Bad beginnings on vacation
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A Bad Beginning

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By 10:00 in the morning, I was dressed, packed and ready to go, ten minutes early! That’s when the phone rang and the metallic recording said, “This is Southwest Airlines. We regret to inform you that your flight is delayed one hour…” I didn’t listen to the rest because it made no difference. One hour late meant we would miss our connecting flight in St. Louis. “This is not a good way to start our vacation,” I told my husband. Of course, there was no need to say this since my smile was upside down and already I was pacing.

“I’ll call and see what we can do,” Stuart said, knowing that my reactive self would never handle it with appropriate adult calm. He dialed the number the airline had left on the answering machine. “Hmmm. Yes… is that our only option? No… No, that won’t work… Okay, then we’ll go with the other option. Two seats…Miller…Thank you for your help.”

It’s not easy for me to be gracious when a big company is the one inconveniencing us. But Stuart, ever the calming influence, knows that it’s not the operator’s fault, and she is helping us. WhatEVER!

“So, what’s the new plan?” I asked, hands on hips, lips still curved down.

“We’ll take the 3:10 p.m. flight, but at least it’s direct to Phoenix. So that’s something.”

What’s two and a half hours? One might ask. Answer: Our transportation from Phoenix to Sedona, our final destination, leaves at 4:30 p.m. But a call to Ace Shuttle makes it easy. “We have a 6:00 p.m. van that can take you,” Rhonda the dispatcher, told Stuart. Okay so we get in a little late. Doesn’t seem too awful after all. Of course, we must call the Airport Shuttle to BWI first to ask if they could pick us up later. The best they can do is 12:30 p.m., not so terrible. Stuart was able to do all this in ten minutes! He da man!

But here’s the rub: Southwest Airlines does not have assigned seats. It’s first to buy, first choice. “Honey,” I whined, “we originally had A-59 and A-61 seats (first to board and sit together). We’re going to end up with “C” seats (last to board) and not even sit together, much less get an aisle seat.” 

Response: A shoulder shrug and comment, “Just get the new boarding passes.” As predicted, we had C-18 and 19, which weren’t actually next to each other because even and odd seats are not on the same side.

Pacing, I said more to myself than to Stuart, “This is SO not fair! It’s not our fault we got such lousy seats. They’re going to have to fix this. I mean it!” Patience has never been my strong suit, but I do possess a keen sense of fairness. My scheming began. “I’ll take my cane and say I need an aisle seat,” (even though the cane is a bother and my knee had healed from my recent surgery).

The next two hours were really a drag. I tried to read but could not concentrate. I really hate when plans go awry. I thought of that old adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” He must have been thinking He was in a comedy club! 

The Trip Begins

Finally, 12:30 p.m. arrived, and the shuttle was on time. In the van, Stuart said, “Here’s what you can do. After we check in, go to the assistance desk and tell them your husband needs an aisle seat because he has to stand often to relieve back pressure. Not only is this true, but you can blame me and not take your cane.” Stuart really hates lies, but he wanted me to be happy. Ever the diplomatic professor, he came up with a way for both of us to be happy.

At the desk, the attendant gave me the blue folder for priority seating. Feeling a little conspicuous, I told Stuart, “Let’s get behind all these wheelchair people. (There were at least a dozen handicappers lined up against the wall looking like they were facing a firing squad.) I was glad that at least most of the deserving would board before we would. This helped me to feel a little better. After all, it wasn’t the other passengers’ fault either that we had “C” seats. 

We waited while our incoming flight’s passengers deplaned. One wheelchair-bound woman coming off the plane noticed the wheelchair brigade (who could NOT notice?) and said, “Oh look! We’re a majority!” I love that woman.

“Let’s try to get front seats,” suggested Stuart. “That way we’ll deplane sooner and have a greater chance of meeting the van on time.” Ah, the best laid plans…

We were all loaded and ready to take off ten minutes early. Yay! My excitement was short-lived. We waited. And waited. And waited. Every time we started to move, a few seconds later we stopped. Finally, after half an hour, the pilot announced that there were “weather issues” in Boston that were preventing our original flight plan plus similar issues in D.C. preventing the alternate plan. He was awaiting instructions.

And the Trip Stalls

After another half hour, he announced, “Still no good options, and now we are surrounded by other planes waiting to take off.” This did not make sense to me. If we were there first, we should take off first, right? There’s that sense of fairness again. 

It was hot and stuffy and the air was stale. I was thirsty, and the kid behind me kept kicking my seat. I was so fidgety. “She’s got shpilkes” my mom used to say. But that was when I was a child. Now, it’s mostly back pain with nowhere to do my back exercises. When you’re pushing 70, you can’t sit for more than 20 minutes without something hurting. Not just sitting: walking, standing, whatever. When Bette Davis said “Getting old is not for sissies,” she knew what she was talking about! Anyway, I unhooked my seat belt and stood up. The flight attendant glared at me as if I’d stolen his last cookie. “Ma’am, you need to sit down.” 

