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December 14, 2013

What lovely weather for a holiday flight

The Daily Star

---- — As I write this, I am girding my loins to participate in one of the most dreaded rituals of the Christmas season: holiday travel. 

It remains to be seen where this holiday trip will fall in my personal pantheon of hellish travel experiences. But it would be hard to top 2010.

I had planned a short trip to visit my family in Oregon for Christmas. We had a lovely holiday, and a few days later, I was ready to head back home.

The Snowmageddon happened.

The storm piled up close to two feet of snow in much of the Northeast. States of emergency were declared left and right, airports were closed and, oh yes, travelers were stranded.

I was one such traveler.

The airlines were in such a state of chaos that attempts to confirm my flight were futile. Websites were down and no one answered the customer service lines. But, ever the optimist, I showed up at the airport anyway.

Chaos reigned there too. Some travelers were put onto flights; some were not. I fell into the latter category, for reasons I could not fathom, and was told rather brusquely to go home and “try again tomorrow.”

Three days later, I managed to buy a ticket on a red-eye flight that was to take me through Houston and Cleveland en route to Albany.

I got to the airport on time, only to find that my flight was delayed. Numbly, I wandered through Portland International Airport for a couple of hours, wondering how I would ever get home.

I landed in Houston just as my flight to Cleveland was taking off — without me on it. I joined a herd of angry travelers, bleary-eyed, shouting at anyone who would listen to us.

Somehow I got to Cleveland, only to be put on standby for Albany. Furious and exhausted, I fantasized about renting a car so that I could escape from Airport Purgatory. But through some glorious miracle, I got on the flight.

I didn’t exhale, I think, until the plane landed in Albany. I had made it. All I needed to do was get to my car and get home.

I stood outside in the cold, waiting for the shuttle to take me to the long-term parking lot. The airport was pretty deserted. Although it was only 5 or 6 in the evening, it felt like the middle of the night. It had been 36 hours since I left my parents’ house. I was disoriented and exhausted.

Finally I saw the lights of the shuttle in the distance. I gripped my bags tightly. My hellish trip was almost over.

The shuttle pulled up and I got on. Just as the doors were closing, a man darted out from the terminal and waved frantically at the driver. The doors opened again and the man got on.

This man, it seemed, knew our driver; the two were chatting about shared acquaintances. The chit-chat continued as he steered the van through the maze of side roads and along the dark stretch of road leading to the long-term parking lot.

“Well, this is my stop,” said the man who had hopped on board. The bus stopped. The doors opened.

And then the two men sat there and continued chatting for another 10 minutes.

I know 10 minutes isn’t a very long time. But it felt like an eternity. I went from annoyed, to outraged, to a weeping mess in those 10 minutes because I just wanted to be home so badly, and it had been so hard to get that far.

Eventually the man got off the van and the driver asked me where I had parked, so he could drop me off right by my car.

I had forgotten.

Two feet of snow had fallen on this parking lot, and somewhere under it all was my car — my little, tiny, nondescript hatchback.

And I had no idea where it was.

We drove through the entire parking lot. Twice. At this point I imagined that perhaps I had been transported to another dimension, a hell dimension of snow, where I was being asked to pay penance for some crimes committed in a past life.

Somehow, of course, I found my car, and cleared the mountain of snow off it, and drove home to eat pizza and commiserate with my husband. I had made it, but I will never look at air travel quite the same way.

This year, I’m going into my trip with confidence. So as long as I can avoid Snowmageddon II, and don’t forget where I parked, I think I’ll be fine.

Just the same, though: pray for me.

EMILY F. POPEK is the assistant editor of The Daily Star. Contact her at