48 Hours: Delays and Dramas - Lauren MacNeish

July 8th 2017


In exactly 3 weeks time, I'll be en route to Nashville, TN. Being able to sit and listen to live artists in some of the most famous live music venues has been a top 3 bucket list item of mine way before it was even cool for people on this side of the pond to like country music.

4 nights of checking out raw talent before moving onto the West Coast to catch up with some amazing friends. I'll be away for 3 weeks and can't wait to use my new, super-sized suitcase. For those that don't know what I'm referencing... here’s a funny little story from last year's journey home from Jackson Hole...

***

The thought of the journey home made me laugh disturbingly because it was 4:45am and I could still taste the whisky I had only finished drinking under 2 hours ago, plus it was shit whisky with an e - ‘whiskey’.

My roommate and I had hosted a get-together in our chalet for the final night shenanigans in Jackson Hole. It was one of those nights where you’re enjoying yourself so much that time moves at twice its usual speed and with each passing hour another bit of sadness tugs at you, because it means you’re going home soon. It was also one of those nights where the drinks keep flowing and you don’t pack your suitcase in a timely fashion or even think about your 7am flight, apparently.

I was sitting on the couch in my bedroom/living room. My bed in the chalet was one of those weird contraptions that are made to look like a wall until you pull it out. I was sitting on the couch with some warm beer that someone had given me and was listening to one of my friends speak about different dance moves. I suddenly had this realisation that maybe I should start packing my suitcase since it was 1:30am. Our small chalet was filled with people. I half-drunkenly pulled my suitcase to the centre of the room and explained to everyone that I really should make an effort to pack this thing; my flight was departing in 5.5 hours. I can imagine it must have been quite a comical sight to see - the Scottish girl whizzing her suitcase around on it’s wheels and laying it flat in the centre of 20 Americans who were probably thinking, “Boy, those Scots are weird” - it was definitely sitcom material.

I started to dash around while attempting to find all of my belongings that were hiding amongst the sea of people - it was kind of joyfully stressful, like I was seeing the funny side of it even then but all the while realising that I really did need to actually do this task. As I was packing my suitcase I started to realise, as most people do after a trip, that my belongings had doubled their size and would no longer fit in this ridiculously small space. However, the difference between me in that moment and others who pack their case after a trip is that my mind was in that hazy ‘not sober but not too drunk’ place; there were 20 people watching me and, you know, it was now nearing 5 hours until my flight would ascend above the Tetons with my drunk arse on board - hopefully. Why do belongings do that? Why do they grow, get thicker, make themselves IMPOSSIBLE to fit?

As I continued my haphazard squashing of items into a case that had seen better days, one of the guys in the chalet read my stressed face and started helping me - what a Saint. We finally finished packing the ever shrinking suitcase and tried to close it - of course, to add to this sitcom worthy nightmare, it didn’t close - not even nearly. I looked at him with desperate eyes and he looked at me with pitying eyes - or maybe they were worried eyes, petrified that the crazy Scottish lass would start throwing things around in a fit of rage - I was close to doing that, but I didn’t - standards need to be maintained. I decided that rolling my clothes would be a better solution than folding them and proceeded to pull out everything that we had just squashed into the case, it was around 2:15am at this point.

Finally, I had everything packed a bit more neatly and it was looking likely that this thing was going to close. But then this sudden realisation swept over me - the tripod. That stupid tripod. It was in the boot of my hire car - WHAT THE EFF. How was I going to get that metal nuisance into this now doll-sized suitcase. Obviously it would have made better sense to have packed that at the bottom next to the shoes. The shoes. THE SHOES. My hiking boots. Also IN THE BOOT. I started to consider a life in Jackson Hole and wondered if there were any ranches around looking for a spare hand - I definitely could see myself wearing cowboy boots, and riding a horse can’t be that hard, right? It seemed like it would be an easier task to apply for a Visa in America than to pack this damn case. I took another few gulps of the warm beer, now believing that this would be the only thing to get me through this journey.

