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Ryan's Great Adventures

Volume 49: Fri August 13, 2004

To move things up a bit, I'm going to skip most of this year so far and jump straight to the last couple of weeks of my grand adventure called Life. Don't worry, you aren't missing much. Just a lot of sitting around working on websites and making no money. Nothing exciting to brag about.

At the beginning of August, you could find me lounging around San Luis Obispo, California. The weather was cool and breezy. But all good things must come to an end, and on the second of August, it was time to fly back to Seattle. I had the last flight out of San Luis to Las Vegas, where I had high hopes of getting bumped. The flight from Las Vegas to Seattle left somewhere around midnight, and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of arriving in Seattle at 2:30 in the morning-especially when the reservation I made showed that flight arrived on time a measly 20-30% of the time.

Nope, it was my hope that the flight was oversold, I'd get bumped, given a hotel room in the grand town of Las Vegas where I could party the night away, then jump on the first flight to Seattle the next morning. And maybe get a free travel voucher for my 'inconvenience'.

It was a good plan. It didn't quite work out like I intended, however.

The first complication was that when I arrived at the airport in San Luis, American West-which I hereby denounce as the world's worst airline-announced that the flight was delayed. Which, in itself, I was okay with, since if I missed the flight to Seattle, I'd get a defacto bump out of the deal! So I went back to my mom's place for a couple more hours.

These little airports are rather nice that way. There's only one gate, and you aren't supposed to go through security until just before you're scheduled to board. Consequently, once I checked in, I could go back to my mom's place until minutes before I was supposed to board.

After several announced delays, they finally announced that they canceled the flight. This, I thought, definitely wasn't part of my plans! A long line formed at the ticket counter of people trying to rebook their flights for the next day and getting set up with hotel rooms for the night.

I already had a place to stay-my mom's place-and thinking quickly, I realized that the flights out of SLO the next morning, if any seats were available, would be filling up VERY quickly. So I used my mom's cell phone to call their reservation number essentially allowing me to 'cut ahead' of that long line of people at the ticket counter. I was using my noggin, and quite proud of the fact. =)

After being put on hold for 15 minutes, I got myself booked on the first flight out of San Luis at the unholy hour of 6:30 in the morning. This flight would take me through Phoenix, Arizona, where I'd catch another plane that would whisk me away to Seattle for a 1:30pm arrival time.

Not too shabby, I thought. I ended up staying up late to watch Leno, then hit the sack secure in the knowledge I'd be on my way to Seattle in a few short hours.

Arriving at the airport once again, I learned a startling fact: They had no reservation for me, and all flights out that morning were (not surprisingly) full. Disheartened, I put myself on stand by for the flight to Phoenix. I always remember that Seinfeld line about why they call it stand by: You stand at the gate as you wave bye-bye.

Fortunately for me-my one lucky break the whole day-enough people managed to sleep in late enough to miss their flights, and I actually got on! Don't ever let anyone tell you there's no such thing as a miracle! =)

I boarded my plane to Phoenix and the American Southwest. My spirits were high.

The flight went well and landed as scheduled. I walked over to the gate for my connecting flight and waited. We boarded. Then the news came: There was an electrical problem on the plane and they had mechanics working on it, but the flight would be delayed.

Of course it would be. I expected nothing less.

After about an hour and a half, we were still sitting on the plane, twiddling our thumbs, bored to tears, with no estimate about when the plane would take off. Remember, this is Phoenix, where the outside temperatures were 103 degrees and we could experience first-hand the scientific principle called the greenhouse effect.

At long last, they allowed us to get off the plane with the stern warning not to wonder away from the gate since they'd be taking off immediately once the electrical problem was fixed and didn't want to leave anyone behind.

I took the opportunity to get off, stretch my legs, and call Amanda to warn her that my flight-yet again-was delayed. Instead of returning to my seat, I decided to stretch out on the air-conditioned jetway making a rather comfortable lounge chair out of my backpack.

Another half-hour passed, before the news leaked out: The flight was canceled.

All the other passengers grumbled about the flight being canceled. I grumbled about my SECOND flight being canceled on the same trip.

Having previous experience with canceled flights, and knowing that 150 people were now looking to find alternative flights to Seattle, I knew I had to act fast. I rushed down the terminal to the American West customer service center to rebook on the first available flight to Seattle before those planes filled up. I was about the 15th person to make it in line while another hundred plus people lined up behind me. One of the two girls working the counter came out to look at the line and her eyes just about fell out of their sockets. I don't think she had been informed of the canceled flight!

She suggested that people try another customer service desk at the next wing of the terminal since it was going to take some time to get through the line. Considering how long it would take me to work my way to the front of the line, and assuming that there was nobody at all in the other lines, I decided to rush across the airport to the other service counter.

