Dining on the fly: A terminal experience

August 1, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 1, 2017

I arrived at RDU in plenty of time to make my flight on July 19. According to my parking ticket, I got to the long-term lot two hours and one minute before my plane’s scheduled departure. Despite this, and despite the fact that my flight was delayed, I wound up having to run to catch my plane.

Originally, I was prepared to wait at the gate until it was time to board. However, our departure was pushed back by about half an hour, until 8:44 p.m., and my stomach began demanding to be fed. The gate agent made an announcement that made it seem as if we might not leave until 9 p.m. or possibly later.

That meant that we probably wouldn’t land until 10:30. I wanted to meet my car service as soon as possible, and that trip would take another 45 minutes at least. Also, my flight wouldn’t offer any meal service. While I wasn’t exactly facing the prospect of starvation, it seemed important that I eat something.

I got up from my spot with my backpack and my duffel bag. It was 8 or 8:05 p.m., and I would soon make an important discovery: That most of the dining and shopping outlets in RDU’s Terminal 2 shutter for the night around this time.

There was a Five Guys Burger and Fries near my jetway. However, the security gate in front of its cashiers’ counter had come down. (The portion that guarded the dining area remained up.) I saw a couple of deli-style places, but their gates were half-down. I kept on walking.

I eventually crossed half the terminal, passing a wine bar and an oyster bar before I found a brew pub that seemed to have fare I’d enjoy at a reasonable price point. I ended up ordering a hamburger, specifying to the server that I wanted it without cheese. She asked me if meat was OK, which surprised me; I confirmed that meat was acceptable.

My food arrived not too long afterward, but before the server put it down, I saw that the burger was covered with cheese. “I wanted it without cheese,” I announced, unable to keep a note of bitterness from my tone.

The meal was taken back to the kitchen. I speculated about whether the server had ignored my request for no cheese because she’d been too distracted over the question of whether or not I wanted meat; later, it occurred to me that she’d thought my stipulation had to do with meat, not cheese. At any rate, maybe she just misheard me; there was plenty of background noise in the restaurant.

I irritably played with my phone as I waited for the dairy-free burger to arrive. As I did so, I heard a hair-raising announcement over the public-address system. The speaker summoned four or five passengers to board a United flight for Newark. One of them was a man named Miller. One of them was…me.

I stood up in alarm. This brew-pub has a gizmo on its tables that allows diners to summon servers; I pressed the button that called for my tab. A server noticed me standing and asked if I wanted my food to go; I nodded desperately.

I paid my bill and continued to stand. It was about 8:25. Should I abandon my meal and dash to the gate? I fidgeted indecisively.

Right around the moment I was handed my food, there was another announcement stating that boarding for my flight was about to close. I think it said the jet would roll back at 8:30. I looked at my watch and found, to my horror, that I had around two minutes to spare.

Reader, I ran — frantically.

8:30 came. I was only around two-thirds of the way back to my jetway. I kept running. My chest was heaving, and my lungs were burning.

As I moved, I kept on checking the time on my watch and phone. It was 8:31 or 8:32 when I came into view of my gate. One of the agents there must have seen me lurching frenetically; because of this, perhaps, I was able to present my boarding pass and embark. An agent gave me a green luggage tag just in case I had to check my duffel bag.

I hustled down the jetway and arrived at the plane sweating and panting. An attendant invited me to try to fit my duffel bag into one of the overhead bins; there was room, but only if some of the luggage that had been stowed was shifted around. I tried to explain this to the attendant, but she just took my bag and told me that I’d be able to pick it up on the jetway in Newark.

One of the attendants escorted me to my row — 20, I think. I found a woman, perhaps in her late 20s, occupying the window seat, which I’d been assigned. She offered to switch, but I declined: I’m fine with the aisle seat, I announced. I slid my backpack into the storage space beneath seat 19B and settled into my spot.

The other day, I wrote about my seat-swapping shenanigans, noting that an attractive young woman who was supposed to be my row-mate had instead sat in the wrong row, meaning my companion ended up being an older woman. This time, dear reader, I sat beside an attractive younger woman, and I wound up exchanging not 20 words with her through my entire time on the plane.

By the by: My dinner was terrible. It’s no fun trying to eat in an airplane seat, and the fries were especially soggy because I waited until we were at cruising altitude to lower my tray table and begin chowing down. This wasn’t necessarily the fault of the restaurant, but wow, that was a lousy dining experience.

It could have been worse, of course. After all, if I’d wound up missing my flight, an already stressful day would have gotten much worse.

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