First in an occasional series of posts dedicated to the magnificent absurdities of travel…
So we had landed in LA after the 12-hour flight across the Pacific from Sydney, sitting in an overcrowded airport lounge waiting to board our flight to New York. The three of us (me, my wife and 19 year old daughter) are seasoned travelers but sometimes things happen that make you shake your head and wonder why.
A very large and swarthy man, who to me looked like and sounded Eastern European, but who my wife would later correct me was actually an American, began pacing nervously around the waiting passengers. He was looking for something and he appeared very agitated. In a shopping mall, or a city street, this is almost acceptable behaviour. Maybe he’s lost something? A child? Can we help? But in an airport waiting lounge where everyone else is on edge after being forced into something just a little less than a cavity search, simply to walk through a gate, this is un-nerving. Finally he blunders to the check-in desk, pushes to the head of the long queue and tells them he has lost his carry-on luggage. Can they help? He had been drinking, which is probably why I thought his slurred speech was something other than English.
There’re two alarm bells that should have gone off straight away. Lost luggage and half drunk.
The check-in staff, like airport staff across big city America were understaffed and swamped with a line of people wanting to change seats/flights/menus. (Did I mention that the gate had already changed 3 times for this flight, so everyone was on the tip of an argument). They treated him with that lovely insincere sincerity that takes years of professionalism to develop and asked him to describe the bag.
“It’s medium, canvas coloured”, he blurted.
“Is that it? Over there, by itself, by the column?” she said, pointing a manicured, tanned finger at a lonely, canvas rucksack.
“Yes, Yes, thank you”
Alarm bell number three – unattended luggage in an airport.
Finally, we begin to board, and although he has his carry on, he is still agitated. Something is bothering him. He’s certainly bothering me. Because of delays, flight changes and overbooked flights, our ticketing was split, we weren’t sitting together. ‘That’s OK’, I thought, “I’ll sleep anyway, just as long as this guy doesn’t sit next to my wife or daughter.” As we took our separate seats my daughter was placed in the middle of a couple of older women in a row, two up and to my left, my wife was in the middle seat four rows ahead of me and I was also in a middle seat. I hate middle seats.
Our man was still agitated and walking up and down the aisles, he couldn’t find his seat, but he looked like he was either going to hit someone or break down into a large blubbering mess. The flight attendants tried to calm him, but nothing worked, then something happened, that to this day I still find bemusing.
The captain was called out of the Cockpit and took him to the back of the plane. I was just close enough to hear the loud whispers:
“OK now listen, Len, you’ve got to calm down…are you going to cause me any trouble?”
Because, if you cause me any trouble I’ll have you taken off the plane.
(take him off the plane, take him off the plane)
We’ve got a full cabin tonight and I don’t need any trouble, not like last time.
(Not like last time! Not like last time! WTF!)
So, do you promise to be good?
OK, let’s find your seat.”
I’m nearly deafened by my internal alarm bells. Besides the captain knowing him by his first name, he has a history as a trouble maker. Does that seem right to you? And “Promise me?” Really? “Promise me?”
So they walk him up the aisle and tell the woman sitting on the window, next to my daughter, that she is in the wrong seat, and that she has to move.
Now we’re not doting parents, our daughter has travelled internationally since she was 2 years old and not always with us. But the protective gene kicks in when an obvious drunk with a seeming history of causing trouble on planes is seated next to someone you love and you can’t do anything about it. My daughter, turns, craning her neck and throws me a ‘What I do?” look. I mimic “Pretend to be asleep”. So she did, with one eye open.
Thankfully, the end of the story is boring. Against all common sense the flight attendants plied him with free vodka samples the entire flight until he finally fell asleep, drooling on the window.
He must have a computer file somewhere: “Len. Large and incoherent. Loses luggage and becomes agitated. Ply with vodka, all works out fine.’
Coming soon …The Serial Killer in Albuquerque