Landed safely in Philly late Tuesday night, but not without some turbulence along the way – and I mean that figuratively, not literally. My cross-country journey from Seattle to Philly was peppered with one absurdity after another. I fly plenty, and know full well my grievances with the whole process are echoed by travelers the world over. But this particular trek warrants a blow-by-blow account that ought to resonate with at least a few fellow frequent fliers out there:
11:00 AM: Town car driver meets us on Eastlake Ave. in Seattle to transport us to SeaTac. We will arrive long before boarding time, but getting through Security, even with my partner’s premium lane access, is highly unpredictable.
11:40 AM: TSA crew confirms our lack of faith in an expedient process. Yours truly is randomly selected for additional screening. This entails a young agent (as in, is she old enough to drive?) with a stern face and complete inability to make conversation swiping my palms with some sort of sticker.
Post-swipe, her computer screen blares in large CAPITAL letters, “EXPLOSIVES DETECTED!!” Well okay then. Apparently my Trader Joe’s lavender hand lotion comes laced with arsenic. Or could it be the buttery croissant remains from Grand Central Bakery?
“We need a badge over here!” the stern-faced recruit hollers. Older woman (resembling my late grandmother) rocking a big brass TSA badge hobbles over and proceeds to rip open my carry-on bag. Noticing nothing suspicious, she orders it through the scanner once more. Even though it glided through the first time without any “EXPLOSIVES DETECTED!!” warnings. Second time through successful.
Alrighty then. Time to rendezvous with my travel partner. Or not…
“Follow me for a mandatory private screening,” I’m told. Hm. I thought I was at SeaTac. Not the nearest women’s correctional facility. Into the small cubicle I go, with Granny Big Badge and Stern-Faced Teen Girl flanking me on either side. At least they don’t cuff me. Once inside, Granny finally concedes that the system sometimes misreads harmless chemicals as explosives, but not before patting me up and down. During this awkward procedure, Granny Big Badge also suggests I hold onto the table to bend my back foot so she can screen the bottom of my shoe. Two thoughts enter my mind here:
1. What would she do if a wad of gum were stuck to my sole?
2. Do most travelers risk falling on their ass by simply lifting a foot without the help of and ledge? Thank God for yoga.
Noon or so: My patient and highly amused travel partner suggests we decompress over a glass of wine at a post-security TexMex joint. Wine is fine, but, alas, entire menu is inedible. Are we the only travelers who cannot stomach greasy wings, fat-laden Caesars and Nachos?
1:20 PM: We try to board flight number one headed to Charlotte, NC (intended destination is Philly, but to go direct means an additional $600 dent in the wallet, so we opt for 3+ additional hours of posture-sabotaging ass-time in Coach class). Instead, we are given the elbow and stink-eye from a traveler whose ticket says ‘Zone 1’ and feels she’s been done a grave injustice by the despicable Zone 2/Explosives-On-Palms Girl and her partner who stepped in front of her. You go right on ahead lady.
1:25 PM: Seated toward the back of the bus – oh, I mean plane – with knees wedged hard into the busted seat pocket containing USAir magazine and barf bag in front of me, I sigh with relief knowing I can at least rest one elbow on my aisle-seated travel partner. Continue to pray that our future window mate is able to fit in his/her seat without spilling over. Prayer answered, as young pretty college girl slips in, pops in her ear buds, and sleeps the entire 5 hours to Charlotte. I drool with envy.
About 3 PM: Having foregone the pre-boarding chicken wings and nachos options, I realize I am hungry. Options at 35,000 feet aren’t much better, but I relent, and go for the pastrami wrap.
8 PM east coast time: My travel partner listens and empathizes as my stomach vocalizes my earlier lunch choice.
9:15 PM: On the ground, and in a fog as I will my left ear to open after a choppy descent. On to flight number two, which, mercifully, is one-third full.
11:41 PM: Home.
I remember getting a cool set of wings on a flight to visit my Granny in San Diego as a kid. I remember when flying was fun. Today? Not so much. This Explosives-On-Palms Girl would rather stay put.