Seeing as how everyone in my family lives in roughly the same suburban area of our city I have never had to experience holiday travel, unless you count going from one end of Lake Minnetonka to the other. For years I have seen the horror stories on the teevee news of huge lines at the airport and bad weather and all sorts of headaches and I was thankful we were all so boring and unadventurous with our living arrangements. That all changed this year when I found out my semi-favorite niece would not be coming home for Christmas and suggested my coming out to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. Since I would do just about anything to escape Minnesota in November (or December, or January, or pretty much any month not named July) I said yes.
I booked an early flight out of the lesser terminal at MSP and hoped for the best. Because it was so very early I could not in good conscience ask anyone to take me to the airport, although I did drop lots of subtle hints which obviously were a tad too subtle since I ended up taking the Super Shuttle. As someone who grew up as an only child (even though I technically was not), I find other people more annoying than say the average human would and air travel can only exacerbate this. And even though I am not a morning person, let alone a middle of the night person, I was alert and ready to go when the van showed up promptly at 4:45 in the morning. There was one other passenger in the van and we silently waved hello to each other respecting the utter grossness of having to be awake and in a van when civilized people should be at home in their bed. The next person we went to pick up was SLEEPING in the lobby of his condo and the driver had to go wake him up. Annoying human number one has already been located and I have yet to leave my own zip code.
Thankfully the Liam Hemsworth of MSP’s airports is pretty quiet and the security lines practically non-existent. Things get even better when the TSA agent hands me a laminated card that says I do not have to remove my shoes or my jacket. Yay for me, it’s like I won the security lottery without even buying a ticket or knowing it existed! I am totally feeling the air travel love now so when I get to my gate and they ask for volunteers to check their carry-ons to help with the boarding process I figure why not? I am getting into LA super early and can afford to kill some time waiting for my suitcase. I am going to seriously regret this decision in approximately four hours but at that moment I was feeling good about it. I could go to the bathroom multiple times and wander about the terminal without having to worry about a suitcase. This travel day is going to be sweet.
For years on and off I have had issues with a fear of flying. The first time it happened after a plane I was on aborted a landing in Memphis due to a tornado. For forty minutes it was like a roller coaster ride from hell that no one could get off of and people were puking and crying and when we finally ended up being diverted to Little Rock I seriously thought about renting a car and driving the rest of the way home. I did not, but I also did not fly afterwards for about two years. Then I started flying again, but I had rules. One of them was no small planes, if I was going to die in a crash it was going to be in big numbers, it was going to be huge news and be on CNN for days. This philosophy lost me an interview with a band in Chicago that was kind of a thing for a hot minute or two in the nineties. When I found out the record company was sending me on a tiny plane out of the tiny downtown St. Paul airport to do the story I said nope, no way and no how. A few months later their lead singer killed himself and I sure hoped it wasn’t because I would not fly on a tiny plane from a tiny airport and write a story about them. (Am pretty sure it wasn’t.)
Eventually with the help of an ex-pilot/psychologist I was able to fly anxiety-free, although I do think just getting older helps. You finally realize you are going to die someday and start power ranking the best ways to go and I will take quick and easy over slow and difficult any day of the week. LAX is one of the ugliest airports in the entire world and now it is under some sort of construction to make it even less appealing. I start to regret my Minnesota niceness in checking my luggage since the baggage area seems to be suffering the worst of the construction mess. It is now around 9:30 am LA time and the airport is busy but not crazily so. I begin to think all those Thanksgiving air travel teevee news stories are total exaggerations as I grab my bright blue carry-on at the carousel and head to ground transport.
Traffic around the airport is horrendous but anyone who has ever had the pleasure of visiting LA knows that the 405 is awful almost all the time let alone the busiest travel holiday of the year. It takes two hours to get to my hotel, which is only twenty miles away, but it is sunny and beautiful and I am not driving so I don’t really care. The hotel I’m staying at for one night has a huge pool and is in a funky neighborhood. I am so looking forward to checking in and ordering some lunch by the pool and basking in the gloriousness of not wearing three layers of clothing and socks that I can barely contain myself.
I get to the hotel and it is just as cool as Hotel Tonight promised me. You can’t always be too sure with these internet connections, sometimes they lie, just like the Doctor. I wasn’t positive I could check into my hotel room right away but the long airport ride must have helped because I got into my room pronto, pool food and flip-flops were now in my immediate future.
Even though I am operating on less than four hours sleep I am mere moments away from the largest pool in the valley with possibly a margarita and some nachos to keep me company until the niece gets off work. I open my suitcase to change and see a plastic Target bag where my flip flips should have been. That was the scary moment when I realized I did not have my blue Delsey carry-on but someone else’s. In a panic I run down to the front desk, not sure exactly why I thought they could help but I am freaking out and don’t have my flip-flops (or my underwear or clothes or anything like that) and now my valuable pool time is in grave danger, very grave danger indeed.
