As frequent readers may know, I have a habit of taking weekend jaunts to far-off lands and returning just in time for important grad school meetings or romantic dates (not so much on the latter). This past July my friend Liza texted asking if I wanted to go St. Martin. Despite growing up in Virginia Beach, I don’t characterize myself as a beach person. However, I’ve harbored a growing affinity for equatorial sunsets after witnessing these miracles in Key West and Cuba.
“For how long?” I asked Liza.
We would leave on a Sunday and return on a Wednesday - two full days to lay out, sunbathe, explore the island, and grab some Instagrams.
“And how much?” I followed up.
“$184.” There was a deal out of Philadelphia. Liza promised to drive if I rode shotgun.
I balked for about three minutes and then typed, “Yeah, I’m in.” Send.
Liza bought the tickets. I booked the Airbnb. We soon forgot about the trip until two weeks before our excursion; we needed to get a rental car. We drove up on a Saturday to Philly and set off on Sunday morning to St. Martin/Sint Maarten, a tiny island in the West Indies with the north ruled by the French and the south by the Dutch. Miraculously, I would make it to France this year after a failed attempt in March.
I found it curious that the airline never emailed me an itinerary, but Liza forwarded me the original reservation where we departed at 3 pm on Wednesday and returned to Philly by midnight. We checked into our flight that Sunday without problem.
On Monday, while driving around the island, I received an abrupt email asking me to check in for our return flight. “But we don’t leave for two days,” I remarked aloud.
“Weird,” Liza shrugged.
Both our phones reassured us that we left in Wednesday at 2:55 pm.
The next day, we hiked to Fort Amsterdam where we had a spectacular panorama of Philipsburg, a colorful town at the foot of lush, rolling mountains bordering a wide-mouthed bay flanked with two cruise ships. The fort happened to stand above a resort catering to wealthy Europeans and Americans. We decided to grab a drink before heading back to our Airbnb.
We asked for two mojitos and the WiFi password.
“We should check in for tomorrow,” Liza said as she connected to the internet. “We leave in 24 hours.”
“I should do that, too.”
I began to pull up the previous check-in email I received.
“Cazey.” Liza’s voice fluttered. “Cazey,” she repeated.
“Cazey, it says our plane left. Today. It won’t let me check in.”
“What... But we leave tomorrow. At 2:55 pm. I checked.” I said this as if I had checked between her saying this and me saying it. The last time I checked had been Friday.
I switched back to my check-in email. Indeed the check-in email said... what. Oh my God. Departing on Tuesday at 2:45 PM with a - what - 24-hour layover in Atlanta and then onward to Philly on Wednesday at 7 pm.
“What,” I vocalized my confusion. “My itinerary says... but the reservation says, I’m looking at the original, we leave tomorrow at 3 pm. 2:55 exactly.”
“I know!” Liza said. “That’s what I booked. But it’s showing now that our itinerary has changed. We were supposed to leave today. An hour ago.”
“An hour ago” hung in the air.
I looked at my phone clock. It was 3:47 PM. This rescheduled flight supposedly took off at 2:45 pm. Even if we peeled out of here and didn’t pay for our mojitos, that plane had flown. We had missed our flight.
“This has to be a mistake,” Liza decided.
“Has to,” I repeated with much less certainty.
Earlier that day, Liza had relayed to me a story when she was bank teller. One day her drawer came up $10,000 short. “I’ve lost $10,000 before,” she said. “We didn’t miss our flight.”
“Do you have any email that says they changed our itinerary?” I asked. “I never even got an email that the flight was booked until yesterday.”
“No, I’m looking,” she said and scrolled her phone. “I’m even checking my spam and trash. Nothing.”
“Okay,” I said. I looked around the resort, at the old white people in the pool in their paisley bathing suits and our waiter now asking if we wanted another mojito (“not right now, we’ve missed our flight”). “What do we do? It says there’s an option to modify the itinerary, but it’s not letting me do anything.”
“We’re going to call them,” Liza said. “Here’s the number for international flights.”
