Monday, August 02, 2010

RWA 2010 Day One: New Jersey's Seven Circles of Hell

Hello, dear readers, I have returned from Florida and am back in the land where humidity does not exist outside of a shower stall and air conditioning is optional. I'm still really tired from the trip, so only one blog post for today, but it's still a doozy.

Last year, when I went to D.C., I fell in love with airports. I liked the efficiency and organization, and while the plane rides could get boring at times I always felt like I was in good hands. After all, airport staff are used to herding large groups of stupid people all over the world, so I never have to worry about asking a stupid or unnecessary question.

I did not have a good trip coming into Orlando. No, my trip to Orlando effectively stomped on my schoolgirl admiration of airports and love of flying in general. I'm not saying the conference wasn't worth the trip, for it most certainly was, but that this particular trip from Edmonton to Orlando wasn't one of the worst travelling experiences I'd ever had - it was one of the worst experiences of my life, period.

It started out harmlessly enough. I'd planned sleep through a red-eye Air Canada 1:15 am flight from Edmonton to Montreal, and from there to Orlando, arriving at around noon, Florida time. There I would sleep for a few hours, and wake up refreshed for some socializing and sightseeing.

Let me enumerate the ways that this trip went horribly, horribly awry:

1) A Lightning Storm in Edmonton
I took a taxi to the airport, and noticed the repeated flashes of light outside. At first I thought it might be fireworks, or some other event, for the flashes of light seemed to come too swiftly and too close together to be lightning. Or so I thought.

It turned out to be an epic (and admittedly spectacular) lightning storm. Which meant my 1:15 am flight ended up delayed for an hour and a half.

2) As it turns out, I am neither young enough nor old enough to fall asleep anywhere
...including on a plane. Alright, I figured, I'll sleep in a bit more when I arrive in Orlando. So I watched Date Night on the TV screen in front of my seat and shifted at regular intervals to dull the tightening pain in my back and neck. Date Night's actually not a bad movie, I'd even recommend it.

3) Thanks to the delay, I miss my connecting flight to Montreal
I rushed off the plane and through security and ended up making it to the gate just in time - only, whoops, Air Canada had heard about my first plane's delay and had thoughtfully not put my suitcase on the flight - meaning even though I'd arrived in the nick of time, I was not allowed to board and this was the only direct flight to Orlando for the rest of the day. I didn't know what to do - would I be stuck at the airport for hours? I started to get a little upset - I was travelling by myself, I'd missed my flight, I didn't want to be stuck at an airport with no one to talk to.

However, the ever so prepared and efficient in-training Air Canada employee rescheduled me on a Continental flight to Newark in an hour's time, and from there to Orlando. Okay, I thought, So I lose a couple of hours. It's not the end of the world. She prints me out what I think are boarding passes and directs me to the Continental gate, telling me to let them know that Air Canada had rebooked me.

4) The Shiny Happy Brand-New Air Canada Employee Is an Idiot
I arrive at the Continental gate for the 10:30 a.m. flight to Newark, only to be told by a Continental employee that I need a paper ticket, and the printed thingees the in-training Air Canada employee gave me are not the tickets I'm supposed to have. I start shaking by this point - are they not going to let me on the Newark flight? The only other flight to Orlando was through a 6:00 p.m. flight to Toronto, and from there to Orlando.

The Continental guy gets on the phone to talk to the Air Canada people, and I stand there at the desk through what seems like the longest phone conversation in history, trying not to cry. I'm travelling by myself. I don't know what tickets I'm supposed to have, I only had what the Miss Air Canada Mouth Breather gave me. How was I supposed to know that wasn't enough?

Finally, after an interminable (to me) wait, the Continental Employees print out two more (of what I think are) boarding passes and let me on to the flight to Newark.

5) The Continental Employees Make the Shiny Happy Brand-New Air Canada Employee Look Like Stephen Hawking
I arrive in New Jersey and head for the gate to the 1:30 p.m.Continental Flight to Orlando, and try not to sigh over the fact that, if not for a lightning storm, I would have been sipping raspberry daquiris by the pool at the Swan and Dolphin hotel by now. I take out my business cards. I even start looking around for women I think look "authorish" - who knows who I might end up sitting next to? When the boarding call comes, I go up to the gate and hand them my boarding pass.

And am told that I need a paper ticket. Yes, the EXACT SAME THING the Continental people in Montreal said I needed to board the Newark flight was the EXACT SAME THING they FORGOT TO GIVE ME for the Orlando flight. And because I did not have my paper ticket (or "fim"), I would not be allowed on the flight.

