(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on April 27, 2011.)


I’m writing from the Denver Airport, en route to Baltimore for Passover, having just survived what might be the closest call in flight check-in history. I’ve always worked well under pressure. But this, as my heart rate and my adrenaline levels can attest to, was cutting it way too close.

My plan was to be out of the apartment by 9 am. My flight was at 11:15 and I live 15 minutes from LAX by bus. I felt like this gave me plenty of time. I just forgot to account for every possible thing to go wrong. First, the bus was late, which put me 15 minutes behind schedule. But I managed to get to the LAX bus depot by 9:30. Still plenty of time…

I hopped off the bus and speed walked over to the terminal shuttle depot. I estimated it would take 5 minutes to get to my terminal and I would be able to check in by 9:40. No problem, right? Of course, my assumption was that there would be a terminal shuttle somewhere in the vicinity, which of course there was not. In fact, something about the dust blowing around the waiting area made it look like the last shuttle left sometime during Carter’s presidency.

I look at the clock. It’s 9:45. I was about to start running for it when a shuttle comes lurching around the corner. I jumped on board and took a seat. The shuttle was completely empty. No stops then, I thought. I started to relax a little. But then, a woman in a crimson vest and credentials around her neck walks on board. She motions to the driver, who I notice for the first time is looking very nervous.

“Hello, passengers, may I have your attention please?” she says. “This is Hector. This is Hector’s first day with LAX Transportation. We’ll be going through a training run today. We will get all of you to your terminals in as timely a fashion as possible, but we appreciate your patience.”

This can’t really be happening, right? But it is. I ask the supervisor if there’s another shuttle coming.

“Nope,” she says.

I ask if we have to make every stop, since I was the only one on the shuttle.

“Yup. That’s why they call it a training run.”

By the time we take off it’s 9:55. And if the stops weren’t excruciating enough, Hector’s getting quizzed by the supervisor about all the airlines each terminal services, which slows him down even more. She wouldn’t let him go until he named them all, despite the fact that the bus announces the airlines when it approaches the terminal. I had to help him out on a few.

We finally reach Terminal 7 at 10:15. I leapt to the curb before the bus had come to a complete stop. As I sprint towards the check-in counter, I hear the supervisor chiding Hector about not opening the doors until he stops the bus.

Okay, plenty of time to make an 11:15 flight. That is, until I see the line, which makes my heart sink into my shoes. I wait 10 anxious minutes. That’s when I see a sign above the check-in kiosks that jumps my heart out of my shoes and into my stomach. It reads: 45 minute cut-off for check-in. I’m screwed.

That’s what I’m thinking as I stand in line. That, and, I really should’ve printed up my boarding pass at work. No way I make it to the front by 10:30. It was already 10:25. I just have to swallow my pride and ask to cut. So I do. Let’s just say that utter despair brings out the empathy in people.

I get to the kiosk with 5 minutes to go. My movements would make hummingbirds envious. I pull out my itinerary. I enter my confirmation number. I wait. No record found. I enter my confirmation again. Same message. I start to hyperventilate. 3 minutes to go. I ask the woman behind the kiosk for help. She looks at me, dead in the eyes, and says, “Read the sign. Says Self Check-In.” Then she points to a phone connected to my kiosk. She tells me to pick it up and have customer service help. I want bad things to happen to this woman.

I pick up the phone. 2 minutes to go. Muzak, then, Your call is very important to us blah blah blah, then more muzak. But then finally, a voice. Minute and a half to go. Hello this is John with Terrible Airline Customer Service how can I help you? I NEED HELP CHECKING IN! Hello this is John at Customer Service how can I help you? CAN YOU HEAR ME? I NEED HELP! Hello this is John how can I be of assistance? HELP! This call has been monitored for customer satisfaction. Have a nice day. John hangs up.

I’m finished. No Passover for me. I look at the kiosk one last time for one last miracle. And then I see it. Passport Reader. My passport! Do I even have it? I tear through my bag. My license expired and I had to use my passport to travel a few months back. It’s there! I open it up and put it down on the scanner. Are you traveling to Baltimore, Alex Herbach? The most beautiful words I’ve ever seen. I made it.

I look at the time. It’s 10:31. Thank God my watch is faster than I am.


Alex Isao Herbach is a freelance writer and sales director for a Southern California toy store. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



Leave A Reply