Apparently, miracles do happen.
Just made it to Hong Kong, and after 25 hours of travel, I’m still trying to process the utter madness of the start to my trip.
Yesterday morning I woke up, packed my bags, said goodbye to Aude, and took off to JFK airport for my 7:40pm flight to Chicago (which would then take me to Thailand via Hong Kong). The trains were off (as per usual on the weekend) and after 4 transfers and 2 hours, I had finally arrived to JFK around 6:30ish. I was a bit stressed as I was cutting it pretty close for an international flight, but I got to the kiosk to check-in and figured it would still be OK. I entered my info in the machine, and for some reason it told me that it could not process my request and to go see a gate agent.
My overly sensitive mind immediately took this as a racial profile based on my last name (Rahman is one of the more common Muslim last names in the world, and my family and I have had issues in the past), so I headed over to the desk to try and check-in once more. Irritated, I impatiently waited as the line trudged along at a snail’s pace. As I finally arrived at the desk, I explained the machine wouldn’t let me check in to my flight for some reason.
I told the agent I was headed to Chicago on the 7:40pm flight, and should looked at me with a curious expression. She then proceeded to say
“We don’t have any flights to Chicago this evening. Do you mean the 7:40pm flight leaving from LaGuardia?”
It was at this point I realized that for the second time in my life, I had showed up for a flight at the wrong airport. Unfortunately, this time it was for a trip to Thailand instead of Texas.
The panic set in immediately. I frantically ran around the airport looking for someone to help, and after a few insufficient answers, a woman told me that I would need to head to LGA in order to find another flight to Chicago. The time was around 6:55pm, and the drive to LGA generally ranges from 25-40 minutes – the odds of making the flight were slim to none.
I ran to the cab stand, hopped in a car, and said get me to LGA as fast as possible. The cab driver, and everyone person I spoke with at the airport had told me there was no way it was going to happen, but he was a kind man and agreed to try and get me there as fast as possible.
Aside from missing my connecting flights to HK and Bangkok and the inherent hassle of re-booking a flight, the bigger issue was that I would likely not get in to Thailand until the next day, on which we had already scheduled another flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. So, in essence, by missing this one flight, I would be missing 4 flights, spending additional money, and just generally throw off the beginning of the trip.
Feeling hopeless and frustrated, I repeatedly attempted to contact US Airways to no avail on the cab ride. I had resigned to the assumed fact that I was going to miss the flight, when the driver to my surprise told me we were about 10 minutes out from the airport at 7:10pm. With this estimate, I would have roughly 20 minutes total to check-in, get through security, and board the flight by the time we got there. Despite all of this, the optimistic (see:irrational) side of me began thinking I might, just maybe, have a sliver of a shot at making this flight.
I jumped out of the cab at 7:20pm, and hustled to the American Airlines check-in computer kiosks. I tried to check-in, but seeing my obvious panic an associate came to help, and informed me that unfortunately, you can not check-in using the machine with less than 30 minutes to your flight, and I would need to go see an agent. There were two people in line in front of me at the counters, and as I waited for what felt like forever, the feeling of inevitable failure began to grow.
In reality, 5 minutes had passed, and the time was now 7:25pm. I got to the counter, shared my situation, and the agent calmly grabbed my passport, walked me over to another register, and began pushing buttons on the keyboard. Whatever she did worked, and as she handed me my boarding pass, she looked up at me and said “You’re at gate D3. Good Luck, and RUN!”
I sprinted towards the security gates and bolted past the initial guards towards the agent who scans your passport before security. That plan did not work. The flustered guards screamed at me and asked me to come back. They wanted to check the size of my backpacking bag, and said I had to take off my bag to make sure it would fit. I pleaded and told them I had mere minutes to catch my flight, but they would have none of it.
I threw off my 65L pack, and as I put it down, it would not fit in the dimensions of the stupid little bag sizing chart. It felt like a cruel ending – I was so close to pulling this off, I could taste it, and I was about to be foiled by this stubborn lady because my bag was about 4 inches too long. She said I had to go check-in my bag, and in desperation I gave it one last ditch effort. Using all my energy, I squeezed and contorted the bag until it somehow fit the listed measurements, and after some deep contemplation, satisfied, the stringent bag lady said I could continue on.
Fortunately, there were no lines and I was able to run straight to the first security agent. As I handed him my passport, I heard them calling my name over the intercom – “Passenger Sahil Rahman, this is the last call for flight 363 to Chicago” – so close but so far.
The security line was empty, and as I got to the machine I literally threw my bags inside and jumped into the machine. Slightly amused by my manic movements, the TSA agents kindly reminded me I had to take off my shoes. It was one thing after another, I thought. I tossed my shoes off, shoved them into the machine, and headed through as the clock ticked away.
I came out on the other end, threw my bags on, and with my shoes in one hand and passport in the other, I took off sprinting full-speed barefoot through LaGuardia Airport towards D3. Bobbing and weaving through the crowds in the airport, I saw the gate, and began screaming “I’m here, I’m here!” as I ran towards the agents.
The woman scanning tickets warmly smiled and said “I’m glad you’re here, we didn’t think you were going to make it!” and the other two agents looked at me, laughed, and said “put your shoes on, you’re here!”
Against all odds, I had managed to miraculously make my flight and was in seat 16F by 7:31pm. From check-in to my seat took a total of 11 minutes. It was unbelievable, and I was filled with an remarkable sense of gratitude, elation, and joy – I was going to Thailand.
A few quick thoughts & lessons learned from my eventful evening:
Check your itinerary.
Check it once. Check it again. And then check it one more time just to be safe.
People are friendly and helpful by nature
No shot I make the flight without the help of multiple friendly folks this evening. They had no reason to help outside of wanting to help me out of a jam.
Making the same mistake twice is really frustrating
Incredibly, this was not the first time I’ve showed up at the wrong airport for a flight. Learn from your mistakes, and adjust behavior to make sure you don’t do it again.
Every single person I talked to told me I had a 0% chance of making the flight. If you think you’ve got a chance at making something happen, don’t give up when people discourage you and give it your best shot – you’ve got nothing to lose.
The universe has my back
That was lucky as fuck. I feel like the cricket from Mulan. But more seriously, I genuinely believe the universe had my back on this one. As the wise man Paolo Coelho says, ‘And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’
Send out good vibes and watch them come back
Was in a super great mood once I finally got to Chicago, and went to check-in for my flight to Cathay Pacific. As I was checking in, I made friends with the gate agent, Keith. We hit it off, and he kindly gave me a pass to sit in the Cathay Pacific business lounges in both Chicago and Hong Kong. He was super friendly, and extremely satisfied with the excellent customer experience, I made a point to mention it to his manager. As I was sitting here writing this post in the lounge, Keith shows up out of the blue and tells me that they had decided to bump my seat on the flight by 30 rows. Turns out his manager was so grateful I mentioned something that he wanted to thank me by providing my with an upgrade on my first Cathay flight. Just got off the the 15 hr 35 minute flight, and it’s safe to say I’m pretty excited about the extra leg room.
If the start of the trip is any indication, this is going to be one hell of an adventure.
Dude! Super excited that you made your flight. Love your writing style. Powerful. I hope you’ll continue to share your stories while abroad. Enjoy the journey.