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Guest Writer

Can you miss a plane that hasn't left?
The wrong kind of traveler
by Ryan Douglas

“There are two kinds of travelers – those who packed light
and those who wish they had.”

– Rick Steves

was a little tight on cash, so I made all my Christmas gifts this year. I labored over them for hours, then wrapped them and stuffed them into a large travel bag so I could bring them home on my flight.

That was a mistake.

On the day of my flight, I found myself and my bag of homemade presents at the end of a long line that wound three times in serpentine coils slithering into the main walkway, then turned 90 degrees and continued for another 30 feet into the retail area at PDX.

When I finally got to the front of the line, a ticket agent, James, glanced at my ticket and abruptly concluded that although my plane didn't leave for another 40 minutes. I had missed my flight.

I couldn't understand. How does someone miss a plane that hasn't left?

James explained that because all flights leaving Portland that week were overbooked, the airline had sold my ticket to someone else who had arrived "on time" for the flight. He then advised me that if I was a fool (his expression seemed to indicate that I was), that I could try to get on the next flight as a standby.

Realistically, he said, my chances of getting out of Portland were slim until, and with a chuckle he concluded: "let's see, here … next Tuesday."

Next Tuesday was five days away. By then, my vacation would be near its end. Christmas would be ruined.

I demanded more options from James, and for my sins, he gave me one. He told me that the only way I could get on an airplane before next Tuesday was to purchase another ticket.

I won't pretend to understand how someone can buy a ticket on a flight that has no vacant seats, but out of either stupidity or desperation, I agreed to his plan. Then he sent me to the end of another meandrous line.

At the front of the second line, the difference between next Tuesday and this Friday is $465.

Another agent took my money and issued me a new ticket on a flight that left the next day. She also informed me that the airline had a baggage-check penalty: passengers with baggage are required to check in 45 minutes prior to departure, while frugal and bag-less passengers can take advantage of "loophole check-in" and board their flights with ease – as long as they arrive at the gate 10 minutes prior to departure.

James had misinformed me. I questioned the second agent, and she again assured me of the 10-minute loophole. When I told her that James said my seat was already taken, she leaned forward with a puzzled look.

"He said that?" she asked, in disbelief. Then she apologized, and told me that she would make sure that James was reprimanded for giving me that bit of bad information.

Had I known of this policy in advance, I would have left my bag at the counter for the bomb squad to deal with, and hightailed it to the gate long before. Instead, I was left to flounder in the Portland rain for another day, with nothing to do except plot my revenge and stare at my bag of burden. If I hadn't tried to save money by hand-making and delivering my gifts, I could have made my flight.

The sad fact was that my bag, everything in it, and a new TV could have been purchased for less than $465.

Needless to say, I was highly agitated. I picked up my expensive bag of presents and carried it over to James, who by this time was finishing up with another satisfied customer.

I calmly explained that because of his inability to inform me of the 10-minute gate check-in loophole, I had just missed my flight. I told him that I would like to speak with his supervisor.

James was astounded, indignant, and otherwise not happy. He quickly left his post, but instead of getting his supervisor, he called security. This lowly ticketing agent, "James," whose unconscionable callousness had already cost me one day of vacation and a considerable amount of money, was still not content. Now he was trying to get me thrown in airport jail.

Taking my options carefully into consideration, I did the thing any decent citizen might do; I fled like a wild gazelle.

The next day, my bag and I returned to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I made my plane with ease, yet, hard as I tried, I couldn't clear the events of the previous day from my mind. The flight was turbulent and restless. Each time I began to slip beyond the early stages of sleep, I was awakened by dark recollections of James and his ruthless scowl.

By the time I reached my destination, I was ready only for sleep. My family met me at the airport, where condolences and sympathies were expressed by all. They helped me carry my bag out to the car.

But somehow, in all the confusion and sorrow, the bag never left the airport parking lot.

It was last seen sitting next to the car, and it hasn't been seen since. An exhaustive search of the car, the house and the airport lost-and-found proved fruitless. Probably, the bag brought its misfortune to some other luckless traveler who happened upon it in the parking lot and decided to put it in the back of his truck.

I just hope he liked the gifts.

E-mail Ryan at ryonie@hotmail.com, and see more of his work in our archives.

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