Sunday, April 9, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 114 ( frequent flyer - eccentricities and uncertainties)

Jottings - Slice of life - 114 ( frequent flyer - eccentricities and uncertainties)
Every seasoned flyer will have at least one; most likely many personal stories to share about flight delays, interminable waits at airports, missed flights and bags, bad seats, re-routing, long layovers, unexpected upgrades, bad food, ineptitude of flight personnel , so on and so forth. In fact, in most airport bars this is the most common subject matter of conversation - whose and which flight stories are more entertaining or excruciating than the other? But I believe the true sign of a frequent flyer lies in the composure and presence of mind they display during abnormal travel conditions. How well and how quickly can we accept the fact that running this complex network of air travel , including a zillion variables - both man-made and natural - can break down in so many different perceptible and imperceptible ways. While, as travelers, our focus is to reach our destination as painlessly as possible; to make that happen, an extraordinary number of factors have to miraculously fall into place each time. What we call “planning” is only a statistical probability that things are going to be alright, it is never an inviolable certainty. Once this oceanic feeling of acceptance becomes second nature, only then can anyone consider themselves mature travelers, not otherwise.
Consider this for a travel story. Not very dramatic, but illustrates my point. Until 9 PM yesterday evening Central time, My travel from Dallas to Atlanta today morning at 7 AM was not a cause of worry at all. I checked in on-line, got upgraded, gates were confirmed, cab was booked for 4.45 AM, bags were partially packed - and all I had to do was sleep tight for six hours and head home. It was a grueling and exhilarating week at work, and my customer and I concluded our engagement Friday night by dining at a popular Brazilian Steak house in downtown Dallas fort worth. It was “eat as much as you want” menu, and four of us did justice to money paid. My stomach was full to the brim with food and deserts, and when I reached the hotel room my body was pleasurably drowsy, aching to slip under plush blankets for a good nights sleep. Normally , I sleep really well, and don't wake up in the middle of nights. Especially, When I am tired and full of food, I sleep like a log. But for some inexplicable reason this morning, I woke up at 1 AM today with a start. I turned over, and my eyes fell on my phone besides my pillow which had couple of messages waiting to be read. I ignored it, went to the bathroom, and was about to go back to sleep. But before closing my eyes, out of casually curiosity I read the messages demanding to be read. There it was!!. My flight at 7AM stood cancelled, and the message stoically continued with the assurance that I was rebooked on the 9.30 AM flight. In a way, I was happy. I could sleep few more hours. I called the cab company and rebooked the cab for new timings and promptly went back to sleep. At 2.30 AM, i remember having an uneasy dream, and again woke up for the second time. Very unusual for me. There was something that bothered me about the message I had read. I switched on lights and re-read the text. For a moment I thought my eyes deceived me. But the text was clear. The 9.30 AM flight I was talking about was not for today( Saturday) but Sunday, which is tomorrow. Now I was wide awake, and my brain started processing options available to me with trained mechanical precision. I was clear about one factor, and that is - I wanted to reach Atlanta today morning. Once that decision was made, rest was only to implement the decision. I quickly got online and tried finding alternate flights. None was immediately available. All of them were booked. I tried various airlines and different combinations. Finally after 45 minutes, a flight showed up departing from an other airport in Dallas, which was a 30 minute drive from my Hotel. The time now was 3.15 AM and this flight was departing at 6 AM. I bought the ticket, and called my original airline to cancel the booking. I quickly got ready, got down to the lobby by 3.45 AM and tried unsuccessfully to call my cab. The front office couldn't reach them as well. Quickly I turned on Uber and requested a ride. Two Uber drivers cancelled on me before one arrived at the lobby at 4.15 PM. We rushed to the airport. Not surprisingly, there was a fairly long line for boarding pass and baggage check in. By 5.10 AM , I stood for TSA verification. I dont know if It was early morning enthusiasm of the officer on duty, or just one of those days, the young TSA law enforcer who looked at my driving license and boarding card quizzically decided they didn't match. He said my full name wasn't printed ( the fact is, it cant be printed) on the pass and it must be, if I need to travel. Not willing to argue my case, I cut across the queue , ran to the checking counter and requested the ladies there to print my name as accurately as possible. They tried, and printed a new boarding card with more than three quarter of my name on it. That the best they could in little time we had. I ran back to TSA clearance, he glanced at the boarding pass, smiled and allowed me in. Not eligible for TSA pre-check, because this was a different airline from what I normally fly, it took 15 minutes standing in line and getting my things screened. By the time I reached my gate, boarding had started. This was a low cost airline with no fixed seat number. When I eventually entered the plane, there was just one row remaining, with one seat - a window seat in the middle of the plane. It was a completely full flight. I plopped into my seat with a sigh of physical relief. Little did I realize I had more excitement in store for me.
I have a habit of settling down quickly with my head phones, books and iPad. As the flight took off, I was more or less ready for a period of study. When the plane reached cruising altitude within 10 minutes of take-off, the middle aged black American lady next to me, started palpitating and gasping for breath. He face was filled with sweat, and in between heavy breathing she blurted she had not eaten her blood pressure medicines and that she was empty stomached, and she needed a Sandwich immediately to pop in her medication. We obviously called flight attendants to help, but unfortunately this was a short flight of two hours, and all that they carried was basic snacks, which my increasingly suffering neighbor either did not like or cannot eat ( I could not ascertain which was true) in her condition. She vomitted thrice into disposal bags and all around. It was clear she was sick and needed to lie down and stabilize. But this was not a deluxe flight with room to sleep, nor were there enough free seats for that. Therefore, the only alternative for our patient to lie down horizontally is for both of us ( The other passenger beside her and me) to vacate our seats and allow her to stretch. She was a big lady, and sure needed the entire space. The attendants didn't quite ask us to give up our seats, but their imploring looks categorically suggested we volunteer. So twenty minutes into the flight, I was standing on the aisle with my book, reading glasses and headphones, and the one available seat in the entire flight was given away to my other fellow passenger. After all , it is not right for a lady to be kept standing. Men can. At least, thats the code of honor we believe in. So for rest of the flight ( 1.40 minutes) I travelled standing. An unique experience. Standing right in the middle of the flight with sympathetic looks from all passengers , flight attendants jostling me around as they catered and collected things, I kept reading and smiling as much as I could . I tried walking up to crew deck, but that was too small even for them, and accommodating me would have made even more difficult. During the last few minutes of landing, we pushed aside the legs of my now deeply snoring passenger, sat at the very corner of the aisle, with great difficulty pulled the seat belt around and waited for the Plane to halt at the gate. A medical unit came in and picked her up for further investigation.
Quite a morning , I must say. As i headed home in Kofi’s car, I realized I had not lost my cool or composure during this entire period. Yes, I was hurried, pushed to make quick decisions, change plans, but I did it because it ought to be done, and there is no reason to be upset or irritated about any of it. Years of experience traveling gives one a sense of vigilance and alertness, just a well trained marine know exactly what to do unconsciously when faced with life threatening situations, Seasoned business travelers instinctively adapt themselves to new and changing travel conditions. They are equipped to survive delays and disruptions. They act as it is appropriate in a given situation without emotional or psychological attachment. A zen way of doing things. When I reached home, I ate a bowl of oatmeal, had a hot shower and hit the bed. A good, deep sleep was all that was required to jump back to normal life - symbolic of the homeostatic lifestyle of a itinerant traveller.
God bless…
yours in mortality,

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