Soon Liza had the phone to her ear. “International flights. Rebooking. Ah, hello? My name is Liza. What is your name? Neal? Nice to talk to you, Neal. Yes, I am traveling with my friend Cazey, and we seem to have some confusion. We are in St. Martin, and we are supposed to leave tomorrow, but my account says our flight already left. No, no, I have a reservation showing that we leave tomorrow. It’s right in front of me. I can forward it to you. Yes, something has gone wrong. Yes, we need to be on the flight tomorrow.”
I almost laughed. Okay, they just were going to put us back on the plane for tomorrow. Right? Simple.
“Yes, I’ll hold,” Liza said.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Neal’s seeing what he can do.”
Neal soon returned. Liza listened for a second and then laughed.
“Saturday? You’re saying the next flight you can get us on is Saturday?”
It was Tuesday. I repeat, it was Tuesday. We were supposed to leave tomorrow on a Wednesday. Saturday??
“Neal,” Liza began, “we are supposed to leave tomorrow. That is the flight we booked. We received no email telling us otherwise until we went to check in today. Saturday is in four days. How is that a solution?” She listened. “Is the flight tomorrow full? Is there standby? We are prepared to leave tonight. We have responsibilities to get back to.” She listened some more. “So there is no flight tomorrow? None? What about tonight?”
“There’s no flight tomorrow?” I mouthed.
“The flight was canceled, ah, I see,” she said. “And that’s why we got rebooked to today. But again, we never got that notification. We have no record of any email. Who is paying if we stay until Saturday?”
“Saturday?” I mouthed. “We can’t stay until Saturday.” I was supposed to be at a wine festival on Saturday. Liza was supposed to run a marathon on Saturday.
“Neal, this isn’t our fault, you understand this, right?” Liza said calmly. “There has to be other options. We cannot stay on the island until Saturday.”
My mind paced. If we stayed until Saturday, we’d need to do laundry. We’d need to book new lodging. Our airline would need to pay for that. I would need two more mojitos. I’d need to get more currency. There are worst places to be stranded than on a tropical island in the French West Indies 500 miles north of Venezuela. It’s practically paradise. Maybe we’d visit St. Bart’s tomorrow. But Saturday?? No, this couldn’t be.
“Thank you, I appreciate you looking into this,” Liza said. She put the phone on speaker. “He’s putting us on hold while he looks at other options. He said music is going to play.”
A voice began to speak. It was not Neal’s voice.
“This isn’t music,” Liza said.
“Press 1 if you’d be willing to take a survey about your recent service,” the voice said.
“Is this a survey?”
“It sounds like a survey,” I said.
“Neal said he’s putting on music, he’d be back in two minutes.”
“This is an exit survey,” I did not reassure us. “Did he hang up on you?”
“He must’ve hit the wrong button,” Liza concluded too kindly.
“Thank you for calling,” the voice said. “Goodbye.”
The call ended
“Saturday?” I began. “We can’t stay here until Saturday.”
“We’re calling back.”
“International departure. Rebooking. Hi, Jan. My name is Liza. I was just on the phone with Neal, he was supposed to be looking into rebooking our flight, there’s been a mistake. Okay, you’ll help us? Okay, well, let me first apologize if I sound irate because I am irate. My friend and I are in St. Martin. We were supposed to leave tomorrow. Our account says we were supposed to leave today. An hour ago. On a flight that has already left. An hour ago. But no one told us. Oh, you see? Yes, you see! We’re supposed to leave tomorrow, right?” Long pause. “Yes, there has been some confusion. Thank you so much, Jan.” Liza cupped the phone and mouthed to me, “She’s seeing what she can do.”
I finished my mojito.
I heard Jan come back on the line. Liza listened. “There is no flight back to Philadelphia until Saturday?” Liza said very calmly. “The flight tomorrow is canceled. And the next available flight you can book us on is...Saturday.”
I stood up. Oh my God.
“Jan. In what universe is that acceptable?”
Sat-ur-day. My mind spun. I paced, hands in prayer formation.
