I spent most of today practicing one of my more challenging skills: waiting.
The trouble began Saturday night with my flight from Boston to Cincinnati. An unexpected traffic backup slowed the subway-to-airport shuttle bus at Logan to a crawl. I arrived at the ticketing counter some 28 minutes prior to departure. I elected to use the automated self check-in terminal. I normally hate these kinds of contraptions, but unlike those tacky and cumbersome automated check-OUTs at the grocery store, this terminal does not play obnoxiously loud recorded messages at the user. I will not give it any more credit for convenience, though, because after putting me through the usual rigamarole—”Hello, SCOTT D JOHNSTON…” and “touch OK to check in”—it gave me an error screen stating that the privilege of using electronic check-in is unavailable closer than thirty minutes to departure. But twenty-eight minutes? I would have to see an agent about that. As it turns out, the agent merely wanted to share some helpful travel advice (“I don’t understand why YOU PEOPLE always show up so late!”) and have me sign a form waiving my right to baggage delivery in the unlikely event that my bag should take more than a half-hour in its leisurely trip from the check-in to the aircraft.
Next was the security line. As usual, walking through the metal detector prompted the alarm cry of “Hold it. MALE ASSIST!” Followed shortly by the beeping wand treatment, the “limited pat-down” of my belt-line (forgive me for wearing belts with metal buckles!), and the X-raying of my shoes. Sitting on the bench, I tapped my shoeless feet helplessly as the terminal’s public address system echoed “Passenger Scott Johnston, please report to Gate 29 for immediate departure.” Incredibly, I made it on the plane, with tied shoes no less, though the gate agent gave me the evil eye. I swear.
After a half-hour of fruitless waiting by the baggage carousel in Cincinnati, I consulted a man with a walkie-talkie. He radioed his invisible friends below the carousel, who informed me by proxy that I’d better consult Delta Air Lines’ Baggage Services.
Imagine my joy when I learned that my bag was still in Boston, not for any fault of mine, but for a “baggage loader break-down!” My mind was briefly filled with images of a forlorn airport worker who finally lost his mind, throwing bags left and right, as a child throws toys in a tantrum. Reality struck once again, as of course a “baggage loader” is no longer a job, but a machine. A machine perhaps more temperamental than the most dissatisfied hourly workers it replaced.
My bag would arrive on the 10:30pm flight, and the gate agent happily offered to have it delivered. Well, why not? The delivery was to occur between 8 AM and noon Sunday.
By noontime Sunday, without clothes or a toothbrush, I grew suspicious. Delta Baggage Services has a toll-free number that consistently responds with a busy signal. I called the domestic flight booking line, and a salesperson immediately answered. They told me to keep trying the busy number. I entered my assigned number into the Delta web site for tracking delayed baggage. It actually worked: my bag had been given to “Capitol Express” trucking (which apparently bears no relation to Washington, DC). I called the Capitol Express dispatcher in Kentucky, who told me that I would have my bag by 4 or 5 PM, for sure.
At about 6 PM, I called Capitol Express again. A different dispatcher confirmed that it was still out for delivery, but in lieu of offering a new time, he suggested that mine would be “one of the first” to be delivered when the truck reached the East Side.
My bag arrived around 10 PM, a mere 26 hours after I did. I wonder if they drove it all the way from Boston. Or maybe they took it for a stroll in the Capitol. Let the vacation begin!