The (almost) flight to Madagascar: Murphy’s Law at its finest.

Q: What do you get when you combine unabated raging thunderstorms in New York, 1 hour, 28 minutes, and 54 seconds spent on the phone with an Air France representative, and 11 trips up to the Delta gate agent counter at Raleigh-Durham Airport?

A: A slight hiccup in travel plans.

Now, the word “slight” is, of course, a relative term. “Slight” in my case refers to putatively arriving no less than 48 hours after my intended arrival time to my final destination, on top of an already “way-too-long-for-anyone’s-enjoyment-even-those-who-don’t-mind-airports-like-myself-due-to-excellent-people-watching-opportunities” travel itinerary (19 hours of flying time, coupled with 7.5 hours of layover time….not that I’m counting). And said destination? I’ll give you one guess. If you guessed Djibouti you would be wrong.

Madagascar. That’s right. Land of my fuzzies. So, how did I come to experience this aforementioned “slight” hiccup? Well, I suppose you’re due for some story time, heavily laden with quotations. Settle in! Monday, September 2nd, 2013. I awoke in my bed after sleeping fitfully the night before and immediately had an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was it due to lack of sleep, or the fact that I was fretting over not having enough blank pages in my passport to get me safely to Madagascar? My dear friend, Erin, was coming to pick me up and generously transporting my butt to the airport. After a hearty pre-flight breakfast at my favorite greasy diner, we were on our way to the airport. There, I lugged my giant backpack to Delta’s self-service check-in kiosk and almost immediately I hear someone calling my name. Who would know me at the airport?!? Erin. That’s who. I had unintentionally (or maybe intentionally, because I couldn’t bear saying good-bye to my friend) left my only piece of warm upper-body clothing in her car–my trusty Columbia fleece that has gotten me through some pretty chilly nights in Madagascar. Where was my head? She, bless her heart, saw it before she made it all the way back to her house and, after arguing with the grumpy man controlling the “passenger drop-off” zone, ran into the airport to make my mistake known (I am forever indebted to you, Erin and grumpy airport man). Inauspicious occurrence numero uno.

I get in line to drop off my checked bags. When I reach the front of the line I gracefully toss my 40-pound pack onto the scale and ask the woman if it was possible to check my bags all the way through to Antananarivo, Madagascar even though I had purchased two separate tickets for the trip–one leg from RDU to JFK, and a separate ticket for the JFK-Paris-Antananarivo leg. She assures me that this is no problem and types away loudly on her computer. Hooray! My day is looking up! She prints off my luggage tags and hands me my bag claim ticket. “Okay, you’re all set”, she exclaims, obviously very proud of herself. My reply after staring confusedly at my bag claim ticket. “Where is TBR? Antananarivo’s airport code is TNR” I say, stressing the “N”. “Oh my goodness! You’re right. I almost sent your bags to the wrong airport!”, she says between laughs. I just stare at her, clearly not amused by her “tiny” mistake. She never did tell me where TBR was. I later found out that TBR is the bustling metropolis of Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport in Georgia. So, to recap. I almost went to Madagascar. My luggage containing every single item I need to survive in the wilderness almost went to Statesboro, Georgia. I cannot make this stuff up. Delta airlines, I continually ask you, “Why do you insist on trying to ruin my life?” Inauspicious occurrence numero dos.

Before I grab my carry on and head through security, my “new best friend” at the Delta counter informs me that my flight to JFK is slightly delayed, about 15 minutes. “It’s okay, though. You’ll have no trouble making your connection”. And this is where, I believe, the jinxing happened. Inauspicious occurrence numero tres.

Okay, so we’ve all had this experience before. You arrive at your gate and settle-in, waiting to board the plane. The gate agent keeps informing everyone that the flight is delayed, but “we’ll get you boarded and on your way as soon as possible”. Pretty standard, right? Well, we finally board the plane after waiting only about 30 minutes past our actually board time. (No big deal). We even get so far as to taxi out to the runway to await our turn to take off. (Fantastic!  I’ll be in JFK in no time!) And then, our fearless captain gets on the speaker and informs us we’re going to be “hanging tight” for about 45 minutes before we take off. Inauspicious occurrence numero quatro.

Beautifully sunny skies in North Carolina have apparently been taken over by massive storm clouds 482 miles north in New York. Well, this 45 minutes turns into almost 2 hours of sitting on the plane. Finally, the crew decides that the best solution is to deplane everyone and continue to wait out the storm in nice, comfy chairs at the gate. (Okay, I can get down with that). Three more hours of waiting and countless useless updates from the gate agent later, we are so kindly educated that our flight to New York is canceled. Gasp! I’m shocked! (Please note the extreme sarcasm in my voice). By this point, I could care less that the flight is canceled, however, since I would have evidently missed my connection to Paris (and the only flight out to Paris that night from JFK), and hence, my whole itinerary was recklessly abandoned in one fell swoop.

So, what’s a girl to do? Get on the phone with Air France, stat! After begging and pleading (and, I hate to admit, holding back tears that were threatening to explode out of my tear ducts) with the representative to get me to Madagascar as soon as humanly possible, I am informed that the next available flight from Paris to Antananarivo is 2 days later. Two days. There is nothing else she can do. “Alright”, I sigh. “I guess book me on that flight”. She puts me on hold for about 20 minutes only to come back on the line and inform me that she cannot book me on this flight unless the agents at RDU “uncheck” my luggage. I glance over to the line 20 people deep of those on my canceled flight trying to rebook, sigh deeply, and tell her it “might be awhile”. To her extreme graciousness, she agrees to wait on the line with me. Little did she know that it would be about 40 minutes until I was able to make it to the front of the line. I explain to the Delta agent what I need to happen and he tells me with a painted-on smile that my bags are now unchecked and I should now be able to get booked on this next Air France flight. Nope. We play this little cat-and-mouse game, with Delta telling me that the baggage issue is “void” and Air France telling me it’s not. Calls were made to the Delta headquarters in Atlanta, the gate agent with over 20 years of experience tells me that she has “never seen this before”, all the while everyone is trying to be on their best behavior. At one point, both Delta and Air France are telling me there is absolutely nothing they can do. Nothing you can do!?! I’m pretty sure I’ve spent over $3,000 on this plane ticket so there, most certainly, is something you can do! My Air France savior, I mean representative, finally says “Hold on”, exits our conversation to once again fill my phone with the awful “on-hold” music costumer service has chosen (Note: it’s just the same bad pop song over and over, in case you were wondering). She comes back and tells me I am now booked on the next flight out. We both erupt in a triumphant huzzah! I still have no idea how she succeeded, and honestly, I could care less. I do hope, however, that she didn’t do something drastic like sell her first-born to the airline gods…

This experience has taught me a valuable life lesson: Make sure you always have a bottle of wine ready at a moment’s notice in your home. You never know when your trip will get canceled last minute and you need some de-stressing after a long aggravating day at the airport. My next post will hopefully be a boring story about how I made it safely to Madagascar. Stay tuned!

It’s a jungle out there!


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