I know – where’s Part 1, right? Briefly, I flew down to the Orlando area where my wife and her family were having a reunion of sorts. I hung around trying to relax amidst the various family and friends who stopped in, left, came back, stayed for dinner, slept over, left, and returned with others.
People from large families know what I’m talking about. However, I’m from a small family, so this was foreign to me.
It was nice to see nieces and nephews, and the weather was pleasant, and I managed not to get sunburned. Right away that puts it in the Plus column.
But I’m not writing about the family vacation, I’m writing about how I ended it. Specifically, the part of it in which I spent circling a storm over White Plains, NY. on my way home.
The rest of my family was staying the rest of the week, but I came back for work. Early Wednesday afternoon I headed out to Orlando airport, dropped off a borrowed car, and headed into Terminal A to find the AirTran desk. My first inkling of trouble came when I discovered that AirTran was no longer in the A terminal; that morning they had officially moved their operations to the B side. So, a long healthy walk later, I got to wait in line for the privilege of getting half undressed in public in order to pass through the security gates. Amazingly, I managed not to set off any alarms; I usually forget an item – cell phone, Palm, souvenir bottle opener, etc. Having been deemed acceptable steerage, I got dressed, packed my things into my backpack, and wandered down the concourse looking for Gate 92 and my flight. I was still almost two hours early, a “personal best” for me.
My second inkling of trouble came when I couldn’t find Flight 673 listed anywhere. I waited in line by one of the AirTran counters, and when my turn came I asked about the flight. “Sir, 673 has been delayed because of weather.” You’re kidding, right? It’s a beautiful day out there. “No sir, the weather is in New York. They’re having some pretty bad thunderstorms.”
I bought a couple of computer magazines, and parked myself in a chair near the gate. Several hours later, they herded us onto the Boeing 717, and we took off around 6:00 pm. We made good time up to New York, and sitting on the right (starboard) side of the jet, I could see the outline of the Atlantic coast. After an hour or so, one of the babies a few rows behind me woke up and started screaming. That triggered a second baby, and the two of them dueled with their lungs for the next forty five minutes. What is it about baby screams that is so irritating? Anyway, I tried to close my eyes and rest for a bit, in spite of the noise. I managed to doze off for a few minutes, when I was woken by the annoying sunlight coming in the window.
Sunlight? Wait – I was on the wrong side of the plane to see the sun. Either that or we were flying south…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are currently in a holding pattern while we await clearance to land. The weather is pretty bad down there right now, and they’re not allowing any landings. Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of fuel to wait this out.”
So, it should come as no surprise to discover that an hour later, we were still circling. The captain came back on the intercom and explained that we still did not have clearance to land, so we were going to head back to a better terminal and figure out what to do. Forty five minutes later we were landing in Baltimore Washington airport, where we sat on the tarmac for close to an hour so AirTran could figure out what to do with us. Eventually they found a gate and a while later we were allowed to leave the plane. The terminal was empty, so we sprawled out on the chairs, and some people went hunting for vending machines. An hour later, the plane was refueled and we were herded back onto the plane…
… where we waited for yet another hour before being allowed to take off.
At some point the flight attendants thought to pass out snacks because most of the passengers were now long past dinner. They managed to rustle up 1/2 ounce bags of pretzels and some cinnamon flavored graham cookies. Served with either bottled water or soda, it was just enough to make the passengers hungry for an actual meal. The captain tried to call for a catering truck, but they had all gone for the night.
Now, I know that most of you are feeling pretty annoyed, if not downright aggravated just reading this. Few things can instill feelings of annoyance like air travel, mainly because the typical passenger has so little control over his environment. You can’t simply open the door and walk out, and a raging argument will now get you arrested by the TSA. At some point in the evening, I simply resigned my self to the idea that this was going to be a long night, and tried to relax. I diverted myself by reading the magazines I had picked up before the flight, playing with my phone, and reading on my Palm. I transcended the aggravation.
We made it to New York – again – without incident, where we circled the little airport in White Plains until about 3:00 am. Unfortunately, the ground crew had all gone home, so we waited – again – for another 45 minutes while the airport could find people who knew how to work the gate equipment. At nearly four in the morning we were
released from bondage allowed to deplane and wander across the terminal to be united with our luggage.
If anyone is expecting some story about how our luggage ended up in San Francisco, or needing to be quarantined for a week, I’m sorry to disappoint you. My wheeled bag came around and I wrestled it off of the carousel and out the main doors, where the new commuters of the day were slowly beginning to filter in. I bid them a mental farewell, and lugged my 40 pound suitcase up several flights of stairs in the parking garage, and found my car in the same place that I’d left it five days earlier. I put the bag in the trunk, tossed the backpack on the passenger seat, and slid into the driver’s side, where I put the key into the ignition and turned the switch. The engine turned over.
I sat there in stunned disbelief. The battery had just enough juice to power the dashboard. I waited a few minutes and tried again. And again.
After pulling an all-nighter, this was almost enough to drag me down from my state of transcendency. I’ll admit that I was on the verge of getting pretty aggravated at that point. Somehow I managed to keep my cool, though, so I locked up the car and went back to the terminal. By now it was around 5:00am, and it was filling up with commuters. I managed to find a policeman, who explained that they did not have any emergency service and that I would have to call a tow truck. I told him that I had AAA, but he told me that AAA was not allowed in the parking garage, and that I would have to use the airport “approved” service. He made the call for me, and I went outside to wait.
Having practiced waiting in a cramped airline seat, it was almost a pleasure to wait for a half hour on the sidewalk for the wrecker that eventually showed up. The driver – a young college student, I learned – explained that it was $70, cash preferred, and that he would not need to go into the garage as he had a portable battery booster. Ten minutes later my engine was running, and he cautioned me not to turn the engine off for the next half hour to give the battery a chance to charge. I determined that I had not left a door ajar or any lights running; we decided that the battery was simply old (five years, which is like 70 in human years) and should probably be replaced ASAP.
I thanked him, and began the hour and a half drive home to Connecticut. I was fully expecting to get a flat tire on the way home, but I made it back without further incident.