Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Computer Says No

20th August

We left our hotel  just before 6am for the short drive to LAX.  When we got there about ten minutes later, we were directed to the car drop which was another 15 minutes further away. Despite this the actual drop was quick and the shuttle was there to take us back to the airport terminal straight away.  We arrived an hour before our flight was due to take off and having checked in the night before, only had to drop our bags........

The queue for bag drop was enormous.  I checked with staff who confirmed it was the correct queue despite the people at the front having to re check in (this turned out to be an opportunity to sell upgrades).  

There was also a sign saying "Bag drop closes 45 minutes before flight."  I started to worry slightly when I realised a) we weren't going to get to the front of the queue in 15 minutes and b) there was no staff so we would be up against a machine; ones and zeros.   

Sure enough when I swiped my boarding card twenty two minutes later, I got a big fat zero and the screen informed me that  bag check in had closed for our flight.  I asked the nearest staff member could they please override this and take our bags.  He told us he couldn't, he only took the bags and when I asked whom I could talk to he pointed to a queue twice as long as ours.  "You'll have to rebook your flight."   
It was a disaster.  We had a 2.5 hour connection in New York to catch our flight home.    Even if I wanted to slap a credit card down and demand "Two seats on the next goddamn flight to New York",  I couldn't, there was no counter to slap anything down onto, no desk, seemingly no one in charge. 
We had less than 40 minutes before the plane took off.  I briefly considered leaving the luggage in LA, maybe repacking our hand luggage to include any precious items (Hot Tamales?).    I saw another member of staff and I approached him with our predicament and need to catch a connecting flight. He was sympathetic and suggested that we might like to "Try the guys outside with the hats" 

Whatever this meant I didn't know but I thanked him and ran outside. There were indeed guys with hats there, taking luggage from vehicles arriving at the kerb.  I went straight up to one and told him I'd been told he was the guy who could help me.  He asked me if he would get a good tip.  I said of course, I wanted us both to benefit.  He then asked me how much.  

Now, normally like most people I'm sure, I go to the airport with just a little leftover currency for drink, food emergencies etc.  but I happened to have three hundred dollars.  I knew missing our flight was likely to cost us between £1500-2000 and I was hoping he didn't know this.  I also didn't want to offer everything at once because not surprisingly I was in unfamiliar territory here.

My opening gambit was "I don't know, how about fifty dollars?"

"Ok, fine" he said.  "Follow me and let me have your passports"

I ran back into Jo to get the passports and gave them to the hat guy.  He returned shortly after with our boarding passes and then took our bags. Again he came back and gave us the luggage receipt.  I was confident now that whatever happened, we would get our luggage back - someday.

He disappeared again and I took the opportunity to tip and thank the original member of staff who told us about the 'hat guys'.

The Hat guy returned and again asks us to follow him, this time down a corridor and up a fire escape where I gladly gave him the fifty dollars.  We emerged to a small security area and were told to wait behind a sign which said 'Government Officials Only'.  In the meantime the original staff member whom I had just tipped appeared.  Jo and I were both visibly shaken by the experience and he comforted Jo as we walked past assuring us that there was nothing more to worry about and we were going to make our flight.

We did.  It was pretty scary and frustrating but we sat down relieved and still a little in shock I think.  We arrived in New York and whilst waiting at check in for our Virgin flight home, an attendant was asking our small queue of people if anyone was on the next flight (the one before ours) so they could get them to the front of the queue for bag drop.  Thank you Virgin for knowing how to organise things properly.

We boarded the plane for the final leg of our journey.  We had been away for a whole month and something that started as just a flight last year evolved into a trip of a lifetime to celebrate Jo's up and coming 40th birthday.   

We couldn't help but talk of best moments and favourite places.  For us both the scenery and wildlife of Grand Teton & Yellowstone was the definite highlight.  Also, we hadn't imagined the independence we would feel travelling around such a popular attraction in high season, encountering as  we did very few people for most of the time.

After so many tries around the world, to finally see whales up close, and blue whales no less.  That's definitely one removed from the bucket list.

The biggest surprise for me was Death Valley and it's definitely somewhere I would return to spend more time.  I really enjoyed the stillness, how remote it was and the extremes of temperature and geology.  I liked the slightly overwhelming effect it had in being able to see such vast distances but hearing nothing other than your own pulse.

We had driven through thunderstorms and fires. Walked through forests, meadows, canyons, ghost towns, deserts, rivers and mountains.  We'd been to 13000ft above sea level and 282ft below, and driven over 4000 miles.

We'd seen bears, buffalos, bats, moose, coyotes and whales among many other animals.  Everything we hoped we may see, we did see.  With the small exception of wolves, but there's another adventure for another day and besides, our annual national parks pass is valid until August 2012.....


I'm also so glad I documented our trip here as it will serve as a much welcome aide memoire for the future; which in my case is around 24hours after the event.  I hope to continue my writing, and even if I'm not entirely sure what my subject will be yet, you may find something interesting at

Thanks for dropping by.

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