We missed our connecting flight by ten minutes.
Ten measly minutes.
The woman behind the airline counter had a sour look on her face. She clearly hated her job, herself, her country and undoubtedly all of mankind.
Which, of course, included my wife and me.
"The next flight to Philadelphia doesn’t leave for another five hours," she said. "I can put you on standby, if you like."
Standby? Did I just hear her right? Freakin’ standby?
That was the moment I nearly lost it. The moment when a mild-mannered writer of thrillers came dangerously close to turning into a sleep-deprived, ax wielding mass-murderer. Fortunately, my ax had been confiscated at the security gate in L.A. along with my switchblade, my Beretta and my bottle of Silky Boy shampoo.
Before I became a published novelist, I didn’t really travel all that much. Honolulu once a year. An occasional jaunt to San Francisco or Vegas. A few cruises to Mexico. But what they don’t tell you when you sign up for this gig is that you’d better learn to pack economically and carry an inflatable donut, because — thanks to the zillion and one writers’ conferences and book festivals out there — you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting on your ass.
Not writing, unfortunately. But in planes, trains and automobiles.
And in terms of comfort and sanity, planes are by far the worst. (Trains, by comparison, are bliss.)
But back to O’Hare International, my favorite airport:
Being victim to a delayed flight/missed connection was bad enough, but what truly got my panties in a wad was discovering that not one single employee of the airline — including the woman behind the counter — seemed to give a damn about our dilemma.
And the missed connection was their fault!
Thankfully, my wife — who stayed amazingly calm throughout the entire debacle — managed to find the ONE sympathetic airline employee (okay, I lied earlier — so sue me) in all of Chicago and we were able to spend our unscheduled stopover in the VIP lounge.
True, they had nice comfy armchairs, mini muffins, surprisingly good coffee (which I doctored with Swiss Miss) and free (but agonizingly slow) Internet access, but none of it made up for the loss of time in Philly. And at that point, even fem bots offering free sexual favors wouldn’t have made me feel any better.
Thanks to the world’s worst airline service — and I’m talking a major carrier here — our much anticipated two-day vacation — prior to Thrillerfest in New York — was virtually cut in half.
And I had to wonder. Was traveling by plane always this bad? Or is the tanking economy, the price of gas, the general fear of job loss, personal bankruptcy and corporate indifference turning customer service into a steaming pile of doggy dung?
Not everywhere, it seems.
Because when we finally caught our flight, then a cab, and staggered into our quaint little Philadelphia hotel — 24 sleepless hours after we’d started this endless trek — the kind and patient gentleman at the front desk listened to our tale of woe, then smiled warmly.
"Not to worry," he said. "You’re home now."
And those six words reminded me of what’s so great about travel:
I know that those of you reading this have had similar — or even much worse — getting there experiences. So take a little time and vent.
Trust me, it feels good.