At 2 p.m. on Friday, I logged on to United Airlines’ web site and started the Easycheck-in Online process. My bags were packed, I was ready to go. No taxi waiting outside my door—I’d drive under my own power, thank you—but still, I was all fired up for a trip back East to see most of my Dad’s side of the family in one place for the first time in years.
Plus, I was psyched to see my parents. Mom came out to visit back in April, but I haven’t seen Dad since Christmas, which is really too long ago.
On Friday morning, I packed myself a little bag of my version of airline food. I harvested every ripe and ready grape tomato, broke out the rest of my stash of fresh mozzarella, clipped some basil, and mixed up a little caprese salad perfectly bite-sized and ready for on-the-go eating. I had plans, folks. I had imagined myself taking a picture of my salad on the tray of my airline seat, laughing shyly as my seatmate noticed my geekiness, enjoying the alternative to that nasty bag of snack mix United seems so determined to hand out.
So, as I said, I logged on and started the process, only to find that my flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh, where I was to meet my parents for the drive to West Virginia, had been cancelled. I called United, and the customer service agent told me in broken English to go to the airport, where they would re-route me.
“But your web site shows there aren’t any other flights,” I said.
The response remained: go to the airport. They’ll take care of you there.
I must applaud the customer service agent at the check-in desk, who screwed up his face as he typed my information into the computer. I explained the situation: “Family reunion…parents picking me up in the morning…pre-paid hotel room tonight in Pittsburgh…it’s a three-hour drive…”
He got on the phone with every other airline (and trust me, there aren’t many) going out of Cedar Rapids. He typed in combination after combination into his computer.
“It’s a 70th birthday party,” I said, hoping that might help speed along the cure to the common cancellation.
“You’re not turning 70, are you?” asked one of the baggage handlers.
“No, no,” I said. “I’m turning 69. I have an incredible plastic surgeon.”
It was my last moment of levity for the day.
I won’t bore you with the further details of airline lack-of-accommodation. I won’t complain loudly about the fact that I bought my ticket on March 21. I won’t whine about the fact that United seems to be able to barrage me with Mileage Plus emails, with an email on June 21 updating me on a change to my itinerary for this trip, with an exhortation Thursday night to check in online sometime during the 24 hours leading up to my trip, but that they are unable to email me when they decide to, say, take a flight off the list for the day. Suffice it to say that, refund in hand, I managed to get out of the airport doors before bursting into tears.
By the time I got home, I was not only calmer, but hungry. A light drizzle fell as I dragged my suitcase into the house, and I knew, no matter what, that I wasn’t going anywhere for the evening. I had Netflix DVDs, some good Spanish wine, and my bag of snacks intended for onboard consumption.
It occurred to me that the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil had been marinating in really good balsamic and olive oil all day, and that they would be fabulous tossed with the whole wheat pasta I had conveniently stashed in the cupboard. I had a very small zucchini from the garden resting in the produce drawer, as well as about 1/6 of a Vidalia onion that needed to be used up and somehow had escaped my pre-trip refrigerator clean-out.
I boiled water and cooked the pasta, snipped some extra basil to chiffonade and sprinkle on the zucchini-onion combo, sautéed up the zucchini and onions together, and then tossed the pasta and insalata caprese together. I let the pasta toss stand while I poured some wine, and dinner was served. It wasn’t family, but it was from our garden, and therefore comforting, nonetheless.
I Wanted To Be Airline Food Caprese Pasta
Approximately 1 1/2 c. hot cooked whole wheat pasta
2 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 large basil leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces or rolled together and then sliced into ribbons
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. really good balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Mix the mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together. Let stand in refrigerator for up to eight hours, but be sure to let it come to room temperature before tossing it with the pasta. If you start this in the afternoon, you can let the mixture sit out for up to two hours at room temperature, assuming it’s not hot in your kitchen.
When the pasta is cooked, toss it (it should be very hot) with the tomato-basil-mozzarella mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately with a good Spanish or Italian red.
And reconfirm your flights, people. Again and again and again.