John Hazlehurst

John Hazlehurst

Call it a travel brochure — the flight nightmare section.

Flight nightmares? Nowadays, my wife Karen and I don’t worry about missed connections, lost baggage, and entering the twilight zones that plague careless flyers. We make plans months in advance, give ourselves plenty of time to make connections and depend upon the air travel system to get us safely to our destination. Did we worry as we left for Colorado Springs Airport early on a cloudless December morning for a long-anticipated week’s vacay in Puerto Vallarta? Nope — we drove to our convenient little airport, parked the car and headed for the UAL counter. We confirmed our aisle seats, checked our luggage, whisked through TSA and waited to board our flight to Denver, where we’d connect with a flight to PV.

But then things start to go bad. Our flight to Denver is delayed, but passengers are assured that it’ll be ready to go shortly. Time passes, and we start to worry about making our connection. No problem — the aircraft will be ready in a few minutes. It had better be — it’s too late to drive to Denver. The window closes. Too late to make our connection and the afternoon flight from Denver to PV is fully booked. Time to make new plans. We get our bags back, take a cab (paid for by United) to Denver, wait for an evening flight to Houston, stay there overnight and hopefully expect to fly to PV the following day. Summary: We spend hours dealing with United, endure 20-odd hours in airports, lose two precious vacation days and join the reality-based community of air travel victims.

We were naive. We had believed the cheerful propaganda of airports, airlines and the travel industry, and assumed that experiences such as ours were rare. Not so fast — all of our fellow bumpees were grizzled veterans of travel dysfunction unrelated to weather.

We heard tales of fighting passengers, overbooked flights, ticketing errors, TSA delays, baggage forever lost, and takeoffs delayed. But none of the storytellers were particularly angry or upset by their experiences.

“The airlines are all in a mess after the pandemic,” a woman about my age told me. “My granddaughter is a flight attendant, and she says all of them have problems with aging airplanes and hiring personnel, especially for aircraft maintenance. You and I have been around for a while — so we understand that what happens, happens. You try to make the best of it — and even have fun.”

“If there was something wrong with the plane, you should be glad that United kept it on the  ground,” a middle-aged guy standing in the lost luggage line in Houston said. “And here’s a suggestion about your bag — the long-term lost luggage office is right at the end at the far left. Go check it out.”

“But our flight just got in, and my wife’s bag was right there,” I answered.

“Go take a look anyway,” he said. “Things get screwed up in airports.”

So I did, and there it was. We stayed overnight in a friendly Houston airport hotel, heard more stories, had food and wine, slept well, and made it to PV the next day. It was great — no customs, no TSA, 80 degrees, nice hotel, beach bar, margaritas, nothing to do and nothing to worry about… except flying back. 

And then I remembered a flight problem from 15 years ago, when Karen and I had somehow ended up in Minneapolis on our way from New York to Denver. We were broke and couldn’t  afford to ditch our fleabag hotel and get a meal elsewhere, but everything turned out well. We met a nice couple, drank cheap wine, ate snacks and spent our time laughing with new friends. Just as the woman my age had suggested 15 years later, we had fun.

As it turned out, the return trip was uneventful, even perfect. Too bad — if we’d somehow been able to take another week or 10 days in PV, we would’ve missed the awful cold snap.

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.