I should start by noting that there are an exponentially large number of greater issues in the world than the ones presented in this post. War. Poverty. Racism. The state of the Patriots’ wide receiving corps. This is a post written by a middle-class, white, male young adult with a level of outrage that is intended to be humorous and mostly faux-incendiary. I feel this is a necessary caveat with the state of the world.
Now, if you’ll indulge me, let’s talk about the time I spent 10 hours in the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
One of the things I have realized with my great deal of life experience, here in the infancy stages of the second quarter of my life, is that people make snap judgments on airlines and stick with them. Bad flight on Delta? United is your favorite airline. Delayed three hours on American? You’re flying JetBlue for the rest of your life. I thought JetBlue was universally beloved for its comfortable seats and service with a smile, until a conversation with a friend one day:
“How you getting there? Delta?”
“Ugh. I hate JetBlue.”
“What? How can you hate JetBlue?”
“They’re always delayed. I just don’t like them.”
I have never had a single issue with JetBlue. And yet. A Google search for “jetblue hate” brings forth 384,000 results. 384,000!
As a kid, I would refuse to eat vegetables. I didn’t like the smell, the look, the feel, or, on occasions when I was brave enough (re: my mother threatened to throw out the entire plate of dinner if I didn’t try a carrot), the taste. I told people for years I hated broccoli. The truth is…well, I had no idea if I liked broccoli or not. I probably tried it once and had a bad experience. Maybe it was undercooked. Maybe it wasn’t even broccoli and I got the name of the vegetable wrong. Maybe I never actually tasted broccoli but some six-year-old friend of mine told our class “broccoli is gross” at Show & Tell while showing us the precise position of his tongue after he threw up his broccoli and it subconsciously festered its way into my mind. This is how I believe people to be with airlines.
(Side note: I tried broccoli this summer and it was GROOOOOSS. That stuff is whack.)
Here’s the thing: I had a traumatizing airline experience yesterday, and the airline I was flying/attempting to fly was Delta. Some people are going to read this and think “of course it was Delta, the employees of Delta probably put kittens in toaster ovens in their spare time”. Some people are going to read this and think “Delta? I love Delta! I fly Delta all the time and have one of those special cards and my own personal number where I can be instantly transferred onto any plane at any time!” (One of those people is my friend Jason. Hi, Jason.)
I want to be clear here: I am not raking Delta over the coals for this, and you’ll see why. I am simply stating facts; I spent approximately 15 hours in airports or on airplanes yesterday, I nearly lost the ability to think multiple times and I happened to be flying on Delta. It will not stop me from flying on Delta again. In fact, the people of Delta did a number of good things for me yesterday.
But enough pleasantries. Let’s get to the fun part.
9:48 AM EST, Sunday, November 30th, 2015: I suppose I should explain why I was in the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport, or even in the Savannah/Hilton Head region. I was broadcasting a college football game on Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia (South Alabama/Georgia Southern, on ESPN3, or available on the WatchESPN App!). Savannah/Hilton Head happens to be the closest airport, a smooth, 45-minute-or-so, almost-directly-southwest drive from Statesboro. Statesboro does not have an airport, although it does have a Chick-Fil-A and a Mellow Mushroom, a marked improvement on what I was expecting after being told by a person who had previously been there “it has two Applebee’s.” (For the record, I saw neither.)
I returned my Dodge Charger to the National Rent-A-Car lot at approximately 9:48 a.m. on Sunday morning and strolled into the airport for my 11:20 nonstop flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. One of the beautiful things about living close to New York City is the ability to fly nearly anywhere direct. (Another beautiful thing is the occasional homeless gentleman with a sign reading “HONEST: I NEED MONEY FOR BEER”.)
I moved through the airport at a leisurely pace. SAV (the airport code, which I am going to use whenever I get sick of typing “Savannah/Hilton Head”) is a quaint and quiet little airport, with only 15 gates, one small, winding security line and a Samuel Adams bar where the only available food is barbecue. At the security checkpoint, I let a young woman pass me when she huffed and puffed her way through the line. She had only 15 minutes to get from the line to Gate 11. She probably could have done it in two.
In no rush, I dutifully emptied my pockets, removed my laptop and passed through the apparatus where you perform a standing version of a jumping jack. (A standing jack?) I collected my things and was slowly on my way. Heh. Slowly.
10:45: Our gate agent, a slightly portly man in his early 40s who was recently paid an unfortunate visit by the balding process, announces that we will begin boarding soon. This would have made for a very short blog entry.
