The Flight to Phoenix that Almost Wasn’t

I had quite the adventure last Friday as I traveled to the airport. It started with my decision to save some money and take public transportation to JFK International Airport. Having done the trek before, I knew the easiest way to get there and was confident that I would be fine, so long as I left early enough. To this end, I woke up at 4:15 am so that I could catch the first train of the morning to Grand Central Terminal. My walk to the station from our new house was freezing, but I caught the train I wanted. Things were off to a good start, I thought. Upon arriving in the city, I hopped on the number 5 subway for a trip to Fulton Street so that I could transfer to the A train, the one line that winds its way through Brooklyn and Queens to the Howard Beach station near JFK. From Howard Beach, the plan was to catch the AirTrain that stops by each of the nine JFK terminals. My flight was scheduled for a 7:59 am departure and, with no bags to check, I was hoping to be there no later than 7:00 am, as I’m someone that likes to arrive early. I had the time to make it if it wasn’t for the A train. I knew that the subways on the weekends can be slower than usual, but I was sure that everything would be fine on a Friday morning, allowing me to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Such confidence in the MTA infrastructure was my first mistake. I still do not know what the problem was, but I waited for the A train for much longer than was safe given my timing. At one point, I made a brash decision and ran out of the subway somewhere in Brooklyn hoping to catch a cab to JFK. I was not too familiar with the area and a quick survey of the surrounding streets revealed no cabs and a small chance of finding one within the next few minutes. As I ran back down into the subway, I realized that I had just missed the train I needed. Upset at myself for my impatience, I was forced to wait longer, this time really causing me concern as the minutes were ticking by.

When I finally made it to terminal 5 to jump on my JetBlue flight, it was 7:42 am. My flight, mind you, was scheduled for 7:59 am, a mere seventeen minutes away. My initial thoughts were that perhaps I could take the next flight out to Phoenix and that I wouldn’t mind waiting at JFK a few extra hours if necessary, as I was to arrive earlier than needed in Phoenix to explore the city. But I panicked when I discovered that the next flight was at 7:00 pm and that there were no indirect flights the entire day. The customer service help at the JetBlue counter would not guarantee that the flight could wait for me, but said that I could try making it as I ran down the terminal. I about begged a TSA officer to let me cut in line so that I could bypass the security lines prior to the gates. Fortunately, he understood immediately my predicament as soon as I mentioned the A train, as he himself had been a victim to it many times, he said. Through security, I ran as fast as I could with a backpack through the airport to the gate. It was 7:55 when I arrived. I made it, I thought. Whew.

But as I looked around, I realized that no one was at the gate counter and that those waiting around at the gate must be waiting for the next flight. The plane was there, but the doors were locked. I quickly found someone I thought could help. Out of breath, I tried to explain that I needed to be on that plane and that my lateness was not my fault. She casually mentioned that the doors were locked and that there is nothing I could do. After more persistence, she picked up the phone, but her heart wasn’t in it. It was at that moment that two more other people showed up eagerly asking why the doors were locked if the plane was not scheduled to leave for two more minutes. They had just arrived at JFK from Boston a bit late and were scheduled to connect with my plane to Phoenix. We were a three-person team demanding that the doors to the plane be opened. The lady at the counter marshaled some help and, after upsetting a few JetBlue people, we were able to walk on the plane at 8:02 am, three minutes after the scheduled departure time. Those on the plane gave us dirty looks as we boarded after the plane had all but left the gate, but I didn’t care. I had made my flight after arriving at the airport only twenty minutes earlier. It took some running, scheming and some luck, but I was on my way to Phoenix and enjoyed several good episodes of The West Wing on the flight. Exhausted and tired, I ironically arrived into Phoenix about twenty minutes ahead of schedule.

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