|Downtown Tulsa: photo credit FJSobriquet|
This was a different kind of travel for me, going to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a family wedding. Instead of my usual buses and trains, I have to take three flights to reach my destination, beginning with the transatlantic one from Edinburgh to Newark. I spend a lot of time in American airports, and in a world very different from the low-tech one I'm accustomed to. But this gives me plenty of time to browse bookstores, people-watch, and have the occasional conversation.
Flying across the Atlantic, the map of the world showing the flight path has a mysterious area in darkness, the area where it is still night. A few lights twinkle in this dark place, waiting for daylight. Waiting for the line of light that slowly moves forward, as the dark area recedes.
The sun symbol on the flight path screen has shifted from the lower part of the African continent, a little westward out into the ocean. I think this sun symbol must stand for midday, as it's at the mid-point between the 2 curtains of darkness, the one just on the edge of New York, the other, far to the east, beyond India.
It's been 3 years since I was last in the USA. Some things have changed. Prices have gone up, I notice in Newark airport. Exacerbated of course by the exchange rate which when I arrived made the pound worth scarcely more than the dollar. 10-15 dollars for a glass of wine meant that my capacity for self-denial kicked in. I would dearly have liked a glass of wine as I'd already spent a few hours in Newark airport, but there was no way I was going to pay that. Instead, I went into a café where I could speak to the person who took my order, and I had a coffee for a mere 4.50 dollars. I was flying stand-by, which means you might get on your desired flight or you might not. All the flights to Chicago – my next destination – seemed to be very popular and I didn't get on the first flight or the next and in fact I lost count of how many flights I waited for hopefully only to be told that there were no available seats.
|Planes at Newark & the New York skyline|
One thing that had not changed was the friendliness and courtesy of everyone I spoke to especially the people at the check-in desks. They smile, they're helpful, some of them are even apologetic about the fact that they can't let you on.
You strike up conversations with others who are also waiting. And because each flight, only about an hour or so apart, leaves from a different departure gate and because Newark airport is very big, there's quite a bit of walking to be done to get to the next gate, which is much better than having to sit in the same place all the time.
One of my co-sharers in patience, co-multiple returnees to boarding gates, trying to get on a flight, is a young Frenchman who currently lives in Chicago.
It isn't always like this, it's just a bad day he assures me – with a soupçon of a shrug and a big grin – this is exceptional.
Two flights before the last one, the Frenchman was actually offered a seat and he said he wanted to give it to me instead! Of course I knew he couldn't do that, as there is a strict order to be followed in the stand-by list, but it was sweet of him to try.
The last flight to Chicago is at 8.10 pm and it looks full. The stand-by passengers are allocated seats at the last minute. And I'm given the very last seat on the plane, am hurried down the corridor by the person at the desk and my fellow stand-by passengers who got on two minutes before me, wave at me with delight. I sit down in the seat, fasten my seat belt, doors are closed, engines rev and the plane begins to move towards the runway.