10:51: Pro tip: download the TripCase app if you’re a frequent traveler. When gate agents discover information, they will hold it for themselves until the last possible moment, EVEN THOUGH that information has been already entered in the airport system. Three minutes before any announcement, I receive a notification that our flight has been delayed until 12:45. Gate Agent Mike, however, does not make this public knowledge until later. He informs the waiting passengers that there is a “maintenance issue” and the flight has been delayed. He also informs us that the crew is working on fixing the maintenance issue and on getting another plane to the gate. My thoughts, at this crucial juncture:
- What is a “maintenance issue”? Does that just mean the pilot didn’t show up on time?
- Another plane? Does SAV just have random planes lying around?
- Is this a thing that happens at airports? Do they have planes just hanging out in reserve that only get brought out as a sleight of hand when the flight attendants oversleep?
- How does nobody know if we can get another plane here? I would seriously like an answer to this question above all others.
Mike tells us the delay could be shorter, though. The 12:45 mark is an estimate at best – perhaps a new plane comes in or perhaps the current plane is fixed.
11:49: Here’s a little airport jargon for you: apparently, “maintenance issue” means, and this is hard to believe, “maintenance issue”. For real. An actual physical maintenance issue! I almost feel better about this. It’s the opposite of finding out what’s really in the chicken at that fast-food place you’re ashamed to admit you like.
Our flight has been delayed because of two maintenance issues, actually. I found this out in a casually-delivered mini-monologue from Mike, where the passengers are told that the plane door is broken and the plane’s oxygen masks all dropped from the ceiling during testing. (If the flight attendants did oversleep, it’s a truly bold gambit.) Mike delivers this news in as straightforward and un-emotional a tone as possible. He’d be a really good stand in for Jacob Silj. The closing line of his speech is as follows:
“So, this flight is not cancelled…yet.”
I immediately move to the desk.
11:50: Short of stamping “THIS IS A CANCELLED FLIGHT” on his forehead, Mike has done everything he can to break the news that this flight is never going to happen. While waiting on line behind an agitated gentleman in his 60s, the flight captain walks out and discusses the issues with Mike. This flight’s going to be cancelled. And the flight at the gate directly to our right that’s leaving for LaGuardia in 40 minutes – that one’s sold out. My mind is spinning as I step up to the desk.
“What can you do for me when this flight gets cancelled?”, I ask, as if some higher level of context-clue reading will somehow get me in Mike’s good graces.
“Let me see.”
He types away, intently, for nearly a minute. I have no idea what he’s typing. Maybe he’s looking up flights. Maybe he knows the answer and just wants to draw out the suspense and he’s surfing Reddit. He soon arrives at a conclusion.
“I can get you on the 7:47 to Atlanta. From Atlanta, you can get to JFK by 12:15.”
I respond immediately.
“WHAT?! SEVEN FORTY SEVEN?! You expect me to sit in this airport for eight hours? My girlfriend took an early train home from Thanksgiving so we could spend the afternoon and evening together on Sunday! There’s no chance in hell I’m going to sit here until 7:47. You need to get me out of here as soon as possible. I am a New Yorker and I will not stand for this laid-back care-flippin’-free Southern attitude where we’ll all fly out together whenever we get our turn and hold hands and sing in harmony around a campfire in the United terminal until then. Just put us on the freaking plane! Who cares if the oxygen masks are all dangling? At least we won’t have to worry about them working if we lose pressure in the cabin? Just put some duct tape on the door! It’s not even a 90-minute flight! HOW CAN THERE NOT BE AN EXTRA PLANE HERE I AM GOING TO DIE IN THIS AIRPORT”
Just kidding. I stare ahead silently and say none of that.
11:58: I ask Mike to see if he can get me to LaGuardia. To Newark. To Philadelphia. To anywhere on the East Coast. He can’t. Turns out it’s not the arriving city that’s the issue – it’s the departing one. Remember – SAV has 15 gates. That’s it. It appears to only handle somewhere in the neighborhood of a few dozen flights each day. And today’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and every one of those flights until 7:47 is sold out. 2:30 to LaGuardia – sold out. 4:45 to JFK – sold out. Everything for the next seven hours and 49 minutes – sold the heck out. I ask what the closest airport is. It’s the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport in Glynn County, Georgia, about an hour away, and it’s not going to be of any help.