This was the part where I burst into tears. I'd had no sleep - I'd left the house the day before at 10:30 pm to take the 1:15 am flight. I'd had nothing to eat. I was supposed to be in Orlando an hour ago and I started crying in public in front of a deservedly-embarrassed Continental employee. This wasn't fair. How was I to know what papers to ask for? I was going to be stranded in New Jersey because some 2.0-grade-point-average, shit-for-brains Continental employee who should go die in a fire thought, "Hurrrr, this woman needed a FIM to get on my flight, shouldn't I give her a FIM for the next one? Duh, nope!"

6) In order to get the proper ticket for the next flight to Orlando, I have to run the Obstacle Course of Hell
Okay, so the Continental guy reschedules me for the next flight to Orlando - the 2:30 flight. One hour away. Which is all well and good, except - in order to be allowed on that flight, I need to go all the way across the Newark airport (requiring the use of a shuttle), leave the secure area of the airport to get to the Air Canada Ticketing booth to have them issue me the proper FIM, go through US Airport Security for a second time, and find my gate - and all in one hour, or else I'll miss my flight and end up shit out of luck AGAIN.

I can practically hear the ticking noise of the clock in my head as I take off running, as my heart aches with a newfound sympathy for Jack Bauer of 24. I dash across the airport and hold back my tears and try not to hyperventilate as they issue me a FIM. I take off almost immediately, only to learn there's no gate number on my FIM. Where do I go? What do I do? I have less than an hour and I don't know where to go! I get to Airport security and there's a huge line, although the security guys must have some rule in their handbook for Hysterically Sobbing Canadian Women With Impractically Timed Connecting Flights because they let me skip the line, doff my sandals, and reveal all my electronics and carry-on liquids for the second time.

But still! Where is my gate? Where do I go? Tick-tick-tick-tick-Happiest-Place-on-Earth-MY-ASS!

7) The Employees of the Newark International Airport Can All Go Die of Repeated Spider Bites, Thank You Very Much
Because I have no gate number on my FIM, I ask several employees where to go, and then keep running. By this point rage and terror are eating a hole through the bottom of my stomach, my mouth is so dry I can barely swallow, my legs hurt and hurt because I am so tired of running, I'm so out of breath, but I can't miss this flight, I just can't, none of this is my fault, why do stupid people exist and WHY DO THEY ALL HAVE TO BE WORKING AT THE SAME AIRPORT TODAY?

I get to the gate - huh, funny, it's the same gate as my botched 1:30 Orlando flight. Well, GUESS WHAT? That's the gate departing to BERLIN. I'm at the WRONG FUCKING GATE, a gate that more than one MENSA-qualifying Newark Airport Employee directed me to.

I can't keep running, it's so painful by this point, I'm hyperventilating and crying and swearing. I'm running on fumes and nut-free granola bars and 24 hours without sleep. But I can't just stop running when I have a plane to catch, so I run-canter-limp over to a Customer Services booth. There, an elderly female employee gives me the right gate, staring at my bedraggled appearance over the tops of her glasses like I'm the world's biggest idiot for not knowing already.

I make it to the gate with 20 minutes to spare. I hand my FIM over to the employee, my face red and burning-hot, my lips sticky with dehydration, my breaths emerging in quick gasps. She looks at my FIM and goes "Um," causing me to launch into a fervent declaration that I'll buy another fucking ticket, I'll pay anything to get on this plane, I have my credit card right here, even as inwardly I promise that if I don't make this flight I'm going to hang myself in an airport bathroom with a duty-free silk scarf after scrawling the lengthy list of my woes on the mirror with my lipstick.

It turns out it's not necessary. My FIM goes through. I sit down at the gate as my legs turn to jelly and I chug down water, so much water, even as the horror of my experience continues to gnaw at the bottom of my belly like an ulcer. I spend the flight shaky and wired, eager to relax while at the same time desperate to remain alert for whatever else that's going to go wrong. Maybe the plane will crash before reaching Disneyworld - maybe the plane will crash in Disneyworld, taking the Magic Kingdom castle down with it in some sort of grotesque cosmic joke - See! AnimeJune did make it to the Magic Kingdom! Ha ha ha!

But my flight arrives in Orlando without a hitch and, even more surprisingly, so does my luggage. I was sure after all those detours and reroutes it was bound to turn up in Albuquerque or thereabouts. I get my shuttle tickets and step out into the wall of Floridian heat and humidity, which I find oddly relaxing and soothing after the chill artificial neutrality of airport atmosphere. I even meet some romance authors on the shuttle. I take pictures as the shuttle passes by Downtown Disney, and I make it to the Swan and Dolphin by 7:00pm. Seven o'clock, instead of noon, after taking a one a.m. flight. Arriving too late to make dinner with SuperWendy, Rosie and KristieJ, I nevertheless meet Keira Soleore at the checkout for the first time.

