by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So you decide to visit the relatives for Thanksgiving. It’s a long distance, but that’s why we have airplanes. And that’s why, in order to make the Thursday afternoon meal, you leave Monday at 4 a.m.

Traffic to the airport is normal for holiday time, meaning backed up three miles. When you finally enter the airport complex, you check the signs for your airline. You see a Spirit, a Song and a Ted. These are airlines? Where does Ted fly? Ted Land? And what, you wonder, is an Aer Lingus? Is that X-rated?

Never mind. You are approaching your terminal. You slow down, naturally, to get out of the car — but a police officer waves frantically, as if an anaconda is slithering up your pants, so you keep driving, keep driving, figuring there must be an opening up ahead, and hey, lookie here, it’s the “return to terminal” sign.

So you go around again. And this time you slow down, you almost stop — and a cop blows a whistle and you’re so freaked you hit the gas and hey, lookie here, it’s the “return to terminal” sign again.

So the next time through, you unlock the door, put your “roller” on your chest and push through the door and tumble onto the asphalt and ta da! You made it! You’re out of the car! And you look up — and it’s the “return to terminal” sign again.

Boarding and luggage

So you trudge back to the airport, and you see your first line, which looks like a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. This is not the line for your plane, or for security. This is the line of people waiting to ask the single employee behind the counter where you go to get your boarding pass.

And when you reach her, she yawns and points to a machine.

And after 10 times pressing the wrong buttons on the machine — what are the “first three letters” of Schenectady anyhow? — you get a tissue-thin boarding pass you then take — where else — back to the lady at the counter — who this time yawns and points to an area where you take your luggage, and a line as long as a Clay Aiken concert.

When you finally reach the giant sucking machine in which you put your luggage, you ask the sole attendant, “Do I leave my bags here?” Unfortunately, he is buried behind a mountain of luggage already left behind by the people before you and all you hear is a “mmph” sound and that could be yes or no, so you decide, what the heck, I’ll take my bag with me.

And you head for security.

And on Tuesday morning, you reach the X-ray machines.

Security and the gate

Security at American airports is simple. There is always someone to scream instructions, such as “Remove all laptops! Pacemakers! Hearing aids! Belts! Shoes! Socks! Underwear!”

To save time, you get naked, submit to a body cavity search and hope the black roller bag you take off the belt is actually yours, since everyone in America has the same bag.

Now. To your gate. Let’s say it’s Gate 79. You, inevitably, will be at Gate 6. That is a rule of travel. Get used to it. And those moving walkways? The ones going your direction will not be working. Get used to it.

So you run. You sweat. But finally, gasping, there you are, at Gate 79. And your flight leaves at 2 p.m. And your watch says, by golly, 2 p.m. And the sign behind the counter says “on time.” But 400 people are still sitting there.

At 4 p.m., the sign changes to “delayed.”

You’d like to eat something, but the only places around are Cinnabon and Starbucks, both of which have lines like Toys ‘R’ Us on Dec. 23.

Finally, after “maintenance issue” and “crew delay” and “airport hold” and “fog conditions,” your plane takes off and lands, as expected, Thursday morning. And your relatives come to pick you up. And by now you know exactly where to meet them.

Under the “return to terminal” sign.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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