My hire car was parked up a hill, obviously. So off I went to collect my belongings from it. I did begin to think if I really needed a tripod and hiking boots. I mean, how important are these things really? But I knew I would regret leaving them behind - they ain’t cheap belongings! I walked up to the car with one of my friends who decided to call it a night - lucky him! We said our goodbyes, which further ignited my panic that this week was nearly over and my flight was impending.

Back at the chalet the party was still in full-swing. I put the tripod and hiking boots on the top of all the clothes that I was seriously considering leaving behind and prayed with all my might that this damn thing would close. After using strength I did not know I had - probably fuelled from the anger at this nearly-thrown-out-the-window suitcase - and with help from my Saintly friend, we closed it.

By the time I got the demon suitcase closed - where’s Mary Poppins when you need her, seriously - it was around 2:45am. I knew there was no way of me pulling the ‘secret’ wall-bed down and clearing the room - and, to be honest, I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay up with these people all night and talk and laugh with them but I had to get real for a minute and understand that I had a long journey home - a journey that would be starting with a drive to the airport at 5am. I asked my roommate if I could sleep for a couple of hours in her bedroom; of course I could, she said.

I reluctantly said my goodbyes to everyone in the room, set my phone’s alarm to go off at 4:30am, and attempted to get some sleep. My alarm triggered on schedule at 4:30am and I struggled to open my stinging tired eyes. My stinging eyes must have defeated me because when I opened them again it was 4:55am - I swear that time moves faster when you’re trying, but not ready, to wake up. Perfect, I thought. I jumped up realising that this flight wasn’t something I could just miss - I had 2 connecting flights to make and it’s not as if I could book an Uber from Jackson Hole to Edinburgh.

I still had last night’s clothes on - I say ‘last night’ but, obviously I mean the clothes from 2 hours ago. I had a clean set of clothes out for my trip, which made me have this heart stopping moment where I realised that I would still need to pack my current clothes into the Horcrux case that I had closed 2 hours ago. I felt complete dread and wondered how much I really liked my bleached jeans and indie t-shirt. I bloody love those jeans so I decided I would roll them up as best I could and put them in the zip compartments at the front of the suitcase - which was now well and truly full. Anything else I found would be left behind.

I had a quick wash because I had to be at the airport right now - Jackson Hole airport is small but busy; the people that check you in are the same people that pass you through security, meaning queues are lengthy. It’s advised that you are there 2 hours prior to your flight. My flight was at 7am to Salt Lake City meaning that I should have been there for 5am; it was now 5am and I was still in my chalet. I’m a bit of a clean-freak and hate to feel unclean so this was going to be a long day and I was going to be in a rubbish mood.

I tiredly struggled with my heavy case and rucksack up the hill to the hire car, which I also needed to return at the airport. I finally got on my way while it was still dark and I could vaguely make out the Grand Tetons as I drove along the still undisturbed road - Jackson Hole airport sits in the Teton’s shadows and I’d become quite familiar with this road throughout the week.

I made it to the airport for around 5:20am and deposited the hire car keys into the box since the desk was closed so early in the morning. The queues were already massive for security but I was confident I had made it in good time - thankfully, I had. I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times but I didn’t feel phased by the impending flights - maybe it was the post alcohol effects or maybe it was the tiredness, either way I just couldn’t wait to get on this flight so I could sit down and close my weary little eyes.

Stepping outside the airport to board the plane was beautiful. The sun was beginning to greet Wyoming and crept over the Grand Teton peaks, creating a pink sky against the early morning silence. This first flight would only take an hour. I had a 6.5 hour layover in Salt Lake City - which would effectively be my bedtime.

