I travel a lot. Most of the time on airplanes. As a frequent traveller I’ve had my share of good experiences and bad, but what I’ve learned above all else is that you have to have a good attitude. That’s not to say that a friendly smile will ensure that your travel goes picture perfect — it won’t. You will still experience delays, missed connections, and rude TSA agents. But staying positive means that you will save yourself a lot of stress throughout what is more often than not a less than pleasant affair (especially if you’re flying coach, like me).
Take my most recent travel as an example. As I often do, I was checking in at PHX for my flight to London Heathrow, with a connection in San Francisco.
Welcome to US Airways automated check-in kiosk! Please swipe your passport to begin. I went through the motions, opting to not pay $35 to upgrade to a non-middle seat, when suddenly, “We cannot process your request. Please see a ticket agent to complete check-in.” The ticketing agent was happy to help, as they often are but, puzzled, said she’d need to speak to her supervisor.
No problem, I thought. If anything goes horribly wrong, I’ll just demand a First Class upgrade! Every time I travel, I secretly hope that the airline screws up royally and decides that the only way of appeasing me is to upgrade me to First Class free of charge for the trans-Atlantic portion. Hasn’t happened yet.
“Well, you’re checked in,” she said pessimistically, “but you have less than an hour to connect in San Francisco. Who booked this flight for you?” she asked.
“I did. Online.” I explained.
“I don’t know why they let you book this flight. Normally we require two hours for connections onto international flights.”
At this point I needed to get on with the first leg of my journey, so she wished me luck, and on I went. I was probably not as worried as most people would have been. But, there was nothing I could do to make up any more time. The best I could do was hope for an early flight into SFO and short security lines.
Unfortunately, as is typical with airplane travel (especially when you need a break), things didn’t go according to plan. As our aircraft sat on the 112 degree F Phoenix tarmac, its interior heated to more than 90 degrees*, requiring that the crew cool it down before allowing boarding to begin. The plane took off 30 minutes after its scheduled departure time.
Magically, thanks to this new trend whereby airlines seriously overestimate flight times in order to have a better on-time flight record, wheels touched down at SFO just one minute after our scheduled landing time. I still had a chance to make my connection!
Even more magically was that I just happened to be sat next to a woman who worked at SFO and knows the lay of the land. “You’re connecting to Terminal 3,” she informed me, “the international terminal.”
“I have to change terminals? That will take a lot of time! Do I need to take the SkyTrain?”
“Yes, but it’s not far,” she assured me. “Follow me. I’ll show you where to go.”**
One of the flight attendants, Robin***, was also concerned that I wouldn’t make my flight, and was as shocked as the ticket agent that I was even allowed to book it. “I wish there was more I could do!” she said. “You’re connecting with United? Direct to London? Tell you what, I’ll call their gate agent and tell them you’re on your way!”
As soon as the flight began deplaning, woman in 10C and I were on our way. “Take the SkyTrain to G,” she said, “And, good luck!”
Everyone was pulling for me. And, hey, if I missed my flight it’d be the airline’s fault. Grounds for a First Class upgrade? Doubtful, but a girl can dream.
After a not-so-horrible trip through security for the second time that day, I began my sprint down the seemingly never ending corridor that is International Concourse G. Big backpack bouncing against my back and beads of sweat beginning to form on my forehead I hear an announcement come over the loudspeaker.
“This is the final boarding call for flight 930 direct to London Heathrow!”
“Again, this is the final boarding call. All passengers wishing to travel on flight 930 direct to London should be aboard the aircraft now!”
I pumped my legs a little faster and ran down the escalator leading to the gate. Passport in hand, I ripped out my boarding pass and began victoriously waiving it in the air.
“Dum da da DAAA!” I announced, “I made it!!”
The gate agent was not amused. I explained the short connection situation, but he didn’t seem to care. Whatever! I made it! The fact of the matter is, though, I had no control (minus, of course, a gold-medal worthy several hundred meter dash) over whether or not I was going to make this flight. I very well could have spent that night sleeping on a bench in SFO waiting for the next available flight home.
Am I glad I made that flight? Darn right. Would I have been fussed if I’d missed it? Maybe a little. But the thing is that I knew the situation and accepted my fate from the get go. And I honestly believe that my positive attitude was a key ingredient in stirring up sympathy from 10C and Robin, two people who I couldn’t have done this without.
So, after all that, I managed to make my flight. The moral of the story? Stay positive! Oftentimes you’ll be dealt a crappy travel day. Don’t fight it; that’s a losing battle. Know that these things can happen, and hope for the best. And if you get stuck somewhere overnight, hope they have free wifi.
*Fun fact: the magic number below which the temperature of the inside of an aircraft must fall before passengers are allowed to board is 85 degrees F.
**I never did get that woman’s name, but to any high up US Airways staff: she was sitting in seat 10C on flight 409 PHX to SFO on August 16th. Give this woman some free miles or something!
***Robin’s name I did get, as it was on her badge. Hey, US Airways! Give this woman a raise!