Despite having read a few weeks ago that lines at airport security and check-in have reached unprecedented lengths, I thought it would be fine to arrive at the airport one hour prior to my flight from Newark to Denver.
At 4:45am, my taxi driver, a loquacious NoLa-born man named Mitch, spirited me off to the airport. Buzzing with excitement about my trip, I listened avidly as Mitch told me tales of his large family, his Creole history, and how his mother healed his sister’s epilepsy with plants from a bayou near his home.
It was the best drive to the airport I could’ve imagined.
So understand the shocking juxtaposition of my calm and cheerful car ride with the sight of the departures hall crammed with harried travelers attempting to comprehend the digital check-in screens. I had less than an hour to check my bag and get through security.
At first, I idled behind one less intimidating line, but as time ticked by and the man at the machine appeared confused by his index finger, I realized I was screwed. It was time to take a risk.
I took the escalator up to the Premier Access check-in, a perk I’d once enjoyed when I’d been a silver elite member of United. (Sigh.) Reserved for the upper echelon of travelers who hemorrhage money on air travel, Premier Access offered the added bonus of almost never having lines.
Today, all the check-in screens were occupied, but beyond that, no lines. I chose a screen on the right, where two men stood, puzzled, poking awkwardly at the buttons.
CHECK IN HERE! PRESS THIS BUTTON TO START YOUR CHECK IN!
The men stared at the screen as if it was some evil trick, and then exchanged a frightened glance. What would happen if they pressed the button? Who could know or have any idea at all what that might entail?
Finally, his eyes closed tight, sweat beads darting across his forehead, one man dared.
The check-in process began, a slow and trepidatious dance of finger to screen. It was 5:45. My flight left at 6:30. Deep breaths.
Finally, an insurmountable obstacle appeared to the men in the form of this question:
HOW MANY BAGS WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHECK?
They glanced hopelessly at the cart of suitcases they’d wheeled over, then at each other. One man attempted to count the bags using his index finger, but appeared so distressed by this that he hung his head in defeat.
After what felt like hours, a United agent approached them and asked if they needed help. When they were finally checked in and sent off to hold up security, it was my turn. I whizzed through the first stage of check in, and felt pretty confident I’d make my flight.
THE TIME HAS PASSED FOR CHECKING BAGS.
Panic. Apparently, bag drop closed 45 minutes prior to my flight. 45 minutes. 5 minutes ago, I wouldn’t have had a problem. I silently swore at the two men with their small portable attic of crap, but really, there was no one to blame but myself.
Without warning, I became the Mr. Hyde of travelers, that frazzled and crazed woman making upsetting faces at the employees and sweating on everyone.
“I’m going to miss my flight! I have to check my bag!”
“Bag check closes 45 minutes before the flight. You’ll have to rebook.”
“OK, well can I do that now? Where? Help me!”
“You can talk to another agent.”
She sent me down the line to a much kinder woman who asked what my elite status was.
“Silver,” I lied, knowing that as soon as she punched my information into the screen she would see that I had no status whatsoever and could easily send me back down to the commoners, where I belonged.
Graciously, she said nothing and tagged my bag.
“Will it make it?” I gasped, stunned.
“I can’t guarantee that it will. Sign here that you acknowledge it may not get on your flight.”
I signed, then sprinted through security, down the corridor, and directly onto the airplane. Breathlessly, I panted in my seat. I was reminded of Luxembourg, and how I’d noticed before boarding that someone else’s suitcase was identical to mine, and how I’d spent the entire flight envisioning my bag being stolen by some stranger, and how upon landing, that had happened.
Instead, I envisioned a smooth arrival in Denver with my suitcase gleefully spinning around the carousel, waiting for me to rescue it.
Upon arrival in Denver, I immediately showed my luggage tag to a United baggage agent who tapped his keyboard and smiled at me.
“Yup, your bag was scanned through. It’s here. It might take about 30-40 minutes to come out on the baggage claim, but it’s here.”
I could’ve hugged him.
With a euphoric smile – uncomfortably insane to passersby, I’m sure – I headed for the baggage claim and – what! My suitcase was already there.
Luck has often been a stranger to me in my travels. Everything about this journey smacked of fortuitousness. And, in many ways, this small story is a microcosm of our week-long vacation: a lack of planning and miraculously stumbling upon joyful fortuities.
Categories: United States (USA)