Eight months ago, I wrote about my first encounter with the vengeful airport travel gods in “A Mere Mortal vs. the Airport Travel Gods.” In it, I recounted a tight transfer in the Frederic Chopin International airport in Warsaw, Poland as I was flying from Sofia, Bulgaria to New York. At the time, from on high the airport travel gods snickered, “let’s see how you do on this one, Mr. New-Yorker-I-know-how-to-travel-through-airports-better-than-you.” I beat them. But they waited patiently, until the time was right to challenge me again.
Successfully making connecting flights sometimes takes the skill and agility of a triathlete, especially given the penchant for airlines to book tickets with very little time between flights while they assure you that everything will be fine. That is, of course, until the gods intervene and there are flight delays the day you are flying.
My ticket to Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez in Lima, Peru [LIM] originated in Newark Liberty International Airport [EWR] with a connection in Miami International [MIA]. The first leg of the trip, from Newark to Miami, was scheduled to depart at 2:29pm and arrive at 5:30pm. The next flight from Miami to Lima was scheduled to depart at 6:30pm. Given that I would have no security or passport control to deal with in Miami, I thought this would be an easy connection [easier than in Poland], and would allow me to bask in the Golden Girls-ness of the Miami airport for a few moments before boarding the second plane.
While on the NJ Transit train to Newark Airport from Manhattan, I received a call from my travel companion, who was flying from Los Angeles to Miami to meet me for the second leg of the flight. He told me that he had read that there were flight delays coming out of Newark due to storms along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. I had the sinking feeling that the airport travel gods were back.
The first thing I did upon my arrival at Newark was to go to the agent and ask about any potential delays. She reassured me that all flights were on time, and that in fact the plane that was to bring me to Miami was en route to Newark, so the turnaround would be no problem. As I proceeded to the gate and enjoyed a wilted salad courtesy of “Ruby Tuesday,” I was confident that there would be no problem in making my connection.
When I saw the plane pull up to the gate at 1:50pm, I felt ever more confident that there would be no issues. Further, I noted that I was not the only person on my plane connecting to Lima, so, the airline would not want several people to miss a connection, right? We began to queue to board the plane, and were ready to go.
This is where things began to go downhill, or as they say in Australia, “go pear shaped.” As we sat on the plane, I was distracted for some time by the maps in the complimentary inflight magazine [I can never get enough of them], and when I woke up from my map-induced hypnosis, I realized that it was already close to 3:00pm and we were still on the ground. Damn those airport gods. They were indeed trying to screw with me again.
At this point I asked a very official looking airline guy, in a hat with a wing pin on his lapel [this is how I knew he was official], if there were going to be problems making the Lima connection given the delay. He laughed and said, “I love saying this…this is THE plane to Lima.” “So,” I said, “everyone in Miami will have to wait for us because this is the actual plane that will be flying to Lima?” “Yes” he replied. I felt an instant sense of relief mixed with slight disappointment, as the plane was not the most modern in the fleet [i.e. tube monitors rather than flat screens]. At least they were no longer showing “Two and a Half Men” on board since Charlie Sheen’s meltdown.
During the flight, because I am both anal retentive and skeptical, I took a moment while waiting for the restroom to talk to the flight attendants. I asked the two of them if they were going to be the crew for the Lima flight. This was my way of confirming the prior information I received without calling into question the official looking airline guy’s earlier comments.
“No” they said, “we are going to Aruba. But this is the same plane that will be going to Lima, so you will have to get off in Miami and then back on again.” This was all the information that I needed. I had confirmed the information from two independent primary sources and was then confident that the information was accurate.
We landed in Miami at 6:00pm, and upon turning on my mobile phone, I received a series of texts from my travel companion, the tone of which were similar to “DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON!” In this series of texts he gave me some bad news. Firstly, I was landing at gate D3 and the Lima flight was departing from D50, a very long distance apart. This would necessitate me taking an airport skytrain four stops. Second, the flight to Lima was still scheduled for 6:30pm and it was already being boarded.
Already being boarded? The airport travel gods had released the Kraken. At that moment I knew it had been them who had taken over the brains of the prior crew to conspire to tell me what I now knew to be lies about the plane to Lima. As I have done in the past, I kicked into mission mode and began to strategize.
I was still on the plane and the ping indicating that the passengers could unfasten their seatbelts, grab their bags and deplane had yet to sound. Mission mode. Focus. Trust no one. I was in an aisle seat in row 24. If I worked at the speed of lightning as soon as the ping sounded, how many rows could I skip by making a beeline in the aisle putting me in a better position to deplane even a few minutes earlier? Every moment was now precious.
The ping sounded at 6:05pm [remember the Lima flight was leaving at 6:30pm], and, like a Penn State coach at a kindergarden playground, I pushed aside old ladies and slow Peruvians to get what I wanted – and I managed to dart up the aisle to row 16. Skipping eight rows I pretended I didn’t understand anyone when they made snide comments like “what is he in such a rush for?” I didn’t have time to explain my history with the airport travel gods. Soon we began deplaning and I texted my travel companion with a final “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
I ran off of the plane with the speed of an American at an all you can eat buffet, and grabbed the first agent I could find. I confirmed the gate – D50 – and he confirmed that the plane would probably not wait for me. He was also an agent of the airport travel gods – I could tell by his fake Spanish accent.
I ran to gate D16 where I needed to catch the skytrain. I did not use the people mover because, for some reason, people do not move on the people mover. Instead, I ran. Then the gods had me again – I had to take an elevator to the skytrain. It seemed like it took hours for the elevator doors to close. Shortly thereafter, I was on the skytrain platform. When the skytrain arrived, I had four stops to go. It was now 6:10. The four stops were the longest in my life, and at each stop a snail of a person would motion “wait!” while another agent of the gods held the door for them and at least one physically challenged person. It was like the Island of Misfit Toys were all headed back to the North Pole via Miami International. The gods were pulling out all the stops.
I remained focused. After the fourth stop, I jumped out and took the stairs down to the terminals three by three. Gate D50 was just to my right. Knowing they may have lost this one too, the gods made one last attempt to slow me down. I had checked in online the prior day so I already had my boarding pass. However, when the agent went to scan it she told me that I was not checked in. She then made me go to the nearby counter and check me in [again?]. She was clearly a double agent as well.
Seeing the stress of the challenge on my face, the ticket agent quickly checked me in and said “go – go!” I then ran down the ramp and onto the plane. It was 6:16. The plane took off at 6:36.
The airport travel gods had lost, yet again, and I flew on to Lima, Peru.