In Pursuit of Aloha

I hope by now you’ve been able to sample some of the songs (and YouTube videos) from the Travels with Tavel playlist, which you can contribute to at any time. Soon there will be a new Music sub-page (in addition to Home, About, and Photos) where all ongoing contributions to the playlist can be made.

Also, get excited because on Friday, Travels with Tavel will have its first contributor! I hope you all make her feel right at home and consider contributing yourselves…

Now, onto business.

Congratulations… Kanoe and Tom! You were the closest to figuring out last week’s mystery snapshots. The two photos are both from Kona, Hawaii.  Instead of writing the obvious entry about how beautiful the black lava rock beaches of Hawaii are, I have decided to share with you a rather long story [this is as long as an entry will ever get — I promise!] about my disastrous attempt to get to Kona… There is no mystery snapshot today, but I promise to get back to it next week.

In Pursuit of Aloha

When it’s only been three hours into your vacation and you’ve already begun to take notes so that you remember all the bizarre details to include in the blog entry you must eventually write about the experience, that’s when you know it’s going to be a long journey (and, as you have probably already realized, a long blog entry).

I was headed to Kona, Hawaii. What was already expected to be a lengthy trip (two six hour flights with a 57-minute layover in Los Angeles) became even longer…

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Everything was off to a great start. I was picked up by my friend John, who had gotten me a tall chai latte for the ride (I should have been suspicious from the start! This was too perfect…) I had a gut feeling that something was going to go wrong. You might not believe me, but I knew things weren’t going to go well… I have a sixth sense for this shit! It would be TOO easy if I could just go to Hawaii without any obstacles, right? Well, that’s how my life works.

I got to the airport with plenty of time to sit and stare at people (yup, that’s what I do) before boarding the plane. After boarding my 2:30pm American Airlines flight to LAX (perfectly on time), I was seated next to a guy with rough, sunburned skin who was about 5’5”, approximately 40 years old, and had the crazy blonde hair of an aged surfer. He was very talkative, which – at the time – I didn’t really mind, so I answered his questions as we taxied across the tarmac to position ourselves for takeoff.

In the main cabin, a couple of rows ahead of me in the middle aisle, everyone started noticing a BEEP… BEEP… BEEP sound. Eventually, the flight attendants decided they needed to find the source of the beeping. After all, we were on an oversold flight from JFK to LAX on the Friday evening of a holiday weekend.

The beeping was impossible to ignore. It sounded like one of those things you cannot mention on an airplane, especially leaving NYC (A BOMB). When the flight attendants couldn’t determine the source of the beeping, they became visibly nervous (as did the man sitting directly underneath the beeping) and phoned the pilot. We were all a bit suspicious, but like true New Yorkers, most people just wanted to get to LA as soon as possible.

Kona Branches, Hawaii

Kona Branches, Hawaii

An hour after boarding, when we were number three for takeoff, the pilot decided the safest thing to do would be to taxi on back to the gate, keep everyone on the plane, and have a mechanic – and if necessary, security – get on the plane and investigate the “suspicious beeping sound” coming from the middle of the main cabin.

Twenty minutes later, we were back at the gate, unable to get off the plane while they turned each engine off, and eventually back on, one at a time. Luckily, the mechanic was extremely efficient and confidently determined that the beeping sound was actually a squeaking sound coming from the red light on top of the plane. Every time it spun in a circle, it squeaked. I now know that squeaking is much better than beeping, whatever the scenario, and was very pleased to hear that we had been cleared by security to get back on the runway.

Of course, by then it was about 5:30 pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend at one of the busiest airports in the country. After another 30 minutes of sitting on the plane, the captain came on the speakers to tell us “the good news: we are now #18 for takeoff, so please sit tight.” Apparently, he appreciated our patience.

By the time we were in the air, I knew I was in for a long night. I left New York three hours late, which didn’t bode well for my one-hour layover in LA. And, how wonderful, I had a five and a half hour flight to sit through, knowing that my connecting flight, with several of my friends aboard, was going to leave without me. FANTASTIC!

