By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
On New Year’s Day 1914, the first commercial passenger airline flight traveled from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Tampa, just across Tampa Bay.
The pilot was Tony Jannus, a test pilot and barnstormer, while the first paying passenger was Abram C. Pheil, former mayor of St. Petersburg. The flight spanned 21 miles and rose no higher than 50 feet off the water.
There is no word whether or not Pheil’s luggage arrived with him.
Worldwide in 2012, 26.04 million bags were mishandled by airlines, which comes to 8.83 per every 1,000 passengers. The definition of mishandled bags are those that were delayed, damaged, pilfered, lost or stolen.
My bride and I traveled to the sunny South last week, to Hilton Head Island and Charleston, S.C., as well as Savannah, Ga. It was a great trip, despite the fact the sunny South was, for the most part, cold, dreary and wet.
On Friday, the day of our return, we were basking in the glow of a good trip as we arrived at the airport in plenty of time, checked our bags, got our boarding passes and settled in to wait.
All at once, my phone blurped, and one of those app thingies informed me the plane coming to take us from Charleston to Atlanta was delayed, meaning we would likely miss our flight from Atlanta to Tulsa.
I immediately sought the counsel of an airline representative, who gave me a phone number to call, put us on standby for a later Atlanta-Tulsa flight and informed me that all the hotels in Charleston were booked for the night.
Suddenly, I had lost that warm glow.
I called the number, told the lady who answered of our plight and then heard her say “Oh my,” as she attempted to re-book us. I didn’t want to hear her say, “Oh, my.” I wanted her to tell me everything was going to be OK.
Instead, she said the next flight from Atlanta to Tulsa that she could get us on wasn’t leaving until Monday. And if we elected to stay longer in Charleston, where there were supposedly no more hotel rooms, we wouldn’t get home until Tuesday.
Actually I think I handled things calmly and reasonably. I resisted the urge to scream and curse, then curl up into a ball, all the while sucking my thumb and weeping quietly.
The airline lady could get us seats on a flight to Wichita the next day. That would mean renting a car and driving to Tulsa to pick up our vehicle, but we grabbed at that straw, all the while hoping against hope we would either make our original flight, or get on the last one of the day as standbys.
When we arrived in Atlanta, the pilot asked passengers who didn’t have tight connections to stay seated. When the seat belt sign went off, all but about a half dozen passengers stood and began frantically pushing to the front.
My bride, still recovering from knee problems, had to wait for a wheelchair, while I raced up the ramp, praying that when I reached the top and located our next flight on the connections board, it would say “delayed.” Instead, it said “closed,” meaning the aircraft’s door.
The airline’s help center wasn’t very helpful. They reiterated that all flights to Tulsa were booked for days. We still had our standby status and our flight to Wichita the next day. All we could do was wait.
“We’ll never get on this flight,” I told my bride as we waited at the gate. “We’re stuck here.” She kept imploring me to calm down, saying my face was the color of my sweater, which was a deep maroon. It could have been worse. It could have been chartreuse.
I watched the electronic board at the gate like a starving man staring in the window of a bakery. Each time it flashed to the cleared list, more names had been added, ours not among them. I stared on, trying to will our names out of the red and into the green.
Finally, it happened. There we were. I blinked, looked away and looked back. We were on the flight. I knew it all along.
As it turns out, we arrived in Tulsa only about three hours later than we should have. Our bags, however, were not so lucky.
After watching everyone else pick up their luggage at Tulsa, we found ourselves standing at the airline ticket counter late in the evening, joined by a woman waiting for a parcel and two stranded folks seeking hotel vouchers.
The airline lady had some luggage that came in on an earlier flight. It wasn’t ours, though I did find myself wondering if the bags’ contents might be our size. I was even tempted to filch the parcel the woman had been waiting for, until it turned out to be horse semen.
She took our name, address and phone number and assured us our bags would be delivered when they came in.
The next day, I tried to track our bags on the little phone app thingy. My bag had arrived in Tulsa, while my bride’s went to Wichita. I called the airline and the woman kept questioning me about the nearest airport to us. She seemed dissatisfied by the answer we live about equally distant from Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita’s airports. Besides, she said, the bags wouldn’t be shipped until Monday.
Finally, I said we had to be in Oklahoma City the next afternoon, so why didn’t they send them there so we could pick them up? She grumpily said she would put in a request, then thanked me for my patience, which is like complimenting Mr. Clean on his hair.
So I went back to tracking the bags on my phone. Mine stayed in Tulsa, while my bride’s flew first to Minneapolis, then to Tulsa. I wonder if we can get credit for frequent flier miles?
Finally, late in the day, we got a call from the courier hired by the airline. He was bringing our bags and should be here by 11.
Eleven came and went, as did 12. My bride had given up and gone to bed. I was dozing when the doorbell finally rang. It was the courier. His GPS, he said, had mistakenly sent him to Waukomis, which made him late. I was far too tired to muster a wisecrack about the efficacy of his electronics, so I simply signed the proffered receipt and schlepped the bags into the house, then collapsed into bed.
I will travel by air again, someday. But I will no longer expect to arrive on time or have my luggage arrive with me, choosing instead to be pleasantly surprised if one or both of those miracles occur.
Whoever said getting there is half the fun is full of horse semen.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.