Travel! Trauma!

On a bright, beautiful, sunny winter day, I left my house in Rhode Island and headed to the airport, beginning my journey to Oregon, where my sister and dad would also be arriving, and where I would finally get to meet my brother’s 2 year-old son. I would only have two days out west, but it felt good to know that I had solo travel time on either end of the visit, and — that on my direct flights — someone would even be SERVING ME FOOD!

While waiting at the gate in Providence, the clouds started rolling in and it was announced that our plane FROM Newark had not even arrived.

Me: Will I make my connection? I only have a 1.25 hour layover.

Nice United Lady #1: You’re flying into concourse C, Gate 99 and your departing Gate is C88, so you’ll make it, no problem! Plus, they know in Newark that you’re coming in late, so they’ll hold the plane. [1]

Fifteen minutes went by and then it was announced that Air Traffic Control in New York had put a temporary ban on all air travel.

Me: Am I going to make my connection?

Nice United Lady #2: It looks like there’s another flight TO PORTLAND at 5:29 pm, so, if you miss your 5:15, you can get on the 5:29 flight. It flies out of Gate 95.

Me: Should I pull my luggage off this plane so I have it with me? (Note: I ALWAYS check my bags, for reasons that include, but are not limited to: not wanting to drag my luggage around the airport; not wanting to bring a suitcase into a bathroom stall; and also not wanting to have to lift it up and place it in the overhead bin on the plane; You might like refer to this as, completely idiotic)

Nice United Lady #2: No, no, no. You probably have liquids in it, right? You’ll have to dump them. Your luggage will be fine.

We finally boarded in Providence at 3:30 pm (an hour late), then sat on the runway, unable to depart until 4-something. I didn’t worry at this point, because I really, truly, utterly believed that if Air Traffic Control was banning air flight in and around Newark, that my flight to Oregon would ALSO be leaving late.

We landed at 5:00 pm and I figured I still had 10 minutes to HUFF it. Then the pilot announced that our gate wasn’t ready. I STILL THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT. No one could convince me otherwise. EVERYTHING WILL BE DELAYED. It’s Newark!

Seat belt sign goes OFF, I stand up and suggest that we line up in the order of our departure time (so organized!). 5PM gets in front of me. “We’re going to make it!” I tell 5PM.

I run off the plane, rush to the monitors to confirm my gate, find Portland…and there it is, in bright red, capital letters:



I scanned the monitor for my 5:29 pm backup flight to Portland, except, THERE WAS NO FUCKING SECOND FLIGHT LISTED FOR PORTLAND!!!!! There was only ONE flight to Portland, and not ONLY had that father fucker already left the building, but I swear it was THE ONLY FLIGHT ON THE ENTIRE MONITOR THAT WAS LISTED AS DEPARTED!!!!!

WHERE IS THE PORTLAND FLIGHT THAT I HAD A BACK UP RESERVATION ON????? I rethought my ability to alphabetize, I searched ARRIVALS…anything…trying to find that flight. Then I remembered! I had a flight NUMBER. I scanned the 4 monitors full of ONE GAGILLION FLIGHTS for my number…nothing. At this point, I ran.

Moms! You'll feel younger, hotter and skinnier in your modern, boot cut jeans, even WHILE losing bladder control.
Moms! You’ll feel younger, hotter and skinnier in your modern, boot cut jeans, even WHILE losing bladder control.

I ran toward the gate where my original flight departed. The lady in Providence said it was “close” to my incoming gate. Plus, maybe it just SAYS departed. Maybe it was sitting there, WAITING FOR ME! Then two things happened simultaneously: I learned that Gate 88 was NOT close. It was not close AT_ALL. And, also, I learned that my bladder was full and that I was peeing in my new, modern, boot cut, purchased at the LOFT 2 hours before leaving sunny Barrington, looked great (!), saw the woman who sold them to me that very day IN THE PROVIDENCE AIRPORT (<—SO Rhode Island!) jeans.

I stopped. Not only because I was wetting my pants, but also because I was never going to get to that gate quickly enough. I needed to figure out what was going on with the backup flight “to Portland”‘ before THAT flight departed.

Then, I remembered that Nice Lady #2 in Providence had written the backup flight’s gate number on my boarding pass. I ran to Gate 95 and asked the Gate Guy to please help me, that I’d been told I was booked on a flight to Portland but THERE WAS NO FLIGHT TO PORTLAND LISTED ON THE MONITOR and could he please help me figure out where I needed to go.

Gate Guy (GG): Your name?

Me: Catherine Winchild

GG <panicked>: YOU’RE ON THIS FLIGHT!!

Me: THIS FLIGHT GOES TO HOUSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GG: But it goes on to Portland [whatever he says here is  A MUDDLED MESS in my memory, but I ASSUME that THIS plane heads to Portland after landing in Houston].

GG <continues>: HURRY! I have to call down and tell them not to close the door. Take this, give it to the Door Guy…sit in seat…8A…Go!

Me <arriving on plane, panicked, relieved, damp, looking at all other passengers who are comfortably seated (in dry pants)>: Hello, everybody! I’m sure you’re all thrilled to see that I MADE my flight! [hilarious]

2 Flight Attendants <NOT AMUSED>

Me <to 2 Unamused Flight Attendants (UFAs)>: Please tell me this plane goes to Portland, Oregon.

UFA1 <with ATTITUDE>: We have NO IDEA where this plane goes. All we know is that we’re on a leg to Houston. This plane could go anywhere after that.

