Because my luck is that bad.
I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.
Well, no more!
To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.
On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.
Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.
An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.
My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.
Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.
Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.
“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.
My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?
Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.
“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.
I mimed vomiting.
“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.
Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.
Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.
While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.
After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.
“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.
Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.
“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.
“Yes sir, I’m going home.”
Given the number of times I’ve traveled back and forth between Orlando and Siem Reap something is bound to go wrong from time to time and this last trip felt like the universes way of making up for the good luck I’ve had so far. Except for this trip, of course: How to Torture a Traveler.
I sat anxiously next to my gate in the Orlando International Airport nervously watching my departure time push back further and further. I refreshed the flight information I had looked up on my phone over and over noticing the estimated arrival time get dangerously close to my next flight’s departure time.
“You might as well take the flight,” The guy at the help desk advised. “If you miss it they’ll just do the same things I’d do here. You might as well take the chance your next flight is delayed.”
Never listen to the help desk.
I tried to relax as best as could during the flight knowing there was literally nothing I could do from in the air. When we landed (three hours later than originally scheduled) I painfully watched the seconds tick by on my watch.
3, 2, 1… And there it goes…
A nearby passenger saw the anguished look on my face.
“Are you trying to make a connection?”
I hung my head, “Yes, but I doubt I can make it in 30 seconds.”
Just in case I rushed to the next terminal, which as luck would have it, took 30 minutes on an airport shuttle bus because the AirTrain system was shut down…
The Etihad Airways ticketing desk was deserted except for one security guard standing next to the help desk.
“Can I help you?” He asked, not concerned at all.
“I just missed my flight…”
“Come back tomorrow at Noon,” He stated matter-of-factly before turning back to his paperwork.
I hopped on the shuttle bus and went back to my arrivals gate to seek help from a Jetblue representative.
“You’re going to have to reschedule through your booking agent,” He said unsympathetically after looking over my flight itinerary. “Call Expedia.”
After a quick cry in the women’s bathroom, I trekked to the baggage claim help desk. First things first, figure out where in the world (literally) my belongings were.
I handed the lady my baggage claim ticket and she typed inhumanly fast into her computer.
“Since your bag is checked to Bangkok, that’s where it will end up. It might even be on the flight you were scheduled on.” She reassured.
“Well, since you know my last flight was still taxing to the gate after boarding closed for my next one I’m just going to guess it didn’t make it either…” I was trying desperately not to burst into tears, since that’s my default reaction whenever I’m stressed, anxious, scared, etc.
“All I can tell you is it’s checked to Bangkok so it should turn up there.” To her credit she looked a bit more caring than everyone else I had spoken to so far.
Somewhat relieved I had one less thing to worry about I found a semi-quiet corner and spent over an hour (the majority of which was spent listening to crappy hold music) on the phone with an Expedia.com agent who was able to rebook all of my flights for the next day (literally 24 hours later…).
All that was left to do now: find a semi-dark spot (it wasn’t dark at all) on the floor (tile, next to a trash can) where I could pass the night and hopefully get some sleep. I managed a few hours before my hips and knees started to cramp and I couldn’t take the pain from my bruised ribs any longer (more about that in a later post). Once the sun came up I treated myself to an actual breakfast at the airport diner then tried to check in to my flight, only to be told I had to wait until 6:40 p.m. to do so.
In case representatives from JFK found this via my SEO: PLEASE put some actual chairs in the arrivals/ticketing area! My boney butt can only take so much floor time.
By the time I actually reached Bangkok, as anticipated, my bag was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t even registered in the computer. To be fair, the woman at the Etihad help desk was super nice and helpful and assured me as soon as my bag is found she’ll call and email me and ship it to Siem Reap. Yay. And, to be fair the whole check-in process moves a lot faster when you are bag-less.
So now, in addition to trying to catch up on work and prepare for freelance meetings, I get to file insurance claims and phone airlines. Double yay…
At least I packed one pair of clean underwear in my carry-on and have started a ‘wash one, wear one’ system, which thanks to Cambodia’s heat cuts drying time in half.
Author’s note: I know I’ve been a bit (more like a lot) behind on updates but I do have a couple in the works! Stay tuned for a post about loss while abroad, an ode to turning 25, and how to survive a week-long blackout. And for illustrated updates about my living and traveling as an extremely awkward person, check out my newest website: Awkward & Aware.
Retching sounds echoed throughout the cabin. The man across the aisle reached for the plastic bag that had once contained his in-flight blanket.
No sir, you hold it in.
The man next to me groped for a sick bag in the seatback pocket.
Not you too! Why God? Why!?
