Glamour of the Traveling Job: Part Two

On a sunny fall afternoon I was on my way from Denver to a small New Mexico town. The school district had purchased my biology book and my publisher sent me to provide “Inservice” for teachers. I had prepared a day of activities that would familiarize teachers with the new strategies and new technology that came with the book.

In Part One of this series I mentioned that over my years of travel, seat-mates, friends, family, acquaintances, and others had speculated that my traveling life was so glamorous, so exciting, and such a wonderful adventure. Sometimes trips were pleasant, but sometimes they were terrible.

In 2005 some airline flights did not have security screening. Small prop airplanes with 12 seats often left from adjunct areas of the airport where passengers boarded by climbing stairs up to the plane’s doorway.  We entered at 5:00 pm for a 7:00 pm arrival. Passengers seemed a bit unusual. One was a male prisoner in leg irons, handcuffs, and an orange jump suit marked “Prisoner” in large letters on the front and back. A uniformed guard with a badge and holstered gun accompanied him. Another person was dressed in white pants, white shoes, white shirt, white gloves, and tight-fitting white hood with 2 small holes in the fabric for his/her eyes. These clothes were very baggy, so I couldn’t tell the gender of the person. I wondered if it was a celebrity wanting to keep identification secret, or a person avoiding germs or the sun.

As boarding continued, two men in business suits argued with the pilot who was checking boarding passes. Their voices rising, they declared they couldn’t check their briefcases and laptops. The pilot said nothing could be carried on board because there was no luggage space above the seats, no room under the seats. It was against regulations to keep briefcases on laps during take-off and landing. After much shouting and bad language, the men gave up their briefcases and boarded. I relinquished my backpack/purse plane-side before I boarded and sat in a front seat.

 A woman with a young toddler disputed the pilot’s decision to check her diaper bag.

She tried to reason that the child might need a diaper change during the flight, but the pilot maintained that since there was no rest room on board, there would be no place to change a diaper. An elderly man with a walker was next to board. He indicated that his walker folded and could be stored on board with him. Another argument. No one wanted to surrender their belongings even though the pilot kept explaining that the items could be picked up planeside when they arrived, that no mistake could be made as only their belongings would be in the luggage compartment and no one would tamper with them during the flight as the luggage space could not be accessed from onboard the plane.

Finally, everyone was inside with one person too many: a businessman in a suit and highly polished shoes, stood in the aisle with no seat available. The pilot explained that the airplane was overbooked and asked if anyone would be willing to fly the next afternoon instead. This flight departed only one time each day. When no one volunteered he offered a flight to anywhere in the continental United States for agreeing to fly the next day. No one budged. The businessman standing in the aisle had a quiet conversation with the pilot that I couldn’t hear, but immediately the pilot announced that this man had very important business and absolutely had to travel today. He looked at me and told me to get off the plane and give this man my seat.

“I too have important business to conduct and absolutely cannot fly tomorrow afternoon. I am conducting a morning meeting tomorrow for about 50 people that have rented space for our meeting.”

“Call your boss and tell them to send someone else who can get there on time.”

“I would lose my job if I did that, and I am the one person this group is expecting. No one else can run this meeting.”

“I’m sure this man’s meeting is financially much more important than yours.”

“My presentation is based on a million dollar plus purchase of our product for New Mexico—maybe even two or three million.” It was not my job to keep track of book sales. An entire department was set up to do that.

“Get off the plane or I will call security.”

“Go ahead. I’m sure your airline CEO will not appreciate photos of me being carried off the plane for refusing to give up my seat purchased over two months ago. It will also make good television and newspaper news. My paperwork did not say that I should plan to give up my seat for ‘more important people.’”

In a huff, muttering under his breath, and gesturing at me with a profane finger, the man standing in the aisle exited the plane. The pilot, now free to attend to the flight, reviewed the seat pocket safety instructions, seat belt regulations, and explained that there would be no flight attendant for this small plane. He retreated to the controls of the plane and shortly announced there would be a delay while maintenance came to evaluate an “issue.” We waited for two hours with maintenance crew members carrying various instruments marching up and down the steps to examine the control area. We could hear banging and clanging on the outside of the plane as well. The toddler began to howl and scream for food. I gave the mom a granola bar that I had in my pocket, and the howling stopped.

Finally, we were air-born. I read my book to the sound of noisy propellers and jouncing over bumpy air. Upon landing much later than expected, I found that the small-town airport consisted of one runway, one room, and one person in charge of arrivals, snack-bar, car rental, and anything else that needed to be done. It was 9:45 pm. The passengers dispersed quickly, and from the one pay phone in the room I called the hotel where I had made a reservation. 

“No shuttle?” I asked in disbelief. “But when I made a reservation you said there was an airport shuttle.”

“That must have been a new person who didn’t know.”

“Can you pick me up? The hotel is only two miles from the airport.”

“No, I’m the only one here.”

So, I asked the airport attendant how to get a taxi.

“You would have had to book that in advance. We have only one taxi in town and he would be drunk by this time of night unless you called in advance and made a reservation.”

“Can I rent a car?”

“Same deal. Takes a week to get a car in here. Have to book in advance.”

“So how do you recommend that I get to the hotel?”

“I don’t know, but I’m closing the airport and locking the door in 5 minutes, so you have to be out of here.”

“Can you drive me to the hotel?”

“No, my insurance doesn’t allow for passenger transport.”

“How about if I give you 25 dollars for the two-mile ride.”

“You heard what I said.”

“How about 50 dollars?”

“No. Now, get out, or I’ll have to call the police!”

“Now there’s a thought, maybe they would take me to the hotel. But what if I stood outside and they said they couldn’t take me? How about 100 dollars? I really can’t drag a suitcase and walk two miles at ten o’clock at night in the dark. It looks like there are no streetlights on the road.”

“Fine. I’m not supposed to do this. If anyone finds out, I’ll get fired.”

“I promise I won’t tell.”

So much for the glamour of the traveling job, I thought, rolling my eyes.

Linda LundgrenComment