After the uneventful flight from Florida to Newark, I headed downstairs to the baggage carousel to retrieve my big, red suitcase. I pulled it off the conveyor belt, hooked my black carry-on bag over its handles and headed off to find the AirTrain that would get me from Terminal A to Terminal B, where my United flight to London was schedueled to take off in three hours time.
Of course, the elevator that would take me up to the AirTrain was at the other end of the terminal, so off I trudged, pulling Big Red behind me.
Once in the correct terminal, I again had to walk the length of the place to get to the United desk, where I waited in line for some time. Approaching the desk at last, I was told that this line was for ticketing only. If one already had a ticket, one had to go to the United desk on the floor above. Sigh.
So, I walked back the length of the terminal to the elevator and went up a floor. By now, the sandals I was wearing, i.e. my most comfortable sandals that I've been wearing daily for months with no problems at all, were beginning to hurt. "Just a bit longer," I told myself, "and you'll be in England for nearly a month. A month. You can do this!"
As I got nearer to the United desk, I noticed that they now funneled all passengers through to the automatic check-in machines. I waited in the line for some time before I was finally able to put my passport into the machine and print out a luggage tag, which I then had to apply to my luggage. Then, I got in the long line waiting to approach the desk.
"Do you have your boarding pass?" the United woman asked when I'd finally gotten to the front of the line.
"No. Don't you give me the boarding pass?"
"No. You have to go that machine over there and print out your luggage tag and boarding pass."
"I just printed out my luggage tag. And attached it to my suitcase. See?"
She saw. "Well you should have gotten your boarding pass from the machine at the same time. Go back to the machine you just used and see if it's there."
"Just a bit longer," I told myself , "and you'll be in England for nearly a month. A month. You can do this!"
So back I trudged to the machine. No boarding pass. The passenger using the machine said, "Oh, I saw a boarding pass and handed it to her," nodding towards a United agent nearby.
"Excuse me, but this lady said she handed you my boarding pass. She found it in the machine."
"Oh, yeah," said the agent, "but I can't hold on to them. Company policy is that I destroy all left boarding passes. You'll have to go through the whole process again and reprint another."
What fresh Hell was this? Surely this was a joke. I was on a hidden camera show, right? Or maybe this was all just a bad dream. Well, a nightmare. Praying that morning would dawn and I'd soon wake up, I went through the whole rigmarole with the boarding pass machine again and then lugged all my belongings back into the long line of passengers waiting to approach the desk. My feet were really beginning to hurt now, more specifically my two little toes, which were starting to let me know they weren't happy. I told them to shut up. I wasn't too happy, either.
When it was finally my turn, again, the United rep asked me to put my suitcase on the platform and watched as I struggled with it.
"Can you give me a hand here?" I asked.
"I can't. It's against company policy."
I straightened up and stared at her. "It's against company policy to help your customers? Is that what you're saying?"
"It's a health thing."
A health thing. Really? Cause none of this was doing my blood pressure any good.
The upshot of my finally wrestling Big Red onto the platform was that it was overweight. This again. Sigh. "By seven pounds," the rep said, suddenly wishing to be of some use.
Seven pounds? Had they served Big Red an eight course meal while it rode in the baggage compartment?
"You'll have to go back over there," the United rep said, pointing back at the machines I had just come away from, For the second time. "You'll have to take some stuff out of your luggage until it's at fifty pounds."
"And exactly how will I be able to tell when it's fifty pounds?" I asked.
"There's a scale next to the machine."
"So let me get this straight - I have to tag my own luggage, print my own boarding pass and weigh my own luggage. Is there anything that United Airlines is still prepared to do for it's customers? I mean, I'm not going to be asked to serve drinks on board or to actually fly the plane to London, am I?"
"No, madam, you won't be asked to fly the plane."
"How much would it be if I just paid the overweight fee?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"Two hundred dollars?!"
"I'm sure that if you just take a couple of things out of -"
"Right. Fine. A couple of things. That will then be with me in the cabin rather than with the suitcase in the baggage hold. On the same plane. Same weight. Same plane."
"It's company policy."
"Of course it is. And what's the company motto, Sempre Aggravate?"
"Just a bit longer," I told myself, "and you'll be in England for nearly a month. A month. You can do this!"
So, I went back to the machine (we were on first name terms by this point), laid Big Red down, unzipped her and began to rifle through her guts. I took out one of the boxes of tour stuff and crammed it into my black hand held, along with the computer, camera, nook, power cords and make up it already contained. I took out the tour notebook with all our vital tour documents and stuffed that into my slouchy hobo purse. I took out several other things I thought would weigh the most and stuffed them in various places until both the purse and the black hand held were filled to bursting. And incredibly heavy. Then I went back and waited in line again.
I got the same terrifically helpful agent when I got to the desk. I put my incredibly heavy carry on bags down and wrestled Big Red back onto the platform.
"You're still a bit overweight," the nice lady said.
I stared at her. She stared back. Cue Western gunslinger music.
"Maybe if you just take out something small," she said helpfully.
"And put it where? You only allow two pieces of carry on baggage and both of my bags are already crammed full of stuff."
"Just something small."
I unzipped Big Red and found a sandwich sized baggie that I'd filled with tea bags and removed it.
"There!" the rep said, looking at the scale. "That'll do it."
"Really. Really. An eighth of an ounce made all the difference, did it?"
"You'll be boarding at gate 2,034. Have a nice flight!"
Part Three Coming Soon!