Coming to America

After spending such a long time abroad, it was perhaps inevitable that re-entry into our home country would be a little rocky. But “a little rocky” is a generous term for the absolute disaster that was our travel day from Ponta Delgada to Boston. Now, right up front here, I’m going to accept some responsibility for what went wrong. Because when we booked this leg, Dan suggested we take a direct flight that got in at 8pm-ish. But for me, that felt too late to be arriving at our hosts’ home. So I pushed for the one-stop option that was scheduled to get us in at 4pm-ish. Even though it meant flying through NEWARK. And resulted in probably the worst (OK, maybe bottom three?) travel day of the trip. Here’s how it went down:

  • Our flight from Ponta Delgada was scheduled to leave at around 11am. But the evening before, we got a text message telling us that our flight was delayed until 3pm. We were bummed, but made the best of it, having a late dinner with cocktails, ensuring a late check-out from the hotel and leaving our bag packing till morning.
  • The next morning as we lay leisurely around, Dan checked our flight status only to discover that our flight was now UNDELAYED. Is that even a thing? Either way, we ran like absolute crazy people around the room, throwing our stuff into suitcases and tossing on clothes, then running to the parking lot to get to the airport in enough time to drop our rental car and check in.
  • Upon arriving at the airport, we found our place in a check-in line of epic proportions—it turns out United’s daily morning flight to Newark had been canceled the day before, so they were currently checking in everyone from both yesterday and today. Except that most of yesterday’s passengers were now on today’s morning flight and most of today’s morning flight passengers (i.e., us) were rebooked on the 3pm. Get all that? No? No one in line did either. United’s communication regarding the whole debacle was… not good. Anyway, the long and short of it was that our flight was at 3pm, and we were sweaty and rushed but now not taking off for six hours. But then we got to wait in line for two hours, so that killed some time (yay?).
  • Getting bumped to a later flight meant missing our connecting flight in Newark, which meant we got bumped to a later flight to Boston, which meant that not only did we not arrive at Logan until 11:30pm (that direct flight getting in at 8pm suddenly sounded exceedingly reasonable), we now had a (*gulp*) FIVE HOUR LAYOVER IN NEWARK.

Friends, I’m not sure if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dan or my rant regarding the Newark airport, but here’s the short version: IT’S THE WORST. Seemingly architected by evil, twenty-something frat bros who have never used an actual airport, it is, for my money, the worst airport in the world (and we’ve been to a lot of them now!). Sadly, its United hub status means that I’ve found myself at the mercy of its awfulness more times than I can count. What makes it so mind-numbingly terrible? Let me count the ways:

  1. The restaurants: All of them seem to be designed to appeal to some mythical customer who has $50 a head to spend on dinner and wants to blow it on a “fine dining” experience that will make them feel like they’re at a fancy New York restaurant. But you know what? It’s an airport. In New Jersey. You aren’t fooling us. And this mythical customer does not have kids, I will tell you that, because the price points and the menus and the overall ambiance are not exactly family friendly. Unless you kid is into poorly concepted fusion food and very loud music. And I mean, my kid dines out in San Francisco, so we’re not exactly new to taking her to real restaurants, but again, we’re in an airport. Where is the fast, easy option?
  2. The music: If you go to an airport to say, take flights to and from places, probably the most important thing is to have information about those flights. When the announcements from the gate agent in front of you are intelligible because the too-loud music at the restaurant behind you drowns them out, then you have missed the point of airports. Also? Travel days are stressful. Not calming? Very loud, clubby music.
  3. The seating: I don’t have any real numbers here, but I swear something like 75% of all seating in this airport is bar or counter height. This is no longer much of an issue for our family now that Fi’s big, but I vividly remember an experience several years ago, pushing her through the airport in her stroller, trying to find a place to eat with chair-height chairs so I could reach her from the table. And it’s not just the restaurants! Every general seating area is covered in tall tables and stools that are not all that convenient if you’re traveling with a little kid, are over 50 or have any sort of mobility issues. And sure, they do have some standard airport seating at the gates, but it’s a laughably small number of seats given the capacity of the planes flying out of there. So, you know, that’s where the floor comes in.
  4. The iPads: Oh, the iPads. It was cutting-edge idea in 2014 (I guess?), installing thousands of iPads atop every table the airport. The concept, I think, was that you could scan your boarding pass to get flight updates (which is actually not a bad idea if you’re going to make your music too loud to hear those) and could “order a beer from anywhere in the airport.” How… cool? The reality is that these screens, which cannot be turned off, are permanently mounted in front of your face, blocking your view of the person across from you, constantly playing ads. You’re supposed to order your food from them (a functionality that has now been replaced by scanning a QR code! The touch screens and credit card readers are already outdated!), which means that you can’t talk to a server until your food comes, which means that you can’t ask for tap water or an extra fork or anything. Also, and let’s be really honest here, it’s mean to old people. The whole airport is, really. Make them use technology to eat, don’t give them anywhere to sit, turn everything up too loud to hear anything. They’re just trying to go on vacation, people! We all are!

Anyway, Newark sucks. We had to be there for five hours. We ate our most expensive meal of the trip (no joke) at one of their too-loud, too-upscale places and Dan and I treated ourselves to $20 martinis, which were, to be fair, pretty awesome (if too small). Fiona had to lie on the floor. We couldn’t hear our gate announcements but made it onto the plane anyway.

Our heroic friend Dan picked us up at Logan and drove us back to his place in Duxbury, MA, where Fiona, who had been an absolute champ during the longest day ever, had one brief, loud, exhausted tantrum that expressed what we were all feeling in our hearts, then passed out at 1am. We’d made it to America. We were home. Well, not quite. First we had to get ALL UP IN NEW ENGLAND. That’s next…

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