Wolf Blitzer and the Airport Riot

Even on the best of days, flying out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport is more painful than a dry-fingered prostate exam. On a Friday afternoon, with a week of business travel behind you, a ten-dollar beer in your hand and the odor of poorly maintained public restrooms filling the air, you wish air travel had never been invented. At that point, it would have been better had the Wright Brothers gone into haberdashery, or pursued western real estate.

I just wanted to go home.

Near as I could tell, I was ninth in line to board. Impatient travelers milled all around, everyone edging anxiously towards the gate. I was trapped. The Chinese national female soccer team shoved at me from behind, a fat kid playing Angry Birds on his iPhone blocked the way before me. “Woo hoo,” he exclaimed with each toppled pig.

The gate agent came on the PA system. At last, we were ready to board. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid we have some bad news,” he said cheerily. “Your aircraft is ready to go. Unfortunately, there’s no one to fly it. The flight crew is stuck in traffic.”

The groans of one hundred and eighty-seven disgruntled airline passengers filled the corridor. Angry Birds wandered off to Wetzel’s Pretzels for a snack, the Chinese soccer team complained amongst themselves. “Raht is lhong?” one said to me.

I knew exactly what was wrong, and pushed my way through the crush of pissed-off businessmen and would-be vacationers to approach the gate agent. Six-foot eight with arms like a gorilla, this guy was better suited to manhandle suitcases in baggage claim than swiping boarding passes. I peered up at his nametag. “Ah…Kyle?”

Kyle offered me a confident smile. “Yes sir?”

“Kyle, all these people want to go home, none more so than me. Surely there’s something you can do?”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Maybe you can call the backup flight crew?”

“Sorry, there is no backup crew. Now please get back in line, sir.”

“Kyle, why is it that the passengers are expected to arrive at the airport two hours early, but the flight crew can just waltz in here whenever they feel like it?”

Kyle gave me a steely look. “Let me see your boarding pass, sir.”

Finally, I was getting somewhere. Pulling the crinkled strip of paper from my pocket, I handed it to Kyle.

He typed something into the computer. “Mr. Kip?”

I nodded, hopeful now. “Yes?”

“Get back in line, sir.”

“What’d you just do?”

Kyle ignored me. “Get back in line, sir.”

Sure that I was now on some sort of TSA blacklist, I walked back to my spot in the boarding line, defeated.

Unfortunately, the Chinese athletes were reluctant to let me back in. “You reft prace in rine,” said one.

Her comrade chimed in. “Yeah, you go end of rine,” she said, pointing to the poor saps forty feet away in Group 4.

I was in no mood to be nice. “Go back to Hanoi, lady,” I said, and pushed my way between the communistas.

Their response was not surprising—an irate squawking ensued. “Hey, Hanoi in Vietnam, you ignorant American!” The Chinese soccer players turned away, disgusted with me.

I didn’t care. As the minutes passed, I grew steadily more impatient. At last I approached Kyle once again.

“Why is it that our flight crew is entrusted to fly an Airbus A320 that weighs more than a….well, a whole lot, Kyle, but they can’t plan their commute through Chicago traffic?”

Kyle looked at his computer screen. “The equipment on this flight is a Boeing 757, sir.”

“Who cares?” I said. “It’s an airplane, Kyle. Give me the keys and I’ll fly the fucking thing.”

Kyle was becoming agitated. A small vein in his neck pulsed with anger. “Get back in line, sir.”

“This is bullshit, Kyle.”

An elderly woman nearby overheard the conversation. “Damn straight,” she said. “I need to get home to Flopsy and Mopsy.”

I assumed she was talking about her dogs. “Did you hear that, Kyle? She needs to get home to Flopsy and Mopsy.”

Just then, the skinny TSA agent who’d felt me up going through security hurried to the aide of the beleaguered gate agent. “What’s the problem, Kyle?”

“Nothing I can’t handle, Chuck.” He turned to the elderly woman. “We’re doing the best we can, ma’am. Now please get back in line.”

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