“Jan, there is no way that’s the only solution,” Liza started. “My friend and I are supposed to leave tomorrow. We have responsibilities back at our jobs and in life. We specifically booked this trip so that we would return tomorrow. We would not have come if we were going to be here until Saturday. And who is paying if we stay here until Saturday? We don’t have any accommodations until Saturday. We check out tomorrow. This is through no fault of our own.”
“Say we have social media,” I said.
“Jan, there has to be other options,” Liza said into the phone.
“There has to be other options,” I repeated.
“We have to get off this island,” Liza emphasized.
Never has “we have to get off this island” had more meaning than when a flight is rescheduled, no one tells you, you find out an hour after it’s left, and people are telling you you’re stuck on an island for four more days.
I pulled up Google Flights. I saw a flight with another airline for $1,200 that left tomorrow and would drop us in Richmond. For $800 on another airline, we could arrive back in Philadelphia. Any of these would do! I thrust the phone into Liza’s face.
“I understand this isn’t your fault, Jan,” Liza said, “but it’s also not our fault. The airline needs to do something to get us off this island before Saturday. We cannot stay here until Saturday.”
We are not prepared, I thought.
The waiter reappeared. “More drinks?”
“No, not right now,” I sighed.
I watched the sun sink below a mountain in the bay. Was there any better place to have this crisis?
“What about another airport?” Liza asked. “Maybe the French side of the island?”
“We can get to St. Bart’s,” I offered unhelpfully. “We can privateer a boat.” I don’t even know what privateering means.
“Or standby?” Liza pressed.
“We can island hop,” I pleaded.
“So there is no other flight with your airline leaving until Saturday?” Liza said. “Again, in what universe is this acceptable? We see flights with other airlines leaving tomorrow. We need to get off this island. Yes, I think you should involve your manager. Let me speak to your manager.”
“Speak to the manager!” I practically screamed. “We have to get off this island.”
I don’t know why this had become such a crisis in my mind. It was a sort of claustrophobia. I didn’t want to lay on the beach another day. I had a 1 pm meeting on Thursday. I wanted to sleep in a private bed without sand on my skin. I wanted to be in control of my destiny. I also hadn’t told my parents I was here. I hadn’t told my boss. Three days off the grid is one thing; a whole week is a completely different demon. I couldn’t tell if I was drunk off the mojito or in a free fall of panic. Saturday????
It wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe we’d go snorkeling! But stuck involuntarily on a tropical island? Was this Pirates of the Caribbean? Where was the rum? What would Liza and I talk about for four more days?
“Jamal, hello. It’s a pleasure to speak to you,” Liza started a new conversation. “I want to apologize first if I sound upset. It’s because I am upset. Jan may have explained the situation, but my friend and I need to get off this island. Yes, we can wait a moment.”
“What if they hang up on us again?” I said. “Tell him we both have Twitter.” I thought about adding I have more followers on Instagram.
Jamal returned. Liza listened. “Yes, that would work. 12:24 AM to Philadelphia? Yes, that will work. Mm, hmm. And we leave tomorrow? Let me consult with my friend.”
She mouthed to me, “He wants to book us on an American flight tomorrow. We get back to Philly practically the same time.”
“We’ll take it!” I bellowed.
“Yes, that works,” she told Jamal. “Can you email us that confirmation before I hang up?”
“YES,” I shouted.
The email hit my inbox. “I see the confirmation!”
“Thank you so much, Jamal.” Liza hung up. And then she began to laugh.
“Were you nervous?” I demanded. “They didn’t want us to leave until Saturday? I can’t believe it.”
Liza continued laughing.
“Saturday,” I exhaled. “We could’ve gone to St. Bart’s.”
She laughed harder.
“I can’t tell if I’m sweating because it’s hot as Haiti or because I was that nervous.”
Finally, Liza quieted enough to say, “I wasn’t nervous. Remember when I lost that $10,000 at the bank? This was nothing compared to that. And they found that $10,000. It had fallen between the safe and the wall.”
“Just like our canceled flight,” I replied, then added, “I’m still not convinced we’re making it off this island.”
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