take shuttle to airport. Shuttle’s transmission is dead and won’t shift out of second gear. It takes a while to get uphill, but we make it. It plays really bad Christmas music. There is crying baby. Force-feed me tomatoes and make me stand up straight and I will officially be in hell.

TSA guy stops me at metal detector. Heart pressure rises, adrenal gland secretes. “Smile,” he says. I do not tell him to fuck off and die. I do forced grin, which I’m told looks demonic. (Photographic evidence suggests this to be true). Wonder for the billionth time why there isn’t an official word for airportphobia. Consider possibility that I really just need TSAphobia, think of bag and our separation, reject notion. Take the long route to the gate because I’m tensing up and do not want muscle spasms. Try turning meal voucher into reading material, fail. Continue to hoard last 1/4 of book, as having it comforts me and not having it could just be the final straw. Will not pay for book I do not actually want just to soothe rampant paranoia-induced nervousness when I’ve instituted a temporary ban on buying any books for budgetary (and space) concerns. Become stubborn on this point and munch that for comfort.

Norfolk flight is canceled. Am rebooked to later flight to Norfolk, via Philly. Go to gate, wait a long time. Magical morning flight to Richmond has materialized. Get booked on it. Am assured I’ll never see my bag again. The printer isn’t working, have to go to another gate to get everything printed. Wind up at gate with busted printer from night before. Printer works now. Trade little meal voucher in for hashbrowns and icecream. Begin to pace airport. Run into friend from work, fail to be friendly (though I think I avoided jibbering and rampant cussing), go to gate for Richmond flight. Flight boards mostly on time. Call Pappa with the go-ahead. Luggage loads, we miss our take-off window, wait for new one. Arrive an hour late. Fayad is on my flight, I am pleased. So’s the grumpy old lady from the day before who kvetched with me in line. So’s business-man and possible wife. Magical appearing flight is full of people from yesterday.

Arrive in Richmond. Decide this wasn’t so bad. Sure, I’m a day late and officially behind on prep for Christmas, but I got a free night in a hotel, will use remaining voucher to buy chocolates, and after discussion with Northwest customer service, will have a free flight.

Bag does not arrive. Am third in line at baggage claim office since I was expecting it. Kvetch with old lady some more. Begin filling out delayed baggage claim form. Skinny lady moves up and down line helping, as form is completely impenetrable. Finish up first people in line, move to second, their computer dies. Lady at computer says sorry it’s slow, my computer died. “Yeah, you guys have had things dying for two days. Sucks,” I say.

Line-helper lady sends off half the people to another line upstairs. I’m at the front of this line, and wise from similar ruses, so I stay. Fayad, who has daughter and various youngish relatives with her stays too. She has wheelchair now. I listen to chatter in Arabic, am maliciously pleased. Skinny-lady and other desk person discuss who’s doing what. Supervisor gave vague instructions, so they occupy themselves.

Guy behind me in line begins to worry over his contact solution. Accompanying female (not wife, maybe girlfriend, likely just friend), suggests next time he carry it on. He says he can’t. I explain liquid carry-on policy. Suggest complimentary hotel toiletries as perfect solution. Produce toothpaste and lotion I got through without declaring (or remembering I had until then). We swap TSA incompetence stories. We swap clusterfuck of trying to get out of Detroit stories.

Call Nannie since she’s been circling the airport. My side of the conversation is roughly, “I’m next in line, but the girl ahead of me has literally been in there half an hour. Settle down somewhere or come in, this is going to be a while. I’m in the baggage claim office near claim 4, at the front of the long line of disgruntled looking people.” A few minutes later skinny line-helper lady comes to me and says, “She [the desk lady] wants me to tell you that she won’t help you.”

Me: You mean the line is closing, or she won’t help me, personally?

Skinny-Lady: She says you’ll need to go to the other line upstairs.

Me: Just me?

Skinny-lady: Yes, just you.

Me: Are you going to put me at the front of the line up there?

Skinny-lady: No, probably not.

Me: Then I’m staying here.

Desk-lady: You have been rude and had an attitude and I will not help you.

Me: Excuse me?

Desk-lady: I don’t have to deal with you and I’m not going to.

Me: I haven’t spoken to you. I haven’t spoken about you. I’m unhappy, but none of that has been directed at you.

Desk-lady: You need to go upstairs.

Me: May I speak to your supervisor?

Desk-lady: I am the supervisor.

(Catch the problem here? I didn’t until later. See the bit about the supervisor with the vague instructions from earlier)

Me: I’d like to speak to your supervisor.

Desk-lady: I’m the only supervisor here right now. If you don’t leave, I’ll call security and have them take you away.

Have I mentioned that I don’t like airports because of the quick transference from annoyance to GTMO waterboardee they induce?

I shut-up, but I didn’t move. I wasn’t sure where this upstairs was, was seriously contemplating actions that would land me in GTMO, and needed to stay where Nannie could find me. If I’m going to be disappeared I’m damn well going to make it happen in front of a ton of cranky witnesses.

Kvetching old lady comes up to start kevetching some more. I whisper, “Keep your voice down, they’ve just threatened to arrest me for that.” She shrugs, “You’re like me. Give ’em hell.” But wanders back to the end of the line. Contact-solution guy speaks up for me. “Ma’am, I don’t think she meant anything, and we’re all in a pretty bad mood.” Nannie shows up. I do not have a panic attack. Nannie leaves for restroom. Skinny-lady comes out and says, “She says that you two can start over and have a clean slate.” I do not ask her what the fuck kind of slate we had when we’d never communicated. I don’t even glare. I shrug, and wonder why my grandmother showing up changed her mind about having me arrested. Am exceedingly polite as she does my baggage claim and assures me that if I ever do see it again, it won’t have any of the Christmas presents in it. She shares stories about how she had to work ten hours yesterday, in passive-aggressive “see what a terrible time I’m having” mode. I share stories about the desk workers in Detroit working six am to midnight in passive-aggressive “fuck you, bitch, that’s nothing,” mode. Decide that her job will be acceptable in lieu of public violence against her person. Run out of the airport, clueing Nannie in on my near-arrest on the way out.

At this point, I’m down to accepting a personal letter of apology from Northwest and desk-lady, along with a refund of what I paid for this flight and a free flight with companion ticket. And my luggage. As of Northwest’s followup call just before seven no other flight had made it out of Detroit to Richmond all day long, so if my bag is even in Detroit, I’ll have to hope for tomorrow. I’ll be calling them tomorrow fro a lengthy and firm conversation. I don’t trust myself to stay reasonable today. We’ll see how I feel about arbitrary threats of arrest tomorrow. Probably the same.

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