Which, after sitting around on the plane and jetway for the last two hours, was kind of exhilarating rushing through the airport like I was someone important. "Out of my way! This is an emergency! Out of my way!" If I was wearing a cape, I could have been mistaken for a superhero. Perhaps.

I made it to the other service desk in a few minutes and found myself the third person in line. Sweet.

My turn came up and I got myself booked on an Alaskan Airways flight that would leave in another three hours. I was now scheduled to arrive in Seattle at around 6:30pm, nearly 24 hours after I first checked in. Good times.

America West printed out a five dollar food voucher for my 'troubles' (is a 16 and counting hour delay really worth five bucks?), so I wandered off to the Pizza Hut Express to use it on a supreme pizza, nothing about it which, in reality, was really supreme, but it filled me up.

Alaska Airways used a different terminal than the one I was sitting in, so I headed off to the shuttle buses in front of the airport which took us on a tour of the parking lot for the Phoenix airport before dropping me off in front of terminal 2 where I had to go through security once again.

My gate was located at the very end of the terminal where there was absolutely nobody around. Two of the gates belonged to US Airways where no flights were scheduled to arrive or depart for the next four hours. Sorry, Amanda, but I just can't imagine that's a good sign for your airline!

I laid down on the US Airways side of the terminal since I figured the Alaska side would fill up once people started arriving for their flights out, then killed the next couple of hours reading the USA Today, writing e-mail on my Pocketmail device, and twiddling my thumbs.

At last, my flight boarded and I was bound for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, where I finally landed-as scheduled-at 6:30 in the afternoon.

You think this flight from hell was over, but you'd be wrong. Because what I haven't told you is that this whole time, it was very important I reached Seattle by the evening of August third-I was scheduled to fly to North Carolina from Seattle that night. Originally, I was supposed to have the whole day in Seattle to rest, change clothes, and get a break from flying. Since I arrived in Seattle less than two hours before I needed to be back to fly out again, I never actually left the airport!

I called Amanda asking her to bring the clothes I'd need to fly her airline. I'm on a special pass of hers that allows me to fly stand by for a reduced rate, but there's a catch: I have to look 'presentable' so jeans and a T-shirt aren't acceptable. I also requested if she could drop by a Taco Bell or Wendy's or something and pick up some dinner for me, since I didn't really want to eat the overpriced glub from the airport.

Amanda arrived. I put some of the stuff from my bags that I wouldn't be needing (dehydrated food, trekking pole, etc.) in her car. She gave me a change of clothes which I changed into in the restrooms by baggage claim.

Then we went to the gate to wait for our flight to the City of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia. Amanda was actually working on this flight so she was guaranteed a seat no matter what, but I was on stand by. The guy at the ticket booth didn't think there would be any problem getting me on, though, which was good, because the next two flights out that night were way oversold and there was little chance of my getting on those.

Amanda boarded the plane early to do whatever it is flight attendants do before they allow the public to board, and I waited by the gate with high hopes of getting on. Except they started diverting a surprisingly large number of people from a flight to Charlotte to the Philly flight. Which wasn't good for me, because those people actually paid full price for their tickets and would get seats before me. The flight started boarding. First for people with kids, those in first class, and other 'special considerations'. Then those seated at the back of the plane. Then the middle of the plane. Then the front of the plane.

My name still wasn't called. I started sweating. Were the seats full?

Then the announcement came: The flight was full and all people on stand by would be rolled over to the next flight. Oh, boy. Now what? Should I even bother to stick around with the prognosis that those flights were far too booked for me to get on? Just call it a day, take the bus back to Amanda's place, and call it a night? And dang, I had to go to the bathroom! I decided to wait until the plane actually took off before leaving in case Amanda popped her head out to wave bye-bye. Standby: I stand there as Amanda waves bye-bye. Hmm....

Four people who had checked in still hadn't boarded the plane, though, and the agents at the gate started calling them by name, warning that this was the last boarding call and if they didn't board immediately that they would be left behind.

But... What about ME?! I'll take one of their seats if they don't show up! They wouldn't let the plane leave with EMPTY seats, would they?

Another passenger showed up and boarded. Three left....

Two more showed up....

Still one passenger who was missing. What are the chances he wouldn't show up? What are the chances that they'd take off with the empty seat rather than seat me? After all, I had already been 'rolled over' to the next flight. What are the chances I'd be next in line if they did call someone to fill the empty seat? Slim to none, but I crossed my fingers.

"Ryan Carpenter...."

Yikes! They called my name! THEY CALLED MY NAME!!!! I jumped up to the podium and the agent said if the passenger didn't show up within the next minute, they were going to put me on.

YES!!!!

