Flying to Charleston, South Carolina, I unintentionally booked myself to Charlotte, North Carolina instead. This was the beginning of a series of slight deviations that kept diverting me from my destination where I was to meet my daughter and granddaughter for a mini-vacation.
These days, due to the kindness of a former airline employee, David and I can fly for free anywhere in the States or overseas this particular airline flies—we don’t even have to pay for our luggage. However, we have to fly standby. This means that before traveling I go on the employee reservation Web site and enter our names into the standby list.
Some 80% of the time we are given seats, but I have slept once in the San Francisco airport overnight, have waited at five different flight gates trying to get home to Chicago, and due to a bad weather system, David finally decided he’d get back faster from Erie, PA if he just drove.
So there is a margin of error with this standby uncertainty: I’ve never booked myself to the wrong city before. Bags were checked curbside. Security inspection went smoothly. Then the trouble started. At the gate, I realized my mistake, rushed to customer service, was informed that only the holder of the pass could change it, called my friend in Washington, D.C. who thankfully was home. She kept signing me up in the system, but it didn’t show in the customer-service computer. Finally, we discovered I was giving the wrong confirmation code. Since I had already missed the first flight, she moved me to the next flight out of O’Hare, but I didn’t have my bag.
I hiked down to Baggage Claim (this meant I would have to go through security again) and explained my plight. The attendant informed me that it took a long (lo-o-o-ong) time to get the bags pulled—maybe an hour. I called my daughter, who was poised to pick me up in the Charleston airport, “Just hang on. I’ll call when I find out what’s up. Don’t leave for the airport till I get back to you.”
Waiting, I chatted with a very nice couple (“They said it will be a long wait”) who were providing sustenance to all of us watching for our luggage to come out on the belt. “Here,” one of them said, proffering a bag. “Have some pretzels. How about some licorice?” They were hoping to get to Belgium the next day since the earlier flight had flown off without them. “Cookies?”
After an hour, indeed a long wait, and still no bag, I went to the baggage-claim department. “Sorry, lady,” the guy said, checking his computer. “Your bag is on an airplane to Charlotte.” This meant I couldn’t possibly reach Charleston today, so I called my daughter again with the news, then went back to the ticket counter to rebook my standby ticket to the right destination.
Again I got the word that the holder of the pass would have to change the standby ticket. “But I have a confirmation number, can’t we just use that?” A very helpful, very friendly, very determined ticket agent checked with her manager, spent some time on the computer, then issued me a new ticket. I called David, he drove to O’Hare (45 minutes) to pick me up, only to make the same circuit in the morning for a 7 o’clock flight—which, when I got to the ticket counter, I discovered was booked for Columbus, Ohio!
Same rigmarole—I needed the holder of the pass to blah-blah-blah; same plea—“… but I have the confirmation number!” Finally I was booked standby to Charleston, South Carolina. BOARDING GROUP 3, SEAT 9D WINDOW ECONOMY. Although it was Sunday, a day later than I had intended, my name was first on the standby list and I arrived on time.
I would call my daughter who was waiting at some cell-phone lot, but first I needed to make a baggage claim for the lost suitcase. Being in the South, everyone was lovely. I filled out a Delayed Baggage Report, explaining that mine had been sent to Charlotte, North Carolina. This form began with the words “Dear Valued Customer.” I had the bag tags with the number 501605986 and the file reference number CHS18157M.
Next, I filled out the Customer Property form: “The United States Post Office has investigative jurisdiction under federal laws relating to sending false or fraudulent claims through the United States mail. Any such claims received by this airline are reported to US Postal authorities.” I signed my name ensuring my claims were true. The lovely agent assured me that another airline, USAir (which had several daily flights from Charlotte to Charleston) would send my bag that day, and it would be delivered to my hotel. Then I phoned my daughter, who, with my granddaughter Josie, was taking a couple days to vacation and had invited me to join them.
Because I had been flying all month—Chicago to Phoenix and back; Chicago to San Francisco and back; this misdirected trip to Charleston via Charlotte or Columbus—my sinus system was beginning to react. We had one lovely day touring the city, caught a movie, then I came down not with infection but a raging reaction. The body does declare what we often refuse to admit: Too much high-flying offends the sinus system. Melissa thought she would have to take me to a nearby Emergency Room.
No suitcase as yet—not the day I arrived or the next day, Monday, when I was sick in bed. I called the Baggage Claim at the Charleston airport. “Still in Charlotte,” said the lovely Southern voice. I called the Houston 800 number and talked with a charming man with a very thick Hispanic accent. Since, it must be remembered, my inattention was the cause of all this distress, I was very careful not to complain, lament, accuse or vent. I hoped all would think I was a charming Christian lady.
That afternoon, I received word that my bag had been located in Charlotte, the voice kindly notified me and I would receive it that evening. Since, however, for three days, I had lived comfortably in whatever I happened to stuff into my carry-on bag and what I had worn traveling the day I didn’t get out as well as the day I did, I asked if it was possible just to divert the bag back to Chicago, my originating city, since I was returning there the next morning—which they did. When I returned home, I picked up the suitcase without a long wait (yep! there it is circling on the baggage-claim belt), still bemoaning a radical, reactionary sinus condition, which eventually landed me in the offices of two physicians—one general, and one an ear/nose/throat specialist.
Now all this to say this: One slight deviation from the original plan can make for large, annoying, disconcerting, inconveniencing divergences.
Most of the time we end up in bad or uncomfortable places because we made a small decision somewhere we didn’t even notice we were making and are now paying the complicated consequences. Somewhere we made a mistake and didn’t catch it until the baggage had already flown off to the wrong destination.
NOTE to myself: Pay attention.
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.