Fret Blue


     Even in the best of weather, flying can give you the blues. Nowadays, you have to arrive at the airport two hours early, stand on line to check your luggage, and wait again to go through security. At the security station, you must remove your shoes, watches, and belts before entering the inner airport sanctum, and then you have to quickly collect everything before trudging to your gate.  If you’re lucky, you and your companions will NOT be singled out for the random-but-humiliating pat down or “magic wand” body survey. Hopefully—if you have pre-printed your boarding pass—you can then relax and wait till they call your row number (whereupon a mini-stampede of passengers will rush to be the first aboard).  What’s the big hurry to jam into a narrow seat with your knees crushed against the seat of the passenger in front of you?  After all, the plane isn’t going to take off until every last person has been buckled up, with their carry-on bags properly stowed.   Then and only then—if there are no delays due to weather, mechanical issues, or security—your plane will line up (yes, another line) to be cleared for take- off.
     Already tired and stressed out by the best case scenario I have just described?  Consider a worse case scenario, like what happened this past week when the polar vortex and a New York City snowstorm made the friendly skies downright hostile, delaying and stranding thousands of passengers.  Among the anxious, frustrated and delayed was my son, Max, returning from Los Angeles on Jet Blue.  Max was supposed to return home last Thursday, but after an initial 2 hour delay and knowing that he was due to arrive in a blizzard, my son  opted to reschedule his flight.  Since many other passengers were returning from the holidays and scrambling to find new flights, Max ended up on a Sunday flight, scheduled to leave LA at 3:26PM and arrive at JFK in New York at 9:26PM.  But—as luck would have it— a Delta plane skidded off an icy runway at JFK that morning, and the airport was closed for two hours.

     My son is a nervous flier to begin with, having witnessed 9/11 news images at age 10, along with other clips of carnage from air crashes at sea, complete with floating teddy bears. Theses indelible memories only added to Max’s frustration and anxiety when he learned that his Jet Blue flight was delayed  FOUR  hours and scheduled to land at 1:26 AM.  Even more worrisome was the fact that there was a “+1” next to the “estimated” arrival time when Henry and I checked Jet Blue’s website.  What did “+1”mean?  A Flight Status report is supposed to help passengers adjust and adapt to changes and arrange ground transportation accordingly.  Plus or minus an hour is definitely NOT helpful (unless it’s the answer to a math problem in elementary school.)  When Henry called for clarification, Jet Blue provided a recorded voice that warned of a long wait on hold (due to a busy switchboard) and encouraged callers to return to their confusing website.  After about 10 minutes, another robo-voice informed Henry that operators were busy helping other customers and he should call back later.  Then Jet Blue hung up on him!
     It’s impossible to reach a live human being by telephone.  Apparently those days are over, gone with handwritten thank you notes and electronic devices that require cords.  Before going to sleep Saturday night, I checked Jet Blue’s website again and learned that my son’s flight was further delayed and currently estimated to arrive at 3:26 AM.  That pesky “+1” was still there, mysteriously and uniquely assigned to Max’s flight.  There would be no cabs at all at 3:26 AM, so we’d have to pay for a car service.

     Max called from LA to tell us he couldn’t change flights again.  My son had committed to a free-lance job on Monday and was afraid he’d be fired if he couldn’t get home.  This job was his only source of income (other than his reluctant parents).  “Now the flight is due at 4:26 AM,” he complained.

     “Bad luck, but try to tough it out,” we told him.  Henry and I didn’t want him to lose the job either.“We were supposed to board half an hour ago,” he fretted, “but they couldn’t find the pilot! Can you believe that?”

     It was hard to believe, but when it comes to delayed air travel, anything seems possible.  “I’m sure they have to look for a pilot because of all the delays,” I tried to soothe him.  “They probably need to find a pilot who’s rested.”  Silently, I hoped they weren’t trawling for recent flight school graduates or hiring a pilot who’d been fired from another airline.

     Needless to say, it was difficult for me to fall asleep that night.  I put my iPhone on the night table, and tossed and turned only half asleep until I heard the reassuring ping of my son’s text at 4:44 AM, telling me he’d landed safely.  He’d be tired, but he wouldn’t be fired.   It could have been worse.  Shortly after Max arrived home, Jet Blue decided to cancel most of its northeast flights.  Check out http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2014/01/jetblue-shuts-down-all-flights-jfk-laguardia-newark-boston and get the full scoop on why so many passengers were stranded.

     It was my son’s first—and perhaps last?—flight on Jet Blue.  Although Max had inadvertently ended up on a red eye, he’d actually been LUCKY to arrive only 7 hours late. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way. His Facebook post about the experience would make any airline executive feel blue.                     

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