Arriving in Salt Lake City airport I figured that I should probably eat something since I had no breakfast. I got a ham and cheese roll, which was awful, and browsed the gift stores. Naturally, I picked up a box of Salt Water Taffy - I’d never tried it before but relate it to the ‘Friends’ episode where Ross becomes addicted to it. For what it’s worth, I didn’t taste it until a few days later when I was home and it too was awful.

Finally I got to sit myself down in one of the departure areas, put my foot through the strap of my rucksack so that nobody could take it, and closed my eyes. Most people would think that a 6.5 hour layover would be long, and normally so would I, but this was a blessing in disguise for some much needed sleep time. It was an uncomfortable, intermittent sleep but a sleep all the same. I was aware of those types of people that sit opposite you even though there are a million seats to choose from. They were looking at me but I was tired and I decided not to care about them - let ‘em stare.

Time passed by and it was time for flight 2 of 3 for the day. This flight was a 4.5 hour journey to JFK, New York. Or, at least, that’s what it was supposed to be.

I don’t really remember much of the JFK flight, I was sleeping throughout most of it. I think I maybe watched one of ‘The Hunger Games’ movies and I remember eating the in-flight ‘cuisine’ but that’s about all I remember. I eventually woke up properly when we were around 30 minutes away from landing - I was one step closer to my own bed, that thought made me smile. I was in the aisle seat and there was a guy sitting next to me who almost jumped out of his seat when I woke up. He asked if he could get past to use the restroom - the poor bugger must have been needing for hours but was too frightened to awaken my slumped body. Sorry for any bladder problems you may now have to whoever was sitting next to seat 29D.

I brought up the on-screen map to decipher where we were in the air and started to notice that we were circling NYC. I never thought much of it because I know this is common at busy airports. 20 minutes past and I was starting to worry about missing my connecting flight to Edinburgh.

“This is your Captain speaking - we cannot get clearance into JFK due to a lightning storm and are running low on fuel so we will be heading to Hartford Airport in Connecticut to refuel.” There were no doubts that this little added expedition would result in me missing my connecting flight to Edinburgh. Lightning? I thought. There was no sign of any storm around us and I was puzzled that it had taken so long to figure out that we couldn’t land due to weather concerns.

Arriving in Connecticut I turned on my phone to browse Twitter. Trending: Suspected shooting at JFK airport. WHAT? I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I started to read through the screeds of paranoia and news articles that were announcing the evacuation of JFK airport. Many things run through your head when you read something like that - especially in New York.

“This is your Captain again, due to security concerns at JFK all flights have been grounded. Once we have taxied to a gate here in Hartford, you will be free to get off this aircraft if you would like to continue your journey from here - thanks for your patience.”

Hartford, Connecticut - I had never heard of it before and decided that the best option for me would be to stay on this flight. It was dark outside, it was late here and I was in no mood to play ‘find me a flight’ with airport staff. I didn’t even get to make that decision because the Captain came over the speaker 20 minutes later to inform us that he had now been given clearance to JFK and we now had to wait on the aircraft being refuelled. I had this uneasy feeling - I didn’t particularly want to go to JFK after a shooting had taken place. I went back on Twitter to find out what the latest was. ‘Lady heard Olympic gun on TV and thought there was a shooter in the terminal.’ I swear you could not make this stuff up even if you tried. The 2016 Olympics were currently taking place and someone heard the gun marking the beginning of a race on the TV and reported a shooter to airport security. I know we’re all a bit super-vigilant in this world nowadays, where the news seems to be a constant stream of reports on terrorism and violence - but, seriously - a TELEVISION. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

We eventually arrived at JFK around 1 hour and 45 minutes after we were supposed to and a full 10 minutes after my flight to Edinburgh had departed. I’d never been in the position of missing a connecting flight before so I headed to the desk to explain my situation. Arrogance is a word that springs to mind when I think of the attitude of the desk assistant. It was 11pm, New York time. It went a bit like this:

Desk Assistant: “Yeah, you’ll need to wait for the next flight to Edinburgh.”

Me: “OK, and when does that depart?”