I didn’t bring food on the plane because I have only been on international flights over the past few years and had no idea that domestic flights no longer serve food. We weren’t even offered peanuts or pretzels! (I normally ask for three packs.) Luckily, the guy sitting next to me, Rocky (I kid you not, that was his name), INSISTED on giving me half of his buffalo chicken wrap. Well, I took it and practically inhaled the thing, later realizing that Bear Grylls would have probably preserved some of it for later in the trip (have I learned NOTHING from watching that show?!). Rocky also bought a total of six mini-bottles of red wine and tried to buy me several (in addition to another sandwich), but I refused the wine and bought myself the sandwich.

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Finally, we arrived at LAX. I knew I had to act quickly, so I sprinted off the plane to make sure I was the first one on line at the ticket desk to figure out what the heck my options were. I’ve actually never had to go through the trouble of missing a connecting flight, especially not alone, so I wanted to make sure I dealt with the situation appropriately.

It was becoming very clear that my travel luck had just run out, but I wasn’t going to let it run out easily. Sure enough, a line slowly formed behind me of about 20 other people who had missed their connecting flights. As I waited for someone to help me, a woman was being dragged off my plane (yes, dragged, yes off MY PLANE) belligerently drunk. Apparently, she had too much wine (another reason they should feed us – just sayin’…) and was throwing a fit when the flight attendants decided to cut her off. She proceeded to kick the police officers who had been waiting for her at the gate, screaming “WHY DON’T YOU JUST KILL ME ALREADY?! JUST FUCKING KILL ME!!!! You’re all going to HELL! DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME!” with children and parents looking on (and the entire terminal – a few hundred people, I’d estimate) in DEAD SILENCE.

She kept screaming and kicking as cops pinned her down and handcuffed her as she wiggled uncomfortably across the floor. Now, this was all going on RIGHT next to me. Meaning, I was actually afraid this woman might squirm away and grab my leg…she could REACH me if she wanted to. But I was determined to stay in that line and get my travel plans sorted out.

Eventually, after the screaming and crying and cursing proved ineffective, the woman was dragged out of the terminal with the entire airport staring at her as she screamed “GO AHEAD, EVERYONE. WATCH THE CRAZY WOMAN LEAVE! YOU’RE ALL GOING TO HELLLLLLL!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Well, we did watch the crazy woman leave. I, on the other hand, was still stuck at LAX.

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

The woman at the desk told everyone in line that she would only help me because her shift had ended an hour ago and she was going home. People got pissed off, she got pissed back, and they all went to the American Airlines office to figure out their options. I thought I was the lucky one. Ha. How silly of me.

It was about 10pm in California (about 1am NYC time). I was told that the only way I could get to Kona, Hawaii was to spend the night in LA and take an 8am flight to Honolulu, followed by a seven-hour layover in Honolulu before the next flight to Kona. I told her she had to find something better – that that was ridiculous and unacceptable. I was still feeling strong and determined at this point, but she said that was all she had and that I could continue exploring the possibilities at the American Airlines office, where the others went, but she was going home – peace out. By the time I got to the AA (American Airlines, not Alcoholics Anonymous) office, I was the last one in line. How quickly fortune can turn into misfortune! Life just gave me a big ol’ slap across the face.

There were two lines. Two families – one of eight and one of four – were scrambling to get to Kona like me, but I was one traveler, which made it much easier even though I was last. They were both whispering in their lines (very Amazing Race of them), trying to make sure they were going to get their entire group on the same flights. For whatever reason (and you can’t make shit like this up), I was continuously distracted by a girl who was playing the flute right inside the office. (What a weird night.) Eventually, we all started working together, piecing together clues and information that we could gather from all different sources. The family of eight had to take the flights I refused since the next flight to Kona from LA (the next day, same time) had been cancelled. The family of four found its way onto a flight to Maui and then Kona. They told me to hop on it with them. I eventually got to the front of the line and, sure enough, ended up with a new itinerary.

I thought my problems had been solved. I was to spend the night at the LAX Hilton (actually, a pretty sweet room with a king size bed). I was provided with dinner and breakfast vouchers and had a 10am American Airlines flight to Maui with a two-hour layover, followed by a flight to Kona the next day.

