A Happy Air Travel Tale (For Real)

  • Share
  • Read Later
Altrendo / Getty

Every great while there comes a tale that completely defies belief, like the frozen remains of Bigfoot packed in a cooler in Georgia. This is one such story (except this one is true). It's about one man's happy experience while flying commercial.

Wait, whoa, hang on. This is no hoax. It happened to me. See, I had a flight with a connection in Dallas–Ft. Worth (DFW) and ... no, no, really, don't click the back button!

Let's start at the beginning. My colleague, Karen Tumulty, and I were informed last weekend by Barack Obama's camp that they had approved our request to interview the candidate for TIME. We were to meet him in Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday afternoon. My flight from Kansas City, via DFW, landed on time Monday morning after three hours of the usual misery. Nothing major: my seat, inches from the fuselage-mounted engine, knocked a couple hundred hertz off my hearing range, and the guy in front of me had reclined his seat so far back I could count his follicles. But I look at it this way: it beats waking up on a Greyhound bus to discover that your seatmate is hacking you to death.

After the interview, I called a cab to run us back to the airport. "Five or ten minutes," the dispatcher promised, by which she apparently meant, "53 minutes." When the cab finally dropped me outside the American Airlines terminal, it was 5:06 p.m. My flight was at 5:20.

So I barreled through security and jogged to Gate B1, where I arrived just as the agent was closing the door. "Please?" I begged. "This flight's closed!" she barked.

Now, you're probably thinking that this experience doesn't sound "happy" at all. But this is where it starts getting good. Instead of sending me back to the ticket counter where I would have inevitably been told that every other flight was overbooked, and that maybe they could get me home by Labor Day, the agent said gruffly, "There's another flight leaving from A1, also going to Dallas. But you have to run."

I dashed from Concourse B to Concourse A, which in Albuquerque is about 11 yards. There, I found the usual mass of irritated, exhausted travelers preparing, after a three-hour delay, to board. They must have wondered why I was smiling. We filed onto the plane — about 120 grumpy people, plus me. I even got an aisle seat, and not next to the bathroom, either.

As day turned to dusk, we soared over the strange flatlands of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, then landed with a big bump and pulled into our gate at DFW about 8 p.m. Now I steeled myself for a two-hour layover, hoped I'd at least make it home by midnight. As we filed out of the jetway, I glanced at a departures monitor and was shocked to find not one but two American flights to Kansas City — and the first one was preparing to board.

I took off jogging again. I skimmed up an escalator, onto a tram, back down and around and finally into a dim waiting room in the remotest frontier of the airport where another crowd of about 120 grumpy people was preparing to board another long-delayed flight. The blank, defeated expression on their faces was all too familiar. It was the resigned look of the villager whose home is being sacked by Visigoths, the hopeless face of a pioneer woman watching her family's crop laid waste by locusts. The face of the American traveler, year 2008. A face I have worn many times.

Not this day, though. Not after I elbowed my way to the podium, asked for a standby seat, and received a boarding pass on the aisle near the front door. I was going to get home early!

Inside the plane, as I secured my seatbelt low and tight, I pondered my good fortune. Should I be taking pleasure in surfing the wave of all these travelers' disappointment? How many missed connections, botched dinner plans and inconvenienced loved ones was it taking to get me home on time?

Then I realized that this extraordinary thing that was happening to me, this improbable tale, would surely be balanced out — and soon — by some awful karmic payback. I pictured myself stuck on a runway in a commuter turboprop for a couple of hours, with the A/C malfunctioning, next to a fat guy with body odor.

But I decided since fate was smiling on me for now, I'd smile back.

I pulled into my driveway at 10 p.m. — two hours ahead of schedule.