Your alarm goes off. It’s 4:30 am, and while you don’t jump out of bed, you do get up quicker than you normally would that early. After all today is the start of your year of living abroad. You’re sleepy (and a little bit cranky) but excited nonetheless. You and your partner are well prepared, and within 45 minutes you are packed and on the road.
It is still dark but you feel confident that you can get to the airport without much traffic delay. There are 3 major airports in the New York City area. One, to the west of Manhattan is Newark airport in New Jersey. The other two are JFK and LaGuardia, both to the east of Manhattan. You are going to Newark.
The sky begins to lighten and you make morning chit chat with your driver. “Do you have your passport,” you ask your partner.
“Yes,” he says. The driver laughs at you and calls you ‘motherly’ which is ironic because she is your mother.
“Well, it’s the only thing we can’t travel without,” you say.
By the time you get closer to New York there are more cars on the road but the traffic is still light. Almost an hour later, and right on schedule, you can see the city being illuminated by the morning sun. The Empire State Building is gleaming off into the distance, giving you a fitting farewell to the country.
But something’s not quite right. You notice the driver is following signs for the JFK airport.
“You do know we’re leaving from Newark, don’t you?” you ask.
The driver turns to you wide-eyed, “No!” is the answer you didn’t want to hear.
You have 60 minutes until the airline closes the flight for boarding.
Maps fly out of the glove compartment and a new route is picked. Unfortunately you are across multiple rivers and highways and miles from the airport. The traffic is getting heavier and you begin to sweat. There is nothing to do in a car to work off your nervous energy so you just sit and urge speed. The traffic lessens, bridges are crossed and soon, thankfully, you arrive at the airport.
You have 30 minutes until the flight closes.
After that stress, the next few minutes seem quite relaxed. Boarding pass in hand you go to check in your luggage. “Passport,” the bored clerk asks. You and your partner hand them over, she checks you in and two of your bags are tagged and tossed onto the conveyor belt to load on the plane.
The last bag, unfortunately, weighs one pound too much. “You need to take something out,” the clerk says as she hands back your passports. The stress you had thought you were over comes back suddenly. Opening a bag in public at the airport is awkward. Especially as your partner has stuffed a pillow on the top which springs out as the bag is opened. You both scramble around looking for something to pull out that weighs only a pound and won’t be too awkward to carry. A pair of jeans? A box full of magazines? Finally, you see a large travel book and pull it out. You zip up the case, throw it back on the scale. The clerk nods her approval, slips the tag on the luggage and tosses it on the conveyor belt.
You both let out a sigh, and your partner grabs the books. “I wanted to bring this on the plane anyway,” he says with a smile.
“Do you have your passport,” you ask innocently as you head towards the security.
“Don’t you have it?” he asks.
Your partner searches his pockets. “I thought she gave them back to you,” he says getting more frantic.
“Yes, then I handed yours back to you.”
More frantic searching. After a moment you both realize it is not anywhere in the area and it could only be in one spot: the luggage that just got sent down to the plane.
You look around desperately for the clerk, but she has disappeared. You call for help for another employee standing nearby. Finally, the clerk comes back.
“We need to get out luggage back,” your partner says to her desperately. “My passport fell into it.”
She’s sympathetic but not moving fast enough in your opinion. She calls the baggage department and tells them to return your bags. You overhear her say “Hurry,” and when she hangs up you ask her if they will.
“Not likely,” she says. “You’ll need to wait by baggage claim number two downstairs. That’s where they’ll return your luggage. Then, after you get it back, bring it back up here to recheck on. You have to do this before 7:30 when the boarding closes.”
“What time is it now?”
You dash downstairs to wait by carousel number two. Just like in the car there is nothing for you to do but wait.
The minutes feel like hours and at every little sound you jump thinking that it might be your luggage. Scenarios roll through your mind of rescheduling plane flights and hotel reservations.
“I’m sorry,” your partner says mournfully. He too is pacing, sweating and agitated. The minutes tick by, but you don’t have a watch and aren’t sure of the exact time.
Finally, the clerk comes downstairs, unlocks a gate and you watch your bags being delivered. Zip open the large bag and within a moment, you see the passport. Thank you’s are yelled hastily at the clerk as you run back up the stairs and run back to the check in gate. The only agent available is the first class agent who begins to stop you, but relents after he hears your story. The bags are rechecked, and you run to security. You are sweating and out of breath and ask the few people in line if you can cut. They agree and within minutes you are at the gate, ready to board.
You sit down on the chairs exhausted, sweating, out of breath and starving. “What a horrible start to the trip,” you moan. But then you reconsider.
After all, you are on your way.