But what about my luggage? It was supposedly still en route to Kona (on a nonexistent flight). I was told that it definitely would not end up on the baggage claim carousel but, once again I had a gut feeling; it didn’t feel right leaving the airport without even trying to find my bag. I was told to go to the baggage claim information office, where the family of four was already yelling at the woman who said she couldn’t help them at all, and this eventually turned into her praying to Jesus, out loud: “OH Lord Jesus Christ, I am calling on you now to rid me of this rude man and his family.” A liberal New Yorker, the guy just laughed and said “Oh great, a fucking JESUS freak!” and left, wishing me good luck. After the woman at the counter told him he was ugly, I decided she wouldn’t be much help. I was right.

My entire flight’s luggage was supposed to arrive on carousel four. When I got there, an hour after landing, people from my flight were still waiting for their stuff so I decided to wait a little longer. Eventually, I decided to count my blessings and say fuck the luggage – I was absolutely exhausted and I had to get to the hotel and make sure I had a place to sleep.

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

As I was leaving the luggage claim area, something beautiful happened: the crowds parted and… I saw a red bag with a bright yellow ribbon moving slowly in a circle. MY BAG!!! It was floating along on carousel one – the ONLY bag on the belt (very bizarre) – and it was mine, mine, MINE. I could not believe it. I sprinted over to carousel one and grabbed it in disbelief. On the shuttle bus to the hotel, I wasn’t surprised at all when the woman next to me projectile vomited all over the place. Sure, why not, right? Add that to the list.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the strange hand of fortune and misfortune that I had been dealt that evening. To top it all off, when I finally arrived at the hotel and got my room assignment, who did I bump into in the lobby? The mom from the TLC show “Little People, Big World!” What a wild day.

I got to the room, ordered myself some dinner and actually felt really good; I had my luggage, I had new flights, and I had an amazingly comfortable king-sized bed with a pillow for every hour I was delayed. I couldn’t wait to just go to sleep and get to Kona the next day.

All was going smoothly until I checked in for my flights the next morning. The woman at the counter who was supposed to check me through to Kona decided that she could only check me through to Maui, where I would have to –during a two-hour layover – pick up my luggage and re-check-in since I was transferring to a Hawaiian Airlines flight. As soon as I got to the desk, I could tell she was having a BAD day. I was suspicious and tried to get more information, but the lady didn’t want to have anything to do with me and sure didn’t feel like helping, so I went on my way. Trust me; I was absolutely kind and gracious to her, so any rudeness was completely unmerited. I just shrugged it off and continued on my way, cautiously optimistic.

As I awaited my flight to Maui, I decided – since I only had a little time to pick up my bags and check-in all over again in Maui – that I would talk to the woman at the desk and make sure I knew exactly where to go when I got off the plane. This is when I was told that I was not booked on the flight from Maui to Kona.

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano, Kona, Hawaii

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano (altitude: 9,800ft). Kona, Hawaii

I told her my whole story and that I had to be on that plane. She didn’t give a shit and told me to call American Airlines and have a representative figure it out. When I called, they said they couldn’t help me since my flight was listed as a Hawaiian Airlines flight. Nobody could help me. Apparently, I had been given an itinerary and the woman who checked me in screwed me up by deliberately NOT confirming my seat on the next flight, which now had 20 people on standby.

I went over to the family of four who had been rebooked for the same flights as me and told them they should double-check that they are confirmed passengers because I hadn’t been. Sure enough, they were all set. My flight to Maui was beginning to board. I had no flight out of Maui. I began envisioning a melt-down, but stayed strong.

A woman listening to the ordeal came over to me and said she was from Maui and knew Hawaiian Airlines well and even offered to call them. I couldn’t believe her kindness, and graciously said yes, thank you! After arguing with a woman for five minutes (who was telling her that I was definitely NOT on the flight) she hung up and assured me that they said they would confirm me. I was skeptical, but I boarded the plane.

When I arrived in Maui, I barely had time to realize how gorgeous it was. I booked it to baggage claim and stood there for 45 minutes until my bag came around (this is when I decided never to check a bag again).

