When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers, Episode 2: The Jamaica/Airport Curse Strikes Again

I am someone who could be described as organized, thorough, and particular.  Other, less résumé-friendly terms for these traits include Type-A and anal retentive, supposed epithets that I embrace as a badge of honor.  There is a reason, after all, that I get to be the Household Travel Planner (not to mention the Household Money Manager – another immensely satisfying job for the control-inclined).  And that’s why it was such a surprise when a seemingly minor demographic detail escaped my usually hawk-like notice and almost derailed our trip to Jamaica.

The husband and I had been eagerly awaiting a long-overdue revisit to the island.  It was only the second time in a dozen years that we had simultaneous spring breaks, and we pounced on the chance to return.  (Like childbirth – so I’m told – the pain of the Elvis-Layover-Nightmare abated after a time and we could only recall the beachside piña coladas and ocean frolicking.)

Since my blog is entitled The Travel Architect, you might find it not a little surprising that I used a travel agent to book this trip.  However, for about $40, it vastly increased the chances (I told myself) that we could get the very same cabana that we’d had on our two previous trips.  (Did I mention that I’m anal?)  Several weeks before the trip, we received our travel documents and I examined them in detail.  Correct dates?  Yep.  Correct flight times?  Yep.  Correct departure and arrival cities?  Yep.  All set.

Fast forward to the eve of departure.  Usually a smooth process, I was completing the online check-in when suddenly up popped an error message: the name on my printable boarding pass didn’t match the name on my passport.  (So, if my name were Blanche Latoya Shuttlecock (which it’s not) and the husband’s name were Nigel Umberto Shuttlecock (which it’s not), my boarding pass had me down as Blanchelatoya Nigel.) “Hmmm, yes, I see that now.  That’s weird.  Can’t believe I missed that.  I’ll have to address that at the airport tomorrow.”  Then I finished packing and had a blissfully worry-free night in prevacation dreamland, completely oblivious of the terror that was to come.

The next morning at the airport I attempted to check in via a self-service kiosk.  Nope.  Error message.  We approached the ticketing agent and the exchange went like this:

Ticketing agent: The name on your boarding pass doesn’t match the name on your passport.

Me: Yeah, just noticed that last night.  My travel agent messed up.

Ticketing agent: (shrug)  Ok, well, here’s your official boarding pass.  Have a good trip.

Whew.  Stress evaporated like seawater off future me’s sun-kissed skin. Onto the security line:

Security guard: The name on your boarding pass doesn’t match the name on your passport.

Me: Yeah, just noticed that last night. My travel agent messed up.

Security guard: Hmmm.  Wait here.  (Stress returned along with the security guard bossman.)

Security guard bossman:  The name on your boarding pass doesn’t match the name on your passport.

Me: Yeah, just noticed that last night. My travel agent messed up.

Security guard bossman: Can I see your driver’s license?

I proffered the requested I.D., hoping my hand wasn’t shaking too noticeably.

Security guard bossman: (shrug) Ok, well, have a good trip.  Next!

Double whew!  Much ado about nothing.  We are SO on our way.

We walked on to the gate to await boarding, breathing more deeply now and having a good laugh at what a near miss that was.  We settled in with the other passengers and just as my nerves were starting to untangle, we heard this chilling overhead announcement: WILL THE FOLLOWING PASSENGERS PLEASE APPROACH THE DESK: JOHNSON, WILSON, SHUTTLECOCK, JONES?

I approached the desk:  “Shuttlecock here.  You called me up?”  A starchy-suited airline employee responded, “The name on your boarding pass doesn’t match the name on your passport.”  Wearying of this exchange, I repeated, “Yeah, just noticed that last night.  My travel agent messed up.

And then: We can’t let you on the plane!  How did you even get this far into the airport?!?!

Me: Uhhhhh… (Say WHAT?! flashed in my brain, but wouldn’t emerge from my gaping mouth.)

Again: We can’t let you on the plane.

Second starchy-suited employee approached.  Far too shocked to register the engraving on their shiny name badges, I’ll just refer to them as Cruella and Medusa.

Cruella: They won’t let you off the plane in Jamaica.

Medusa: They won’t let you into the country.

Cruella: They’ll send you back to the U.S.  They won’t let you in.

Somehow I regained my faculties enough to ask if they could, you know, correct my name on the boarding pass. Seems simple enough, what with computers these days and all.  No.  They declared that the travel agency had to do it. They were not authorized. Their hands were tied.  A hastily made phone call revealed that the agency wouldn’t open for another hour, and passengers were beginning to board the plane. Now real panic was setting in.

(I have to take a moment here to publicly laud the husband’s cool composure during this whole crisis, mainly because he said if I didn’t, he would withhold all foot rubs for six months. I hasten to add, however, that his calm, serene demeanor was highly atypical.  I have never witnessed such grace under pressure from him either before or since.  Zing!)

IMG_4024
An artist’s rendering of the husband in a state of yogic quietude

 

Anyway, suddenly, as if out of thin, artificially conditioned airport air, a male employee – let’s call him Scott… because that was his name – joined Cruella and Medusa, picked up the phone, and said something akin to, “Let me see what I can do.” He called Delta Vacations®, through which the trip was booked, and spent a good 20 minutes on and off hold. All the while Cruella and Medusa were shaking their heads, looking skeptical, and muttering how I couldn’t get on the plane. And all the while I was suffering from the cold sweats and thinking about how many ways a person could murder their travel agent and two gate agents and still have an enjoyable spring break in paradise.

Then, the next thing I knew, a lowly baggage handler arrived with my suitcase.  They had actually pull it off the plane!  Not a good sign.  But then Scott, still on hold, turned to him and instructed him to reload it on the plane.  When the underpaid grunt protested, Scott repeated, more harshly now, “Put it back,” adding, “This is not my first rodeo.”  A barely discernable flicker of hope stirred in my chest.  Moments later Scott hung up the phone.  He had finished working his heretofore unknown gate agent magic. He printed me a corrected boarding pass, stunning his wickedly unhelpful colleagues and allowing us to board just in time.  Right before we disappeared down the jetway, I told him I was going to name my first child – boy or girl – after him.  And I was so relieved to have made the flight that I hadn’t even batted an eyelash when Scott told me they’d have to charge me an additional $25 to reload my bag onto the plane.

Drawing
An artist’s rendering of Cruella, Medusa, and our story’s hero, Scott

Postscript:

When we arrived at Montego Bay International, I could have rolled up my boarding pass, stuffed it full of ganja, and smoked it like a spliff for all the Customs & Immigration people cared.  They never asked to see it.  As long as the mug on my passport matched the mug in front of them, it wouldn’t have mattered if my boarding pass said Mrs. Bob Marley, III.

And, as you might guess, the first thing I now check (and double-check, and triple-check…) on any travel document is my name.


The tragic tales in the When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers series:

 

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