On my return trip from Minnesota, I fly coach. Different day. Different airlines. This one requires cash upgrades for first class, not points. I pack my bags and open up the zippered extension on my carryon so I don't have to lug my computer all the way through the airport. My seat is in row 33 - the back of the plane. I check in at the ticket counter to see if I can improve my seat. "You have to do that at the gate," the man behind the counter says, giving me the once over. But you'll have to check that bag. "Don't worry," I say, "Once I take out my computer it will be just fine. I check in at the kiosk and head toward the gate. I don't have a good feeling. At security the gentleman asks me if I have any liquids. I pull out my ziploc quart freezer bag containing three small Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers.
"Is this all?" he asks. "Yes, sir" I reply. "Are you sure?" he asks quizzically. I'm positive. I had even left my toothpaste behind, just to avoid the security hassle. It's like he can sense I don't have a first class ticket. I'm just a commoner with no privileges. A commoner with no rights.
Once through security, I rearrange my luggage so that my suitcase is back to size. I even unload the outside pockets, just to make sure there are no questions asked. I am returning with exactly the same number of items with which I left.
As I approach the gate, I hear the announcement that the flight is full. "Please do not approach an agent about a seat change." I look down at my row 33 ticket. I'm the last section to board. Which operational genius thought of this? Shouldn't the back of the plane be the first one to board? You don't stock a pantry from the front to the back. You don't fill a bucket from the top to the bottom. The back row should board first! But not today. Today I'm boarding the back of the bus.
The back-of-the-plane section is finally called. I approach the gate, roller and shoulder bag in hand. "Ma'am, you'll have to check your bag."
I knew it. Mr. Ticket Agent called ahead. I'm sure of it.
"But I always travel with this bag." I protest. It's true. That bag has made at least twenty trips as a qualified carry-on item.
"Well, then, you have two bags. You have to check one."
'This is my purse," I said, pointing to the largish Vera Bradley Tote I scored at 50% off last season. "I'll put it under the seat in front of me."
She was not letting up. "Your other bag is too big. It has to be able to fit into this designated holder." I lift my bag, and, sure enough, the deluxe pockets on my Costco luggage exceed the parameters by one-half of an half inch.
Out of 189 passengers, she has singled me out as the example for the entire lower class section of the plane. I'm not first class, I'm worst class.
I'm determined not to give up without a fight. In the middle of the gate check-in aisle, I open my bag and transfer my laptop and my Nikon D80 to my Vera Bradley. I certainly can't check those. I look around at the passengers behind me. Suddenly, I hear my own voice resonating like an out of body experience. "Why is my bag the only being checked? What about that red bag or that blue bag." Regretfully, I hear myself throwing other passengers under the bus. Who is this voice that has inhabited my body? The gate attendant looks flustered and begins instructing other passengers to measure their bags as well.
Shortly, I hear a male voice. "Ma'am, come this way." I realize I've lost it - like Ben Stiller at the airport in "Meet the Parents". I've behaved badly. I'm pretty sure the Air Marshall is waiting for me at the other end. Hopefully he looks like The Rock and not Robert De Niro. I take my ticket from the gate attendant and head down the long corridor. Surprisingly, there's nobody waiting for me at the other end and I board the plane, squeezing my wheeled bag into the first available overhead compartment and placing my Vera Bradley under the seat in front of me.
I take my seat in the back and pray for forgiveness. When the security tape video goes viral, I promise I won't make excuses for my behavior.
I look out the window at the sunset and, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, give thanks that an almost-checked bag is my greatest concern. As the plane takes off, the world seems bigger and my problems seem smaller. There's nothing like flying above the clouds to change one's life perspective.