The Worst Vacation I Never Took – Part 1

In 2016, I had made plans to go to Italy with a few friends after finishing my first semester of graduate school. Traditionally, I have been a primary “organizer” of trips when it comes to logistics. I want to make sure we have good places to stay, we are familiar with getting around upon arrival, and are able to visit the best places in the time allotted. Somehow, whenever these trips begin to form, I end up doing a lot of the planning, or else the trips may just not happen. I don’t mind doing it, but it can become time consuming.

The Italian Job began forming around the end of September. We would leave Thursday December 8, 2016 and return around the following Wednesday. It was supposed to be a relatively quick trip. We determined the top places we wanted to visit were Milan, Florence, and Venice. So I spent countless hours in class perusing various AirBnb options that were both affordable and provided proximity to the hottest spots in the city.

For me, one of the most stressful parts of trip planning is purchasing plane tickets. Similar to a TV romance, the price of airline tickets portray a “will they/won’t they” relationship where occasionally someone will get lucky, but more often will end in heartbreak as the airline you thought you knew so well lowers their prices for another after you decided to settle. Luckily for this trip, we wouldn’t have to worry about this problem since we were all being given a buddy pass by a friend going on the trip who worked for American Airlines. Essentially, it was a prorated amount I was responsible for that accounted for distance and taxes. Flying to Italy would cost me roughly $400. Perhaps a bit steep, but still only half as much as a normal priced ticket.

Our group was planning on flying in from various places. Two girls flying from Salt Lake, two guys from Dallas, and myself from San Antonio. We created a designated meeting spot in Milan that we would all meet up at assuming we all arrived at our predetermined times.

The plan changed a bit when the two girls in Salt Lake both happened to find tickets for $400 online. So they purchased a guaranteed seat for the same price, now they wouldn’t be depending on a standby ticket. Good for them.

As the date loomed nearer, I began telling my classmates and teachers that I wouldn’t be attending the end of year Christmas party the night of my departure. I low-key mentioned there was a possibility I would be in Italy instead that day instead.

The Day Of

Early in the morning on December 8, I get dropped off at the airport, backpack in tow, plans made and maps downloaded. There is a bit of wind on the way there, but surely nothing that can’t be overcome. My friend who had given me the ticket told me how to check in with a buddy pass and which gate to head to. He assured me that there were still open seats on the plane and I was #1 on the standby list. What could go wrong?

Those of you who may be unfamiliar with flying standby, let me explain in the simplest of terms – by comparing the boarding process with the feudal system of the middle ages.

Pope/Church/God = Gate Agents – The ultimate authority that decides who lives and dies, who gets beheaded and gets divorced, who gets to board and who gets kicked off because the flight is overbooked.

Royalty = 1st Class – The boarders with priority before pregnant women, service pets, pilots with their learners permits, and B-list celebrities who can’t afford 1st class. These people are separated from you on the plane with a flimsy curtain that allows the peasants in back to see the better food and hot towels they can’t afford.

*Also active military, but they should be treated like royalty anyways

Nobles/Lords = Executive Platinum Members – Usually suit-wearing consultants with slicked-back hair that will stay in place no matter how bad the turbulence. Can sit in front of the curtain if there is room.

Knights = Platinum Members – Uh…platinum members that are not executive…obviously

Vassals = Gold members and executive members that aren’t platinum but part of the loyalty program…look it’s confusing but thanks for sticking with me so far. Also, whats a vassal?

Merchants/Farmers/Craftsmen = Zones 1,2,3 – Congratulations, you’re not last because you paid $15 to choose your own seat! Yes, I know you signed up for their credit card which was supposed to get you more priority, but better priority is for “eligible” members only. Read that fine print.

Peasants = Basic Economy – Majority of the people who fly

Serfs = Standby – Within serfdom, there are various levels as well:

  • D1 = Court jesters – Airline employees
  • D2 = Livestock – Immediate Family and Airline retirees
  • D3 = The backhoe the serfs use to level manure in the fields – Buddy passes

I’m obviously the bottom of the barrel here, but I was told my chances were good for boarding, so I didn’t worry about it.

As I sit at my gate, I notice how full it is becoming. The standby list shows me at #2 now. “Ok, that’s fine. There are obviously more important people than me here.” An announcement comes on informing the gate that due to high winds, the previous flight had been cancelled and was going to fill up our flight. I glanced back at the standby list where my name had now disappeared, filled instead with the names of those from the previous flight. This was when I began to worry.

Flying on American Airlines from San Antonio, every flight connects in Dallas. There is a plane that leaves every two hours. For the next 6 HOURS, I sat in the airport watching as my name was continually moved to the next flight and continually shuffled down the board as an unimportant D3 passenger. After the 6th hour, there was no way I could catch the last connecting flight of the day in Dallas that would allow me to catch the connecting flight I had purchased in London to take me to Italy.

There was nothing I could do to reroute. My friend who would have been able to reroute me was somewhere over the Atlantic on his own flight. By the time he landed and managed to get me another flight, I wouldn’t get there till Monday. Not worth it if we were leaving Wednesday.

I threw in the towel.

I ended up going to my class Christmas party that night. I tried to pass my experience off as a Friends moment where I came to my senses and had to get off the plane because of the love I have for my classmates.

“That’s nice…” They said with pity in their eyes.

Perhaps the worst part was that I was still involved with the trip, running operations from the states – like an unpaid travel agent unsatisfied with their job. Since the accommodations were in my name, I had to communicate with the hosts and explain that the person they would be expecting to meet them would not be there, instead being met by someone else. Most nights went along the lines of

“Hey did you guys reach Venice/Florence/Milan alright?”

“Ya we did, it’s amazing here!”

“Great, have fun. I’m going to bed.”

A few weeks later, we all met up in a run-down Italian restaurant in Provo, Utah to eat some bad Gelato with freezer burn while they reminisced and I listened halfheartedly. It was about an hour of inside jokes that I stood on the outside of.

I love inside jokes, I’d love to be a part of one one day. Maybe next year…

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