On a different plane

Woke up at 5am this morning and my relatives drove me for breakfast, then to the airport. The only problem is the food took a little longer to arrive than expected, then the rush hour traffic piled up. Also, we thought 30 minutes was enough to get through but turns out I had to check in my luggage 45 minutes earlier instead.
As advised on the American Airlines website, which I visited the night before, I tried to do a curbside check-in but was told it was too late and I should go into the airport to get it done instead.
As I joined the queue to the self-service line, another man simply walked to the front of the queue and stood in front of me, pretending not to have seen me. Grr! Finally it got to my turn and I went to an empty booth. I tried a self check-in by swiping my credit card as requested by the machine.
It’s likely that my travel agent booked my name differently (e.g. by putting my dialect name in front of my first name) as the system was first unable to find my profile. Then when I tried again, it hung! I waited for another 3-4 minutes then gave up. I went to the nearest airport official on duty. She looked at my boarding pass (which I had cleverly printed from my relatives’ computer), wrote something on it, and asked me to join another line that was serviced by people. I asked her if I could check my bag in as my plane was leaving soon. She said it was too late and that I should re-join the queue to get reassigned to a later flight!
This queue was longer than the first one. I told the officer at the counter of my situation and she re-assigned me to another flight, an hour later, that would take me to Dallas, and then to Austin. I had no choice because the next direct flight to Austin would be in the early evening.
My bag was officially labelled for check-in. I was told to go to the security counter at the end of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to deposit my bag. Again, I joined another queue which was long but at least it was moving quickly. Finally, when it came to my turn, the security officer looked at my bag and said, “It’s locked. Take your bag to the end.” Turns out this was the queue for unlocked bags! There was a separate queue for people with locked bags.
I deposited my check-in luggage and went upstairs for the security check. I thought it would be less stringent as it was a domestic flight. I thought wrong again. The queue was long but gradually started moving. Then it stopped again. An officer shouted “Halt!” or something to that effect, and one of the X-Ray machines stopped running. There seemed to be some excitement in that area. Then a group of officers rushed up. The passengers were wondering what was happening! Then we learnt it was an officer’s drill. Things went back to normal again.
I took out my laptop, jacket and Nike+ shoes and put them in a tray. Amazingly, those items passed the screening – even with a transmitter (turned off) in my left shoe! However, I forgot that bottled water was not allowed in my hand-carry luggage, so they removed it from my bag! At this point, my officer’s supervisor came up to her and spoke sharply to her, like “What’s wrong with you!?” My officer, a young lady, looked distraught and said she felt really bad about something. It was unnerving for me to hear personal issues being discussed by an officer during a security check! Anyway I asked her if I could at least drink the water she had confiscated from me (since she’s going to throw it away). She smiled sweetly but said she couldn’t do that. Fair enough. I shouldn’t have given up my bottle but drunk it up then gave it to her! đŸ˜›
Anyway, I made it inside but was thirsty and feeling slightly disrupted due to the fact that I would not be arriving in Austin in the early afternoon but late afternoon. I caught the plane to Dallas. It was an uneventful ride. When we touched town, the flight attendant announced the time in Dallas. I adjusted my watch and left the plane. I asked another officer which gate to go to, and she pointed me to it, saying I could walk as “I had lots of time”.
Having only 2 hours of sleep that morning, I sat around at the gate, reading newspapers and eating my sandwich lunch. I had another 2 hours before my plane to Austin arrived, I thought. There was some fuss at my gate as an earlier flight to Philadelphia was delayed due to snow. All the announcements made were regarding that flight. I hadn’t heard any announcements about my flight at 3.10pm. I got up and walked about for a while.
Then I looked at the airport screen and realised the time had just passed!!! Somehow my watch had not been updated and I had wandered around while my plane flew off!!!
So I rushed to the information counter and the lady there told me to take the Sky train to the other end of the airport where the next plane to Austin would take off. I did that. Naturally the gate that I wanted to go to, was the furthest of the stops (Murphy’s Law!). I made it to the gate at early 4pm, and was put on the wait list for the 4.50pm flight to Austin. It was painful sitting around and actually hoping that there would be no-shows so I could go on board. There were 14 people including myself who were wait-listed. Fortunately I think all of us were able to get on board in the end.
And so, I finally made it to Austin.
But that’s not the end of the story. I felt obliged to take an airport shuttle. However, there was no shuttle waiting in the designated area. I was so tired as I had been at three airports for half a day, that I took a taxi instead.
My taxi driver was a friendly man who kept talking to me throughout the ride. This is what transpired in a nutshell, during our taxi ride: I told him what SXSW Interactive was about. We discussed the future of gaming technologies. Then we moved into serious stuff – politics!
I asked which party he supported. He said he used to be Republican and supported the war at first, not because of any ‘weapons of mass destruction’ but because he said Iraq was giving incentives for suicide bombings. He doesn’t think much of Bush, and believes the US education system is catering to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing up the brighter kids. He felt that hardworking people like Indians and us Singaporeans should have priority in migrating to America instead of illegal immigrants who cross the border, earn US$5 an hour, have four kids costing US$12,500 each to educate, with subsidised housing from the state. He feels child molesters should be given the death penalty instead of a 5 year sentence. And he totally agreed with the caning of Michael Faye, because that was more likely to ensure he’d never vandalise cars again. (He still sounds pretty much like a Republican, eh?) And he thinks all the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls have, er, no hope.
Anyway… by that time we had arrived at the hotel. But it was the wrong hotel!!! He was so worked up by then, that he was concentrating on talking to me more than driving.
I pointed out that he had taken me to the Hyatt, not to one of the Hilton hotels which I had requested. So he turned back and finally I reached my destination. Altogether it was 5-6 hours later than planned.
Despite the screwups, I must admit that my terrible experience was made more tolerable thanks to the helpful and friendly staff at the airport.
What a day!!


  1. aimees_mom

    Hey Van,
    What a bummer… When Francis and I were in NY, My friend forewarned us not to lock our bags. Upon our Singaporean mindset horror, she simply said “Well, if we can’t open it, we bust it”.. hence we left all bags unlocked since. Yup, they need them unlocked in case security staff detect anything suspicious even after check-in – they may need to open the bag even without your presence.

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