Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breaking through

When I went online to check in for my flight to Montreal, the site flagged my return itinerary as problematic. "The schedule of your flights has changed, and you may miss your connection," a yellow warning box asserted, and the layover time in Cincinnati was highlighted -- arrive at 4:05, leave at 4:55. I couldn't figure out how a fifty-minute layover could be a problem, so I ignored it.

But when I got to Montreal I realized that the problem might be customs. If I had to clear immigration before getting on the connecting flight, fifty minutes might not be enough. So I called the airline on Saturday morning from the hotel, and changed the itinerary; now I was flying to Atlanta instead of Cincinnati, and the layover was eighty minutes.

This morning when I got to the airport, the agent at the check-in counter noticed that the itinerary had changed, and asked why. I explained about the customs issue, and she noted, as she gave me my boarding passes, that I would actually go through customs right there in Montreal before I got on my first flight. I hadn't needed to make the change at all.

And I was flying into Atlanta now -- Atlanta, where the torrential rain ahead of Tropical Storm Ida was falling. The weather was horrendous as we landed, with rain, wind, and low dark clouds. I found my next flight on the monitors: already delayed forty-five minutes. And the board was full of canceled and delayed notices.

But I saw that the previous flight to Little Rock, the one that was supposed to have left thirty minutes earlier, was listed as "At Gate." It was all the way at the other end of the terminal, but I thought it was worth a shot. The flight was boarding as I got to the counter, and I managed to get the busy agent to put me on the standby list. Ten minutes later, I was walking onto the flight -- thirty minutes before my original flight was supposed to leave.

The ascent through the storm was long and dark. For three quarters of an hour, we bumped along in a constant cloud. I was knitting my Noro socks and listening to my iPod on shuffle. Finally I heard some familiar electronic noise -- the opening to ELO's "Shine A Little Love." As those dramatic, joyful chords began the song, we burst out of the clouds into the brilliant sunshine, a rosy-tinged afternoon sliding toward evening. It was a perfect ending to the day, a private panorama in my ears and my eyes, a little something just for me, like so many of the pleasures of solitary travel.

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