And Automobiles


Dear Readers,

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be frugal.

I had great hopes for today. Instead of paying a considerable fee last week to change my departure city from Philadelphia to Newark and going through the hassle of figuring out a new schedule, I decided to take the train to Philadelphia to stick with my original flight itinerary. I thought that a few more hours wouldn’t make much of a difference. And they wouldn’t have, except that once I was actually in Philadelphia, delays made me alter my plans anyway.

Here’s the woeful tale. My flight on Northwest was booked to leave at 1:30. My time in Philadelphia started with a little hitch when I discovered upon arrival that I had arrived an hour earlier than necessary and thus would have 3½ hours to kill before my departure. That was all right – I was looking forward to some lazy down time. Once through the security checkpoint, I spent an hour at the newsstand, reading trashy magazines. I ate the chicken tikka I’d brought with me for lunch (it was delicious). As I bought a bottle of water, the 12:30 flight to Detroit boarded and took off. I thought for a split second that I should perhaps have taken that one instead, but my flight had been listed as on-time and my luggage was already checked, so I couldn’t switch over even if I wanted to. I didn’t mind waiting another hour, though. Even if my 1:30 flight would wind up being a little late, my layover in Detroit was scheduled to last 2 hours – plenty of wiggle room.

Around 12:45, to make sure I was at the right gate, I took a glance at the departures screen. Suddenly, my 1:30 was reading 3:49. Uh-oh. I wouldn’t make my connection! I called my assistant to ask her to call the airline’s hotline and/or my travel agent to explore various solutions. I, meanwhile, went online (I was sitting on the airport floor by this time) and searched Amtrak’s website to see what airports I could make it to by what times, so that we would have more options if need be. My assistant got an airline agent on the hotline and called me back, one phone pressed to each ear. We settled on a new itinerary: fly tomorrow night out of Dulles to Amsterdam, then catch the same flight I had been scheduled to take to Bergen, but one day later. I would spend the night in Baltimore, enjoy a good night’s sleep and some solid meals, and practice both today and tomorrow. None of my Norwegian commitments would be impacted. This was a good solution. I headed down to the Northwest ticket counter to recover my checked bags and rebook my flights.

When I explained the change of plan to the woman at the counter, she looked at me skeptically. She didn’t seem to be in any hurry and refused to return my bags.

“Didn’t you hear your name called at the gate?” she demanded, peevish.
“No,” I replied, “I was there the whole time, but they didn’t call my name.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, if you’d talked to them, you’d know that we rebooked everyone on the Detroit flight on a USAir flight to Amsterdam at 6:30 tonight.”
“Ok, but when does that get me into Amsterdam?”
“8:30 am.”
“Oh. And how do I get to Bergen then? Because I have to get to Bergen eventually, and the agent on the phone said that there were no seats that day on any flights besides the one I was supposed to be on, which I can’t make if I arrive at 8:30.”
“You take the flight you were scheduled to take and keep your current seat.”
“It looks like I’m supposed to be on board at 8:40 in Amsterdam.”
“Oh no, that’s just the boarding time. The flight doesn’t leave until 9:40, so you’d have a full hour and ten minutes to make that connection.”

Huh?

I point out, “The thing is, I’d have to go through the passport line and find my gate, and if I were any bit late on arrival, there would be no way to get on that flight.”

Silence.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. That’s a huge airport, and it’s hard to just find where I’m supposed to go. If I missed that one flight… Couldn’t I just take the itinerary I arranged over the phone, leaving out of Dulles tomorrow? Can I get my bags back so I can do that?”

Silence, again.

Trying another tack, still calm: “I mean, do you know the Amsterdam airport?”
“No, I don’t know that airport. An hour and ten minutes should be plenty of time.”
“Well, I just don’t think that’s a good option for me. I really want to retrieve my bags now, book the itinerary for tomorrow, and fly out of Dulles.”
“And they said you can change the whole itinerary? We don’t normally do that,” she stated.
“Yes, the agent on the phone told us that would be fine and that there would be no extra charge.”
“That doesn’t sound right.”

She picked up her phone. While that woman whispered with a superior, I called my assistant back and put her on the case to pin down my itinerary through the hotline. I figured one or the other of us would get this thing worked out, and that then I might have a chance of seeing my bags again.

My assistant got disconnected mid-transaction.

Meanwhile, the ticketing agent was making headway. After another 15 minutes, I found myself booked for Washington-Amsterdam-Bergen. Once we sorted out the luggage descriptions – for some reason, that was difficult – the agent sent a notice out to the baggage handlers. Someone was assigned the task of unloading my bags from the already-loaded airplane and bringing them back to the counter.

All of that sorted out, I realized how tired I was and started to lose concentration. While standing next to a large sign for the women’s restroom, I asked someone where the nearest bathroom was. With my luggage finally in tow, I entered the elevator to baggage claim, where the taxis would be, and forgot to push the button. I couldn’t find my phone when it rang. But I did manage to catch a cab and head back to the train station, to buy a ticket for the next train to Baltimore.

The train I booked myself to board was listed as 15 minutes late, which seemed fine. By the time I called my parents to update them about my travel plans, it was reading 20. Oh no, here we go again, I thought. But the delay ended there. I was so relieved, I ran my suitcase into a woman’s Achilles’ tendon while waiting in line for the escalator down to the track.

Then came the train ride. There was no room for my violin case in the overhead area, so I claimed an empty pair of seats, sitting on one, propping my violin and my carry-on bag on the other. The man in front of me reclined, as if to hem me in. I got a piece of the conductor’s mind when he arrived to collect my ticket. In a deep, preacher-like voice, he scolded me for taking up two seats when I’d only paid for one. As he gained momentum, people turned to stare.

When I squeezed a word in edgewise, he bellowed, “You say you want to buy another ticket?!”
“No, I said I’ll move my things.”
“You do that,” he concluded.

Once he’d walked away, I rearranged my belongings and then glanced at my neighbor across the aisle, hoping for sympathy. He frowned steadily at me, raising one thick eyebrow before returning to his reading.

Around 4:15, my train pulled into the Baltimore station. I wrestled my luggage onto the platform. Just as I had tied my suitcases together, my mom called, so I picked up and let her know that I’d arrived and everything had worked out. As I put my phone away, a police officer in full uniform approached.

“Are you going to board the train, ma’am?”
“No, I just got off it.”
“Which train?”
“That one,” I replied, puzzled, pointing at the train still parked next to me.
“What train was that?” he persisted.
“The one going to DC, I guess.”
“And what are you doing here?”
“My mom called.”
“Ma’am, I need to see your ticket stub.” I looked at him incredulously. “And your ID.”

So I took my violin off my back and opened up my suitcase to find the stub. I produced both pieces of evidence. He inspected them carefully, then handed them back, suddenly amiable, exclaiming, “Have a great day!” I didn’t have the energy to respond.

I stopped by the grocery store on the way home. In the pasta aisle, a voice called my name; when I turned around, I saw a pianist I hadn’t crossed paths with for at least a decade. I should have been more outgoing, but in excusing my worn appearance, I came up with a case of bad-travel word vomit, and I think I wound up scaring him off with a mild but bitter tirade of frustrations. It was embarrassing.

Now I’m in my pajamas, sitting on my bed. I’d like to take a nap, but I’m afraid I’d sleep all the way through till morning. In a few minutes, I’ll begin cooking dinner, and then I’ll practice until bedtime. I’m already packed.

Hilary

Evening update: While cooking dinner, I managed to both burn my pasta sauce and explode the macaroni bag all over the floor. I hope that Norway brings better days.