Stand By

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time. There was a short line at baggage check-in and an equally short line through security. We arrived at our gate in plenty of time as well and bought breakfast at the nearby Whataburger. We had been a little tense on our way there. I had not gotten much sleep. Grace, my sister-in-law had gotten considerably less. I had added to the frustration by forgetting to confirm my reservation Monday morning, forgetting indeed until late, late that night. Since we were flying Southwest, that meant Jane and I were late in the boarding order. We were unlikely to get to sit together and might even have trouble catching our connecting flight in St. Louis.

So, at Whataburger, we sat back and relaxed. We joked about ways that Grace could try to keep the seats next to her open for us. We knew we had plenty of time. But we had a problem. Neither adult was actually awake. Grace was fully aware of what time it was but mistakenly thought our departure time was 20 minutes later than it was. I knew exactly when our departure was but was paying no attention to the current time. As we ate our breakfast, our fellow passengers boarded the plane not 30 yards from us. And flew away.

Eventually, we decided it was time to go sit by the gate so we could hear better. Grace confirmed that the screen showed our flight. We sat and waited. Some distant part of my brain noted that all the people were gone. That was for an earlier flight, some equally distant part answered. Eventually Grace commented that it seemed like they should be calling us to board now. I looked at my watch to see that it was 6:50 about the same time she remarked at the paucity of passengers waiting at the gate. When I took a closer look at the screen, I saw that the flight had departed. I’d like to say that woke us up, but really, it didn’t.

Southwest took care of us and directed us to another gate to board a flight to St. Louis, warning that our prospects from there were bleak and would likely involve us arriving in Washington, DC late in the evening. It would be much later before I would think to wonder about our luggage.

In St. Louis, the helpful man tried to find a way to get us to Reagan National earlier. But the cold hard fact was that the next flight did not leave for nearly six hours and was full. We’d be on stand-by with very little hope of getting on board. I had taken a nap between Dallas and St. Louis so was feeling a bit more like myself. “What about Dulles?” I asked. Surely getting to some part of DC was better than sitting in Missouri.

That query got us back on the same plane from which we had just disembarked, now on its way to Chicago, where we were assured we would easily get to board a plane leaving for Dulles just before noon. We then learned that the folks in Chicago were not quite as helpful. They didn’t seem as confident that we would get that flight as the nice guy in St. Louis. The best I could get was a “probably”. But then they received word that the plane had a weight issue. They might not let us on. We also learned that we couldn’t find out anything about our luggage without going to a baggage claim office, which we couldn’t do there without risking missing the flight.

I had met a woman in the bathroom who had been placed on stand-by for the same flight. I saw her later with a boarding pass and she encouraged me to talk to the ladies at the desk again. They said they were not approving stand-bys and didn’t seem to hear me when I said that they had for “those two ladies over there”. Then we started getting anxious. We moved to seats right next to the desk, where I suspect we sat staring at them like hungry wolves.

A lady with a stroller approached and asked about the flight too. She was given the same answer as us. At this point, a war started up in my head. There was a woman with a two year old trying to board a plane. Compassion told me that she needed the flight more than we did, that we could better handle sitting at the airport for a long time than she could. Survival instincts growled we were here first.

The lady at the desk started a conversation with the lady at the gate that was broadcast over the speakers. We looked back and forth at them as they discussed our fate. We must have looked like we were watching a tennis match. Back and forth, back and forth. Eventually, the gate lady held up 5 fingers. Room for five people. We jumped up and gathered our stuff. The desk lady sounded like she said a name – Barbara? Oh, no! What if other people are waiting ahead of us? She was printing stuff out. And pointedly not looking at us. My heart began to sink. And then she turned to us and said, “You are in luck, ladies.”

With that, we boarded the plane. The last leg of our flights was relatively uneventful. I was sitting next to someone who did not smell nice and we hit some turbulence, but I was just happy to be getting to DC without too much delay.

When we left the plane at Dulles, I realized that our adventure was really just beginning. Up until then, our fate had been in the hands of others. Other than deciding to try for Dulles instead of Reagan, we had simply asked for help and done what we were told and waited. Now we were at an airport unsure of where our luggage was or how to get to it.

“Ok, Grace,” I said, “we are going to go down to baggage claim. I’m going to ask if they can help determine where our luggage is. You call the hotel and find out if they have a shuttle from here.” Only, there was no one at baggage claim. The sign said to go to the ticket counter. While Grace and Jane watched the luggage return from our flight on the (very) remote chance that our luggage had somehow followed us, I went searching for the ticket counter.

There, I was assured that our luggage had made the journey to Reagan and was told there were shuttles available. At first, I didn’t understand that they essentially meant taxis that hold lots of people and go wherever you pay them to take you. But for $49, we were on our way to our original destination airport. Luck made us the second drop-off from the shuttle.

We walked into the baggage claim office and I said, “We sincerely hope that our luggage arrived about 11:30 this morning. We missed our flight but are here now.”

“From Dallas?” he asked. Our hearts lightened. Next thing we knew, we had our luggage. Our luck held out in that the hotel shuttle arrived within moments of us reaching the waiting point. And then ours was the first hotel stop. And then the hotel lady informed us there was a complimentary dinner in less than an hour, complete with a free glass of wine. Then she gave us too many dinner passes so that complimentary glass of wine became two glasses of wine.

It was if the cosmos was compensating for the rough and stressful day with a nice, relaxing evening. Bedtime was another story all together, but the evening… the evening was nice.

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