Saturday, October 1, 2011

Doing Time in Terminal F

Living here in Iceland gives me little leeway in flying options. It takes two days travel coming or going. One day of actual flying time, one day in which to be stranded in some city due to canceled flights. I’ve seen flights cancelled because a bird almost hit the plane, the toilets quit working, an elderly early boarder threatened someone’s well being (and the TSA has to take all threats seriously even if it is a 174 year old woman yelling ‘The Yankees are Coming’) and of course the inexplicable clear sunny day cancellation where the dreaded word CANCELLED simply pops up on the monitor for no apparent reason.
I plan for the inevitable delays, keeping my laptop and a change of clothing on hand. In winter I dress in layers (Siberian work camp style) in order to have some extra clothes with me in addition to what can be jammed into my bag and carried on and slammed, shoved and forced into the overhead bin. Fruit and water are always on my person for those hours spent sitting on the runway awaiting the elusive gate. Least this sound like a complaint let me be clear, getting stuck mid-route is a bit of a writer’s dream. The material that can be garnered sitting in an airport pub is priceless. People talk. I have one of those faces. “You can trust me with your most intimate secrets. I will put you in a novel, but I will guard your identity so closely even you will not recognize yourself.”  At least that is what I think I’m generating. Perhaps it is simply that I dare to make eye contact.

Still, no amount of advance planning or prayer can completely prepare one for a stint in Terminal F. You can try to avoid it, but eventually the gravitational pull will suck you in and once you are there you must defy physics to escape. Forget about your luggage too. I’d long suspected that it was tossed into an incinerator out back, but realized I might be wrong when I saw an employee wearing what looked suspiciously like my favorite sweater on a later trip. Well, perhaps her Grandmother knitted her an exact replica – it is, after all, a great big universe full of possibility and cosmic coincidence.
Terminal F is not part of the actual airport – you have to take a shuttle to either escape or be sentenced to it. Said shuttle literally drives over runways and around moving aircraft at impressive speeds, I have reason to believe it inspired The Knight Bus in the whole Harry Potter series. Same driver. There is no Wi-Fi in Terminal F and you are not allowed to leave your gate no matter how many times your plane is cancelled, including if it is postponed overnight. If you do, they will secretly sneak the cancelled plane to the gate, while you are off chatting it up with some Rock Star in a pub in the main terminal, and they will leave without you – and refuse to rebook you unless you purchase another ticket.
My heart always goes out to the poor condemned souls sentenced to work the Gates in Terminal F. Once a young woman took the phone call that those of us waiting knew would be the next cancellation and instead of announcing it bravely to the sea of hostile faces, she grabbed her pocketbook and literally ran away. Sometimes a passenger will revolt and rent a vehicle from their cell phone and then invite fellow inmates to escape with them by car. They go skipping off happily, knowing they’ll never see their luggage again but we all know freedom has a price. Those of us who are well versed in geography also know you cannot drive a car to Iceland from Terminal F, because the one-way rates on rental cars are astronomical, so we continue to sit at the gate and exist on lifesavers and fruit roll-ups praying for the governor to call with a pardon.

(In celebration of the fact that I did escape Terminal F once more, I have a delicious bar of dark chocolate that I would like to share.  Post your own Terminal F story in my comments and if it moves me, it is yours.)