I’m beginning to feel like a seasoned traveler these days. Last year I flew to Ecuador in March and November, and California in April and December. Just this week I returned from another trip to California. What is the motivation that keeps me flying? Why, my grandchildren, of course! I’m the long-distance grandma to thirteen of the world’s most beautiful, wonderful children and if I want to see them, then I just have to fly.
I thought about calling this “Adventures in Flying” because I have certainly had my share of stressful experiences when I’ve flown. Oh, nothing when it comes to the actual 35,000 feet up in the air part, or even take-offs and landings—thank God! That part doesn’t really bother me—much. No, it is getting to and through the airports—and all that that entails—that causes my stomach to be in knots and my hands to shake.
My very first opportunity to fly did not start well. It was back in the 80’s—the days of using travel agents and pre-9/11 security measures. I was traveling from Colorado to Indiana with my two little girls. I had just finished packing the day before we were to fly when I got a call from my agent. “Hurry!” she said urgently. “Can you get to the airport in one hour? The air controllers just went on strike. I can get you on a flight today, but if you wait until tomorrow you may not get to go!” Somehow we made it to the airport in the nick of time, but as Bob was lifting the suitcases from the trunk, the zipper on the biggest one broke and everything spilled out into the parking lot!
“Hurry! [I hate that word!] You get to your gate and I’ll find something to tie this together,” he said. The girls and I took off running.
Just as I got to the gate I happened to look down and discovered that the seams on the brand new dress I had just bought at JC Penney’s were unraveling and my dress was coming apart! Eeek! I rushed the girls into the bathroom. Fortunately, I had several safety pins in my purse and was able to pin my dress together sufficiently to get us to Indiana. We came out of the bathroom to find them almost done boarding the plane and Bob frantically looking for us.
“I found some rope to tie your suitcase,” he said.
Oh, good grief, I thought. We’re going to look like the Beverly Hillbillies! Nevertheless, I was grateful. We kissed a hasty farewell and the girls and I boarded the plane for our first ever flight. As I finally sank into my seat, I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind, If the air controllers are on strike, who’s up in the tower keeping all these planes apart? I white-knuckled it all the way across the country, trying not to show my fear to Laurie and Julie.
These days I am more experienced and less fearful of the actual flying, but still just as stressed when it comes to the airports. I’m the little old lady who seems always gets called aside for extra scrutiny by the security agents. “What’s this?” one big, bad agent asked sternly as he pulled a large can of pumpkin pie filling out of my carry-on.
“Uh, that’s pumpkin to make pies for Thanksgiving, sir,” I quavered. It was the week before the holiday and I was on my way to Ecuador. Laurie had asked me to bring the offending item.
“Can’t have it. It’s a liquid,” he said brusquely.
“Pumpkin is a liquid?” I asked incredulously. When he grunted, “Yep!” I pointed out that it was in a sealed, tamper-proof can.
“Still a liquid,” he doubled down, but in the end he relented with a stern warning to never do that again, and let me go on my way with enough pumpkin to make a couple of Thanksgiving pies.
My very next trip, this time to California, I was pulled aside by security again. “What’s this?” another equally big, bad agent asked sternly. He held up a teeny, tiny little tool kit he had removed from my carry-on.
“Oh! I just threw that in at the last minute, just in case I needed an extra Christmas gift for one of my grandsons. I never even gave security a thought! Guess I can’t have it, can I?” I asked wistfully.
“Nope.” And there went the little tool kit into the trash.
Getting through security in the US is bad enough, but when you’re traveling internationally and you don’t really speak the language, it can get not just stressful, but even a little scary. It happened to me on my trip to Ecuador last November.
I was just about to board the plane in Guayaquil to return home when the young man who was escorting me indicated that we had to go back to the gate (the plane was actually parked a long way from the gate.) He didn’t speak English but he kept pointing to my carry-on as if there was some problem. “But why?” I asked in my poor Spanish. “They already checked it.” Just then I heard my name called over the loud speakers.
We headed back to the gate and the agent, another young man who also did not speak English, met us and he, too, kept pointing to my carry-on and said that I had to go with them. It was a long way to wherever we were going, and at last a third young man who spoke English joined us. “I don’t understand,” I said. “My bag has already been checked by security.”
“No, no—not this one! Your big suitcase! There is a problem.”
“What?! What could it be?” I tried to laugh it off. “I don’t have anything in my suitcase that should be a problem, so I’m not worried. I can’t imagine…”
“Do you happen to have any chocolate in your suitcase?” he asked.
“Why, yes! My daughter is sending some Ecuadorian chocolate home to her dad as a gift. But why do you ask?”
“Ah-ha! That is probably the problem. You see, drug smugglers put chocolate in their bags to try to cover the scent of their illegal drugs. Narcotics agents have begun training their dogs to alert them to chocolate in luggage. Here we are!”