With bag in hand, I sprinted in the 80 degree outdoor airport, a warm shock after arriving from the cold  winter in Manhattan, to the check-in desk for American Airlines (where I was instructed to go). One anxious hour later, I got to the front of the line. After reviewing my reservation, the woman at the counter told me that I was not on the flight, which now had 25 people on standby. I was not on any flight, and there was nothing they could do. The next flight didn’t even leave until a couple days later.

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

My positive attitude dropped like a brick in my stomach. NO no no no… Think, think, think…What could I POSSIBLY do to get to Kona?! They said they could try booking me on another flight, but that I should go to the Hawaiian Airlines counter first. Just what I needed: a wild fucking goose chase, and my vacation was the darn goose! At this point I had an hour before my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted over to Hawaiian Airlines. Luckily, there was no line. I went to the front, asked for quick help. They said it was true, I was not on the flight and there was not a free seat to Kona for two days.

I don’t want to admit this but, at that point, I was about to breakdown. I felt completely defeated and was absolutely EXHAUSTED. The time difference was now five hours, so 10 am NY time was 5 am Hawaii time). I was HOT. I was DESPERATE. All my friends were in Hawaii and I was neither here nor there – I was nowhere. For 32 hours, I had been in a state of limbo, perpetually in transit. Airports are funny that way; no other place in the world can really make you feel like you’re NOWHERE.

I told the woman at the desk, with tears of defeat welling up in my eyes (against my will!), that I needed to get on that plane and that American Airlines was responsible for getting me on that plane or some combination of planes before nighttime. She said, “I know honey but there is no seat, you can’t. I’m sorry. The best we can do is…” Then she paused. “Wait…” she said, “Let me go get my manager…” I told her I would stand in a bathroom for the entire flight. I would lie in the aisle or serve coffee to people or clean the toilets as long as I could get on that flight. I didn’t even care if my bag came with me. She told me to hang on, then she took my ID and ticket, and disappeared.

Five minutes went by – I started to feel weak from hunger. My blood sugar was extremely low and my water bottle had one sad, warm sip left. I ate a chocolate chip granola bar while I waited. The last thing I needed was to pass out. While standing there, I looked into the eyes of the woman behind the desk (this is about the time that tiny violin started playing for me…). She saw my desperation and kindly said, “Don’t worry, sweety… She’s getting the manager. He is a miracle worker…” There was more truth to that statement than I would have guessed. I tried to be hopeful but I was very low on hope. However, I never run on empty. I thought to myself, I could use some magic, I could use a miracle. She told me to trust him… He had tricks up his sleeve…

A man walked quickly over to the counter. He explained to me exactly what was going on, the first person to actually explain why I was screwed and not stare at the next person in line hoping that I would just disappear. He explained that whoever checked me in at LAX messed up – possibly on purpose. All she had to do was confirm my seat to Kona, but she printed a boarding pass out for a seat that wasn’t confirmed in the computer. Also, my luggage should have gone all the way to Kona, but she refused to put it through because she didn’t confirm my seat. Why she did this, nobody knows. They apologized and asked if I knew her name. I didn’t. There was something about this guy; I trusted him. I may have even begged him for a seat on the flight to Kona, and I don’t beg often. He looked at me and gave me the kindest, most reassuring look I had gotten all day. Then said, “Give me five minutes…”

Another five minutes?

As I stood there, waiting, I tried to accept that maybe I would be homeless for another day. Maybe a vacation in Hawaii was too good to be true. Maybe I should just turn around and go back to NYC.

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Then he came back, (my knight in shining armor!), and handed me a ticket. IT WAS A BOARDING PASS. He whispered to me “A guy at Hawaiian owed me a favor – I got you on that plane. Don’t ask how, just GO!” I SQUEALED – literally – with joy and was overflowing with such happiness and shock that I didn’t know what to do with myself! Without thinking, I jumped up on the scale and — right before giving him the biggest hug in the world, realized I should probably ask – and said “OH MY GOD!! CAN I HUG YOU!?!??!” All the women around me laughed. A huge smile spread across both our faces as I gave him the biggest damn hug I could muster! They all yelled “GO! RUN! GOOD LUCK!” I felt like I was in a movie. My flight was boarding in eight minutes and I still had to go through security.

