Don’t Follow the Leader

I’ve always been a leader, not a follower.

That’s not because I believe I have any great leadership skills; I just don’t trust anyone else to take me to the right destination, either physically or metaphorically. It’s probably the reason I’ve never been married. If you can’t trust someone to walk you down the aisle, it doesn’t bode well for a future with what’s waiting at the altar.

People tend to follow me, though. Again, not because I possess any great skill, but because I carry my actions through with such conviction, everyone thinks I must be doing the right thing. That’s how 250 people, following me off a plane, landed up in a dead end in Malaga airport. Incredibly, upon reaching the dead end, they all followed me back the way we had come, as, despite my error, I marched forth once more with Alamo like conviction.

I was less lucky when landing at John F Kennedy airport recently, following a Virgin America internal flight from Los Angeles to New York. It’s my third least favourite airport in the world (after Charles de Gaulle and Miami) and I try to fly in and out of Newark, which is more accessible to where I live in New York.

But JFK was unavoidable on this occasion, and so, being the first to leave the plane (as per usual), I marched off forcefully, my troops (as per usual, again) scurrying up the rear in the belief that I knew where I was going.

That’s the last thing I remember before my hysteria was pressing a metal bar on a door and I found myself alone on the other side. My troops had deserted me. I went to carousel six, which is where the announcer had told us to go, but not only were there no people I recognised from my flight, there were no bags.

There were, however, lots of officials telling me I had to join a long queue, but then directing me to a tiny queue when I explained I had Global Entry (which enables you to cut all queuing at US airports – it’s a joy). Now the fun really began: I had a Domestic flight ticket but was, inexplicably, in the International Arrivals area, and so wasn’t allowed out. I wasn’t allowed anywhere, in fact. This was it. Groundhog Day: destined to roam the corridors of JFK for eternity.

What’s a girl to do? Cry. That’s what. And I did. Sobbed. Blubbed. Uncontrollably. I stopped anyone wearing a uniform to try to explain my fate. One female in security was unsympathetic and all but had me deported on the spot. But then there were men. Lovely, lovely men, who were a great deal more understanding. I fell upon their mercy and sobbed some more.

“My luggage, where’s my luggage?” I wailed, with the kind of escalating enthusiasm one would normally reserve for a lost child.

More hunky security and police gathered around, all incredibly solicitous and really, really kind. One had managed to obtain a film of what had happened and showed me. It transpired the fault had not been mine, but that of Virgin America, who, as the evidence clearly showed, had ushered us towards the wrong exit.

“What I don’t understand,” said Man with Film, pointing to my figure storming purposefully through the door, “is what happened to all these other people behind you.”

Me neither, mate. Me neither.

Now, they all got very excited. They said they would be fining Virgin America. I, too, was now very excited, and, out of gratitude, watched the movie for a third time. But now the concern was how my followers had vanished in the Narnia of JFK.

Still crying about my luggage, which, given my history, I was sure had been stolen, I was escorted back to Domestic Arrivals, where my red case stood outside the Virgin America office, a lone surviving soldier at the end of a long battle.

So, what did I learn from this?

  1. Stop being a control freak and follow someone who really does know where they are going.
  2. Men will rescue you if you cry long and hard enough.
  3. Tears don’t work on women.
  4. JFK now beats Charles de Gaulle and Miami as the worst airport in the world.
  5. Doors at airports are closed for a reason.
  6. Virgin America’s trolley service is better than its geographical landing procedure.
  7. There is nothing quite so lonely as an empty carousel.
  8. When the going gets tough, everyone will desert you.
  9. You can always find more tears, when necessary.
  10. I love men. Did I mention that?

My next flight was with Virgin Atlantic back to the UK. I was second off the plane. Follow that man!

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