Last week, I flew from San Jose, California, to Ottawa, Ontario, a three-flight trip that was scheduled to take 10 hours. But because of one delayed departure, the journey ultimately included the three flights, an unexpected hotel layover, lost luggage, a few tears and a total of 28 hours. And if that’s not bad enough, I broke a lot of my own communication rules along the way.
My first clue that the trip might be jinxed was realizing, as it went through the security scanner, that I’d put the $60 gift bottle of wine in my carry-on bag. (This has nothing to do with my hearing loss, just to my stupidity.) Upon confiscation, I suggested they drink it with some nice cheese and crackers because this was no ordinary bottle of plonk.
And so began my day from hell. There’s no reason to detail the long list of late flights, missed connections, staff that were rude, helpful, bewildered or simply unavailable, or the disappearance of my lovely suede duffel bag into the black hole of LaGuardia airport. Suffice to say that I spent four hours ping-ponging between three different baggage claim areas, airline counters and many phone calls, trying to find my bag and to get out of New York, neither of which happened that night. By the time I checked into a nearby hotel for a few hours’ sleep, I was resigned that my bag and I might never meet again.
There is a happy ending to this story and looking back, there’s probably nothing I could have done to prevent the fiasco of that night or the next morning, when it took another hour for the airline gods to align and print me a boarding pass. However, I wonder if I may have misheard the frantic instructions of the ticket agent at the gate where I disembarked from the late Dallas flight. I’ll never know, but I do know that adhering to my own travel communication rules would have lessened the overall agony.
Self-identifying my hearing loss: Usually I am very good at this. Before boarding a plane, I advise airline staff that I cannot hear the PA announcements and ask to be notified when I should board. (Frequently this puts me at the front of the line with babies and the infirm, although sometimes they treat me as if I’m mentally fragile and personally escort me to the plane.) On this particular trip, I may not have been at the top of my game. I SHOULD have said: Sorry, but I’m not clear what you just said I’m supposed to do or who I speak to when I reach the other terminal for a plane that’s leaving in 20 minutes? When I finally flung myself in front of the gate for the plane about to depart for Toronto (at least it was the same country), the frantic conversation went something like this:
Air Canada agent: “I never got a call from anyone at American Airlines.”
Me: “Pardon? (He repeats.) “But she spoke on the phone with someone here!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, it wasn’t us. Where’s your bag?”
“Pardon? (He repeats.) “I don’t know, I just got off the plane.”
“Sorry—no bag, no flight. Go find your bag and then come back here.”
“Pardon? (He repeats.) “But the flight leaves in 10 minutes and I don’t know where to find my bag!”
“Please don’t raise your voice to me, ma’am. Baggage is down there. Who’s next in line, please?”
As it turns out, I should have been placed on that flight, with or without a bag. Maybe I didn’t hear something right.
Don’t Bluff. When I checked into the hotel, I forgot to self-identify. Phoning down to tell the front desk staff, I asked them, should they need to break down my door and carry me to safety, to please send a strong guy with good communication skills, my standard request. The staff person on the phone kept talking and I didn’t understand him, so I just repeated my request. Maybe he was trying to tell me they couldn’t provide the particular rescue guy I’d requested. I’ll never know because I bluffed—and happily there was no emergency that required me to be rescued.
Keep technology charged. My cellphone and iPad were crucial that night, but their charge, low to begin with, was draining fast. Needing to arrange my flight for the next day (ticketing staff had gone home for the night, of course), I found an electrical outlet next to a baggage carousel that wasn’t being used. In the middle of my phone call, the carousel started and I jumped up. Focusing on my phone conversation, it took me a few moments to realize my purse was still on the carousel and was around to the other side.
Keep emergency essentials in carry-on bags. In my missing suitcase were my toothbrush and other ablutions, my shake-awake alarm clock, two months’ supply of contact lenses and my backup hearing aids. Everything was replaceable and I used my cellphone as a vibrating alarm, but I grieved for my old hearing aids.
Two days later in my Ottawa hotel, I got the call that my beautiful bag had arrived. In the lobby, I actually crouched down and hugged it. From now on, I will carry everything related to my hearing and vision needs in my carry-on bag, and I will never book a multi-flight trip that has only a one-hour connection time. I will also drink $60 wine before leaving home.