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Life Lessons

This Is, As Far As I’m Concerned, The Greatest Airport Story Ever Told

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 01: A plane sits on the tarmac at a South Carolina airport on March 01, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. As concerns grow about the spread of the Coronavirus, many travelers are altering their plans which has affected companies in the travel industry. The NYSE Arca Airline Index, which tracks airlines in North America and Latin America, was down 20 percent last week with American Airlines shares falling 7.7 percent. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

We never had Paris. My family and I booked a trip to France for Spring Break 2020. This was gonna be our first Statement Trip with the children. We’d taken them to the beach. We’d taken them to Busch Gardens. We’d taken them to California. But, for their entire lives, we’d never taken them off the American mainland. It was too expensive, too arduous, etc. Only my daughter had ever used her passport, and that was when my wife took the girl to Germany when she was barely a year old to meet her great-grandfather, who has since passed away. The girl got her first tooth on the flight home from Munich and screamed nonstop. When I picked them up at Dulles, my wife looked like she wanted to tear my head off. Tear the world’s head off.

So we were due for Paris, and in 2020 we finally had the means to go. We got the flights. We got an Airbnb. We even got Paris Passes, like good little tourists. We were ready to show our kids the world.

And then, just before Spring Break, the pandemic hit and the world went to shit. No Paris. No Mona Lisa. No pommes frites. No Eiffel Tower. No munching on fresh croissants while strolling the Champs-Elysees. That was all out. For another two years, we stayed hunkered down in the contiguous 48. We were gonna go to New York with my folks for Christmas 2021 and even THAT got fucked by our new friend Omicron. Started to feel like we’d never get our Statement Trip. By January, my wife and I had had enough. We took a big chance at the high school dance and booked a vacation to the Caribbean for Spring Break 2022. Coronavirus be damned, we were gonna go somewhere, no matter what it took.

Turned out it would take quite a bit.

Twenty-four hours before we were set to leave, I got an email from JetBlue with the subject heading “Important Flight Information | CANCELED.” Just like that. We were flying to St. Thomas via Boston, and the Boston leg had been cancelled. I did not know this at the time, but JetBlue was in the midst of a staffing crisis that resulted in dozens of canceled flights. Ours was one of them. I called JetBlue to fix the problem. The robot operator told me my wait time would be 177 minutes. My old man worked in the airlines and always told me, with 100 percent credibility, that if you have a problem with a flight, your best bet to solve it is at the airport. Reagan National Airport is a 35-minute drive from my house. I did the math.

“Fuck it,” I told my wife. “I’m going to the airport.”

From that moment on, I was in Full Dad Mode. I drove to National and found myself among a crowd of stranded JetBlue travelers. One of the ticketing agents told the line that they would not have any flights to Boston for at least four days. Florida, either. Gasps and groans abounded. Dozens of spring breaks had just been annihilated in front of me. I remained silent and focused. Therapy has done me good when dealing with such matters. Also, I’d had the strangely good fortune of having our flight canceled the day before it was scheduled to depart, rather than the day of. Our flight from Boston to St. Thomas the next day, as far as I was aware, was still set to go. All we had to do was get to Boston by the next morning. If we had to fucking drive there, we would. I wasn’t losing this trip. No way.

I got to the agent.

“Are we still on the St. Thomas flight?”

“No, your entire trip was canceled because the Boston part was canceled.” JetBlue had severely underestimated my guile and determination.

“Can you get us back on that flight?”

“One moment please…”

While she checked, my wife and daughter scoured the internet for flights to Boston that night. They found one. It was on Southwest and it was leaving at 8:25 p.m. out of Baltimore. It would cost us an extra $1,000, plus a hotel room.

“OK I have you all back on the flight to St. Thomas from Boston,” the ticketing agent told me.

“Thank you so much.”

With that, I sprinted across the airport to the A terminal, located a seeming million miles away through a maze of twisty little passages. I got to the Southwest counter and they told me that yes, that 8:35 to Boston was still available. But wait! I never got an email confirmation from JetBlue that we were back on the St. Thomas flight. I needed to make absolutely certain we were booked, so I sprinted back to the main terminal and waited in line again to see the JetBlue agent. I brought up the Southwest website on my phone and queued up the Boston flight. There were exactly five seats left on it. We are a family of five.

I grew up in airports. I love them, if I’m being honest. Love to look at the planes out on the tarmac. Love an excuse to eat shitty mall food. Love to peruse magazine covers at the Hudson News. I am comfortable in airports. I know them quite well. I like running through them like an Important Person to catch a flight. But this was a bit more running than I bargained for. It was the most running I’d done in decades. I was exhausted, but not defeated.

“Ma’am, I never got confirmation that we’re on the St. Thomas flight.”

“Oh, that was because I didn’t cancel your bag fee for the canceled one. You’re all set. I even printed your boarding passes.” She handed the passes to me and I gazed upon them as if I were holding an opened Wonka Bar with a golden ticket inside. I drifted away from the JetBlue counter, took my phone back out, and hit BOOK FLIGHT on Southwest, watching the site buffer, and buffer, and buffer, until a blessed YOU’RE ALL SET! icon loaded. I pumped my fist and texted my daughter, “Pack your bags. We’re spending tonight in Boston.”

I drove home. We packed in a rush, caught a ride to BWI airport thanks to my father-in-law, flew to Logan, stayed the night in a fleabag hotel, and then boarded our flight to St. Thomas the next morning. On time. I will never perform such heroic feats of dadding again. When that flight to the Caribbean took off, I felt like the vacation was already a success. Maybe we would never have Paris, but we would always have this. You hear about bad flight breaks all the time. But when you make a bit of your own flight luck, it’s among the best feelings on earth. When we got to our resort, I dug my toes into the cool sand and sucked down a virgin pina colada. Sweetest thing I’d ever tasted. I would never forget this moment. I would tell my grandchildren about it one day.

And when we got back home this past weekend, I tested positive for COVID.