I thank Mike for his help. He prints me out boarding passes for my new flights and I walk away, leaving behind a growing trail of soon-to-be-incensed customers. But perhaps all hope is not lost…
12:20: I wander over to Gate 13, where a 2:05 flight to Atlanta awaits. An elderly woman behind the counter in this small airport finishes printing out a boarding pass for the young woman ahead of me. I move forward and ask if there are any seats left on this flight. There are not. I explain my predicament. She has an idea and begins typing away furiously.
As it turns out, there’s a bit of a Hail Mary pass I can throw here. Jacksonville, Florida – two hours or so away – has a 5:55 nonstop flight to JFK that will arrive at 8:15. Atlanta Gate Woman explains that I can go to the Delta ticket counter and ask for a cab voucher. If granted the voucher, I can take a cab to Jacksonville and get on the flight, putting me into JFK four hours ahead of time. Is this a bit of a hassle? Sure. Do I have anything better to do with my time? Surely not.
12:45: I exit the terminal, walk past security and stroll out into the airport’s main area. At the Delta counter, I’m on line for around 20 minutes before I’m summoned to the counter by the younger of two Delta agents. I babble for about 45 seconds, attempting to explain my situation, before the younger agent gives up and tells me to wait for the older gate agent.
The older gate agent is a woman named Zenobia. Even in the midst of one fiasco after another, this is awesome. I’m naming my first-born daughter Zenobia. Zenobia JetBlue Brown.
I tell Zenobia my story. Throughout, she has the look of Steve Harvey during a particularly galling answer in Family Feud. She finally makes sense of my incoherent babbling and looks up the Jacksonville flight. It’s sold out. So much for that avenue. I’m stuck in Savannah.
1:00: I re-enter security to return to the terminal. The standing-jack machine goes haywire because I’m wearing a belt. This is the same belt I wore on my way through the standing-jack machine three hours ago. The airport is starting to laugh at me.
2:55: At this point, I’m not entirely certain where the time has gone. I’ve watched some football, compiled some baseball highlights and listened to the new Foo Fighters EP approximately 874 times. And it’s not even 3:00. Five hours to go.
That’s why the TripCase notification that pops up on my screen is so strange.
“Your flight is currently on time.”
Your flight is currently on time? We’re five hours away. Of course it’s on time. I’ve never received a notification about a flight five hours in advance. That plane could be just about anywhere in the United States right now.
As it turned out, the plane was in Jacksonville. Because my on-time flight was the Jacksonville flight. Which, somewhere along the line, I had been booked for. Which was an issue, because, well, as you’ve probably guessed at this point…I wasn’t in Jacksonville.
3:00: I close my laptop, stuff it in my bag and spring up toward the nearest gate agent – who, it so happens, is Zenobia, my old friend from before. She’s now at Gate 13 for a flight leaving for LaGuardia in 15 minutes.
“Hi…it’s me again…I have a huge issue.”
“I’m sorry, sir – we’re starting to board this plane now. You’re going to have to wait.”
I am not waiting.
“Remember that Jacksonville flight? Well, I’m…on it.”
Another Steve Harvey look.
“You shouldn’t be on that flight.”
She motions behind me to a bank of phones with her right hand.
“Go to the phones over there. They’ll be able to help you.”
My fate now rests in the hands of a disembodied voice on the other end of a generic black phone.
SIDEBAR: Could Kevin have made it to Jacksonville?
When I told my girlfriend about the Jacksonville news, she couldn’t believe I wasn’t going. A chance to get in four hours early and I wasn’t taking it? Why?
She may very well have been right. Here are my amateur calculations, however, from 2:55 (the time I discover I’m on the Jacksonville flight) on…
- Eight minutes to get from the terminal to the Delta counter. 3:03.
- 13 minutes (this may be conservative) to wait on line at the Delta counter and get a cab voucher, which I’m not even sure I can do. 3:16.
- Four minutes to get down to ground transportation, find a cab that will take me to Jacksonville and throw my stuff in the cab. 3:20.
- One hour and 54 minutes (per Waze) to drive from SAV to the Jacksonville Airport. 5:14.
- 25 minutes to go inside and get through security. I have never been to Jacksonville, so I have no idea how likely this is. 5:39.
- 12 minutes to get to whatever gate I was at. This, again, is a complete and total guess, as I have been to Jacksonville as many times as I have been to Mars. 5:51.
The answer: yes, I could have made it to Jacksonville. And I probably could have saved myself 13 minutes by just getting in a cab and making Delta reimburse me after the fact. But any chink in the armor and I’m now flightless in Florida. Sometimes – you just have to take the points. I BELIEVED OUR DEFENSE COULD MAKE A STAND AND GET US THE BALL BACK WITH TIME TO SPARE.
