I left in my rental Grand Caravan minivan at noon, hugging my parents, with leftover pizza and a sparkling water in tow to drive the 4 hours from L'Anse to Green Bay, Wisconsin to catch my first leg of the journey to the Caribbean island of Antigua. Google maps said it would be 3.5 hours, and American Airlines said it was a simple 1 hour layover in Chicago, then to JFK and off to Antigua the next morning. Just a simple trip from one remote place to another - what could go wrong?
A lot actually, since I was going through Chicago. But when I set out from my parents cabin in the Upper Peninsula I was all sorts of completely positive and clueless about layovers and pitfalls of the journey ahead of me. It took me 4 plus hours to get across Michigan and Wisconsin down to Green Bay - but I was just thinking about taking a swing past Lambeau Field when I got a text telling me that my flight from Green Bay to Chicago was delayed by 50 minutes. As I had only a 55 minute layover in Chicago, I was now a bit concerned about making it to Antigua as scheduled. So I abandoned any ideas of sightseeing and pulled the rental car into the airport and made my way to the check-in booth.
Turns out that it was the first day of my person at the American Airlines check-in. She didn't know what to do about my situation as there were no later flights to put me on from Chicago to JFK, because all later flights were completely booked. I asked the question, never having flown American Airlines before, as to why I wouldn't somehow get onto one of those booked flights because of the delay being outside my control? I got a blank stare, followed by the statement of "These flights have been booked for months." I cocked my head and said in a very calm and thoughtful voice - "Well, so has my flight, but this delay just happened." No sympathy or problem solving to be provided. Just a matter of fact, sorry about your luck kind of look. But while we were working through me possibly flying to Miami to board the same flight as my friend Natasha joining me from Arkansas, something happened and the more senior ticketing agent, who was now working on my case said "Oh thank goodness, your flight in Chicago has now been delayed. It will all workout." And without any more words, investigation, or reassurance she printed my tickets, handed them to me, took my luggage, charged me $70 for said luggage (despite the international flight) and send me on my way.
I felt lost and alone without the comforting words of my Delta Medallion status, and very unsure that it was all going to work out. I wandered into the only store in the Green Bay, Wisconsin airport - Packers Gear and Cheese, to shop and deal with my shock as it now appeared I had over two hours to dwell on possible worst case scenarios for my situation (or on the best case scenarios which I decided to focus on). I found a little rose gold backpack for beach and tropical hiking (as my purse wasn't working too well in Michigan), some postcards of Lambeau Field, and a bag of fresh cheese curds to munch on in 18 or so hours to come.
The Green Bay airport is a bit like a bus station. It has one store, one restaurant, and two "terminals" A and B. A and B do not open security until at least 30 minutes before your flight is supposed to board, and there is only a snack shop and a bathroom to occupy yourself within them. So I spent the time catching up on internet related matters, legal work, emailing myself photos for this blog, and texting people about my situation. I also spent a bunch of time meditating on the happy ending to this possible flight disaster staring out onto the empty runway, hoping to hear my flight was in the air on the way from Chicago where it was stuck in some type of air traffic control O'Hare congestion disaster.
I looked pretty tired already and I was only 6 hours into the trip. Eventually the news came, the flight was in the air and the Chicago to JFK connection was delayed again - it was all going to be OK. Yay! That is, until we landed in Chicago and got stuck outside the gate due to O'Hare congestion. Chaos was thick in air, but I just held the image of walking onto my next flight and getting to my super long layover at JFK airport triumphant.
It did eventually happen. I got off the Green Bay flight, walked down 5 gates and immediately boarded my flight to JFK. And there I was, in my seat on my flight to JFK airport, wondering why the seats next to me were empty, when the Captain comes over the speaker to say, we all have to get off of the airplane now because there has been a gas spill. It is no longer safe to be on the aircraft. "Please everyone gather your things and exit the aircraft." I'm all for safety so I wasn't going to argue, but I was a little concerned. The New Yorkers around me were livid, but what are you going to do? Explode in a big firey ball? No thank you. So about an hour later everything was fixed up and we all got back on the same airplane and headed to New York. Flight connection stress complete. I thought I had a very nice airport lounge waiting for me in JFK airport to nap in until morning.
