Turbulence Even Before Takeoff

DENVER — If the boy wonder wanted a guys’ trip for Christmas so that he, as he explained, could “go on a trip like Daddy does for work” then he got every bit of authenticity he could have wished for — right down to the delays, a hydraulic leak, a gate change or four, airline switches and, best of all, delayed luggage.

He also got something completely unexpected, even for this road warrior: mistaken identity.

The day started off so well.

On our way out of Vail, we stopped by the outlet malls and each found our personal Moby Dicks of headwear. The boy wonder scored a Hulk stocking cap at a ridiculous discount and I finally, finally found a Rocky Hockey hat for everyday wear. (Hey, it’s in the conversation for best logo ever. Too bad about that whole moving to New Jersey thing.) A quick drive down the mountain for me. A nap for Ian. No lines at security. Sure the beef jerky was overpriced, but it was just the snack we needed — and proved to be all the dinner we could get.

A chronology of the lessons in pre-flight turbulence for our young potential platinum traveler:

5:25 p.m. Mtn — Board flight to DFW.

5:35 p.m. Mtn — Announcement that plane has a hydraulic leak and that the maintenance crew isn’t sure if a) this plane can be fixed and b) a new plane can be found for our flight.

5:37 p.m. Mtn — We watch our baggage come off the plane. “There goes by booster seat,” Ian says as the luggage tram drives away from our flight. “I wonder if it’s going where I am.”

5:45 p.m. Mtn — We are told to de-plane. Our flight is canceled.

5:50 p.m. Mtn — A quick dial of the American Airlines reservation finds us a wonderfully friendly and adroit agent who gets us immediately re-booked on a direct flight to St. Louis … just on another airline. The agent recommends that we wait in line at the gate to find out what to do with our luggage. The whole conversation takes 20 minutes.

6:50 p.m. Mtn — We finally get to the desk at the gate after waiting in line for an hour. We are told that it is now too late to get our luggage. If only we had told them earlier. (!!!) They wish us luck on our way to a new flight.

7:05 p.m. Mtn — We’re on the terminal-to-terminal train to Concourse B and our new flight. Ian is counting the number of vehicles we’ve been on already today: rental car, bus, train, airplane (“But only to sit down!” he says), and train again.

7:25 p.m. Mtn — Our flight has had a gate change.

7:35 p.m. Mtn — We finally get our boarding passes for new flight.

7:40 p.m. Mtn — Our flight has had a gate change.

7:42 p.m. Mtn — Our flight has had a gate change.

7:43 p.m. Mtn — The beef jerky has worn off and Ian is getting hungry, though he continues to be a trooper as we lug our carry-ons and Chaucer the bear from gate to gate to gate.

8:12 p.m. Mtn — Scheduled departure of our new flight.

8:12 p.m. Mtn — We’re not departing.

8:17 p.m. Mtn — Things get bizarre.

We boarded the flight without incident. Ian did leap from jetway to plane, but did so holding tight to Chaucer. We had settled into our seats — 17C and 17D, the last row of the plane — and were organizing our bags for easy access when two young boys, traveling alone, came to the back with tickets for seats 17C and 17D. Hey, that happens. No big deal. The flight attendant quickly suggested that we keep the seats and the boys sit one row ahead until we could sort out where the extra seats were and how the mistake was made.

Intrepid traveler, waiting and waiting for a flight home.

If only it was that easy.

About the time we were supposed to leave the gate behind and make way for the runway, a supervisor made her way down the aisle with a list of passengers, going row by row and checking off name by name. A mystery was afoot. Two people were unaccounted for on the plane, and two stand-by passengers did not respond to a page in the terminal. The gate agent was trying to see if the two riddles were related. The Miss Marple of Gate B-88 found her first clue in row 16. There sat the two boys who had boarding tickets saying they, like us, belonged in row 17. But that’s not all.

The boarding passes they presented didn’t have their names on it.

They had ours.

Not only did the two boys, traveling alone from San Diego, get on the plane with boarding passes that had GOOLD/IAN and GOOLD/DERRICK printed clearly on them, they got on after us with those passes. Showing our boarding passes to prove we were in the right seats was no longer enough; we had to prove who we were. It wasn’t difficult. It was just … unusual.

Ian spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out which of the two boys was “pretending to be me.” He thought maybe the younger boy was him, but then maybe the older boy sitting against the window was trying to be him because he always sits next to the window.

Then we were off. Finally. Wonderfully.

Ian handled the delays, the reroutes and the suitcase-lugging like a pro. There are times when it’s clear we’re raising a little sports writer. (“Daddy, I know you’re done writing,” he once said, “but are you done typing?” See, he already gets it.) He didn’t sleep on the flight home, preferring instead to commandeer the iPod and play only songs he likes for the two of us. He was worried that our luggage was going to Dallas while we were headed home, but got over that when he realized the best of his souvenirs was in the carry-on. And then, when we finally did get home, he experienced the rarest of all travel upsets.

Even with all that, we got landed 10 minutes earlier than originally scheduled.




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