“Why? We’re not moving and my back is killing me.”

“Sorry, you really need to sit.” I sat, but he didn’t look sorry to me. Asshole!

Eventually the pilot came on with another announcement. “It’s going to be awhile. Hopefully, it’ll be only another 30 minutes. But it could be more.” Now I stood, as did many others, some taking bathroom breaks. The flight attendants finally decided to offer water—so nice of them. 

At 4:30 p.m., Stuart said, “If we don’t take off by 5:00, I’m getting off the plane.”

“Well, I’m not,” I said, steadfast. “I’m not giving up our vacation. Besides, what will you do about your luggage? It’s not like they’re going to go through everything so you can get yours.”

“Hmmm. I do need my underwear. Well, you can send my luggage back when you get there.” I gave him my tart cherry look. “Ha, ha.” I opened my book.

Fifteen minutes later, the pilot announced we were “cleared for takeoff.” Everyone cheered but no one louder than I! It was 4:45 p.m. our time, and we arrived at 6:20 Arizona time, 20 minutes after we were to meet the van. I called Ace as we were landing. “No worries,” said the unruffled Rhonda. “We can hold the van. Do you have luggage?” 

“Yes, but that usually doesn’t take much time.” She told me where to meet the van and Mike, the driver. “What are you wearing?” she asked. I described my outfit and told her my husband was wearing blue shorts and a black jacket with white stripes on the sleeves. “Oh, honey, he won’t be wearing that jacket once you get outside.” Of course, she was right. Even Stuart, who’s always cold, would ditch that jacket in 100° Phoenix. 

More Tsuris

Back inside, the announcement was made to go to carousel #4. Of course, it was the one farthest from the door where Mike would be meeting us. The carousel was started, a few pieces of luggage came around, and then it stopped. I can’t say I was surprised. Why should anything go right today? Someone approached the area crowded with weary passengers and said it was “stuck” and they were “working on it.” Yeah, right. I imagined mini elves scuttering around trying to lift huge suitcases. 

I went outside to check on the van again, mostly so I wouldn’t have to stand around being annoyed. Right then, my phone range. “Are you there yet?” Rhonda asked after I’d answered the phone. 

“Yes, but the luggage carousel seems to be broken, and they’re trying to get it started again. It’s supposed to be just a few minutes. I’m so sorry about this.” I was truly distressed because I feared they had others to take to their destinations, and it was already a half hour past their departure time. The next van was 9:00 p.m.

But steadfast Rhonda said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get you to Sedona.” 

“You’re my new best friend,” I said as I breathed more easily.

She laughed. “They all say that.” I could believe it. 

When I returned to Stuart, one of his bags was there, but the machine had stopped again. I asked about it at the little information desk. “Well, they usually get it working pretty quickly,” the attendant said, “but if they don’t, they’ll put all the luggage on another carousel.” At this point, I was not convinced, but a miracle happened. The carousel gods heard my plea, and in a few minutes, my suitcase, its handle covered in bright yellow Velcro labeled “Miller” appeared. It felt like magic! 

We left as quickly as our ancient legs (now feeling five years older!) would allow, dragging our bags to meet Mike. And there he was, waving at us. It was 6:45 p.m. As relieved as I was to be on the final leg of our journey, I had a great fear that something else was sure to be ahead: car trouble, accident, fire (quite common in Arizona summers). But none of this came to pass. 

We were staying at the beautiful Briar Patch Inn located in the Oak Creek Canyon of Sedona. Our cabin was ready. The key was in the basket by the door with a lovely welcome note from Laura, a member of the Briar Patch family. It was 9:45 p.m. Arizona time, but my body knew it was 12:45 in the morning. In spite of my fatigue, I had difficulty sleeping and got maybe five hours of shuteye. 


I thought the worst was over, and mostly it was. But I can’t say I was surprised when 11:00 came and went, and the Enterprise people who were supposed to arrive to take us to rent a car, did not show up. Because it’s impossible to get cell service in the canyon, we asked Steve, another wonderful Briar Patch staff member, to call for us. “Oh, she’s on her way,” they told Steve. But, of course, this was not true. We waited 20 minutes for the arrival that should have taken 5. Obviously, they forgot about us. On retrospect, this seems like a small thing, but at the time, I was beyond any philosophical thinking.

Once we got the car, I was able to see the big picture: we were there, it was lovely, and we had two weeks to enjoy it. All’s well that ends well. Except for my extra gray hairs.

Read more by Linda Miller.

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  1. I bet there are more couples out there who have more airport stories to tell. As I read the story, I pictured your hands on your hips, your frown, you standing in the aisle of the plane, and all the funny faces you made trying to make it to your destination. 💜💜

    1. That’s the fun of reading a story written by someone you know well. So glad you like it. Another gal in our group is writing about her nightmare travel experience. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.