Going to Charlotte — An Epic Travel Misadventure
First, some background. Last year Geoff and I agreed that rather than another SCUBA adventure we would spend our nickels this year on a trip to the night races at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. Our itinerary was to fly in and out of Las Vegas (LAS) rather than Los Angeles (LAX), in either case the early flight departure required leaving home at 2 o’clock AM — or an overnight stay before. The drive from Ridgecrest would be about an hour longer but the La Quinta hotel in LAS offers free ‘park and fly’ where LAX would generally cost no less than another Ben Franklin and change. From LAS the plan was to fly nonstop to Charlotte (CLT), North Carolina, spend a couple days there, then motor on to Bristol, Tennessee, in a rental car.
There is a saying that plans are voided the moment a trip begins. In this case, all went well until the next morning at the LAS airport. Somehow, my three remaining brain cells were programmed for a 07:05 AM boarding time for our American Airlines departure.
Geoff needed to shop for an iPad charging cable, so he and I parted with the understanding that we would meet later at the AA boarding gate. On the way to the gate, I spied a coffee shop. A glance at my watch at 05:20 convinced me that I had plenty of time for breakfast before boarding for a 4+hour flight. I parked myself in a booth with a view of the concourse, so I could flag Geoff when he came by.
At 20 minutes to six, I figured I’d missed Geoff on the concourse and sent him a text message asking where he was, telling his where I sat. I followed that up five minutes later with a phone call that went to his voicemail. Then came a text message from him: “GET ON THE PLANE!”
It didn’t take me a minute to realize I had a problem. I dropped a $20 bill on the table, grabbed my carry-on, and started to the gate.
Too late. Geoff came charging in my direction. “We missed the flight!” he said. We went to the gate to find it locked. Waving at the folks down the walkway to the airplane accomplished nothing. The airplane doors were closed, and the engines were started. Moments later the airplane pushed away, headed for CLT without us. The boarding time was 05:35, departure time was 06:05. A caterpillar would have looked down at me, I felt so low.
Geoff hustled over to another boarding counter and explained our problem. The process took a few minutes, but the clerk found us two seats on a later plane with a plane change in Phoenix, Arizona, and printed out boarding passes for us. I didn’t think to check it and tucked mine into my shirt pocket and Geoff kept his. Around 08:15AM we arrived at Sky Harbor airport to sit out a couple hours until the next leg scheduled for 10 o’clock. Not finding the cable he needed in LAS, Geoff headed out to the myriad shops while I plopped down in a seat guarding the baggage.
When Geoff originally booked our trip in First Class, in row 3. On the LAS to Phoenix leg we had to settle for row 1, the ‘bulkhead’ row because they were the only two open seats. I pulled out my boarding pass to see where we were sitting for the second leg. That’s when I noticed something that kicked my pulse rate up. I looked at my watch – the time was 08:45. The boarding pass said my plane left at 08:27! I went up to the counter and asked the clerk to check my boarding pass, that I was supposed to be on a 10 o’clock flight.
“Nope,” she said, “you missed your flight.” And she confirmed that I was not booked on the flight with Geoff later. She advised me to go to the Customer Assistance desk for help. I waited a few minutes for Geoff to get back and gave him the news that I’d blown it…. AGAIN! Well, except for not checking earlier, this wasn’t really my fault. He checked his boarding pass and it was correct. Apparently, the clerk in LAS tapped the wrong buttons on her computer. Geoff took over and lead the way to the Customer Assistance position. Within a few minutes he and the ‘assistor’ had me a seat on the same plane with Geoff. Except, it was in coach because by that time all seats in First Class were booked. Small penalty for the problems I caused at the beginning.
We eventually made it to Charlotte….together….only four hours or so later than originally planned.