Before I left on my epic trip around the world, I knew that traveling came with its share of challenges and irritations. I did not expect to encounter so many in the first 36 hours.
I had arrived at the Ottawa International Airport over three hours before my flight, since I had heard there might be flight interruptions due to big storms in the USA. The check in desk told me that my connecting flight in Chicago was cancelled and that I would be rerouted via Air Canada to Washington and then Washington on American Airlines to L.A. This posed the small inconvenience of rearranging my meet-up plans with my travel partner in L.A. since I would be three hours late.
I settled down with my book to pass the time.
Then I heard the dreaded intercom announcement that my flight to Washington would be delayed by an hour, which would give me only 40 minutes to catch my connection to LA at a different terminal once I arrived. I spoke to the agent, who reserved a seat on a later flight with United Airways in case I missed the original booking.
Upon arrival in Washington, I darted over to the shuttle between terminals, sprinted down a never-ending terminal hallway, passing at least 50 boarding gates on the way, only to arrive 1 MINUTE after they make the boarding announcement. The curt agent at my gate informed me that I had to be present before the boarding announcement. I learned this was code for “we already gave away your seat”.
‘Argh,’ I thought, ‘I ran all that way for nothing’. I consoled myself knowing I had that reserved seat on the later flight with United Airways.
In a mere ten hours, I had already become a wary and savvier traveler. I decided the smart move would be to double-check on this second reservation. I went to the United Desk, moving between Terminal B and Terminal D. They informed me that the flight was in fact with US Airways, so I need to speak with their agents at Terminal Z.
US Airways then told me my flight was actually with United after all, so I should return to Terminal B. Who then told me that the original booking was with American Airlines, so check with them at Terminal C. Where a sign was left on the desk explaining that American Airlines moved recently to Terminal B.
Seven shuttles between terminals later… My nerves and patience had been worn raw. I dragged myself up to the American Airlines desk at Terminal B. It was now 9:00pm, and the flight I was supposed to be on was departing at 9:50pm. The American Airlines agent regretfully told me that my seat was reserved on a non-existent flight, due to a coding error by the desk agent back in Ottawa. I was not on any flight at all.
Cue massive meltdown. I would have been mortified by my own behaviour if I had not been teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. This was the first of the many times when I would weep and wail and yell in public on this trip.
The incredibly helpful American Airlines travel agent was kind enough to book me a flight for 2pm the next day, and with priority standby on an 8am flight, which under the circumstances was the absolute best he could do. Instead of leaving the airport and checking into a hotel for the night like a normal person, my stubborn and foolish self spent the night in the terminal. All the shops close at nine, in case you were wondering.
I tried to scout the best spot to sleep until morning. This was the exact moment when I first came to curse the inventor of airport benches with armrests. They are pleasant enough for the casual twenty minute wait before a boarding call, but as the hours creep by and all you want to do is lie down, they defy all your efforts to get comfortable.
The terminal was cold and drafty, so I took refuge in the chapel, where I could stretch out and lie across the cushioned chairs without any armrests in the way. I was not the only one to find this toasty haven. A mother with three small children were occupying the left side of the chapel seating, and a couple in their mid-fifties were in the front rows on the right.
Many hours later, I returned to my boarding gate, lurking next to the desk agent as the 8am flight began boarding. Finally, I had a stroke of luck and scored the only standby seat that came up for the flight.
Then I learned that about how easily luggage is lost when you change flight plans four or five times. The first day of my travels was spent getting to my destination. The next two were spent tracking down my bags, airport by airport: Ottawa, Chicago, Washington, and ultimately, they had been in L.A. the whole time.