SFO Airport/San Francisco. 3:00 am PDT. Three of my granddaughters (ages 7, 11, 14) and I are flying to the East Coast. Their 17-year-old sister is already at our house. Accustomed to flying together, the girls and I are a moving combination of jocular and somnambulant. We have a 5:00 a.m. departure with a connection to make in Denver. Ever mindful of the many reminder messages to be at the airport at least two hours in advance of departure, we have arrived on time. The United check-in kiosks say, in effect, “Not operational outside of regular business hours.” The girls and I sit patiently.
SFO 3:50 am PDT. The very nice airport police stop to answer my question. United check-in staff usually doesn’t come on duty until 4:30 a.m. And TSA won’t open for a while either. The kiosks are still not operating. The girls are fine. I am not so much.
SFO. 4:20 am PDT. The kiosks have come online and I have obtained our boarding passes. Somewhere the luggage tags have printed out. We are now standing at the front of a United Preferred Service line with about 25 people behind us. Many of them are on our flight and are wondering out loud whether someone at the airline simply can’t do the time math. The girls are fine. I am not.
SFO. 4:25 am PDT. The first of the United staff arrives and very crossly demands to know why we are all standing there instead of having checked ourselves in and proceeded on to TSA. “Because we don’t have access to the luggage tags and the luggage belt isn’t running. How would you suggest we solve that?” I say. “Oh” Is her reply. The girls are fine. I am irritated and also relieved to finally be moving ahead.
SFO. 5:15 am PDT. We have passed through the TSA screening process, have boarded, and are now in our seats. The pilot announces that we have a small mechanical problem, something to do with fuel. A mechanic is coming to check it out and fix it. Shouldn’t be long. I decide I don’t care because we’re all in our seats. It’s only a question of time. What can go wrong? I’m sitting with the 7-year-old asleep leaning on my right shoulder. The other girls are fine, too.
SFO. 7:15 am PDT. We have now been through pilot announcements about the fuel problem, checking to see if the part is available, thanks us for our patience, the part is found, the repair is made, whoops we have lost our cabin crew and are awaiting a new one, and it won’t be long. I’m meditating with only partial success. The girls are fine but a bit restless.
Denver/DEN Airport. 10:15 am MDT. The Customer Service agent (who deserves combat pay; if he had been a waiter I’d have tipped him big time for courtesy and calmness under fire) deftly points out to me that we have missed the only flight to our Tampa destination on Saturdays and that 1) He can book us through Dulles but we can’t get to our destination until 12:30 am tomorrow, or, 2) We might want to stay over in Denver for the night, and 3) It’s not only difficult to get four rerouted tickets but I also want to be sitting next to my 7-year-old which makes it even trickier. I do not want to spend the night in Denver. He will do his best. And he does. Four tickets to Tampa via Dulles. I am doing my Blood Pressure Go Down chant silently. The girls are hungry, tired, bored and well behaved. I drown my sorrows by having my shoes shined, one of the little joys of my life. Denver Airport has one of the best airport shoeshine stands anywhere: Executive Shine. Try it out sometime! The girls wait for me and then we go and eat large meals.
IAD/Dulles Airport. 6:00 pm EDT. Our flight leaves at 10:30 p.m. Only 4 ½ hours to kill. I am feeling tired. The girls are, too, but continue to be total troopers. I find myself admiring them more and more. Our gregarious and articulate 14-year-old strikes up a conversation with two women whose tales of getting from Rome to home somewhere in New York state have stalled at IAD. Not only were the ladies sweet with the girls, their travel stories made all of us feel much better about our own experiences of the day. We finally find a Concourse D ersatz French restaurant and eat more big meals, and return to our gate to wait.
We reminisce and talk about our memories of traveling together. Do you remember the time we spent part of the night at Newark Airport and United gave us dark blue blankets to keep us warm in the terminal? Do you remember the time our flight was four hours late leaving SFO? That was way worse than this time. How about the time I took the girls to the Night Zoo in Singapore and the then-youngest, now 11, who usually wouldn’t hold my hand for more than two seconds, suddenly wouldn’t release her mace-like grip on my fingers as we rode the zoo jitney through the nocturnal animal exhibits?
IAD. 10:30 pm EDT. The 14-year-old has taken (at my insistence) my courtesy upgrade to first class. She was “willing to suffer with it,” she told me, tongue firmly in cheek. The 11-year-old has an aisle seat two rows ahead of us where I can see her, and she proudly pretends she is on her own. The 7-year-old and I are in a window and center seat, respectively, and lean into each other like exhausted beanbags. The girls are just fine, thank you very much, and have been much more patient than their father and their uncle, my sons, might have been under similar circumstances. I have now forgotten my name and only know that I am somehow related to the little blonde girl on my right who is sleeping softly with her forehead pressed into my upper arm.
TPA/Tampa Airport. 12:30 am EDT. We stumble off the airplane, retrieve our luggage, take the shuttle to Economy parking, and begin the 50-minute drive home. My wife Linda worries that I will fall asleep at the wheel. Not a chance. I am wired again on adrenaline and couldn’t sleep if I wanted to. Linda keeps calling to see if I’m OK at the wheel. I am fine.
Once home, after lots of hugs, the girls all go to bed and instantly fall asleep. I, however, am still wired, and it’s well after 3 am before I can finally drift off. In the interim I reflect on how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to travel with these granddaughters of mine.
Travelling may not always go smoothly but we get great stories and memories out of it anyway. I can just imagine how we’ll reminisce about the time we ate in that fake French restaurant at IAD and how the girls guessed at what the faux French words meant on that grungy menu.
Have any grandchildren travel stories you’d like to share with my other readers? If so, please leave them in Comments.