This past week was both bittersweet and hectic with finalizing travel arrangements, tearfully saying goodbye to my sister and Brazilian family, and traveling from Brazil to Jamaica via Panama. 22 hours of travel time plus traveling 4 hours by bus from Sobral to the airport in Fortaleza (in Brazil) and then traveling 3 hours by car from the airport to my house (in Jamaica) – a.k.a tired.
I don’t particularly enjoy air travel and I don’t think I’m unique in that regard.
Air travel could mean missing your flight, flight delays, cancelled flights, unplanned expenses, forgetting belongings at home, mislaid luggage, stolen luggage, confiscated items, cavity searches, and the list goes on.
My least favourite travel experience happened when I was 17. My family was on the way to the airport for our annual summer vacation trip to the US and while filling out our travel documents, my mother discovered that my passport had expired along with that of one of my younger brothers. Turning back, we went straight into town to get new passport pictures taken while my parents called our travel agent to get our tickets changed. Once the photos were taken we got them notarised and went to the passport office to pay for the 2-day Express service. The rest of my family (having been placed on standby) got a flight out the next day and my brother and I joined them the day after. That was the trip where my father got sick from eating green sausages. (Check it out here.)
Our road trip that year ended with us in Denver, Colorado, from which we were to fly home. I had a school function to attend so I was flying solo ahead of the rest of my family. Unbeknownst to us, because of the mishap with the tickets at the beginning of our trip, my return ticket had been cancelled.
That morning, one of my sisters drove me to the airport but we were running late and arrived just before they closed off my flight. Not being able to park or go in with me, she left while I rushed inside and begged them to check me in. They tried to help me but then we discovered the cancellation. I had $20.00 to my name and couldn’t pay for a new ticket.
I had two heavy duffel bags (because I was carrying home school supplies for my younger siblings) and didn’t have any international minutes to call my family, nor could I remember what their temporary US numbers were. At the time, I was sporting an old Nokia (the same model that Bruce Willis used in the movie ‘Hostage’) but had misplaced my charger and the battery was already low.
Not knowing what to do, I spent the morning lugging the bags around trying to get help, wasting money at the payphone, calling the few US numbers in my phone’s call history, hoping that one of them belonged to my parents, and monitoring the outgoing flight display screens.
Morning turned to afternoon and then to evening. My hope was that once my flight landed in Jamaica, the hue would be raised and then the search would begin to find me. But what I didn’t know was that my connecting flight through Miami had been delayed. The hue hadn’t been raised until 1 am the next morning when my Aunt realised that I wasn’t dawdling inside the customs area. On top of that, my family couldn’t get any information from the airports, them being very mealy-mouthed about passenger information.
While they were busy threatening airport personnel with bodily harm, I was scared and tired in an airport that had no comfortable places to sleep. I was hungry because I’d foolishly spent my day’s rations on a cappuccino so that I wouldn’t miss hearing my name over the intercom. By 2 in the morning, I was preparing myself to spend the last of my money on using the payphone to call another number that I hoped belonged to my parents.
The number turned out to belong to the disgruntled wife of my father’s friend, who interrupted me before I could explain my plight and demanded that I never call her husband again. That interchange so changed my phone etiquette that I always answer late night calls (from unknown numbers too) just in case it’s from some pitiful creature in need of help. The funny thing is, I remember my father’s friend’s name (and fondly still call him ‘Uncle’) but for the life of me, I can’t remember hers – as if I redacted it from my memory yet retained all the sensory details from our terrible conversation.
I spent the rest of the night (morning) having devotions, playing Snake on my phone and trying to snatch sleep in between the scheduled intercom broadcasts. My battery life stayed on 1 bar for the rest of the night and all of the next day.
By the next morning, both hungry and tired, I started hallucinating while watching all the passengers arriving for their flights in that Terminal. I started hearing my parents’ voices; every black family looked like my family; every little boy was my youngest brother.
At some point that morning, I heard my name over the intercom telling me to go to the ‘white phone’. I didn’t know where this white phone was, but I begged the man sitting beside me to watch my bags while I ran to find the white phone. I got directions and answered the phone where I collapsed into great heaving sobs when I heard my mother’s voice. My family had spent the entire day trying to find out where I was and were going to come to the airport. They had also bought a new ticket for me.
When I went back to where my bags were, tear tracks still staining my cheeks, I saw the kind man valiantly defending my bags from being taken by two airport security guards and a K-9. I ran up to intervene and after accepting their admonishments, thanked the man and sat to wait patiently for my family. He eventually left for his own flight and the hallucinations continued - except these were happier occurrences - since I knew for a fact that I would eventually find my family.
Hours passed and I got worried again but since there was nothing I could do, I just looked and waited until I eventually nodded off. I awoke to the most beautiful sound in all my memories – my eldest sister’s voice as she said, “Hey.”
I cried some more as I drank in the sight of her in her lime green shirt, beige capris, green and beige Puma sneakers and green and beige cap. When she touched me I knew that she wasn’t a hallucination.
She led me outside to where the rest of my family had congregated. We had to drive to a completely different terminal (so all my monitoring of outgoing flights from my terminal would have been to no avail). They hadn’t been able to get me a ticket on their flight but found another that transited through Houston, Texas. After our brief but joyful reunion, they gave me more money for food because they had to check-in to their flight, and I was left alone again with my phone battery still on 1 bar. Thankfully no other difficulties occurred for that flight.
As soon as I got home, my phone died and despite trying to charge it, it never turned on again. That’s always been a source of comfort to me. It was miraculous that my phone hadn’t died in all that time. Prior to that final adventure, whenever my phone got to 1 bar, it didn’t last more than a few minutes before it died. And then when I got home, as if I needed additional proof that God had been with me in the middle of my distress and had miraculously preserved my phone so that I could play Snake, it died for the last time.
I haven’t had any flights that were remotely as traumatising as that one. My flight from Brazil on Thursday was wonderfully easy. I did almost miss one of my connections, but the airport personnel were extremely helpful in getting me to my flight right before it closed off.
So do you have any crazy flight experiences to share?
P.S. After composing this post I asked my mother what Uncle’s wife’s name was and she replied, “You mean the one that stressed you out?” and then told me her name; so it’s no longer redacted from my memory.