I know a lot of people who hate flying. I love it. I love entering airports and knowing that I am about to enter a capsule on one side of a map and end up on another. I take a certain amount of pride in my ability to find things to do in airports, navigate terminals, and in not being that annoying person who has to unpack five sets of keys and empty out all of her pocket change before going through security. I have my airport routine down. Or so I thought…
My trip to Ireland started early at 5:30 AM on a Wednesday morning. I felt just like a kid on Christmas morning. I was bouncing all over the place. My parents were coming along for the first week, and my sister was meeting us in NYC where we would catch a connecting flight to Dublin. My parents’ plane would leave at 7:30 AM, but mine wouldn’t leave until noon. They were worried about me getting bored all alone in an airport for seven hours. I assured them that I would find plenty to do while I waited. And I did! I posted Unexpected Wanderlust’s first Instagram photo and studied for the course that I am now taking. I also ate potentially the worst pancakes that I have ever had in my life (holla if you’ve had pancakes of flour, water, and powdered eggs!) and chewed gleefully as I thought about my upcoming adventure. Boarding was called and I practically skipped over to the gate, carry-on in tow. This was my first mistake.
Generally, I never take carry-on. I have to check luggage. Seriously, it’s a necessity. Whenever I’ve heard people brag about never having to check baggage, I’ve always been slightly jealous of the fact that I can never be one of them. I’m a lady with natural hair that requires gallon-sized hair products that can’t go through a security check.
So, as a result of having to check a bag every time, I’ve just stopped bringing carry-on. People are often aghast that I would do such a thing. Why would I allow an airline to be completely in charge of my luggage? Carry-on is free! What if I end up in Kalamazoo without a single pair of underwear to my name? Well, y’all, it’s because it’s a hassle.
I remembered as soon as I got on that plane. I’m a vertically challenged human, and overhead bins are not built for my kind. Getting your bag into that small slit is like awkward weightlifting. From the knees and a deep breath and LIFT. Meanwhile, you’re trying not to injure yourself or anyone else on the plane. (My sister recently told me a scary story of seeing someone drop their carry-on on someone’s head and the person just going down.) Thankfully, I did not injure anyone on the plane but did require the assistance of some random person who was way taller.
Once I made it to NYC, I looked up at a departure board found my plane number and set off looking for my departure gate. I searched for someone who clearly worked in the airport. When I found her, I asked where my terminal was and she gave me directions that involved a lot of pointing but nothing concrete. I picked up my checked luggage, and struggled to balance my two suitcases and my bulky canvas bag. I decided that if I just went outside, I would just find my way. Another mistake. All I could see were lots of taxis. I went back inside and found an information desk. I told the three men at the desk about my struggles. They gave me New York minute directions that began with going outside and to another side of the airport to get to my terminal.
Unfortunately, going outside was the only part that I understood. So, I went outside and crossed one lane of traffic and saw stairs that I just knew that I would have to take in order to get to the other side. At this point, I was entirely flustered. How do people who use wheelchairs get to the other side, I wondered. Just as I went up the first step, a cold drizzle began to come down. The chipperness that I had started the day with began to vanish.
I huffed and puffed my way up the stairs. By the time I reached the top, my lungs burned and my arms felt like noodles. With shaky hands, I searched my bag for my cellphone and proceeded to call my parents. My mom’s voice came over the phone sounding happy and almost singsongy, “Hello!” I didn’t even bother with a greeting: “I’m stuck outside and I don’t know how to get to the terminal and I have a lot of heavy luggage that I just carried up the stairs and I don’t know what to do!!!” I should have known not to call them in this situation because honestly there was nothing that they could do. They had already gone through security, and all I did was incite panic. My parents started frantically asking one another what the other would do to get me to the terminal. “Never mind,” I said sharply, hung up the phone, and put it back in my bag where I knew it would be blown up with worried text messages I just couldn’t bother to deal with. I cursed the rain, and then closed my eyes for a moment to allow my rage to drain. When I opened them I looked to my left and saw a woman going down a ramp. Where had that come from?!
I collected myself, went down the ramp, and back to the information desk. The guys at the desk looked amused. Before they could throw any jokes my way, I asked for clearer directions and where I could get a cart for my bags. I bought a $6 cart that I used for 15 minutes max (shame on you, JFK Airport), and one of the men from the desk took pity on me and walked me to the exit to show me the way. As I went up the ramp, the top bag kept almost falling off the cart. I ruefully chuckled to myself thinking about the kind of mess I must have looked like. I had become the person with five sets of keys in her pocket. And in that moment, I took pity on that person.
Finally, I made my way to the other side, through security, and to the other terminal. I unsuccessfully tried to wash away any annoyance I might have been feeling before I reached my family, who were all smiles and excitement. My sister giggled when she saw my disheveled state and said, “Man, I really lucked out that my plane dropped me off on this side.” I narrowed my eyes at her in an overly dramatic way, and my parents started laughing. Too much luggage or not, this was the beginning of a family trip.