Reporter finds himself at center of story
Since I started on the transportation beat more than five years ago, it has mostly been my privilege to report on other people's woes. Or, if I knew of an onerous situation, there were occasions when I willingly subjected myself to discomfort. But that was always voluntary.
Over the weekend, my luck ran out. After a week of enjoying blue skies and warm weather in Playa del Carmen, Mexico (I can feel your sympathies draining away, dear reader), my wife and I were scheduled to return on an Air Tran flight out of Cancun International Airport Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. -- arriving at BWI at 8 p.m.
Obviously it didn't work that way. This time, instead of interviewing people who were forced to stay in an airport overnight, I was one of those people. It seems BWI had been shut down tight because of some little snowstorm.
If you are going to be stranded in an airport overnight, you could do a lot worse than Cancun. The snack bar in our terminal stayed open untill well past midnight, and in "no problemo" Mexico that means beer for sale. Try to get a snack -- especially with a brew --- after midnight at stuffy old BWI. In Cancun, even one of the gift shops stayed open all night -- doing a brisk business in warm Mexican blankets that will make great repurposed Christmas gifts after being used just once on the marble floors of the airport.
But those amenities go only partway to compensate for the design of the seating, which serves too prevent anybody from getting too comfortable to sleep. Don't blame Cancun. Maximum discomfort has become the industry standard among airports worldwide.
Things didn't get much better after our Air Tran flight got off the ground at 5 a.m. Midway through our flight, we learned we were being routed through Atlanta because the customs officers in Baltimore were unavailable to work that morning.
Air Tran did the absolute minimum to keep passengers informed. Not mentioned were such matters as how to deal with liquor purchased duty-free in Cancun. It was only after rechecking my baggage in Atlanta did anyone mention a need to repack duty-free items to go through an unforeseen security check. Fortunately, a fellow passenger facing the same plight agreed to transport my bottle of a rare Mayan liqueur in his suitcase. At that point, sticking it to "The Man" overcame any warnings by the Transportation Security Administration. I didn't really expect him to seek me out at BWI and give it back (as the gentleman did). I just didn't want it to have to leave it as my contribution to the TSA inspectors' Christmas party.
(Note to Air Tran: Would it be too much to expect to have an airline rep on hand to deal with such problems when you've had a flight delayed more than 12 hours and then diverted?)
Anyway, we boarded our Atlanta flight at 11 a.m. and got to BWI at 12:30 p,m. All seemed well when we got to the baggage counter and retrieved the first of our suitcases. But we kept waiting and waiting and waiting while the second suitcase, which had been checked in immediately after the other, failed to appear. After several inquiries, we were told it was not at BWI and had probably been loaded on a later Atlanta flight.
To cut to the chase, that flight was late, and it wasn't until after 5 p.m. that my wife -- who had sent me home to keep me out of trouble -- straggled home with the missing bag. (Important travel hint: No matter how direct your flight may seem to be, always keep essential medicines in your carry-on luggage.)
Having found myself on the receiving end of the news, I find that I much prefer reporting it. Perhaps, however, the experience will make me more sensitive to the plight of others. Don't count on it though.