March 20, 2013

The trip from hell

Monday morning, I was feeling all zen-like and relaxed after a week of warm weather and relaxation. In the airport, I posted a photo to this blog and thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll write something profound and meaningful when I get home tonight.” I thought, of course, that I’d be home in just a few hours. Silly me.

Little did I know that I was about to begin the trip from hell. What should have been a simple flight home evolved into 33-hour journey in which brilliant airline agents kept putting me onto planes that flew into cities at exactly the same time they were getting hit by snowstorms. The journey took four separate flights, dozens of frantic phone calls, and my whole supply of Dramamine.

The adventure began when I got bumped from my original flight, and the agent rerouted me to Newark, where it was apparently snowing hard. The plane took off several hours late, but I was still hopeful that I’d make my connecting flight and get home in time for supper.

But then the disembodied voice of the pilot came over the intercom, announcing bad news in a voice that was so cheerful that I began to question his grip on reality. “Folks, we’re on hold. We can’t land until they plow the runways.”

Apparently “on hold” means circling endlessly through the turbulent air until you are in danger of running out of fuel. That fun activity lend to more Dramamine for me and then another announcement from the cheerful pilot: “Folks, we’re going to stop off in Boston to refuel.”

Well, that got the attention of every single passenger. We all looked at each other in disbelief. Boston? We had connecting flights in Newark, not Boston. The cheerful announcements just kept coming. “Folks, it looks like our flight crew has timed out. It’s illegal for them to work for more than 12 hours.” and “Folks, looks like we’ve got a maintenance issue. We’re going to need to deplane.”

It felt good to get out of the cramped airplane, but it was the wrong airport. And it was night time. The stores and restaurants were all closed. We’d all missed our connections. My cell phone had died. And through the windows of the airport, we could see the worst news of all: the snowstorm had followed us.

The other passengers and I began bonding, much in the same way that the characters on Lost bonded when they realized the island was out to get them. British Fellow began telling Worst Ever Travel Stories. I’d spent the flight talking with College Kid Going to Oslo, and by now, we were family. I helped him answer frantic texts from his mother, and he lent me his cell phone charger. I watched his stuff while he went off in search of a vending machine: he brought me back a candy bar.

The lone airline agent kept doling out bad news about flight possibilities. One by one, we approached her with our sad stories, but she pretty much refused to help. She kept saying, “Your best bet is to fly back to Newark. Many of those flights haven’t left yet. You might still make those connections.”

We were a sizable crowd of hungry, angry passengers who were beginning to mutter and stamp our feet. I realize now that she was just doing whatever she could to send us away before she got trampled by the herd.

Eventually, we all got back on the plane. We trudged on silently, like a team who’d just lost the championship game. No one asked whether or not the maintenance issue had been solved. We were all too tired to care.

Then the plane sat on the runway for a couple of hours. Every half hour or so, trucks would come over to dump orange liquid over the windows, and College Boy would say hopefully, "We're de-iced. Now we can go." Then nothing would happen. The cheerful pilot had gone strangely silent.

Sleep deprivation affects me like alcohol, and by the time we got to Newark airport, I was stumbling around, talking to strangers in a loud voice and making comments that seemed witty at the time, but probably weren’t. I took a nap on the floor of the airport, right in front of the customer service counter, which was scheduled to open at 5 am. I could no longer remember what life outside an airport was like. Every once in a while I’d imagine my bed – the pillows, the silky sheets, the down comforter – and it was like a dream I’d had a very long time ago.

When morning came, new people began to arrive — travelers who weren’t stranded, people who walked with a bouncy step and who looked like they’d had showers. That gave us hope. An agent finally handed me a new ticket, a guaranteed seat. The flight wouldn’t leave for another six hours, but by then, time seemed irrelevant. I went to the gate hours early. I talked to everyone I could find. “Are you on my flight? Will you make sure I’m awake when it’s time to board?” I must have looked pathetic, because people responded gently, even offered me their leftover snacks. Then I tried to nap by using my backpack as a pillow. The glaring lights and dreadful music pumped in from the 1970s didn’t help my efforts.

I woke up to the cheerful announcement that our flight would be delayed another couple of hours because they “were waiting for a plane.” Apparently, whoever had scheduled the flight had forgotten that they might need a plane carry out the task. By then I was resigned to living out my remaining days in an airport. I amused myself by doing math. I could have driven home, going 30 mph, and gotten there faster.

When I finally boarded the plane for home, 32 hours after my trip had begun, the other passengers were saying things like, “Hurray! You’re finally going home.” They all seemed to know me. It was like waking up with a hangover and wondering just what the heck I’d said to all of them. But they were smiling and happy for me, so it was all good.


Anonymous said...

That sounds awful!

L said...

Oh no, that was the worst trip back home EVER, seriously!! :(

delagar said...

I'm glad you're back. What an awful trip.

At least now you have a great horrible travel story to tell!

Nik said...

Nightmare. I am so sorry. But I'm glad you're home to write about it.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

How incredibly horrible!

Have you read this book? It kind of helps when an experience like that is long over & you think it may be possible to laugh about it.

Anonymous said...

This is why we no longer fly - especially when coupled by your comment that you could have driven slowly and gotten there faster. ...Glad you made it to your home, family, and down comforter!

Theresa said...

Oh, my! That sounds positively dreadful.

robin andrea said...

Such an airport nightmare. You remind me why I have only been on one flight in the past 21 years. Glad you made it home safe and sound.

readersguide said...


Anonymous said...

Ah, but now you have a story that I'm guessing you'll tell MANY times.


Annette said...

You poor thing. I know it was miserable but your telling is funny! Glad you are home!

Anonymous said...

having just finished re-reading Pollyanna, I guess you could be glad you weren't traveling with a 2 year old (in fact, the potential glads just go on and on...)(glad you have a home to go to, glad you were stranded in a nice warm airport...) and doesn't it so make you appreciate your own bed?

Anonymous said...

Awful!! Now I just have to share mine....we too had a flight on march 20. It was a 6 am to Tampa. After waiting in crazy lines we were relieved we were going to make it on time until as we arrived at the gate they shut the door! We had to sit and watch as our plane sat there for around 10 minutes but they were unable to open the door for us (a family of five) due to "regulations". Hours later we were put on a plane to Nashville where we could hopefully get on a flight to somewhere in Florida. We were actually really lucky to get anything apparently and even luckier that in Nashville we were able to get five more spots to Orlando. From there we had to rent a car and drive to Tampa to get our luggage at the airport and them on to Clearwater. Yikes!! We got in at around 10 pm instead of our scheduled 8 year old said he was glad we missed our plane because now we had a much better story!

kathy a. said...

you win the intertubes. that totally beats my flight from hell story, which involved traveling by myself from japan to LA with an infant and a toddler, preceded by a bus trip and with a flight delay, and doing customs. mine took less time. but i still remember that strung-out feeling.

Jodie said...

Flying... in the Northeast,... in the winter... nosireee, nothankyounotme... Idonthinkso... nope.

Jeff C. said...

oh wow...
...I've been on some bad trips (stuck in Chicago O'Hare due to a snowstorm) but yours takes the cake.

Sorry this had to be a blog post but thanks for sharing!