I spent Christmas in a detox ward

"Hi. Do you have any open flights to the Bay Area?"
"We have a flight to San Jose at 9:20."
"How much?"
"$307.70 one-way."
"[sigh] Sign me up."

Smart travelers book their holiday plane flights in July. I waited to book mine in early December. While I didn't expect cheap flights, the fares quoted to me were outrageous. To cut costs, I delayed my return home for a week, skipping Christmas for New Year's with the family.

MDW to SFO on ATA: $226.70.

The day before my flight, I checked in online. When you check in online, you print your own boarding pass. Foreseeing no particular use for a printer in Chicago, I left mine at home when I moved. I figured I'd print my boarding pass at the airport with an e-ticket machine.

My flight departed at 7:00 am. I stayed up the night before, as I usually do before early morning flights, so I could sleep the flight away.

When I arrived at the airport, I encountered light traffic at every airline's ticket counters — except ATA's. It looked like 80% of the people at Midway were flying ATA.

No worries, I thought. I shall bypass that horrendous line with an e-ticket machine.

I entered my reservation code.


The machine could not locate my reservation.

Another machine yielded the same result.

I asked the e-ticket overseer for help.

"Sorry. My computer can't print anything. You have to get in line."

I've waited in long lines before. I was among the travelers at LAX when airports first re-opened following September 11.

I assumed, however, that someone from ATA would survey the line for passengers in danger of missing their flights and hurry them along.

Perhaps I'm naive.

A ticketing agent finally saw me at 6:50 am.

What's worse than just missing a bus or a train?

Just missing a cross-country plane flight because you didn't have a printer.

"I'm-a put you on standby for our next flight to San Francisco."
"The flight leaves at 2:30."

I checked my watch. 7:00 am.

No way I was waiting around in an airport for seven hours on no sleep.

I decided to eat the $50 ATA refund fee and find an earlier flight out.

To recap:
no printer
$50 ATA refund fee
$307.70 Southwest planet ticket

Passing through security, I was directed to what appeared to be a secret security checkpoint. I soon learned why.

"Sir, step over here for a minute."

Apparently, my shoes alarmed.

Security workers spent a good 10 minutes examining my year-old DC skate shoes, scanning them and disassembling and whatnot.

Their supervisor then filed an "alarm report" before releasing me.

"Is this normal?"

I began to suspect the girl sitting beside me was retarded, like Charlize Theron's character on Arrested Development.

"What, turbulence? Well, I think it's normal when you're flying through thick cloudage."

Her follow-up:
"Do you fly a lot?"

I've come to realize that "begin our descent into" means "prepare for 30 minutes of an uncomfortable upright seat and no electronic devices."

"I'm never flying again. When I flew out to Chicago…"

Another stretch of turbulence.

"Do you live in Chicago?" I inquired.

"No, I live in San Jose. I just spent a month on vacation."

In Chicago. In December.

"I stayed with my uncle. He lives an hour outside the city though, in the suburbs. I'm so happy to be home."

Some vacation…

At this point, she teared up.

"My mom only bought me a one-way ticket to Illinois and never bothered to inform me! She's currently in the Philippines!"


Heard over the public address system as I proceeded to baggage claim at Mineta International:

"Paging Gang Bang. Gang Bang, please report to the baggage service office."

They were probably trying to track down some Vietnamese dude, but it sure sounded like "Gang Bang" to me.

I pray my flight to Los Angeles on Thursday is considerably less dramatic.

Happy New Year, motherfuckers.