Desk Assistant: “At 10:50.”

OK, I thought - 12 hours to wait. I guess I can try and sleep somewhere until morning.

Desk Assistant: “That’s 10:50pm.”

WHAT?

Me: “So you have one flight to Edinburgh per day?”

Desk Assistant: “Yes Ma’am.”

This was a nightmare, what was I going to do for TWENTY FOUR hours in JFK airport. I already felt disgusting and I just wanted to be on my way home.

Me: “Presumably I get a hotel for the night?”

Desk Assistant: “No, the reasons for you missing your connecting flight were out of our control so the airline does not provide hotels in cases out of our control.”

Me (not knowing if to laugh or cry): “Are you serious? So what am I supposed to do for 24 hours?”

Desk Assistant (staring blankly at me): “Uhhh… I suppose you could get a cab into the city and find yourself a hotel for the night.”

To put a bit of perspective on this, I didn’t have my suitcase, I didn’t have a lot of cash left from my trip, I had never been to NYC before, it was really late and dark, I was alone. So no, I wouldn’t be wandering around NYC by myself to look for a hotel.

Me: “Aren’t there any connecting flights to Edinburgh before then?”

Desk Assistant: “Uhhh… let me check… there’s a flight to Amsterdam at 4:40 then on to Edinburgh.”

OK, great, why didn’t he mention this before, I thought. At least I only have 5.5 hours to hang around. I think I said this out loud because he said:

Desk Assistant: “That’s 4:40pm.”

What is it with New Yorkers and not stipulating AM or PM? I kind of felt like he was getting some sadistic pleasure out of getting my hopes up. Moron. At this point I wanted to evaporate into the recently polished floor. I was so tired. I felt hideously unclean. I was hungry and I needed a bed. 17 hours in JFK, I thought. I can do this.

Me: “OK, transfer me and my luggage onto that flight please.”

Desk Assistant: “OK, that’s it done.”

Me: “Can I get access to the members lounge so that I can try to sleep comfortably and take a shower?”

Desk Assistant: “Uhhh… no Ma’am, that’s for members only.”

Me: “Yeah I get that but under the circumstances can’t you allow it?”

Desk Assistant: “No.”

That was it, just a direct ‘no’. I didn’t have the energy to fight him.

Me: “Any suggestions on where I can go then?”

Desk Assistant: (Looks around) “Here’s fine.”

He was pointing to the seated area next to the gate I was at. What a joke. I shuffled my sorry self over to the seated area in the deserted terminal and phoned my Mum. It was now 11:30pm in New York, meaning it was 4:30am back in Scotland. I needed my Mum’s reassurance. She answered the phone half asleep but worriedly.

Me: “Don’t worry nothing bad has happened - depending on how we’re measuring that. I’m stuck in JFK for the next 17 hours.”

I explained the whole situation to her and listened to her reassuring tones. Of course, there was nothing she could do - last I knew my Mum wasn’t a pilot and our shed didn’t have a jet in it. But I needed some comfort. I didn’t cry but I felt like I could. I was just beyond tired and agitated. I felt like a right greaseball too.

After my phone call to home I dragged 2 seats together to create a makeshift bed for myself - at this point I didn’t care what I looked like. I was in and out of sleep; each time I woke up I sincerely hoped this was all a bad dream and that I was really lying in my own bed. But I wasn’t and this was most certainly real. That became more obvious at 5am when I was awakened by the sounds of cleaners vacuuming the area around me and music beginning to play in the bars.

Time slow motioned by and I worked my way around various seats. I kept falling in and out of sleep - it was a bizarre feeling. It was like everything was a dream - I don’t think I had ever been so tired in my life and I’ve pulled some all-nighters.

