John Grindrod: Playing the airport version of “Let’s Make a Deal”
Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t flown since this whole pandemic started. Sure, Lady Jane and I have managed to drive around the country for the past two years, biting off chunks of the country, actually 15 states.
The purpose of my Southwest Airlines flight from Columbus to Fort Myers, Florida in mid-March was to spend time with my only sister, Joanie, and my brother-in-law, John, and several of their friends who are also passing plenty of time in the Sunshine State when the Midwest is in the grip of winter.
As for the changes I immediately noticed after entering John Glenn International Airport in mid-March, well, of course, there were all those masked faces. If I had seen a glimpse of the future the last time I flew, in Ireland and at the end of 2019, I wouldn’t have understood why all those faces were covered.
Since I was only going for four days, I only had my hand luggage and was able to go straight to the TSA line. There must be something about my face that’s a little sinister because, again, by the way, I’ve been pushed aside and subjected to, shall I say, more intimate scrutiny by a TSA agent.
The last time I was sidelined was on a plane to Dulles International after this Irish holiday in 2019. I made the mistake of having an orange in a zipped side pocket of my luggage at hand. The scent was picked up by a canine officer, and his human security partner led me to a separate room where the contents of my bag were searched quite thoroughly. I was also asked a battery of questions, none of which, to my surprise, had anything to do with fruits or vegetables. I may still be on the list of dangerous fruit lovers.
As for the pat down, I was told it was my choice to do it just inside the scanning portal or go somewhere more private if I felt embarrassed. I said, “Hey, we’re all friends here, aren’t we? So just do what you have to do.
Now the worst part of the pat down for this guy who made an unprecedented resume of pulling his pants up because truth be told I don’t have hips to speak of was the fear that my beltless pants would fall off while Mr. TSA did his thing. It took a double-thumb belt buckle maneuver on my part to hold my drawers in place.
After being deemed a citizen strong enough to fly, I joined the rest of my fellow flight attendants at Gate 5 and settled in for some serious people-watching. You see, I have the same gene for this activity as my mother, now a celestial citizen, but once in her mortal time, a world-class observer.
It was then that I heard the magic words that many Airmen yearn to hear. The counter representative announced that the flight was overbooked by two seats, and if anyone was willing to play the air version of “Let’s Make a Deal”, swapping their seat to fly later in exchange for a $600 voucher, he or she should go down. As I’m always ready to listen to an offer, I got up and walked to the counter.
Given that three other people got to the counter first, frankly, I didn’t think my chances were very good, especially after seeing an elderly lady (probably my age, actually) who was on the front line, grabbing the first place, take his good, turn and go. However, the next two could not match a subsequent flight that matched their desires.
When I reached the counter, I gave the rep my must-haves. First, I told him I had to be in Fort Myers that day, and second, that I had to be there no later than 5 p.m., so my brother-in-law wouldn’t be driving to pick me up in the dark.
She pursed her lips and said she would need to work on this and sent me back to my place, telling me she would see if she could accommodate my needs. Tapping on the screen, about fifteen minutes later, she came and said she had found a match, from Columbus to Midway to Chicago, then to Fort Myers. Because the stopover was actually moving farther back before advancing south, the voucher suddenly went from $600 to $800.
Landing at Fort Myers would indeed be at 5 p.m., just four hours later than my original flight would have landed. For me, it was absolutely obvious. The voucher guarantees that I will fly for free at least once and maybe twice when I need to scratch that lingering travel itch, as long as it is within a calendar year.
While I wasn’t crazy about the most dashing TSA searches or that damned mask, both at the airport and on the plane, I sure enjoyed that voucher. Add some quality time with Joan and John, golf and pleasant 80 degree weather during my four day visit, and I think my first flight in nearly three years was a resounding success.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Join it at [email protected]