I read the arrival time on my ticket as the departure time. That is what I did. That is the stupidest and most expensive mistake I have ever made.
My housemates kindly refused to let me heave all my luggage to Heathrow myself, and so we set out together with a bag apiece at a little after 10 am. We took the express and I was at the check-in counter by 11:15, smirking at the former self who had worried about transportation time and long lines. There was no line! There was only a brusque man explaining that my flight was not at 1:00, it had been at 10:30.
I explained that I had still been on the first of several public transportation routes at 10:30.
The brusque man directed me to the ticketing counter.
I got on standby for the next flight for 200 bucks, and I did end up on it, and my seat was actually one of the best on the plane. I completely missed the last plane to Louisville from O’Hare, of course, but got on a different standby flight to Lexington and Saint Maria drove out to those hinterlands in the middle of the night to pick me up.
It should be noted that my seat on the Lexington flight was also impossibly good. Here’s what I have learned about American Airlines: reserve a seat and get firmly rogered, or get on standby for infinite leg room and an unobstructed window view. I’m never flying on a reserved ticket again! Wait, no, I said “on a reserved ticket” when I meant “anywhere.”
My original mistake almost ended up much more costly than I anticipated. The somewhat hilarious coda is that, during my panicky evening in O’Hare, I had to make a number of pay phone calls to David Flora and Maria, trying to figure out whether I would have to stay overnight in Chicago in order to get a morning flight to Louisville. I had forgotten that trying to call a nonlocal number (like, say, any cell phone ever) from a pay phone requires more quarters than I could have held in my cupped hands, so I had to charge all these to my credit card. This meant swiping the card directly on the phone, punching in the number on the keypad, and reading it aloud to the operator before I could connect.
Apparently someone wandered by and listened to me obligingly reading out the number, expiration date, CV2, et cetera, and proceeded to charge an amount greater than my entire credit limit to the card. Capital One actually noticed and denied it; their overenthusiastic fraud department often made things inconvenient in London, but my attitude toward them is much warmer now. I’ll miss my old card number, though, which I’ve had memorized for almost ten years. Farewell, 5291071505966037! May you serve Internet in poor decision-making as well as you did me.
There is a subtext to this story: I had three friends in London to help take my luggage all the way to Heathrow, buy me yogurt and let me send emergency emails from their phones. Those emails went to more friends, one of whom was willing to put me up in Chicago, another of whom was willing to drive to tiny airports late at night just so I could get home when I wanted. I traveled across seven time zones and I had people offering me help at every step. Who cares how much ticket changes or credit card scammers might cost me? I’m rich.