I was still nervously trying to laugh it off when we headed down some back stairs to the basement. My laughter stopped when I saw the sign above the door—Anti-Narcotics Unit. Gulp. I was so glad that fellow had given me a head’s up! I was able, in my limited Spanish, to point out and explain the presence of chocolate in my bag. After dumping all my belongings out, the agent dumped it all back into my suitcase and let me go. So much for my careful, neat packing the night before! And note to self (and you)—never, ever carry chocolate in your checked bags on international, or even domestic, flights! The dogs will get you!
I made it back to board my plane just in time (last one on, where a little while before, I was supposed to be the first one.) All was well on that flight—but then I had to change flights in San Salvador. That meant going through security all over again, and I knew from previous experiences that the agents there were very thorough and tough.
Sure enough—the agent came to the thermal bag I had inside my carry-on that held an ice pack and my insulin. She lit into me, scolding me in Spanish because they were not in a zip-lock bag. I couldn’t understand her words but I knew what she was saying as she tried to stuff twelve little boxes of insulin into a baggie. She finally let me go—after dumping the contents of my carry-on back into it—and I breathed a sigh of relief that I still had my year’s worth of insulin.
As I sat on that plane headed back to Chicago, I started to cry. I was exhausted and the morning had been so stressful. I began to think of Fernando and Laura and the kids driving back to Cuenca (about a three hour trip through the Andes Mountains) and my weary mind began to worry about them on that sometimes treacherous road. I couldn’t stop crying. I tried to hide my tears, but I am sure it was probably pretty obvious to my seat-mate, the guy across the aisle and the flight attendant. (I don’t cry “pretty.” My red, drippy nose, swollen eyes and tear-streaked face told the tale, I’m sure.) Lunch was served shortly after take-off and that presented a temporary diversion, but it didn’t take long for my thoughts to revert to their previous morbid mode.
It was a couple hours later when I happened to pick up the bottle of Diet Coke they had given me with my lunch. I turned it over and there, in front of my startled eyes, were the words “Have a Diet Coke with LAURA.” I had not seen Coca Cola’s new marketing ploy before, and it just seemed like a God-thing to me—a little whisper from the Lord, “You see? It’s okay—they’re going to get home safely and someday you’ll share a Diet Coke with Laurie again!” I burst into tears once more—this time happy, thankful tears. Marketing ploy or not, you cannot convince me that was not a little message from the Lord. I mean, of all the thousands of different names Coke put on their bottles and can, and all the hundreds of passengers on that plane, that particular bottle came to me? Uh-huh.
I flew home from California the other day. It was a good trip and there were no problems this time, but as I sat for three hours in Los Angeles waiting for my connecting flight, I was lonely. I couldn’t help thinking how much nicer it is to travel with someone. The last time that happened for me, I had flown with Fernando to Ecuador. It was so nice to have someone to rely on for the logistics of the trip and deal with the language issues, not to mention Fernando’s sense of humor and how he kept me entertained! Now, flying home from California, I wished again that Bob and Robbie and I could fly as a family again.
And getting home—well, the welcome from Robbie and Bob was as sweet as I knew it would be, and it was good to put my swollen feet up and thank the Lord for a safe trip home, but I heaved a sigh, too, and thought, “Well, vacation is over. Back to reality.”
It’s great to get a little time away, and as much as I’ve had my issues with flying, I am sooooooo thankful for modern technology and the ability to travel thousands of miles in one day into the arms of my loved ones, or for a great vacation. They could never have even imagined that a century ago!
David, in the book of Psalms, could never have, in his wildest dreams, imagined flying away—or could he? We read, “So I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’” (Psalm 55:6) He was weary; he was fearful; he had been betrayed. He just wanted to get away from his enemies and the battles he had been forced to fight throughout most of his life. To have wings and fly away—aah, it sounded wonderful to him.
Most of us will never go through the kinds of troubles and strife that the Psalmist went through, but we all have those times when we would just love to fly away and leave it all behind! Hallelujah—that time is coming when those of us who know Christ truly will fly away! “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
There will be no ticket to purchase, no luggage to pack, no security checkpoints to go through. We won’t have to travel alone—Jesus Himself will escort us! And we won’t just be leaving it all behind—we will be flying to an eternal destination that is more glorious than we could ever imagine! Now, that is a flight I am truly looking forward to!
When I got home from California Tuesday night, my husband told me to put my feet up while he made me some supper. As he handed me a glass of iced tea, he said, “Well, now you need to start looking for a good price on a ticket to Ecuador!” I had already been looking for the last two or three months, but I was pleasantly surprised that here I had just returned from one little vacation, and he was giving me the green light to plan the next one! The price on the two South American airlines I was checking had stayed consistently at $768 – $777. I was holding out, hoping to get it a hundred dollars cheaper, like I paid last year. This morning, as I started writing this, I decided to check again. Two days ago it was $777. This morning it was an eye-popping $510! Needless to say, I snatched it up!
So, early next year I will brave big, bad security agents and chocolate-sniffing dogs once again and take to the skies to wing my way to Ecuador and my children and grandchildren once more. When I get there I am going to share a Diet Coke with Laura and praise the Lord for giving me the ability to fly!