Fight or Flight

September 10, 2014

in Academic Year 2014-2015, Middle East, Saville Inman, Turkey

Hi all. So I’m writing this post while on my flight from Toronto to Istanbul, at an altitude of approximately 33,000 with zero leg room and 10 hours to go. You know when I mentioned that missing an international flight was the most stressful event of my life? Well I just experienced something that may take the cake. I’m going to walk you step by step through what just happened to me but first let me say, I was supposed to have an almost three hour layover in Toronto. Ok, lets begin.

6:00 a.m. I wake up in my grandparent’s house in the suburbs of Chicago, ready to take on the day and become the world-traveler I was born to be. My parents and I leave the house at 7:00 and begin the drive into Chicago for my flight leaving from O’Hare airport. Traffic is intense but we arrive with plenty of time to spare before my 10:55 departure. I say goodbye to my dad first because he’s going to circle the airport while my mom and I check in. We check in and weigh my suitcase, which just made the limit at 49 lbs (50 being the maximum), then my mom and I exchange goodbyes, no tears were shed might I add. I move seamlessly through security then proceed to locate my gate. I find my gate and get something to eat and sit down for an hour, texting my friends, people watching, etc. There’s an announcement that my flight is delayed an hour, annoying but nothing to worry about yet. An hour passes by and they’re still not ready. I’m starting to get nervous because I have a connecting flight in Toronto that leaves at 4:25 p.m. and we lose an hour because of the time difference.

Finally we board at 12:15, phew all is well, or so I thought. We sit at the gate for another hour with the captain and flight attendants coming on the intercom periodically saying they’re sorry but thanks for flying United, blah blah blah. My pilot said, and I quote, “We apologize for the delay there was a broken latch on the fuel tank and the part wasn’t available so we’ve tapped it shut.” Um, ok?

We finally take off at 1:00 p.m., putting our arrival time at 3:30 p.m. and I am officially stressed. The flight was fine; I drank a coke, read a chapter of my book, and nervously checked my watch.

Finally we touch down but of course there are more problems and we end up being dropped on the tarmac so now I’m in complete panic mode. My connecting flight was boarding in 30 minutes and I still had two sets of customs to go through. The guy next to me was very kind and let me go ahead of him to get off the plane but others were not so generous, some even downright rude (c’mon Canadians).

So now I’m sprinting, full out, manic, hair everywhere, sweating, backpack swinging, sprinting. I have no idea where I’m going but I’m trying to look for an agent. I end up accidently going through a gate where a plane was departing and was yelled at by very stern woman. Finally I come to an atrium where I have to go through customs.

Right now I should mention something that is a key contributor to my stress. When I was filling out the customs form I realized that I accidently had a weapon with me, pepper spray. Completely my own fault for forgetting about it but I figured it must be no big deal because nothing happened when I went through security in Chicago. When I got to the customs counter I was honest with the woman and told her I had pepper spray in my backpack. Mind you my plane leaves in 15 minutes and I’m on the verge of tears. The customs woman looks at me in disbelief and asks how I was even let on the plane as pepper spray is considered a serious weapon. I have no idea how nothing was detected but it sure doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the integrity of our TSA security systems.

Anyway, I plead with her to let me through, promising I’d throw the pepper spray away. However, despite my obvious rush and an Oscar worthy performance of teary-eyed innocence the woman sent me downstairs to another customs checkpoint.

When I reached that checkpoint I explained to a woman directing the line my situation and she said I could just toss the pepper spray in the trash, so that’s what I did. When I reached the customs counter I again explained to the officer what had happened and assured him that yes I did throw the weapon in the trash. However, my word was officially compromised so he called his superintendent security officer to come over. The officer turned out to be a Jeremy Renner doppelganger, you know the little buff guy from Avengers, which was deeply unnerving. So now this Canadian border security officer is involved in my international scheme and my hope is waning. Finally I’m allowed through but not without some more undignified pleading.

I’m now frantically trying to locate my gate only to find I need to go through another set of customs. So I’m waiting in that line when I see the Renner doppelganger quickly turn the corner and motion for me to come to him. Heart sinking I follow orders, expecting to be scolded or worse, taken into custody. Surprisingly all I have to do is sign an official looking document which releases the pepper spray into Canadian custody (or so I hope, I was in too much of a hurry to read it). However, my name is now flagged for future air travel.

Finally, I’m free of customs and security so I haul my suitcase and myself across the airport to the gate. It’s now 4:35 p.m., 10 minutes past my departure time, and I’m almost sure I’ve missed my flight but I refuse to give up. After blowing through another security checkpoint where the agent was nice enough to let me go in the handicap line I was finally free. I sprinted to my gate and when I saw it I yelled “Istanbul! Istanbul!” The woman at the counter nodded with silent understanding and quickly got on the phone with the cockpit. After 30 seconds of an unknown fate she finally gave word that they were opening up the gate for me. I quite literally scrambled underneath the rope guard and flew down the gate bridge towards the plane where I was the last passenger to board. The flight attendants who met me at the entrance were extremely understanding and thoroughly impressed that I had gotten there in time. One even said, “We were sure you wouldn’t make it.”

Finally, dripping with sweat and not an ounce of dignity left in me I boarded a 10-hour flight to my final destination of Istanbul, Turkey.

I’m now sitting next to a lovely old woman who is originally from the Chicago area. I’ve already taught her how to use her iPad, however, watching her try to navigate touch-screen technology is giving me anxiety and will make for a long flight.

I’m about to go to sleep now but I’ll follow up once I’ve landed.

Thanks for reading, I know this post was long but I had a lot to share.

Cathy Strange September 15, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Great epic departure story!
I have had similar experiences and missed the flight…great news that you made it and are able to sleep!
Istanbul here you come!
Cathy

Aunty M September 15, 2014 at 7:44 am

WHEW! I’m tired!!!

Aunt Laurie September 14, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Scout,
A great read!!! I was with you through each hair-raising sprint!
Keep reporting in.
I love you.

Aunt Laurie
xoxo

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