In flight, EWR-HNL

Written in January 2020 enroute to Molokai.

I didn’t think I’d make it onto this flight. A few years of this hustle have taught me that I can get away with taking some chances on flights that don’t look like sure things, provided I don’t lose my shit if I roll badly on the encounter table. I may still be high from the near-disaster of EWR-LHR before Christmas. I’d been prepared to spend more than a thousand euro to get home three days late and from the wrong direction; ending up only one day late (and having refunded the disastrously expensive plane ticket) seemed like a Christmas miracle and a gift. 

I was last in the queue. There was one seat on the plane by the time boarding started, and it went to a flight attendant who sat unconcerned by the gate with his crew-tagged luggage. He’d cleared well before boarding but didn’t realise it (he clearly doesn’t check the app like I do), and only got on when the gate agents called his name. 

After that, there were four people. People sat casually at the gate, and it was hard for me to tell who was standby and who was just delaying their time on the plane as long as they could. Eventually two more standby passengers were called, and no one budged. I identified another woman with tamped-down hope in her eyes, holding a boarding pass with the same intention that I held my passport. 

We waited. 

One of the gate agents beckoned to me, asking if I was on the flight. When I said I was standby she motioned I should talk to the other gate agent…who was not interested. I stood up and moved closer to the desk in the hope of hearing my name called and maybe chatting lightly with the people there. 

We waited. 

The first gate agent asked me why I didn’t take the 6:00. I said it wasn’t an option for me, for whatever reason. One of the chatters at the gate said that flight wasn’t taking non-revs; it was stopping in LA, maybe in an airfield, etc. 

We waited.

They called the two previous standby passengers again. They called final boarding for the flight. We waited some more, then finally they called me and (presumably) the other woman standing by. I forgot my manners and stepped forward, showing my passport for ID, and gratefully taking the boarding pass with my seat assignment. 

I wanted to skip down the jetway. Instead, I ran a little, brimming over with caffeinated excitement. 


Even when I was on the plane, bum in seat, I didn’t believe I was really going to Hawai’i yet. When I’m on the other side of the airplane doors, I don’t give up until the plane has pulled away. On this side of the doors I don’t feel secure until we’re off the ground. I haven’t been pulled off (yet) but I’ve seen it happen, and I continue to rely on the grace of God. 

We took off. I basked in the sun streaming through my window. We climbed, and I switched my attention between my book (“The Topeka School,” a book I was meant to read with someone but ended up reading alone and will likely finish) and the vista below. Pennsylvania and New York were covered with snow as we flew inland. We reached something that looked like a coastline eventually, and I knew it had to be one of the Great Lakes. I finally turned on my map and confirmed that it was indeed, that we were just leaving Buffalo. 

I used to be excited about snow, but now I’m on a stress vector to a place that’s unreasonably warm, a euphemism for American paradise, where I never expected to particularly like. Now I not only like it, I crave it, and not only for its warmth. 

I thought a lot about how lucky I am to be escaping all that snow and getting to a place with sand and sea and warmth. I knew I was lucky before I started, even when I wasn’t sure what I’d have to go through to get there (not just where, but what), so much so that I didn’t talk a lot about what I was doing after I left NY. 


I don’t know if I can say that flying standby has made me grateful; I think many other things have contributed to keep the idea that I’m incredibly lucky close to the front of my mind. If it isn’t the thing that has made me grateful, it certainly gives the opportunity to experience it sharply and overflowingly. I’m aware I can be blocked easily, and I’m aware that the people along the way can make my journey difficult or impossible. 

The last two times I’ve been through EWR security it’s been lengthy (30 minutes last time, 40 this time, though bad luck probably added 10-15 minutes to that tally) and punctuated with terror that I’d be pulled out of the queue to size my bag and be redirected back to check-in. I knew that if I made the direct flight it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but that if I needed to play silly buggers with routing it could be a disaster. 

I joked during the first week of flying that some people gamble, I fly standby. I don’t know if it’s healthier (or cheaper, let’s be fair). It draws a bit more jealousy. But it does let me go places and do things I otherwise would never be able to, or at least have convinced myself I would never be able to. 

Thank-you notes

This trip came on the heels of a New Year’s celebration in Brooklyn with family. It was the first time I’d done New Year’s with this branch of the family, and it was every bit as much fun as I’d hoped it would be. I was very happy to be included, and realised I needed to take some action on that gratitude.

I have lost track of all the thank-you notes I need to write. My dad and his wife. My hosts. I will need to write a review for my terrible AirBnB, and it’s going to have to be sweet and kind. I also need to get the cards for it.

I’ve lost my appetite for shopping, even for things I like. The idea of handing over hundreds of dollars for the Pilot 823 I’ve been lusting after stopped me from leaving Bay Ridge one day after another. It was so much nicer to stay in the room, read and type and be silent, than to go and fight for space on the subway and attention in the shop. 

I went to bookstores and stationery shops for things I “needed” (gifts for people, and clothes to replace what I’d inadvertently destroyed), and I looked at the boxes of thank-you cards. I knew I needed them. I did not care. I didn’t want them. I didn’t know where in my luggage I’d put them and I didn’t want to have to figure it out. I had too many other things to figure out (potentially). 

Another change I’ve managed to make in my standby adventure is that I’m not preplanning as much. I didn’t research alternative routings for tomorrow. I didn’t look at the prices of hotels in the hub cities I was considering. I didn’t care that maybe this would cost me an hour and a chance on a flight. I figured I could take the time when I got there, and if I missed a chance at a flight to a place that would have hourly flights that would be okay. 

It worked out. I was delighted, elated, and grateful, but I was perhaps not as surprised as I thought I would be.