Monday, May 18, 2015

"Making Connections"

Backstory:  (There is always a backstory, have you noticed?)

When we are traveling, we like to use our “air miles” to upgrade to “Business Class”, so we will not be crippled up – knee-cramping issues for Dr. M, or in my case, arriving at our destination curled over, a human “C”, arcing towards the pavement. 

Unfortunately, when applying for upgrades, one is required to play entirely by the airlines’ rules. 

The airlines hate me.  And, apparently, everybody else. 

Get this one. 

On my recent visit to Toronto, in order to qualify for an upgrade, I had to depart Los Angeles at five o’clock in the morning, and have a layover – in both directions – in Chicago.  

Five o’clock in the morning!  I could almost hear the airlines people diabolically rubbing their hands together and cackling, “Nyah ha-ha-ha-hahhhh!”

I hate it.  But I did it. 

My itinerary indicates a forty-five minute layover in Chicago, meaning that although, as I discovered when I got there, reaching my connecting flight’s “Departure Gate” requires a brisk walk of close to fifteen minutes, I would have ample time to make my connection.  

End of backstory.


My Toronto trip is over, and I am heading back to Los Angeles.  As I await my departing flight to Chicago, the electronic board suddenly indicates that that flight would be delayed, and it was now scheduled to leave Toronto thirty-seven minutes later than was originally indicated.

I immediately do the math.  Forty-five minutes – the length of my layover in Chicago – minus thirty-seven minutes – the length of the delay.  Owing to the fact that my Chicago-bound flight would not be departing on time, I would now, I computed, have eight minutes for what I was aware was a fifteen-minute “Gate-to-Gate” walk.

My immediate conclusion: 

I am not going to make it.

I go up to the desk and immediately arrange a “back-up” reservation, extending my layover in Chicago by two hours, and leaving my already-checked luggage in possible limbo.  If luggage could whimper… now would be precisely the right moment. 

I decide, however, to retain my earlier reservation as well, in the unlikelihood that I could complete the fifteen-minute “Gate-to-Gate” transition in eight minutes.  Who said I am not an optimist?  I mean, who knows?  Maybe if I ran…

Wait a minute,

Me, running?  

We take off from Toronto, almost forty minutes late.  I now have five minutes to complete a fifteen-minute walk.  (Appropriate accompanying mood music:  “Am I Blue?”)

During the flight to Chicago, however, an idea begins formulating in my mind.  I get up from my seat, and I proceed to the “galley” to consult with the flight attendant, making certain not to “breach the cockpit”, as I had once done by accident, risking getting myself incarcerated for going to the bathroom.

“You know those golf cart things that you see in the airports?  I’ve got a really tight connection.  Do you think I could order one of those things?”

The flight attendant explains… I actually forget what she explained.  All I remember is the word “No.”

Having exhausted my one imaginative notion, I return to my seat, resigned to the inevitability of missing my connecting flight to Los Angeles.

Ten or so minutes later, the flight attendant – whose name I would later learn is Sharon – comes down to my seat, and asks,

“Would you like me to get you a wheelchair?”

My immediate reaction is “No.”  Not being ambulatorily handicapped, commandeering a wheelchair would be cheating.  My answer to Sharon, however, is, “Yes.”  Apparently when you’re desperate, cheating is suddenly a viable alternative.  And remember.  The wheelchair wasn’t my idea.  It was Sharon’s.

Sharon heads back to the “galley”, and she picks up the phone, returning later to confirm the arrangement.  The wheelchair would be waiting for me in Chicago.  It was still no “slam-dunk” making the connection.  But now, I at least had a shot.

The plane lands in Chicago.  Situated in upgraded seating, I am the first passenger to exit the plane.  I step into the “Jetway”, where I had seen waiting wheelchairs in the past…

No wheelchair.

I race down to the “Departure Lounge”, where I had also seen waiting wheelchairs…

There is no wheelchair there either.

There had obviously been some kind of snafu – my just punishment for attempting to cheat.

Having no alternative, I begin to run, hoping to get from Chicago “Arrival Gate” G6 to Los Angeles “Departure Gate” K9 before they close the doors of the departing aircraft. 

Ten seconds into my sprint (such as it was), I see an airport attendant rolling a wheelchair in the direction of Chicago “Arrival Gate” G6.

“Is that for me?” I call out.

The attendant looks confused, thinking,

“Why would a person who’s running need a wheelchair?”

I quickly explain my predicament.  Immediately understanding, the attendant helps me into the wheelchair, and he fastens my seatbelt.

Then, like miscreant O.J. Simpson used to do in the Hertz commercials, although not pushing a wheelchair, the attendant careens crazily through the airport, calling,

“Excuse us!  Excuse us!”

as he proceeds.

Some pedestrians politely move out of the way.  A few of them don’t.  Either because they don’t feel like it, or because they don’t speak English, making “Excuse us!  Excuse us!” entirely meaningless to their ears.

We are proceeding down the concourse.  Breakneckingly fast.  I mean, if pushing a guy in a wheelchair were an Olympic event, this attendant had a credible shot at a medal.

Suddenly, I spot the K-9 “Departure Gate” in the distance.  I see passengers gathered around it.  It turns out, the plane I had despaired of not reaching on time was in the final process of boarding.

Using the last of his “Excuse us-es”, the attendant insistently pushes me forward.  Ignoring the person in the wheelchair, the woman in charge of boarding inquires of the airport attendant,

“Can he walk to the plane?”

“Yes”, I reply, uncoupling my seatbelt, rising from my wheelchair, and proceeding – without any assistance – through the still-open departure doors.

(After slipping the attendant an appreciative gratuity.)

Fastening my seatbelt, my blood pressure dropping back down to normal, it belatedly occurs to me that maybe that wheelchair I had grabbed had not actually been for me.

My mind flashes on this bewildered handicapped passenger, wondering why there was no wheelchair waiting for them at the “Arrival Gate.”

Ah, well.

I was on my way home.


JED said...

My first thought was about the other passengers at Gate K9 witnessing the "miracle" of a crippled man suddenly able to walk. That's a little like parking in a handicapped parking space isn't it?

I'm glad you made your flight but it reminds me of a recent flight I took with my 90 year old mother in her wheelchair. I had to push her and carry our bags myself because the helpers provided by the airline were all busy. If we'd have waited for one to be free, we would have missed our flight. I wonder if they were all pushing otherwise able-bodied people around the airport?

Vince Cater said...

It's the airline's fault for putting you in the late position, so they should provide a solution.

Happy Victoria Day!