It must have been around 11am when I finally picked my deadweight body up off a seat and decided to stretch my legs. For some reason my feet were killing me and every step felt like 10 tonne weights were strapped to my legs. Almost every store I passed had an NYPD t-shirt on sale - they really buy into this over here, I thought. I considered buying one just so I could have a clean t-shirt on but decided against it. I didn’t have the energy for it. I think I phoned my Mum again to do some more complaining and hoped that on the off-chance she’d managed to find me a private jet to come and pick me up. She hadn’t.

I think that day was probably one of the slowest of my life - I know it sounds cliche but each hour felt like a day.

At around 3:00pm I reluctantly ate a burger and chips. It was the first thing I’d ate since the in-flight meal I’d had en route to JFK. Only 1.5 hours left to go I thought. After my burger I looked up at the screens to find that the Amsterdam flight had a ‘delayed’ announcement next to it. OK camera crews, you can come out now, you’ve got me. This had to be a prank, right? I’m on Punk’d - Ashton Kutcher is hiding behind one of those NYPD t-shirt stands.

I went to the Delta desk and asked what was going on. They said that the aircraft was still in the air en route to JFK and had been delayed - at an estimate - by an hour. I actually asked the desk assistant to promise me that it was coming because I had been here for 16 hours. She promised me.

Finally at 5:30pm the flight to Amsterdam began boarding. I don’t remember any of that flight, I think I slept the whole way to Amsterdam.

I arrived in Amsterdam airport at around 7am (local time) and had approximately 3 hours to wait for my flight to Edinburgh. 3 hours felt like a drop in the ocean compared to the JFK debacle. Amsterdam airport is enormous and I discovered that I had to re check-in for my flight to Edinburgh… on, what felt like, the other side of the airport, only to walk back to the gate I was at.

3 hours passed reasonably quickly and I was finally boarding my final flight. Again, I slept the whole way home. It was a deep sleep and I was almost annoyed when I woke up to the thud of us landing.

As is the norm, I went to the baggage belts to collect my full-to-the-seams suitcase, wondering if it made it home with me. I waited and I waited and I waited. Until - and this, I promise you is true - there was only a bag of cat litter going around on the conveyor belt. Don’t ask me who checked in cat litter, how it got there or even why nobody collected it, but it was there. Around and around it went. I stared at it for around 5 minutes and started to do that weird laugh people do when something definitely isn't funny but you've ran out of every other reaction. I was in a comedy show and I was falling victim to all of the writer’s jokes.

I went up to the ‘lost baggage’ counter and explained my ordeal. The desk guy read my face and I could tell he felt so sorry for me. I must have looked horrendous - I hadn’t had a bed in 47 hours and my hair was stuck to my head. He looked at me tentatively and said in a calming voice:

“Don’t worry we will find it. Do you have your barcode for your luggage?”

I looked at him blankly. I hadn’t seen my case since Jackson Hole. I had been given a stupendous amount of paper since then - new boarding passes, etc. I pulled every piece of paper out of my pockets - there were a lot, I’ve kept them - and laid them out on the desk. The poor guy looked at me pityingly and sifted through the bits of crumpled paper. He found what he was looking for and done what he needed to do.

“Good news.” He said, “Your case is already here! It arrived on the direct flight from JFK half an hour ago.” He beamed me a smile. I just looked at him. The direct flight from JFK… the one I would have needed to wait 24 hours in JFK for, had arrived before me thanks to the delayed Amsterdam flight. He went to get my suitcase and I made my way to the first taxi out of there!

The 15 minute taxi journey allowed me to gather my thoughts and I smiled because, although the journey home was a treacherous one, the trip was extraordinarily special. And my reason for writing this down now is because I find it to be sheer comedy. The constant mishaps are too funny not to write down.

I arrived home at around 12:15pm local time. Scotland’s timezone is 7 hours in front of Jackson Hole. I left that chalet at 5:05am, meaning that it had taken me just over 48 hours to make it home - 27 hours more than it was meant to be. I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, stripped out of my gross clothes, put on some shorts and a t-shirt, and climbed into bed. The shower would need to wait.

Read about the Jackson Hole trip.

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