Me: I’m not getting on this plane unless I KNOW IT’S GOING TO PORTLAND!

UFA1 <to Door Closing Guy (DCG)>: Does this flight carry on to Portland?

DCG: I have NO IDEA.


DCG <calling Gate Guy, then turning to me>: This plane goes to Houston; then you’ll have to change planes in Houston.


DCG: I HAVE TO CLOSE THE DOOR. Are you getting on this flight? You have to make a decision RIGHT NOW.

And this, my friends, is where the story becomes unbearable to relay, because, as a woman who has a VERY keen understanding of what a MAP of the UNITED STATES looks like, I knew FULL WELL that flying toward the Gulf Of Mexico before heading to the Pacific Northwest was not really the MOST EFFICIENT way to get there, but the thought of flying that far out of my way and then trying to make another connection in another airport was just too much at that point. I feared I’d be flying for the rest of the night.

Me: I’m not going to Houston to catch a flight to PORTLAND. I’ll find ANOTHER connection.

I got off the flight thinking that Newark would have plenty of OTHER ways to get to Portland (via Chicago? Denver? San Francisco?! SEATTLE!!!!!), there was nothing. Not_a single_connection_except__Houston. At that point, the only other options to Portland included spending the night in Newark (the AIRPORT, not a hotel on United’s dime), catching a 6:30am to Denver the next morning and then heading on to Portland; OR, getting a direct flight to San Diego that evening, spending the night in the San Diego airport (again, no hotel) and catching a flight to Portland early the next day. Both options had me spending 6 hours on an airport floor and arriving in Portland one half-day into my two-day trip.

“I’m 48 years old. I no longer spend the night on an airport floor,” I said to the universe, in my head. “Fly me home,” I said out loud, in tears.

20-20 hindsight/guilt-ridden/completely traumatizing/haunts me epilogue: “You should have stayed on the Houston flight,” Customer Service lady said in her sweet accent. YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED ON THE HOUSTON FLIGHT. Well, if I’d had more than 10 seconds to make a decision, I probably could have found out that Houston WAS the last way to get to Portland that night, and that I would have had an additional 10 hours of travel time, putting me in Portland at midnight, PST. Despite the fact that 10 hours of travel time would also have landed me in GREECE (if I’d gone in the OTHER direction), clearly, I could have done it. HOUSTON. It just sounded so_far_SOUTH.

The okay parts I keep trying to remind myself: While at the Customer Service counter in Newark, I learned that the Houston flight was DELAYED (no, they wouldn’t let me back on). In the end, I would have had 20 minutes to make the Portland fight. Who knows. Maybe I would have ended up stuck in Houston. The Customer Service lady’s SUPERVISOR, without even KNOWING I’d been crying, gave me a voucher toward another flight (I had originally been told I’d lose all my money). But the most miraculous part? My luggage actually showed up on the baggage carousel back in Providence! I dug so far into its contents to confirm that the bag was mine, it probably looked like I was feeling it up. Then, at midnight, I drove through Barrington with its white, snowflake lights lit up in the rain, and — for the first time in a LONG time — I actually thought it looked beautiful.

[1] Telling passengers that your connecting flight will wait for your delayed flight is one of The Biggest LIES of the airline industry and only complete MORONS actually believe that crap. <– le moron est MOI!

WAIT…there’s more!

MORALS OF THE STORY: 1. Don’t go west for only two full days, no matter HOW excited you are about the two direct flights with concentrated hours of solo time, a good book and airplane food; 2. When a Nice Lady is making your reservation on the “next flight to Portland,” ask if it’s direct, and — if it isn’t — ask where it connects through and how long the layover is there AND when you’ll arrive at your final destination. 3. Don’t ever fly from the East Coast after 6:30 AM; 4. Empty your bladder before getting off a plane, as you never know if you’re going to have to RUN; 5. Don’t make crazy, stress-filled announcements to an entire flight of seated passengers, as the Flight Attendants will probably think you’re completely fucking wasted, especially if they notice your wet your pants. <— JUST KIDDING! No one could tell!

The trauma_map


13 thoughts on “Travel! Trauma!

  1. Will it make you feel any better to learn that the flight from Houston that would eventually end up in Portland didn’t really happen? It had another stop in Denver, and it was going to be so late that all flights out of Denver to Portland would be gone. Ask the medical student who needed to get to Portland that night for a residency interview the next morning how mad he is. He’s going to try again next week. At least you could have ridden with him from Houston Bush to my house!

  2. Reminds me of that old New England phrase “can’t get there from here.” That now appears to apply to everywhere (not just Maine) when you take the airlines anywhere other than a few select large cities!

  3. Evidently you two were not fated to get to Portland via any flights that 24 hours. Miraculously, he got his nonrefundable ticket fare back.

      1. He’s attempting to fly to LA today, and had to push Portland back to January. He’s interviewing at Brown, too! :)

  4. Wetting one’s pants is something to which I can relate. Been there far too often. Make a decision as you’re tinkling in your pants and all stressed out? Sounds like listening to your inner guide served you well in the end. I rarely fly due to the cost and once went 14 years wanting to fly somewhere and having to stay put. So I could imagine silly me would have said, Yes! Get on another silver bird to take me somewhere else? Yes! And the closest bathroom is on the plane? Let’s do this! And then I would have been stuck. See? You’re so smart.

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