It was the longest minute of my life. Waiting to see if that last passenger was hopelessly lost in the airport unable to find the correct gate. Waiting to see if I'd get on the plane. One of the agents asked the other that maybe the passenger had somehow boarded without it getting recorded and they called the plane asking if there was anybody in the given seat.

PleasePleasePlease let there not be anyone in the seat.... PleasePleasePlease....

Nope, the seat was empty! The agent printed out a boarding pass for me and called the plane to say that "the non-rev" was coming down. That was ME! THAT WAS ME!!!!

Amanda didn't know it was me coming down until she saw me and you could just see the relief flash across her face. She only knew that a non-rev was coming down, but not who it was.

Later, I would learn, it was an even closer call than I thought! The pilot, Amanda told me, had delayed the flight demanding that soap be brought on first. Had the missing passenger arrived during the following ten minutes, they probably would have taken me off the plane and put the missing passenger on instead. In addition, there were actually two other people ahead of me on the standby list, but they decided not to use it since they weren't able to fly together.

And, as it turned out, there was a flight attendant commuting to work who had a higher seniority than Amanda but was told she had to take a jumpseat because the flight was full. Had she not taken the jumpseat, I wouldn't have gotten on.

It's really a small miracle I made it onto that flight!

The plane finally started taxing down the runway. Amanda got on the intercom to tell passengers to sit down and turn off cell phones and such. I was surprised to learn that she did not use her normal voice to make these announcements, but rather a soft, seductive voice that I always imagined you'd hear on those phone sex numbers. THAT was interesting....

The plane took off.

One of the flight attendants, as she was walking by, slipped me a water bottle unexpectedly. It was like out of a spy movie. I hadn't asked for water. I hadn't been expecting water. And the flight attendant didn't say a word as she passed it to me. In fact, she didn't even look at me-just kept walking down the aisle without a pause with her eyes forward, and covertly slipped me the water bottle. I knew Amanda had to have been behind the handoff, though I wasn't sure about why it was so stealthy.

After reaching cruising altitude, another of the flight attendants introduced himself to me saying how happy he was to meet me as he shook my hand. I was beginning to feel like a celebrity on this flight!

I could see Amanda serving meals in the first class area of the cabin and occasionally see her glance back to me-presumably to make sure I really did make the flight.

After she finished with her chores, she waved me up to the front of the plane in the galley. There weren't any seats available in first class for me to sit in, so she pulled out a large, metal container full of water bottles or something that she put on the ground for me to sit on. Josie, the flight attendant who was forced to take a jumpseat, took my assigned seat so she could sleep a bit. She had to work a long trip to Aruba the next morning and needed all the sleep she could get.

So Amanda and I sat up front for the next several hours chatting away. She showed me where all the sharp objects that were left on the plane are located. (I could tell you where they are, but then I'd have to kill you.) She showed me how to work the intercom system on the plane, and where all the condiments, water bottles, food, trash. and so on was located. I even learned how to check how much water is on the plane and how much "waste" is on the plane. (In an emergency, this can be important!)

I met the pilots of the plane when they came out from the cockpit for a potty break. Whenever any of them come out, they have to call Amanda on the intercom first to warn her, and Amanda would have to move a food cart to block the path of potential terrorists that might rush for the cockpit in this moment of weakness. I told one pilot that he was doing a great job, and he quipped asking if I'm just saying that, because how would I know? "Well, the plane hasn't crashed yet, so that's good job in my book!"

The rest of the night was pretty quiet. We were on a red-eye flight that wasn't expected to land until something like 5:00 in the morning in Philly. So most of the passengers slept. I barely stayed awake after my measly four hours of sleep the night before.

When the plane was about to land, Josie moved back to the jumpseat and I took my original seat. Amanda got back on the intercom with in her sexy, come-hither voice to tell people with connecting planes what gates to go to. And we landed without further incident.

But, this wasn't the end of my flying, for our ultimate destination was Charlotte, North Carolina. Amanda and I walked a couple of gates down to the next flight we hoped to board, though this time Amanda wasn't working the flight. She'd be on stand-by with me, though she could fly jumpseat if there was only one available seat left.

Surprisingly, given the luck I had had flying for the last couple of days, absolutely nothing went wrong. There were enough seats for both of us. We boarded without any trouble and landed in Charlotte a couple of hours later.

And after starting my flying adventure at 7:00pm on the second of August, I finally reached my final destination just before noon on the fourth of August. In the previous 24 hours, I had hit the four corners of the Continental United States: The southwest (Phoenix), the northwest (Seattle), the northeast (Philly), and the southeast (Charlotte). Using three different airlines.

It was a bit convoluted way of getting there, but I finally made it!

In my next adventures, you can read all about Amanda's high school reunion and our adventures through North and South Carolina. Good times! =)

— Ryan

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