#indie30 Day 8 – What Was Your Worst Travel Experience?

photo courtesy of travelblog.org

This is a tough entry for me. As a frequent business traveler, there are always going to be the not so great days. The time I was put in a roach motel in Harlem that lost electricity by a client who didn’t know the area (we won’t get into what was on the floor) or being pick-pocketed in Barcelona; yeah those things suck. Having a child screaming, kicking the back of my seat on a Trans-Atlantic flight for nine hours, non-stop with a parent who could care less…yes, that tests the patience, too.

But whenever I am asked this question it brings up a bit of a pain. It’s a memory I don’t revisit often. And there is never hesitation in my mind:

The very worst travel experience of my life took place in Oahu, Hawaii. And it has more to do with the start of another kind of journey that doesn’t involve planes, trains and automobiles.

I was eighteen years old and had just completed my first semester of college. My best friend’s dad was stationed at Hickam Air Force base on Oahu and at the time my uncle worked for the airlines. I could fly, usually, first class on what is referred to as a non-rev (or non-revenue) ticket to Hawaii (and everywhere else) for the price of an administrative fee since I was a college student. I decided to spend my holiday break there. I got to Honolulu with no problems, but during my time there I was extremely tired. I struggled with physical activities that were usually easy for me. In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned that while in Hawaii a lump appeared in my neck. I had no idea what it was.

When it was time for me to return home to Florida, I was cleared for the flight then told I couldn’t fly unaccompanied and my uncle would have to escort me back to the mainland. ‘Til this day I have no idea why. I was over the age of eighteen. I was not a minor and I had previously flown non-rev on multiple occasions. I was told the only way they’d let me on the flight was if it was a medical emergency. The irony. I had cancer and didn’t know it.

I questioned why this was the case and frankly, the gate agents were downright mean. “That’s just the way it is,” I was told.

I was later told I was discriminated against by local islanders because I look white. I hate to think that, but it is the only reason I’ve ever been given. It seems crazy and illegal, too!

That was over twenty years ago. Oh if I knew then what I know now…

I ended up spending the night in the airport, calling my credit card company and asking them to raise my credit limit (remember I was just a college student) so I could buy a plane ticket home on another airline. I don’t know why I didn’t ask my friend to pick me up. I think I was so tired and overwhelmed and I just wanted to leave.

I finally boarded a plane the next morning and got back home to Florida. A month later my first cancer journey began.

I wrote two letters to the airline and never heard back. It’s funny how at this point in my life I’m a pretty no-nonsense person. I am a straight-shooter and I call a spade a spade. Yet when I look back to that day, tears almost come to my eyes for what an eighteen year old weary kid had to go through at the hands of some people who were, at the very least, on a power trip. If there really was a rule or regulation I had been breaking for, oh ten years (I’ve been flying alone since I was a wee one), they could have at least said so.

Fast forward. I’ve been to the Hawaiian Islands twelve times after that trip. But never back to Oahu.

Someday, maybe. Someday…