Airline flight proves to be an adventure

Saturday, March 31, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:53 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008
Columnist Sharon Harl

Read the column that followed this: Airplanes part two: return trip anxiety

I’ve never enjoyed traveling when airports and airplanes are involved. That’s the main reason my husband and I bought an RV. I know that when I shut the door on our motor home and my husband releases the parking brake, our trip has begun. However, when I park my car in the long-term lot and wheel my earthly possessions

into the airport I have no idea what lies ahead.

Two weeks ago, a dear friend died and I needed to get to Philadelphia to be with the family. As soon as I heard about the death I called my son, the computer guru, and asked that he use his Internet skills to book the fastest, cheapest flights he could find. An hour later he called and said the best he could do was a flight leaving from Kansas City at 7:15 a.m. which flew to Fort Myers, Fla., which connected to a flight to Philadelphia.

“Isn’t Fort Myers a little out of the way?” I queried.

“Go figure,” was his response. “Apparently, a straight line is too easy.”

He said the good news was that he’d found a direct flight back to Kansas City with a connection to Columbia just 30 minutes later. The bad news, he muttered, was the price tag — a couple of bucks under $1,200!

I gave him my credit card number and he booked the flight assuring me that my ticket would be printed at the gate. All I needed was the confirmation number.

My husband and I arrived at the airport an hour before the flight was to leave, which I thought was sorta silly. I figured that at that hour the airport would be close to empty. WRONG!

The terminal was teeming with teenagers all going to Fort Myers. I forgot that not everyone had spring break the same week as Columbia.

When I entered my confirmation number in the computer, the screen said I needed to see an agent.

“Ma’am you need your paper ticket,” the woman said without smiling.

“I don’t have a ticket; I booked the flight online,” I smiled proudly.

“Well, you need to talk to your travel agent,” she said while staring at the screen in front of her.

“I don’t have a travel agent. My son booked the flight,” I could feel my stomach starting to churn.

“Look, I don’t have time to argue,” she snarled. “If you want to go to Philadelphia today I need $860 for the ticket.”

As my husband kissed me goodbye, he said he would sort it out at home.

The flight arrived in Florida on time, but as I walked into the airport I realized that something was amiss. Fort Myers’ airport is not very big but it was filled to the rafters with people. Every chair was filled. There were dozens of small groups sitting and lying on the floor — babies were crying and the air was filled with tension. I’d been so busy getting ready for my trip that I hadn’t listened to the national news. There had been a major snowstorm in the east the day before and hundreds of flights had been canceled. “Thank goodness I have my ticket,” I thought.

As I was about to enter the line at the security gate a guard stopped me.

“You need a boarding pass, lady.”

“Can’t I get one at the gate?” I asked.

“Sorry, you’ll have to get in line over there,” he said pointing.

The line was a football field and a half long. But the good news was my flight had been postponed for two hours.

An hour and 30 minutes later I was only 100 yards back when it was announced over the loudspeaker system that passengers on my flight could go to the front of the line. However, when I was handed my boarding pass I noticed I didn’t have a seat assignment.

“Uh, you’ll have to get that at the gate,” the man at the counter said without making eye contact.

At the gate, I waited in line listening to those ahead of me being told that they might not get out for two or three days.

Then it was my turn. I asked confidently for my seat assignment.

“Lady, we’re so overbooked I don’t know when you’ll get out of here.”

I had reached my breaking point.

“I’ve got to get to Philadelphia today,” I sobbed. “My friend is dead and I have to help with the funeral.”

Thank goodness there is still compassion in this world. After seating the passengers with real tickets there were three seats left. I was number two.

Note: This is a two-parter. The flight home was just as harrowing.

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