Long Distance Made Easy (Or So You Would Think)

I’ve been sitting in my seat on my flight to LAX staring at my laptop for the last 5 minutes trying to come up with a clever way to tell you that I am in a long distance relationship, but I couldn’t come up with anything that would come off as cute about it. So, here you go:

I am in a long distance relationship.

My boyfriend, Parker, lives in Los Angeles. We met in Atlanta four years ago, and have been dating a little over a year and a half. He is also an Actor, and our relationship is filled with understanding and encouragement on both sides.

When he moved to LA last August, I thought it would be daunting to stay together as a long distance couple. Even though I knew I would move to LA in five months time, there were still a lot of unknown factors when it came to maintaining a long distance relationship.

“Oh c’mon, Kelly. Five months? That’s nothing. Plus with all of the enhanced technology these days, you two can see each other over FaceTime every day if you want to. And text. And call. Back in my day, there were no such things as cellphones and we had to do this thing called ‘write a letter’…” said Every Adult Over The Age of 50.

I would stand there, pretending I was intently attune to the conversation, and once the advice (well lecture) was finished trickling out, I would add: “And thankfully, I also have  flight benefits!”

During those four months of our long distance relationship, with the entire country’s expanse between us, Parker and I saw each other at least twice a month. The great thing about his locale was that it was in a city that pertained to both of our careers: THE city for the film industry, Los Angeles. I could fly in for meetings, workshops, and auditions and also get to see Parker! I flew in and out, creating a foundation for myself in LA while getting to spend time with him in between.

I do understand how lucky we are. For one of us to have the ability to fly for free and come as often as needed was such a help to our relationship. Going into it, we both decided that if we became the priority over our careers, a break would be needed. But thankfully, a balance was kept and the groundwork of our LA careers was laid in those four months.

Once I moved to LA in January, we were no longer long distance anymore. I lived at the beach with my sister, he lived in a suburb of Hollywood, and we saw each other almost everyday.

But now I am based out of Atlanta for the summer before returning to LA in the fall, so for the next three months we are long-distance again. This should be easy, right? We have already endured a long distance trial, and I can fly out whenever I want with a B R E E Z E !

Sometimes though, having flight benefits does not make for easy travel.With every benefit in life comes the rules and sets of limitations.

The fact that I fly for free does not mean that I automatically get on any flight I want. I can’t just flick my wand and teleport to a seat like some wizard in Harry Potter.

I am called a Stand-by Passenger. I am a Non-Rev (Non revenue passenger, meaning I do not pay for a seat), which means I am a lower priority to any paying passenger on a plane. If there are seats available on a flight, then I may get lucky and get on the plane. It can be smooth and easy, or extremely stressful. Never in between.

Within the world of Non Revenue passengers, there are different levels of priority that decide the order of the list of passengers awaiting a seat. On a simple day, the list is prioritized based on the number of years the employee in the family has been working for the airline. The traveler whose family member has worked the longest would be the first on the list, etc.

However, every Non-Rev gets six special passes per year called S2. If someone checks in as an S2, using one of the six treasured tokens, then that person moves to the top of the standby list. A Non-Rev who has a 2008 start date of employment could pass another with a 1988 start date if they check in as an S2 on that flight. WHAT?

And sometimes there are people who get to the airport amusingly early who wander around and realize they can take an earlier flight to their desired destination. They then ask the gate agent if they can switch to this flight, and the gate agent tells them that they might be able to get on but will have to wait to see if a seat is available. So what does this mean? This passenger is now also considered a stand-by and is added to our list. However, because this person is a Revenue passenger, meaning they paid for a ticket, just not necessarily on this particular flight, they are put at the top of the Stand-by list. Customers first! Not so amusing anymore.

Things happen. Sometimes mechanical issues can occur, delaying flights or canceling them. That means there are now 150 people at least scrambling to jump on the next flight available to that destination. And since they do not have a seat assigned, they are put on the Stand-by list, ahead of all Non-Rev passengers. Also during holidays, traveling as a Non-Rev is pretty tough. Flights are always booked tight and there is very little room to squeeze on.

