A thirty-year winning streak of not missing a flight came to an end for me last week at Dulles International Airport. My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:25 a.m. and, as is customary for me, I planned to arrive at the airport about an hour-and-a-half prior to my flight time.
My early arrival habit makes it possible for me to battle my way through security, hop a shuttle to my concourse, and arrive at the gate with plenty of time to spare. If all goes well, I can relax and get in some good reading time while waiting to board.
On this particular morning, however, I had been a bit lackadaisical about getting out of the house, and I knew I was cutting it close when I arrived at the airport at 7:30 a.m. Still, I figured fifty-five minutes should give me plenty of time to make my flight.
Boarding pass in hand, I marched resolutely toward the security area. But as I approached it, I was confronted with what appeared to be at least a thousand people herded together in the roped-off lanes.
After standing in line for a while, I glanced at my watch and realized that my flight was scheduled to depart in twenty-five minutes. Given that it was the only flight that could get me to my appointment on time, I immediately employed one of my most sacred yet simple rules: Ask!
I went up to one of the security people and explained to her that I was going to miss my flight if I remained in line with the rest of the herd. I asked her if it would be possible for me to take a shortcut and move to the front of the line. In a language that most definitely was not English, she talked it over with a guy who bore a remarkable resemblance to Mohamed Atta of 9/11 fame.
I was in luck. He gave the woman a nod of approval and — Presto! — I was led to the front of the line. Well, almost to the front. There were still a half-dozen passengers ahead of me, and, unfortunately, one couple was stripping down in slow motion — and laughing hysterically as they explained to their small children why they had to temporarily give up their toys. Grrr!
Finally, my turn. I tossed my personal belongings into two filthy plastic containers and pushed them onto the conveyor belt to be scanned. Surprise! I had no weapons. And neither did the ninety-something woman in front of me. Even her cane passed muster. What a relief. And here I thought she might be one of those granny-bombers I’ve heard so much about.
Now I could begin my long walk down the stairs, through the tunnel, back up the stairs, and wait for a shuttle to take me to my concourse. When it finally arrived, I got on and anxiously watched the signs for my getting-off point.
On arriving, I hustled off the shuttle, breaking into a trot toward my gate. It was now just two minutes before my flight departure time, but … hey … planes are always late, anyway, right?
As I rushed up to the check-in desk, I asked the agent to point me to where my flight was boarding. Her reply: “It’s already left.” Faking a warm smile, I responded, “But it’s just now 8:25.” Agent’s gleeful response: “That’s right. And 8:25 is when the flight departs (heh, heh, heh).”
(Note: Not all husbands and wives murder their spouses when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Some have the self-discipline to wait until they get to work, where they can take out their anger on the real enemy — their company’s customers. Airline personnel seem to have a special affinity for this kind of sadism.)
I thanked Mr. Heh-Heh for his graciousness, walked calmly away, then did what I always do in bad situations: I asked myself what I did wrong that brought my thirty-year winning streak to an end. Sure, airport security may be a colossal waste of time and money … it may be outrageously intrusive … it may be absurd … but, nevertheless, it’s a reality of a world where the norm is to put everyday citizens through endless inconveniences.
The lesson I relearned? When you have to be somewhere at a certain time, take into account the realities of life — not the realities of the perfect world you wish existed. Things are what they are, and will be what they will be, so what is to be gained by deceiving yourself?
Perhaps you’re a sympathetic soul who is thinking, “But how could a person possibly have known there would be a thousand people trying to get through security all at once on that particular day?” Answer: I see it as my job — based on sheer self-interest — to take into account unforeseen circumstances. Most people aren’t clairvoyant, but everyone can be prudent.
When I use the term unforeseen circumstances, I think everyone pretty much knows what I’m referring to — an accident that backs up traffic for an hour … not being able to find a parking space at the airport … and, yes, being confronted with a thousand people waiting to get through security.
The reality is that unforeseen circumstances are an integral part of everyday life, and the only way you can exert any degree of control over them is to make the necessary allowances in advance.
I intend to profit from the frustrating end to my thirty-year winning streak. Not only will it be at least another thirty years before I miss a flight, I am now recommitted to always keeping in mind that unforeseen circumstances have a way of jumping in my path at the worst possible times.
If my memory serves me correctly, an old guy by the name of Murphy gave us a stern warning about this kind of stuff many centuries ago.