After I sprinted away, I realized that, in my excitement, I hadn’t checked my damn bag. It had too many liquids to carry on, so I debated throwing them all out, then decided, instead to run and cut the ENTIRE line I had just waited on at American Airlines and go directly to the woman who initially told me I was not on the flight. (The logical option, right?) She didn’t ask a question, dropped what she was doing, grabbed my ticket and brought it to the nearest computer. I may have been a bit insane at the time, but I was functioning on pure adrenaline. Nobody could stop me now!

She entered my information into the computer and asked me, “How did you get this ticket?” I told her there was a fluke in the computer system and a guy from Hawaiian Airlines found my reservation (where I came up with that story, nobody knows). She looked doubtful and examined the fake-looking ticket. It was blue, with handwriting all over it. They’re supposed to be green, with printed words and numbers. I was a renegade, and she was onto me.

The clock was ticking. She called a manager over to examine my ticket. They asked me where I got it. Every question left me dangling on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into disappointment and defeat, but I hung on desperately. I was going to get on that plane and have my vacation in paradise, and nobody could get in my way.

She put the ticket down, and talked to the manager. As soon as she wrapped a tag around my bag, suspiciously eyeing her computer screen, I noticed that the tag said “Kona.” Then, I did something that still surprises me. I GRABBED my ticket, left my bag, and I RAN! Ha! I half-expected them to chase me down with dogs and handcuffs, and half-expected not to make it to the plane on time. But I RAN my ass to security, and I didn’t look back!

Nobody chased me. I had 15-minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. When I reached the front of the security line, low and behold, I was randomly selected for a full security check. They put me in a glass room and made me stand on two yellow footprints while they checked every pocket of everything I owned, confiscated my last drop of water, and awaited a female inspector to frisk me. I felt pretty awesome, with beads of sweat becoming droplets and my crazy eyes jumping all over the place. I could barely stand still with all the adrenaline pumping through me. I guess I couldn’t blame them for taking me aside – I looked a little loopy. My ticket looked suspicious to everyone who examined it, but I didn’t care. I was getting on that plane and sitting in seat 9F if it was the last thing I did.

When I was cleared by the security card, it was five minutes after my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted to Gate 19 fearful that it might be too late, but THEY WERE STILL BOARDING. I had almost made it! I just had to walk on and buckle up!

The guy taking boarding passes took mine and, right when he was about to rip it, he paused, took a long look at it – my heart was pounding, I think I began to pray – and mumbled, “huh, that’s weird…never saw one like this before…” Then, he handed it back to me, hesitantly. I grabbed that boarding pass (trying to make it seem more like I was just “taking” it, no desperate grabbing involved) and kept going. I WAS ON THE PLANE TO KONA.

I went to my seat. There was nobody there. I sat in it, waiting for someone to kick me off the plane, listening for suspicious beeping sounds to prevent me, yet again, from getting to my final destination. NOTHING. I was sitting next to a baby who kept climbing me and staring me down. I could care less if he screamed the entire flight and pooped in his seat. I was happy. Finally, there was nothing in my way. My exhaustion and extreme thirst was suddenly overwhelmed by relief.

Forty-five minutes later, the plane landed in Kona. Even my bag arrived safely. And as I went to pick it up, two girls came running over to me in sundresses and first-day tans, yelling “TAVEL!!!!!” I reached out and accepted their giant hugs, like I had just won some incredible reward. Thirty-eight hours after I left New York, I had made it to Kona. My journey was over, and I was in beautiful Hawaii with my friends.

Never had I felt more deserving of a vacation in paradise. But boy was it hell getting there…

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2 Comments

Filed under Travel Disasters

2 responses to “In Pursuit of Aloha

  1. Julie Love

    Fantastic story…You say that is true! Oh to live so many hours in airports. But that king size bed sounded beautiful. I hope you never have flights like that again.
    Lots of love,
    Julie

  2. Geordie

    Great story and you tell it very well. And all because of that little squeaking sound…

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