The front desk employee suggests I call the airline and see if they will switch out the bags, mine for whomever’s. Seems like an excellent plan to me. I go back up to my room to look up Sun Country’s phone number. After pressing all sorts of numbers to get to an actual live human being I tell them my story. The actual human I am pretty sure I do not like proceeds to tell me that there has already been a missing bag claim filed for the suitcase that I mistakenly took and that I will have to come back to the airport to switch them. All my warm fuzzy feelings about life are starting to give way to a wee bit of pissed offness. I realize I took the wrong bag but they are going to send this person their bag, does it matter if it is from my hotel or LAX? Not only that I did them a favor by checking my carry-on when they asked and now they are going to make me do all the work?
I contact said niece to see if she would take me to the airport to do the switcheroo when she gets off work which she politely declines and instead offers me the use of her car which I politely decline so I call Super Shuttle who isn’t sure they can do it since it is the DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING and apparently the world practically ends if you don’t have reservations for airport transport in advance. The niece says take Uber or Lyft, it will be faster and cheaper and I say I am an old, and don’t trust these modern methods of taxi-cabbing as I am convinced all the drivers are serial killers, rapists or some other kind of un-bonded and non-background checked criminals. But it is clear she is not willing to make the trip to LAX and back and I am not willing to drive there so I decide to Lyft it, since the people behind Uber are awful human beings who threaten lady journalists which is totally uncool and you should not support them one little bit.
I downloaded the app and the driver was there in less than three minutes. Three minutes, that is the least amount of time I have spent waiting for anything in a day of waiting around for everything! People who aren’t awake when the shuttle comes to pick them up, stupid snow at the airport so it takes 45 minutes to de-ice the plane, baggage claim (the less said about that the better) the list goes on and on. Lyft also sends you a photo of the driver and a description of the car just in case you are never seen or heard from again and the police need the info to help with the investigation into your disappearance. I am sure this is probably not the real reason but I am a deeply suspicious person by nature and immediately think of these things.
My driver and I spend the next two hours on the twenty-mile route to LAX chatting like long-lost friends and I am seriously starting to regret my previous bias against modern ride sharing apps. Like everyone else in LA, he is a multi-hyphenate, actor, voice-over artist, musician, singer, bartender and Lyft driver. Never change Los Angeles, never change. There is a slight problem though, due to some legal issues neither Lyft nor Uber can pick anyone up at the airport. They can take you but not pick you up. Since I need to get back to my hotel in Studio City we come up with a cunning plan to subvert the system. Trust me, it was cunning but I can’t say anything else about it or I will have to kill you and it is the holiday season and all.
Sun Country leaves me about five VMs telling me where to swap out my luggage none of which were helpful. When I finally find this super secret office that was located outside of the terminal behind an unmarked, locked door, the employee rolls my bag towards me, shakes his head and says “They don’t even look-alike”. Wow, major shade from an airline asshole, thanks Sun Country, only I am not going to let that side of snark even bother me. It is amazing what a little heat and sunshine can do to your attitude because had he said that to me back home I am pretty sure I would have told him to STFU and not at all in a Minnesota-nice way.
The good news is that I finally have my own suitcase but the bad news is that it cost me over a hundred dollars and all my valuable pool time to retrieve it. I realize I took the wrong suitcase, but Sun Country could have at least met me half way and paid for part of the resulting inconvenience. So the moral of the story is this, don’t ever do the airline a favor and gate-check your luggage, but if you do make sure you have the correct bag before leaving the airport. And don’t be afraid of ride sharing apps, Lyft drivers can be fun and make spending hours in traffic go by way faster than they ever would have in a Super Shuttle van.
Sadly I never did get to spend any time at the lovely pool at the Sportsmens Lodge. But I did get to experience Thanksgiving in a box, thanks to Whole Foods and my niece, shopping at Ikea on black Friday with practically no one else in the store (how did that ever happen and will it ever happen to me again?), some fantastic food, quality time with a loved one and the sun, the lovely warm sun that I will not be feeling again for another six or seven months if I am lucky. When I get ready to leave late Saturday night it takes less than a half an hour to get to the airport.
Of course Sun Country being a tiny airline has the worst location at LAX, next to Aero Mexico and Air China, two airlines whose passengers have never heard of the idea of packing light. Imagine yourself running through a military gauntlet course full of tiny people with Paul Bunyan-sized luggage driving carts they can’t see over and you pretty much get the idea. Finding security at LAX was never easy and with the construction it is even less so. When I come across one of those pre-approved TSA check points I figure they can at least tell me which way to go. Only instead of giving me directions, I hit the security lottery yet again and get handed a green piece of paper which is the LAX version of my MSP laminated get-out-of shoe-removal-hell-free card. However this small piece of green paper has even more magical qualities than my fancy laminated did so in addition to leaving my shoes and the jacket on I also don’t have to remove my ziplock bag full of potentially dangerous liquids or my possibly plastic explosives laden iPad from my suitcase. I find a spot and listen to a couple more episodes of Serial (which by the way you really should check out), while waiting to head back home on my much delayed flight.
Technically speaking there was a train involved in this adventure just not the kind you ride on. It came courtesy of another passenger on my flight who attempted to bring a five-foot long model train in a giant plastic clamshell onto the plane. Thankfully the airline was having none of that foolishness and made them gate-check it. By the way, don’t you think that if the airlines really wanted to speed up the boarding process and make tons of money in the process that they should start charging people to bring their crap ON the plane, not to check it? Seems like a no-brainer to me.