But it turns out, that JFK does not have any 24 lounges or sleeping areas. It has an airport hotel but it was 3 terminals away and very expensive. As it was already 2am it didn't seem worth it when the Admiral's Lounge opened again at 4am. I decided to attempt to sleep on the bench for 2 hours as there was nothing else to do. Needless to say I had not packed the right carry-on equipment for this adventure, but I managed to bend myself creatively around the seat dividers in such a way as I could lay down in a mostly humane manner and allow my sleeping superpower to take over. It worked. I didn't wake up until two very excited young women, who had the whole entire airport to choose from, decided to come and sit down on the seat next to me at 4am and start talking about how they were quite early at the airport. I gathered myself, smiled at them and wandered towards the Admiral's Lounge.
After a rocky check-in with a lady who couldn't work the printer and almost lost my boarding pass I made it inside the wifi rich, comfy chair stacked, breakfast food and shower amenities available environment. I got myself a bowl of fruit and an espresso and sat on a chair to nap again - then couldn't sleep so I headed for the shower rooms to rinse myself back into a state of human again.
The shower in the America Airlines Admiral's Club was totally worth the entrance fee on what should have been free for my international flight (but for some reason wasn't just like my luggage). I used everything they gave me except the comb and I took my time, slowly shaving, washing every part of me with the special apothecary soaps and enjoying a phenomenal tooth brushing experience. I even got my hair wet. I felt like a new woman, almost with more than 2 hours of sleep under my belt. I used the rest of the time to work on the fast wifi and drink a few Americanos and enjoy the breakfast buffet before taking the long walk to my gate.
I caught a phenomenal sunrise over the American Airlines airplanes from the window. And in a matter of hours I would be on island in the Caribbean. How fun is that?
And it turns out that my choice of a window seat on this particular flight not only got me a nap - but this phenomenal shot of Antigua when we were coming in for a landing. The color of the water and the green of the island was astounding, even through the fuzz of an airplane window.
Customs was so simple, and I didn't even have to tell them about the large bag of cheese curds still sealed away in my Green Bay Packers rose gold backpack. In fact, I didn't even have to say anything, she simply stamped my passport and motioned me on and away without a word. I settled in with some passion fruit juice from the airport vendor and a water to wait for Natasha's flight to land from Miami so we could travel to our resort together. She arrived early and we were on our way to Sugar Ridge Resort & Spa - as soon as we could figure out where to get a taxi.
They drive on other side of the road in Antigua, just like any good former British Colony should. Getting used to this when you are slightly loopy from lack of sleep can be a bit fun. But despite the narrow roads, the traffic, the jostling of the bumps on the road I still managed to take in some of the sights of the island before being deposited in my luxury resort experience.
We finally got our driver to start talking near the end of the trip - he got quite animated about food, describing Ceasar rice, Chop Up and Johnny Cakes - all of which sounded delicious and we hoped to be able to eat soon as our stomach growled and our brains turned to moosh with the shaking of the road. We were delivered to Sugar Ridge check-in where the very nice and polite lady at the desk gave us Caribbean punch, and a large packet of information, followed by many, many, words that I didn't quite absorb. We would figure it out tomorrow, but tonight we needed to get out of our travel clothes, drink some water, and get dinner.
We found ourselves in a state of shock and awe at the level of luxury that our accommodations actually were. We saw the pictures online, but I think both of us thought that our room would somehow be less than what was pictured because were coming on a coupon experience. Nope, Aveda Pure Privilege totally paid off after 12 years of saving points.
And when I posted the first picture on Instagram and Facebook, I noticed that our location was Green Bay Antigua. I smiled as I placed my cheese curds in the mini- fridge, they were still squeaky. This was going to be a fun and relaxing vacation.