I’m writing this from American soil — Newark Liberty Airport. I was not supposed to have time to sit down and bang out a blog post. But I sailed through customs, dropped my bag off again, then gazed at the board to double check my Cincinnati flight, and there it was in red letters — CANCELED.
Up until then things were going swimmingly. My bag was 53.1 kg (.1kg overweight) and they didn’t bat an eye. No one gave my clearly overexpanded wheeled carry on a second glance. And to top it off, there was only one empty seat on the entire flight, and it was next to me. What did I do to deserve such blessing from the travel gods? Sure, the entertainment system and movies were rubbish, but as far as long-haul flights go, it was a relatively good one.
And then I got to America. After waiting for an unusually long time at the service desk, they informed me I was booked on the next flight to Cincinnati — leaving in over 4 hours. They told me because I was delayed for more than 3 hours I could get a free meal voucher from the service station. But they did not bother to tell me where the service station was. So I went up to a random United employee and asked. She directed me towards the exact agent who issued me my ticket. So I asked another guy. Same thing. But he said he would try to help me, and put his lackey on it. I have no idea who that guy was or what his job title was, but apparently he was a big shot. We chatted about London and the Bengals while his colleague struggled to get my voucher.
“It’s not much, like $7, but it’ll get you a free cup of coffee,” he told me.
His colleague finally returned with the voucher — and there were 2 of them.
“There’s two?” I said, thinking there was a mistake or reprint.
“Now you can get a whole cup of coffee,” he said with a wink.
Whoever that guy was, he was a shining example of what an airline employee should be. Friendly, helpful and efficient. And then I headed to security and met his exact opposite.
“Bag,” the guy said, pointing at my overexpanded carry on and then gesturing to that metal “will it fit?” guide.
“I know, I know,” I said, “but I’ll just gate check it.”
“No gate check.” he said.
“I’m going to Cincinnati and the plane is small so they always gate check all the wheeled bags,” I tried to explain.
“No gate check.” he said, motioning again to the metal guide.
“Just zip up this expander,” his colleague finally said, stepping in to help.
I knew it wouldn’t zip with my coat in there, so I opened the bag, took out my dressy coat, put it on underneath my puffy coat, zipped up my bag, and had a mental breakdown.
I have no idea what happened. One minute ago I was fine — I had $14 airport dollars burning a hole in my pocket and just got off a transatlantic flight in which I had two whole seats to myself. But something about that guy, the whole TSA charade and the thought of killing 4 hours in the airport after killing 8 hours on a flight just got to me.
I trudged through security, stripping off my two coats, trying to keep it together because if there’s one place you don’t want to appear mentally unstable its in airport security. I somehow got TSA pre-check (maybe because I already cleared security at Heathrow?) so I didn’t have to remove my laptop, shoes or liquids, which is good because I was such a mess I didn’t even think to. I wheeled my bag over to an empty gate, pulled myself together, and stuffed my coat back into my carry on and re-expanded it. I then got out my laptop, started watching a movie, put on my proverbial big girl panties and sucked it up. There are far, far worse airport situations to be in and being that it’s almost Thanksgiving and all, I should just be thankful that my coats, jumbo bags and I are safe.
Update: Half cup of coffee guy wasn’t kidding. I’m convinced Newark Airport’s food prices are based on the fact that at least 80% of their customers are using airport vouchers or company expense accounts. For $15 I got a small cup of berries, Greek yogurt, a small bag of popcorn and a chocolate bar.
Update 2: My overexpanded bag fit in the overhead. Suck on that “no gate check” guy.