And this particular travel day, I encountered both of these scenarios. It is the day after Memorial Weekend, which means vacationers are flooding the airport, sunburnt and exasperated, trying to get back to home to press “play” on their everyday lives. I had checked the flights the previous night and decided to list myself on a flight at 9:45 am that had 3 seats left on it. I checked the Non-Rev list and decided that I would use one of my precious S2 passes to jump ahead of other passengers. Even though my dad has been working for the airline for 26 years and our priority is already high on its own, a lot of Non-Revs had checked in using one of their last S2’s, because they knew it was a holiday weekend and flights would be tight. So, apprehensively, I had to use one of mine to jump the people who had jumped me. Confusing, right?

I get to the gate and the list shows no seats left. None. At all. I guess the numbers had changed by the time I had arrived at the airport. I was listed as number 5, as there were some Revenue passengers ahead of me also crossing their fingers that they would get on this flight.

My mom and dad taught me to never leave a gate until the boarding door is closed. Even if the odds seem stacked against you, you never know what could happen. Sometimes people fail to show up to the flight, and after their name is called twice the gate agent releases their seat and gives it away to a standby passenger.

This time, there were five people who had failed to board the plane, so the gate agent lined up the first five people from the Stand-by list onto the boarding area. My heart pounded with excited nervousness of the possibility that I may get on this plane after all! I was the last in line, as we were lined up in order of priority.

And then, right as the gate agent was about to call our names individually to board, two people nonchalantly came up to the gate. They had been standing there the whole time, picking their noses I guess. At that moment I knew I had lost my shot. In the end, two others showed up and only one Stand-by got on that flight.

My name was then rolled over to the list of the next flight, leaving at 10:53 am. There were more seats available on this plane, so thankfully I got on! I texted Parker saying, “Pick me up at noon?” and whisked myself away in the book I was reading.

About 10 minutes later the captain comes on the intercom and says that right as the flight attendants prepared for departure, one of the boarding doors malfunctioned and the emergency slide was inflated. He had called maintenance, and they would be here soon. For now, hold tight.

In those situations, you do one of two things: whisk yourself away in your book again or completely freak out. I chose the latter. I immediately began a texting war with my mom, going through all of the possible scenarios that could affect me. The maintenance could take a couple of hours to fix the aircraft, at which point I would still have a seat on the plane. Or, a new plane would be brought in, and all passengers transferred to it. (But if this plane were smaller than the one I was on, then there would be no way I would have a seat). Third, everyone would be asked to de-plane and get rebooked on other flights. Which means all remaining flights of the day to LA would be FLOODED with Revenue Stand-by passengers.

Thankfully, I have the power to look up every flight leaving the airport and check the loads to see which plane I could possibly have a chance of getting on. My mom came up with other options, connecting to San Francisco and then arriving in LA, flying to Salt Lake, or maybe even to Tampa to take the last flight of the night.

Meanwhile, time was ticking and I knew there was another flight to LA at 12:15 pm. It was 11:30 now, and all passengers had been asked to de-plane and wait in the gate area for further notice. To me this sounded like my death sentence.

I snuck over the gate of the later flight, which was thankfully only a couple down from the one I had previously been at. I checked the list and there were, surprisingly, 50 seats on the flight. Thankfully, this later flight had changed aircrafts at the last minute, and brought in a bigger plane than anticipated. Which means? More seats for me!!!

I then ran back over to my previous gate where I found out that our plane was being fixed and would be delayed about 2 hours. This meant that most people would not have to be rebooked (unless they were dealing with connections), and that the 12:15 flight, which would now leave earlier than my original one (which was my second flight of the day I had tried), would be wide open. So, I jumped ship. I swapped flights with my S2 priority and jumped everyone, getting a better seat than I had had on my last plane, and now fully stocked with free “Apology” snacks from my last flight.

After about 8 phone calls with my mom, 4 hours of being at the airport and 3 flights tried, I finally made it. I am currently writing from my aisle seat near the front of the plane. I am finally headed to LA after being apart from Parker for three weeks. I also get to experience a cool acting opportunity while in town, so it’s a win-win!

Phew, I know that was long. But I wanted to give you an inside scoop on what it is really like to fly for free. While it is glamorous sometimes, like flying first class to Europe, it can also be extremely stressful, which is the case most of the time.

But it’s thrilling (sometimes). You play travel agent for yourself (or your mom does), and you figure it out. It may not always be a walk in the park, but that’s life.

Yes, my long distance relationship is maintained under very ideal circumstances, but keep in mind, it may not always be easy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

*If you think this story sounds stressful, then get excited. Because honestly, today was about a 5 on a stress scale of 1-10. I can’t wait to continue to share these experiences with you! *









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