END OF SIDEBAR
3:03: I pick one of four plain black phones behind the Gate 15 counter. After a single dial tone, I am instantly connected to a woman in customer service.
“Good afternoon, thank you for choosing Delta Airlines. Can I have your confirmation code, please?”
I have no idea how to answer this. Do I present my original flight’s confirmation code? The Jacksonville flight? The 7:47 flight for which I am apparently no longer a passenger?
I go with the Jacksonville code. I explain my story to the woman on the other end and tell her that now – gosh, this is laughable in retrospect – I need to get back on the 7:47 flight. Yes. I NOW NEED MORE TIME IN THE SAVANNAH AIRPORT.
“I’m sorry, sir…it appears that flight is sold out.”
I am destined to spent the rest of eternity in the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport. There is no other answer to this issue. Somewhere down the line, my future nieces and nephews will learn about the sacrifice their uncle Kevin made. He had to stay in Savannah for all of time. So that we could be free.
“Let me see what I can do. One moment.”
I’m put on hold for what turns out to be about 10 minutes. It feels like 10 eternities. Finally, my guardian angel gets back on the line.
“Okay, Mr. Brown – we’ve booked you for both flights. You’re all set.”
I want to buy this woman anything she desires. Name your price, Lady from Delta. You are my Christmas miracle.
(Side note: wait, how did she do that? If the flights were sold out, does that mean she kicked somebody off to put me on? Is someone STILL in the Savannah Airport because of me? Is there a parallel me, out there in the vast wilderness of Gate 15, trying to frantically find a cab voucher to Jacksonville? Am I wrong to feel so guilty about this? Was he also trying to eventually get to JFK? Speaking of, who REALLY shot JFK?)
7:30: Things have mostly turned around by this point. The past four hours have been filled with old baseball highlights, pita chips and frantic checking of my fantasy football teams (one of whom is down big but coming back with Ben Roethlisberger, the other of which was up by a sizable margin but went against Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 7,412 yards against Seattle). Sure, I’m still in Savannah, but at least I’ve been productive.
The next issue in my not-too-distant future is the layover. I’m scheduled to land in Atlanta around 9 p.m. and scheduled to take off around 9:55. So it would be great if this flight took off on time.
7:47: The flight does not take off on time.
8:03: We are in the queue. We have still yet to take off.
8:10: We have still yet to take off.
8:15: We have still yet to take off.
8:20: We take off! 33 minutes behind schedule.
8:21: I’m in Seat 37E – the window seat in a 38-row plane. This is inconvenient when you have less than an hour to make your connecting flight and there are around 160 people that have to leave the plane before me. However, Seat 37E is apparently the price you pay when someone gets kicked off a flight for you.
Seat 37E is also next to the jet engine on the right side of the plane. This is my first time ever sitting directly next to the jet engine. Here is my approximation of a jet engine sound.
9:02: We land and begin the de-boarding process. I check my phone and encounter a stroke of good luck. Our flight has arrived at Gate B26. My connecting flight is at Gate B4. It’s a bit of a walk, but it’s in the terminal, and I get to avoid the Atlanta terminal train.
9:20: Another stroke of good luck – while walking toward B4, I notice my flight’s been changed (oh, no…) – to Gate B30. I arrive just as the boarding process begins.
9:45: Seat 36E.
10:30: Good news: we are in the air. Bad news: my throat is sore, because I haven’t had water in a few hours, and I typically drink about 17 gallons of water a day. Worse news: the flight attendants at the front of the plane are commanded to move the beverage cart away because of in-flight turbulence.
11:10: The beverage cart returns.
11:15: The turbulence returns.
11:28: I press the flight-attendant button for the first time in my life and ask for a water. I have never wanted to do this for some reason. I feel I’m inconveniencing the flight attendant, even though “attend” is literally part of their job titles. Our flight attendant walks to the front of the plane – which is approximately 6.2 miles away – and minutes later, emerges with a bag, with another flight attendant directly behind. In lieu of the beverage cart, the flight attendants are carrying bags of water bottles and Delta Mini Pretzels, handing them out one-by-one as they stroll down the aisle. I have never been so excited for Delta Mini Pretzels.
11:58: We land. New York still exists. Everything is good.
11:59: My fantasy football team is eliminated from playoff contention because I started Ronnie Hillman over C.J. Anderson, the latter of whom ran for a 45-yard touchdown in overtime. I lose by six points. Everything is horrible.
Grade for the Day: F