Fly-by-night…and day…and night

Americans, as we know, aren’t real good at pinpointing places on maps. As Miss Teen South Carolina said so eloquently last year, “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, oh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as, uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, er, should help South Africa. It should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”
Yes, that is the exact quote. I verified it on, and nothing on the Internet is ever wrong.
I was reminded of this answer from last year’s pageant because between Dec. 28 and Jan. 1, my friend Craig Hilliard of Winooski, flew to Central America for a vacation in Costa Rica. His route there was Burlington, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Philadelphia, Burlington, drive to and from Boston, then fly once more from Burlington to D.C. to Charlotte, N.C., to Costa Rica. Just for the record, that drive to and from Boston was in a snowstorm.
In all fairness, the airline did not send Hilliard to Phoenix because they could not find Costa Rica on a map. They sent him there because the lamination on his passport was starting to peel. Oh, wait — that’s why they sent him to Philadelphia from Phoenix. They sent him to Phoenix from Washington, D.C., because the plane that was supposed to take him from Charlotte to Costa Rica was in some other time zone. And as anyone who has ever looked at a map of Central America knows, the best way to get to Costa Rica from the eastern seaboard is by flying first to Arizona.
In any case, it seems that the Costa Rican security folks are real sticklers when it comes to a laminated passport photo, and the gate agent in Phoenix wouldn’t risk sending Hilliard there because the Lamination Police in Costa Rica might send him to Guantanamo Bay, where he would never be heard from again. Actually, it wouldn’t be that bad: It’s not likely anyone can really find Guantanamo Bay on a map. But the Costa Ricans would, according to the gate agent in Phoenix, definitely deny Hilliard entry into their country. And so even though he had been using this passport to commute frequently between Burlington and Washington, D.C., for work (he is a software consultant for Oracle Applications), it wasn’t good enough for a gate agent in Arizona. Consequently, the airline sent him home to Vermont via Philadelphia … on the overnight red-eye. He was back at his starting point on Dec. 30.
This, of course, explains why Hilliard detoured to Boston on Dec. 31. Confused? Simple. He went to Boston that day to visit the passport office there, hoping he could somehow finagle a new passport instantly and salvage the remains of his vacation. Didn’t happen — at least not the way he expected. The Boston administrators said they couldn’t possibly issue him a new passport in less than three weeks.
Game over? Not quite. Instead of issuing him a new passport, they put his old one in their antique lamination machine. Yup, they just re-laminated it. And though it wasn’t as good as new, it did get him safely past the Lamination Police in Costa Rica.
Total travel time for Hilliard to reach his destination? Just over four and a half days.
Number of take-offs and landings? Fourteen.
Accumulated frequent flyer miles? Not nearly enough.
Now, this saga is only the start of what could be an ongoing feature, “The Friendly Skies.” Come back next week, when I am going to share with you the tale of my friend Bill Reed and his wife, Susan Walker, of South Burlington. At the same time that Hilliard was struggling to get out of Vermont, Bill and Susan were struggling to get back here. On Jan. 1, they flew from London to New York City. The flight landed at JFK right on time. It was that last 300 miles that were a tad problematic. And while the pilot didn’t need a map, he could have used a working defroster.
Stay tuned!
(This article originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 13, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

3 thoughts on “Fly-by-night…and day…and night

  1. Neil says:

    Try to get your REAL ID driver’s license renewed. You need 4 IDs and your first born. You get to keep the 4 IDs.

  2. Sarah at In the Trenches of Mommyhood says:

    Hi Mr. Bohjalian–I am a blogger and would love to be able to give a copy of The Double Bind away on my site. It seems this time of year (even more so than in the summer) a lot of women are asking for reading recommendations, and I’m always the first to pipe up about your novel, so I thought it would be cool if I could actually get a copy directly from you!
    Thanks for your time.

  3. Leaving,OnAJetPlaaane! says:

    This column kind of makes me feel good that I am too poor, too scared and too depressed to really get on a plane and travel anywhere.
    So, see? You did a good deed for someone who has *no life*, by writing this!;)

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