The travel life isn’t always glamourous. I’m sure you can relate if you’ve ever been stuck in an airport due to weather or a flight delay. My mom is a flight attendant, so growing up, we flew on standby passes around the world. Summary: airport realities. It is exhilarating to go to the airport not knowing whether you will get on a plane or not. I could tell you stories for hours about adventures in standby. We have run from gate to gate asking if the flight has seats. We have rented a car to drive up the coast of Florida, stopping at every airport along the way to try and fly (this has actually happened multiple times). I’m pretty confident that the adrenaline high of flying standby is equivalent to bungee jumping.
I flew standby on a recent trip to Spain and all of my plans went very south, very quickly. Let me tell you a little something about airports – they’re not always designed logically. Especially the Madrid Airport.
Because flights from Europe to the states are long hauls, they are tricky to navigate. The goal is always: get to the states. It doesn’t matter which state. Just make it across the ocean and on a relatively similar time zone. On the morning of my departure from Madrid, I woke up with a really good feeling that I was going to get on the flight to Atlanta. I will probably never trust my gut again. I waited patiently at the gate, where the agent told me that if one person missed their flight I would have a seat on the airplane. One person? Child’s play. But wouldn’t you know it, within 2.5 minutes of shutting that plane door, said missing passenger runs up. As the door shut without me on the plane, I said adios to my dreams of an easy travel day.
I frantically phoned a friend on another airline to list me as a standby on one of their last flights of the day – to Charlotte or Philadelphia. I had 1.5 hours to make it to the Charlotte flight. Again, child’s play. Except in the Madrid airport when you’re in terminal 1 and the other flight is in terminal 4. You can’t walk or take transit between terminals? No, friends, you cannot.
I began my light jog through the Madrid airport. First stop – passport control. Yes, I had to be stamped back in the country to reach terminal 4. The dripping sweat and look of sheer panic on my face must have softened some hearts, as I was scooted to the front of the line. My passport was promptly stamped and I proceeded to find the bus to terminal 4. This was beyond challenging, and I speak Spanish! I found the doorway to the bus stop and ran outside only to find the bus pulling away. I sprinted for the bus and attempted to wave it down. Unsuccessful.
A man clearly saw my desperation and said, “no need to run, the next one comes in 5 minutes”. 20 minutes later, the bus arrived in typical Spanish fashion. The bus destination looked to be the city center, so I asked a woman next to me if the bus stopped by terminal 4. She responded that she was unsure but would ask. She boarded the bus and as it departed, she banged on the window and pointed up, indicating to me that the terminal 4 bus was indeed upstairs.
My light jog turned into a full sprint. I finally found the bus that took me around the corner to terminal 4. Why there is not a moving sidewalk, tram, or literally anything else to take you there, I do not understand. My sprint continued to the check-in counter, where I ignored the lady telling me I must check my bag. No ma’am I am not willing to take any other risks this afternoon. She also told me that I would definitely not make the flight to Charlotte that departed in 50 minutes because I had to go through security and passport control, then walk 30 minutes to the gate. Again, could the Madrid airport be more poorly designed? I think not. But I told the gate agent “watch me do it” and bolted for security.
The sweet security agent also saw the sweat and anxiety on my face. When he asked about my 4oz bottle of Olive Oil, I cried and he let me keep it. I’m considering trying this strategy more often. I made it to passport control, where they stamped me back into the country. The next person who sees my passport is probably going to be suspicious of how many times I was stamped in and out of Madrid. I turned the 30-minute walk into a 10-minute sprint and casually waltzed up to the Charlotte gate as if my morning was going swimmingly.
One passenger was missing. If said person were to miss their flight, I would have the seat. This seems familiar? They tagged my carry on and lined me at the door. Exhilarating. 30-seconds left and I would have the seat. But el Señor came running up and alas, the door closed without my bum on the plane.
At this point, I was betting it all on Philadelphia. Go big or go home (or in my case, back to a hotel in Madrid). I was preparing for the absolute worse when the gate agent called all standbys to the desk. I handed him my passport and he handed me a plane ticket. In very untypical fashion, I broke down in tears and replied “are you serious”? He looked at me as if I were nuts and said yes with a question mark.
Finally, I happily pranced onto that plane and made my way to the last row. I watched three rom coms and said yes to all snacks and diet cokes. It might be a hot minute before I fly standby again, but hey, it makes for a great story to add to my repertoire.