Fishing at 30,000 Feet
In the course of my work for a particular client, I once had to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m fortunate to have access to a wonderful small airline nearby that is considered a private carrier but doesn’t cost much more than flying commercial. This airline flies to Charlotte from Cincinnati early in the morning and back that same afternoon. They fly this route every business day. What’s nice about this is their 30-passenger jet has more legroom than that available on commercial flights. But that isn’t the best thing: their jet takes off from a small airport where you can park 100 feet from the terminal. Even more important, there are no TSA inspections.
Because there are no TSA inspections, you can show up 15 minutes before the flight and still board by merely having them compare your driver’s license to the boarding list. They will even take off early if everyone has boarded. On this occasion, I was to travel with a colleague to meet a client. Somehow, I got the takeoff time wrong and realized my error after I had left the house. I raced to the airport, not even sure I’d make the flight. As I rolled in just minutes before takeoff, I was thrilled to see the jet still on the tarmac.
I threw the gearshift in park, grabbed my bag, and raced to the counter. As I approached, fumbling for my wallet, the tall attendant told me I was only a couple minutes from missing the flight. I handed him my driver’s license and breathed a sigh of relief. He took a brief look and said, “Happy early birthday. I see it’s on Wednesday.” I thanked him, reaching for my license and eager to board. I noticed that all the other passengers were already boarded and I was causing a delay.
The attendant pulled my license back and said, “You don’t understand. You might be able to board now, but you won’t be able to board on the return trip booked for Thursday with an expired license.” I stood there dumbfounded as he explained that they have severe penalties if they violate that rule.
“You can board with the expired license, a valid credit card, and any valid government-issued document. Do you have a hunting or fishing license?”
I told him I hadn’t had either for years.
He stood there in no apparent hurry despite the waiting passengers. I mentioned the fact that I was delaying them and he stated matter-of-factly, “We can easily make up the time in the air.”
Then an “ah ha” expression crossed his face. Snapping his finger, he said, “Car registration?”
“I have that. I’ll be right back,” I said over my shoulder as I raced back out to the car.
Huffing and puffing with my registration in hand, I returned and reached the door. I looked at the form and was shocked and dismayed to realize that the registration also expired on my birthday. Dejected, I returned to the attendant, my head hanging low, and conveyed the news.
“We’ve left them sitting there long enough. I’ll just board the flight and figure it out down there.”
The attendant said, “It’s your choice, but there’s a good chance you’ll be renting a car and driving back.”
I was really hoping to just change my flight and return the next day. The day before my birthday.
As it turned out, the attendant was actually the pilot. We talked on the way across the tarmac. Just as we reached the plane, he had another inspiration.
“Buy a fishing license when you get down there. Your driver’s license will still be valid when you get down there, and that will be all you need on the return.”
“Brilliant,” I said, patting him on the back as we went up the ladder of the jet.
Down in Charlotte, I had the driver that picked us up pull into a Walmart. Leaving the driver and my colleague in the car, I ran back to the sporting goods section and tracked down an employee. I learned that in North Carolina you can buy 4-day permits. Also, if you find yourself in a similar situation (though I’m not sure how anyone could), an Intracoastal Waterway permit is $4 less than a standard land-based permit. So, even though I was 200 miles from the ocean, I ran back to the car with a 4-day Intracoastal Waterway fishing permit.
True to the pilot’s word, I was able to board the return flight with no issues.
Now you’d think this would be the end of the story, but that’s seldom the case with me. As it turns out, I committed to returning to Charlotte over the next 5 weeks. I’d fly down on a Monday and back on a Friday. Not a bad engagement in the end, I even met a Charlotte resident who worked for my client that has become a dear friend. And she’s wildly supportive of my book.
Here’s where the story continues. I was returning home one late Friday afternoon on a filled-to-capacity flight, as was usually the case. I was seated beside a very nice lady. She was so agreeable, she even pretended to like my crazy stories. As the flight progressed, I got around to the fishing permit story. I was in full swing, hands gesturing wildly, and describing the Walmart employee filling out the Intracoastal Waterway 4-day permit when suddenly I was interrupted by a person across the aisle a few seats back. In my excitement, I was talking loudly and apparently half the plane overheard my story.
The interrupting passenger exclaimed, “That was you! The pilot told me that story in the waiting room. I thought he made it up.”
“Yep, that was me,” I said sheepishly as my friendly seatmate chuckled.