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?”
“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.”
Worried now about her two dogs home alone, she stood her ground. “What the hell am I supposed to do, Kyle? I’ll have to ask that mean Mr. Radcliff to come watch them. He always expects me to give him sex in return. Damn that flight crew anyway.”
“Did you hear that, Kyle?” I said. “She’ll have to give the man sex, all because your pilots overslept.”
Angry Birds, recently returned from the pretzel store, offered an unexpected show of support. “You tell him, Kip.” A small runner of marinara stained his fat chin.
The female Chinese soccer players crowded around. Men in business suits put down their iPhones to listen in.
Chuck the TSA agent, concerned over the rising tensions, asserted his authority. “All of you people get back in line, please. We have the situation under control.”
Angry Birds took up the cause. “Don’t make her have sex with Mr. Radcliff, Kyle.” The marinara looked like blood.
The Chinese soccer team joined in. “No sex with Ladcriff,” they cried. Their government-sponsored performance enhancing drugs were getting the best of them. “No sex, no sex!”
The businessmen roared laughter. “No sex, no sex,” they chanted.
Chuck raised his hands high in the air. “PLEASE, everyone remain calm…” he cried, but it was too late. Plastic wrapped sandwiches flew like hand grenades. A rain of u-shaped neck pillows filled the air. The Chinese soccer team arranged themselves in a 4-4-2 offensive position and moved on Kyle and Chuck, the elderly woman leading the charge.
The hapless duo was no match for the enraged women. Soccer balls soared while cries of “Mean Mr. Ladcriff” and “NO SEX!” echoed through the terminal. Kyle and Chuck went down under the onslaught, their only defense a hastily flung pile of yellow baggage tags and blank boarding tickets.
Within moments, a group of overweight TSA agents appeared like a poorly organized Smurf army. They ran to the gate in a blue storm, overpowering the Chinese nationals with their flabby bulk.
A CNN camera crew arrived just as the zip-tied communists were led off to a holding area. The elderly woman was handcuffed and carried away. “Mopsy, Flopsy,” she sobbed. Kyle and Chuck followed behind, anxious to give a statement.
There was a tap on my shoulder. “Can you give us your input as to what happened here, sir?” Holy cow, it was Wolf Blitzer.
We shook hands and I introduced myself to the veteran reporter. “Can I call you Wolf?” I said. His beard was even more impressive in person.
“Absolutely, Mr. Kip. Please continue.”
“Well, it’s like this, Wolf. After hearing the news about the unavoidable delay of our aircraft, I was standing in line, trying to calm my fellow passengers. Suddenly this elderly woman started talking about sex. ‘I don’t want to have sex,’ she kept saying. Pretty soon the Chinese soccer team chimed in. ‘NO SEX,’ they cried, and then they attacked the poor gate agent. I tried to tell them it wasn’t his fault but they wouldn’t listen. It was all pretty scary.”
Wolf Blitzer was very sympathetic. “Sounds awful,” he said, nodding sagely.
I was getting ready to tell Wolf about Angry Birds when a new gate agent arrived, leading the flight crew. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said. “We’re sorry for the delay, and we’ll begin boarding immediately.”
Wolf thanked me for the interview and handed me his business card. “Give me a call if you’re ever in town, Mr. Kip,” he said with a smile. “I’d love to buy you a beer.”
“Sounds great, Wolf,” I said, and headed for the gate.
Within minutes, we were on the plane, taxiing for home. Sadly, the Chinese soccer team and the elderly woman missed the flight. I hoped her dogs would be okay, and that Mr. Radcliff would take care of them for her. I thought about the Chinese soccer team, and wondered if they would be deported. The good news was there were plenty of open seats on the plane. I spread out my stuff, leaned back, and closed my eyes for a nap. As it turned out, Chicago O’Hare isn’t such a bad airport after all.