Sunday evening, Edward Van Vliet and I are prepare to land in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The flight attendant offers us free drinks. We bask in extra inches of leg room and softer seats. We are flying first class, but not by choice.
This day of travel has had little to do with choice. We've felt powerless, at the whims of US Airways, hanging on to hope.
Our journey to first class was rough.
It's 3:30 AM and I am awake, thanks to my alarm or my pre-flight jitters. At 4, I'm waiting at the front door for my father in law, packed and ready. Everything is on schedule. Last year, I never made it this far. Last year they cancelled my flight with a 3 AM phone call. This year, I'm on my way.
I arrive at the airport with plenty of time. Good. I immediately spot my travel companion, Edward. Good. My "hope this fits in carry on" duffel bag does indeed fit in carry on. I save twenty five dollars. Good. Check in flawless. Security is smooth. Lines are short. Starbucks is open. All good.
We board our first US Airways flight. The flight is not full, so we can switch seats and sit together, with a whole seat to spare. Great. We buckle up and wait for takeoff. This is happening. We are off to the Glen Workshop.
We wait. We wait more.
Then comes the announcement. The first in a long line of hiccups seems harmless enough. A latch on a panel needs repair. They are going to try a solution called "Speed Tape". Fixing an airplane using any kind of tape does not instill confidence. Especially tape marketed not for its hold, but its speed. No worries, because they don't have any speed tape anyways. We wait in our confused and stuffy cabin.
US Airways are going to see if they can borrow a part from Air Canada. I'm not sure if Air Canada doesn't have the part, or if they are like "Really, US Airways? Again? Sorry, we've got to teach you how to fish this time". There is no part.
After an hour they tell us to deplane. We gather our things. Those who bought duty free must return it. They cancel my flight. Again.
What do we do? Where do we go now? They cannot tell us yet, because they need to see if they can fix the plane. Once they know, they will tell us whether to book new flights. Until then, while new flights may leave and our layover window shrinks, we must wait. We do wait. Without information. Without confidence. They finally confirm our fears and send us off to rebook. Square one.
Edward waits at the luggage carousel for his checked bag while I head for the check-in counter to book our new flights. The line is short, but there is just one poor person working. One person for a hundred reschedules taking 10 minutes a piece. I doubt my chances of making sign-in at the Glen Workshop this afternoon. I doubt my chances of dinner. We start fending for ourselves, rebooking on cell phones. But I don't have a cell phone. I wait.
Rumors start to come back about the passengers waiting for bags. They still haven't got them. Team baggage is waiting, not knowing what is going on with us, team carry-on. We have cell phones and iPads but nothing to communicate. "You heard anything yet? No? Me neither." Then I overhear chatter about our cancellation being cancelled. They confirm that we are going to get back on the same plane. Thanks to speed tape or the gods or gremlins, the latch has been fixed. Hallelujah. Except that Edward and team baggage don't have a clue about this. They are stuck on the other side of the airport. Their luggage was never removed from the plane, and no one is telling them.
This is the worst customer communication I have ever experienced.
I don't like going through customs and filling out declaration cards, but I really don't like doing it all twice. In an astounding move of beureaucratic t-crossing, we all have to do everything again. Sheesh.
Meanwhile, poor team baggage is told to go back the way they came and reboard the plane. Security stops them and sends them other way around. We, team carry-on, have no idea any of this is happening.
The flight itself is uneventful, and while we are hungry, it looks like we'll make our connection in Phoenix. Indeed we do, with a half hour to spare. Except that we are not on the flight anymore. Without telling Edward and I, US Airways gave our seats away, and there are no more seats. They put us instead on a 9:45 PM flight, thinking we'd missed our connection. But we didn't. In fact, Edward's luggage is about to fly to New Mexico without Edward.
We push back on the 9:45 PM flight, as we'll miss our shuttle into Santa Fe, along with everything else happening tonight. At customer service, the first kind, helpful employee today puts us on the 3 PM flight to Albuquerque in the only seats available. First class. It's a mind-bending mystery to me why this was not the first solution to our problem. Why, had we not pushed back, would we be spending the night on an airport floor in New Mexico, waiting for our morning shuttle?
We'll still miss check-in and supper, but we'll arrive this evening, a few hours earlier than I arrived last year. It will still be light out. We have time for lunch now. We're starving. We'll take it.
I'm counting my blessings.
One. We share a leisurely lunch, preparing our hearts in conversation for the week ahead.
Two. We try a delicious new beer. Its five o'clock somewhere.
Three. We experience the marginal privilege of first class.
Four. We reevaluate our willingness to book a US Airways flight again. Ever.
Five. We find ample time to read and laugh through Sky Mall, the in-flight catalogue of goods you just cannot buy anywhere else. In a move I will appreciate more as the week rolls on, I take Sky Mall with me.
Our shuttle drives us through New Mexico's moonscape as gratitude erases all wrongs. It's hard to stay angry in this strange and beautiful world. The sun shines down on a duotone palette of rust and turquoise. Red rock and sage brush. Cacti and blue sky.
I watch Edward take this all in for the first time. I smile at the sharing of this special place. Our jagged journey leaves us weary, but full of hope.
Sometime ago, somewhere amidst the madness, Edward guesses our setbacks to be the devil's doing. The devil must not want us in Santa Fe. God must have something waiting for us. Given this is my second year of cancelled flights, it's hard to disagree with the assessment. But if we met devils on our journey, we were about to leave them in our dust. At St. John's college, at the Glen Workshop, we'd encounter only angels and saints.
For the week that was to come, I'd live this damned day a dozen times over.