I pulled my flannel shirt up over my head hoping to block out the smell I knew would trigger my own gag reflex.
This can’t be happening…
I used to love airports. I once wrote an essay about people watching in airports, guessing where everyone is going and where they’ve come from. There was just something about wandering around, looking at all the departure gates, like windows of possibilities. In the past I’ve selected flights based on the number of layovers: Chattanooga > Richmond > Chicago > Salt Lake City > San Diego. The people watching began to lose its appeal in Chicago… Even though I started to prefer more direct routes, I still didn’t mind wandering around an airport or two.
This trip broke me.
If you really want to torture someone, especially someone who loves even the traveling part of travel, make them fly from Cambodia to the U.S. via China Eastern. I haven’t been able to feel my toes since I left Siem Reap, and I haven’t really slept or had a proper meal since Tuesday. I know it might not sound like a long time, but I’m cold, hangry, sleep deprived, and in need of a proper rant, so let me break it down:
My flight to Siem Reap from Shanghai took about 4 hours, which normally wouldn’t seem so bad unless it was a red-eye flight that arrived in China at 3:30 a.m. … I shivered on a bench for two hours waiting for the transfer desk to open then proceeded to the sunniest spot in the airport where I defrosted for the duration of my eight-hour layover.
The last time I flew China Eastern over the Pacific I was sorely disappointed. There weren’t seatback screens (first-world probs, I know) and they played the same Chinese film over and over for 15 hours. The food smelt like something left out to die, which was enough to put me off even trying it. The only upside, even though I was on an aisle, the two seats next to me were empty so I just popped a few sleeping pills and had myself a 15-hour siesta.
To sum up, I didn’t have high hopes for this flight.
The turbulence started about 8 hours into the flight. I had just begun to drift off when the plane started jostling. We had experienced minor turbulence earlier in the flight, but nothing someone who’s traveled Cambodia by bus can’t handle. This was different. I could tell by the way my stomach kept rising into my throat that the plane was dropping then climbing in altitude.
I watched as the other passengers started reaching for receptacles. A few braved the bouncing to make a run for the toilet only to be yelled at by the flight attendants.
“Stay in your seat!” They shouted. I think. It was in Chinese…
Seated towards the very back of the plane I crossed my fingers they’d make it past me before succumbing to nausea. One woman rushed passed cradling the laminated safety flyer like a bowl.
The sound was unbearable. Gagging, coughing, moaning, all around me. Every time I noticed someone reach for a bag I hoped I wouldn’t be next. My stomach gurgled. I kept my eyes forward and thought of a happy place, anywhere but here. The men seated on either side of me couldn’t hold on.
I prepped my barf bag, just in case, and recounted everything I had eaten. Watermelon, fermented milk with flavoring (a very honest way of labeling yoghurt), a bite of funny tasting noodles, a bread roll. None of which I was particularly keen on encountering again.
After about an hour or two of being tousled in a tin can, the plane hit an air pocket. Loose articles flew into the air, a few people screamed, and I started crying. I clutched my pillow and wrapped the tissue-paper blanket tighter around me. I could feel my normally unshakeable confidence in air travel melting away. Alone, surrounded by strangers, listening to frantic announcements I couldn’t understand, this was not how I planned on going out.
I wanted to clap after the plane touched down in L.A. and could not get away from my fellow passengers fast enough.
After passing through immigration and customs I made my way to the ticketing counter determined to get an earlier flight to Orlando.
“Unfortunately we only have one flight a day, and it just left ten minutes ago.” The agent explained sympathetically.
I asked about hotels in the area, hoping the airline would offer to put me up for the night. They did not.
Turns out, you can’t check a bag until the day of your flight and if you can’t check your bag you can’t enter the actual airport. So I found a nice spot on the floor next to a working electrical socket and settled in for the next 22 hours. At least I did still have my checked bag because at some point in the night I pulled some clothes out of my bag to use as a makeshift blanket. I wasn’t alone either, other unfortunate travelers came and went, all of us huddled in the fetal position along the wall, trying to keep warm.
At 4 a.m. outsiders started arriving. I moved closer to the ticket counter and glared at everyone just now getting to the airport. I even over heard one lady comment to another, “Oh you’ve been here since four, make sure you get a good spot in line.”
I don’t think so, lady.
The amount of layers I had packed on made me look homeless. And I’m pretty sure my eyes were spinning in two different directions. Come at me, bro.
On the plus side, I didn’t have to pay for my checked bag and there wasn’t a line at security…
One more flight to go.
UPDATE: I have horrible travel luck, check out ‘How to Torture a Traveler: Part Two‘.