Come close, dear reader, and lend your ear:
Of a traveler’s exploits you will hear.
‘Twas the eighteenth of August at quarter past two
Packed were the bags for a last review,
When the telephone rang and dissolved my cheer.
Once upon a time, getting there was half the fun. Air travel used to be and still can be enjoyable for those few who can afford the best accommodations. And even then . . .
Though my latest travel experience may not be representative, it exemplifies the misadventures that increasingly plague travelers.
The trouble began about two o’clock in the afternoon, an hour and a half before I expected to leave for the airport. The airline called to say that my flight wouldn’t leave as scheduled at 8 p.m.— rather, the plane would take off 17 hours later at one in the afternoon of the next day.
And— I had to check in at JFK at 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t love leaving the house at 7 a.m., and four and a half hours before flight time seemed an excessively long time for checking in, but in view of the trip’s inauspicious beginning, I decided to be prudent.
Early-morning traffic is unusually light in August, so I arrived at the airport before 8 o’clock. A long, snaking line had already formed. I took my place behind three families and waited.
Almost an hour later, when the line had wound out of sight, a few counters opened, and the next phase of the pre-boarding procedures began. Passengers had to haul their bags, one at a time, onto the scale to be weighed and then again to take them to the T.S.A. for inspection. How the fragile-looking older people managed to lift their baggage, I don’t know. I’m pretty strong, so I had no problem walking over to the T.S.A. with a large knapsack on my back and one ample (and heavy) handbag slung over each shoulder. My hands were free to wheel my two relatively smallish cases, one on top of the other. (In the innocent days before 9/11, when theft or loss were the main hazards, passengers consigned their luggage to the counter agent, and the bags slid out of sight on a conveyor belt.)
My bags deposited with the T.S.A., I walked to security and handed over my boarding pass. It was swiftly rejected by the officer. He had no problem with the new date of departure inked in by hand, but the stamped date was lacking. Horrors. Back to the swarm at the counters. At least I didn’t have to wait on the interminable line. Back again to security, where my double-dated boarding pass now passed muster.
The next hurdle was the body scan. I refuse to expose my body to unnecessary radiation. Of course, there was another wait to be patted down. But God knows I had time. Perhaps I look sufficiently unlike a terrorist that the pat-downs I’ve experienced haven’t been at all aggressive or even unpleasant. Just another routine to be ticked off.
By then it was 9:30— only four hours to while away. But I always carry varied reading material, and there was wifi in the lounge, so the hours slid by effortlessly. Kindles and i-Pads do lighten the load considerably, and besides, I always have something left to attend to.
The flight itself was uneventful, except for arriving late, not at mid-morning as originally scheduled, but 16 hours later, at 2:50 in the middle of the night. And my journey still wasn’t over.
My husband, who always insists on meeting me personally at the airport, had to leave Capri the day before, because the last boat leaves the island in the evening. Accustomed to his unfailing punctuality, I stood near the automatic exit doors of Customs while waiting for the carousel to begin its slow wending through the mass of tired travelers. As the doors swung open, I looked out. I expected to see Sal waving and smiling. To my great surprise, for the first time in over 40 years he wasn’t there. I had two cellphones, but the American one couldn’t deal with Italy, and the Italian one had a technical glitch, so there was no way to communicate with him. I began to worry and wonder, imagining the disagreeable scenarios that might have detained him. I was sure that Sal was frantically trying to reach me, and then cursing me for not turning on my phone.
All told, I spent about an hour at the airport. Sal thought he was arriving early, but whoever was in charge of updating the arrival times must have gone back to sleep after giving our flight an ETA that was off by 40 minutes. We left the airport about 3:30 and drove through the sleeping city to the port, where we waited for the gates to open and allow us to board the earliest boat at 5:40.
The night was dark and quiet; the usually raucous, teeming Neapolitan streets strangely calm and deserted. The boat slid smoothly out of the harbor and into the Bay of Naples.
The coast was barely silhouetted against the dusky sky. As we watched, the sky reddened to a deep crimson that slowly dissolved into gold as the sun rose behind Vesuvius. That sight almost compensated for the peripatetic journey. We were home just before 7 a.m., only 18 hours late.