I wander the hotel to get my bearings - it's a big place, and in the evening full of parents hauling luggage and limp, browned children. I eventually make it down to the Fountain, a burger-bar place in the Dolphin, and a place where they actually ask you if you want your hamburger rare (the answer, by the way, should ALWAYS BE NO - food poisoning, hello), and I order a greasy burger, chips, and cream soda. From there, I take my food and limp to SuperWendy's room, where reuniting with her and KristieJ and Rosie goes a long way towards recharging my emotional batteries.

Okay, so I didn't die. I didn't miss anything, either - I'd never planned to attend the parks on Monday - and I still have Tuesday and Wednesday to sight see. I'm in Orlando in time for RWA 2010, and that's what counts.

And hey, at Newark I got to see the Empire State building.


  1. *rubs back soothingly*

    Aww, sweetheart. Traveling sucks. And it's worse when the people you're dealing with don't know squat.

    Glad you made it OK.Can't wait to hear more!

  2. I was horrified when I heard it in person, and it's still up there in the top 10 of awful airport stories I've heard. Glad you made it to RWA in spite of the Great Newark Caper!

  3. Oh. Man. I'm so sorry this happened! Wow, girl. Just wow. I'm glad you finally made it, and safe on top of everything else. Hope you thoroughly enjoy the rest of your stay!!

  4. that sucks, sounds like my recent experience with US Airways on my trip to ireland, what a joke that was!

  5. OMG, what a horror. The apathy from those airline reps just makes you want to punch 'em in the face, dunnit?

    So sorry to hear about the nightmare, but must admit it was great to meet you in person.

    I don't suppose you'll be taking the Newark express for next year's conference...? ;)

  6. Bummer!!!

    What were they giving you if not boarding passes?

  7. I'm still feeling your pain over such an upsetting start to the week, but can I say again that you rock a little red dress!!

  8. What happened to you was terrible but I hope that the conference made it all up. I'm glad you made it.

  9. Dude, that sucks. It certainly didn't show Newark Airport or Air Canada employees in the best light, eh?

    However, your retelling of it is absolutely brilliant. It's SCARY traveling alone, isn't it??

  10. Now I need a drink, and I only read it - didn't have to experience it first hand like you did!

  11. I've had similar experiences. I think 2 years ago I wasn't fully recovered from a bad cold and the running in the airport triggered a coughing fit on the plane that lasted 30 minutes. I could not stop. My lungs wanted to die. Ug what a pain it is when flights are delayed and the airport is too huge.

  12. I'm so sorry about Newark airport. Imagine if you went through JFK or LaGuardia? Those two airports are ten times worse.

    I've flown out of Newark twice in July and had no issues. If I were you, I would have gone ape shit.

  13. Kati --> Yes, if I had to choose not having that experience and missing RWA, and having that experience and having RWA, I'd choose the latter.

    Lynn --> At least it's over, LOL!

    Kmont --> Don't worry, I did! :D

    Reb --> Thinking about Ireland brings up my second-worst airline experience, although it was brought on by my own foolishness. I ate a cream-filled eclair at an Irish airport before the return flight to Calgary and got trapped with food poisoning on an 8-hour flight.

    Elaine Golden --> No no no no . LOL. I'm going to Ireland next year, possibly right AFTER the conference, so I may want to stay in New York to get a direct flight there.

    MaryK --> I have no idea. I still don't know. I think they were supposed to have filled out a special form for a replacement ticket or something.

    KristieJ --> red dresses make everything better!

    Antonia, Amy, Wendy, Janicu: Thanks for the support. :) Trip back wasn't too good either, but more thanks to out of control stuff than incompetence.

    Katiebabs --> I don't know about you, but I would characterize sobbing, hyperventilating and swearing as apeshit. LOL.

  14. Anonymous8:21 AM

    Comment a bit late, but your story make me laugh, not in the funny way though!
    I remember my own similar story with the LA-NY-London-Middle_of_nowhere flight. LA flights are always late, so my NY flight changed but, just like in your adventure, the tickets they printed were not ok.
    And then I was not allowed to board, unless I checked in again, but the check-in was closed... and so on and so forth. The personnel had the temerity to accuse me of being "illegally present" in the duty-free area. Now you know what they say about a cornered animal/woman scorned... Instead of crying, I got pissed off and threatened a law-suit for the airport for putting me in such a situation. Big scandal!!!
    Needless to say I got a reschedule for the next plane(s), and FINALLY, after >36h of nerves and no sleep, I arrived to the final destination. The cherry on the story was when I asked my [now ex] boyfriend to pick me up from the airport at 2 am - he said he was too tired (after a day of twiddling his thumbs) and that I should get a cab.
    Well, I suppose this is what memories are made of.