Boarding Group One

As I hung my cane on the edge of the counter, an agent appeared through the jetway doors.

“Welcome to AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt Airlines! How may I help you?”

“Do you have any upgrades for this flight?” I asked. “I was hoping for a better seat.”

“May I see your boarding pass?”

I handed the bright-eyed, smiling gate agent my pass and waited as she pecked away at her computer.

“I see you are in the middle seat of the last row… No, I’m afraid there is nothing else available on that flight. I’m so sorry… For a small fee, though, I can upgrade you from Boarding Group Five to Boarding Group One. That will only cost you $49.00.”

I pondered for a moment the difference between Groups Five and One. It would be nice to board before everyone else, not have to deal with all the luggage jockeying, climbing over people to get to my seat. “Sure,” I responded less than enthusiastically to her concessionary offer.

As she handed me the new pass, a well-dressed, greying gentleman approached the counter. I took my cane and turned around.

“Welcome to AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt Airlines! How may I help you?”

“I was hoping for an upgrade,” He said, handing her his pass.

I could hear her keystrokes as I walked away, and wondered why she didn’t give him the information she had just ascertained on my behalf.

“Well, Mr. Dunwoody, there is nothing left in the main cabin, but I have three first class seats left. Would you like one of those?”

I paused.

“How much would that cost?” asked he.

“Since we are about to board, Sir, I can give you that upgrade for only $29 dollars.”

I turned around.

The agent ran his card.

I stepped back up to the counter.

“I would like to buy an upgrade to first class, please.”

I was reaching to hang my cane back on the counter, when she responded: “I’m sorry, Sir, there is nothing available in first class. This flight is full.”

“But you just told that gentleman that there were three seats.”

“Oh, there are for him. He is one of our campers.”

“Campers?”

“Yes, sir. That is our Club Advantage Million Mile Platinum Emerald Ruby program.”

“Can I join the CAMMPER program?”

“Of course! Just fill out this form, then after you are approved and spend $5000 in the first sixty days, you will be awarded 50,000 miles. Once you have purchased two round-trip international tickets, not including Canada and Mexico, you will qualify for your first checked bag for free on all domestic flights for ninety days. If you fly at least one round trip per month for eighteen months you will automatically qualify for Boarding Group One on all subsequent flights during that same calendar year. And you can earn miles any time you rent a car or hotel room from our partners, as long as you make your reservations through our system and pay full price. Oh, and just for being approved, the $495 annual fee will be waived for the first 6 months. And, after you reach 100,000 miles you will receive a plastic travel mug and be eligible for $29 first class upgrades at the gate within twenty minutes of boarding on all domestic flights as long as you paid full fare for the original ticket and made the purchase using your CAMMPER American Express Card. Offer is void for any calendar year in which you purchase any flight on Southwest Airlines. Would you like to be a CAMMPER?” She asked, impossibly not out of breath and still smiling.

I turned back around and found my place among the other waiting passengers. At least I am in Group One, I thought to myself.

A few minutes later, the boarding process about to begin, a second agent approached me. “Sir, would you like to board early?” Her gaze moved deliberately from my eyes, to my cane, then back to my eyes.

“Oh, that’s okay. I don’t really need this thing. I’m an actor. It’s a prop. It won’t fit in my bag, so I have to carry it.”

“Are you sure?” She asked, as if I had made up the actor thing to hide the sad truth that I had a bad back.”

“I’m sure. I’m in Boarding Group One, anyway. Thanks.”

The familiar voice of the bright-eyed agent came over the loudspeaker: Now preboarding all passengers needing special assistance and uniformed military personnel through the silver lane on the left.

Two young men in uniform and an elderly woman made their way to the front and disappeared down the jetway.

First Class passengers may now board using the silver lane on the left.

Nine passengers, including the gentleman with the upgrade, walked down the lane.

Platinum and Emerald customers may now board using the silver lane on the left.

A handful of passengers made their way to the front and down the lane.

I looked down at my new boarding pass and smiled at the words Group One. Any second now, I thought.

Now boarding all AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt American Express members through the silver lane.

Another dozen had their tickets scanned and disappeared.

At this time, all those needing assistance, military personnel, first class passengers, Platinum and Emerald customers, AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt American Express members, and all qualifying CAMMPER club members who have that designation printed on their boarding passes may now board using the silver lane on the left.

The last few specially designated passengers joined the line and I reached down for my bag in preparation for being the first Group One passenger on board. As the last person in line passed through the doors and down the jetway, the agent went back to the microphone. I lifted my cane and took a step forward.

Now boarding through the silver lane, all passengers wearing the AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt team colors of Red, Blue, and Silver.

I looked down at my green shirt. I guess there is something to be said about esprit de corp, I thought with a silent chuckle, as several proud passengers passed me by. Now, it should be my turn…

If your mother is a Pisces…

Six more.

If you are not able to curl your tongue…

Two college-aged women tried curling their tongues, then high-fived and advanced along with three others.

If your middle name is Ruth or Jackson…

“Yeah, that’s me! Woohoo!” shouted a thirty year old man in an Under Armor sweatshirt as he wheeled his bag past me.

If you are shorter than the outstretched wing of this wooden cutout of a stork…

A set of curly-haired twins left their parents to board the plane.

If you are from a state spelled with at least three A’s…

A family decked in Crimson Tide hats and shirts boarded along with a barrel-chested man in a flannel shirt with a long gray beard.

If you drive a Subaru with an automatic transmission, you may now board through the silver lane on the left.

If you have one leg that is shorter than another…

If you color your hair…

If you are wearing socks and sandals…

With each category announced, more people excitedly took their places in line. I was standing next to a clean-cut twenty-something man in a buttoned down shirt and penny loafers who was listening hopefully like a senior in a Bingo parlor in need of B7.

If you have been to the dentist in the last three weeks, you may now board through the silver lane.

“Yes!” said the preppy with a fist-pump before making his way.

Please check the group number on your boarding pass, and only board when your number is called.

Finally, I thought, as I gripped the handle of my rolling bag with my left hand, planted my cane with my right, and stepped into the lane.

Now boarding through the blue lane on the right, GROUP ONE.

The agent placed the microphone back in its cradle and turned to see me approaching. Without hesitation, she made a swift move to block my path, pulling a retractible barrier in front of the lane.

“Sir, the Silver Lane is for our special customers, please turn around and come back through the Blue Lane.”

I turned around. There were no other passengers waiting behind me. Nobody headed for the blue lane but me.

“Thank you for flying AmeriJetWestnentalHorizoDelt Airlines,” the agent said as I handed her my boarding pass. “I’m afraid the overhead bins are all full at this time, so we will have to check your bag through to your destination. That will be an additional $49. Would you like me to charge it to the card you used for your Boarding Group upgrade?”

“Why not…” I replied, as I planted my cane and hobbled forward into the jetway.

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