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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

A short time ago I took a fantastic trip to the area just west of Boston, a very special gift from my oldest son, to visit him and spend time with two of my grandsons and watch them play two little league baseball games and a couple soccer games as well. It was a wonderful few days; time that I’ll treasure.

Then came time for my trip home to Michigan.

My flight was scheduled to depart Boston, stop in Philadelphia, then a final flight to Michigan. We left Boston on time, cruising down the east coast toward Philly as planned. Nearing Philadelphia, the captain came on the PA system to announce we had to circle for a half-hour or so due to “a VIP” landing in Philadelphia. No problem; I had 2-1/2 hours before my next departure.

While taxiing to the terminal, the sight of Air Force One parked just off the far side of the runway made it clear who our “VIP” actually was. The President was in town for a speech in Camden, New Jersey.

A couple hours later, we boarded the aircraft for our flight to Michigan. All seemed fine until the Captain announced, “sorry folks, but President Obama is aboard his aircraft and will be leaving soon. There will be a short delay.” And so it began. The entire airport was shut down, for what amounted to an hour and a half, while Air Force One prepped, taxied and took off. Nice.

At long last, we were pushed from the gate to join dozens of other flights in line to take off after the long delay. We waited about 30 minutes before the feared PA system came alive for the pilot to tell us a line of severe thunderstorms just west of Philly had caused the FAA to prevent our flight from taking off. We taxied to a holding area with numerous other aircraft to wait out the rough weather. Unfortunately, the weather did not break up and we reached the maximum time allowed…our flight was cancelled, along with many, many others. Back at the terminal, it was mass chaos as travelers tried to rebook flights to their various destinations.

My only decent choice was to fly Philly to Chicago the following afternoon. My thought was to then take the 6:00 p.m. Amtrak train from Chicago’s Union Station to my final destination in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That part nailed down, my search began for a room for the night. After contacting six sold-out motels, I decided to tough it out and just stay at the airport overnight. It was a very long and boring night with little to no sleep.

The next morning, four of Philadelphia’s finest kept me entertained as they directed traffic of all sorts and sizes dropping passengers for their flights. Of course, after being up for more than 24 hours, it didn’t take much to amuse me. It was a zoo, but the officers kept things moving along quite well.

Arriving at the gate in plenty of time for my flight to Chicago, I exchanged horror stories with other passengers whose flights had been cancelled the previous day; misery loves company they say. We boarded on time and were seated, buckled in, and ready when—you guessed it—the captain announced, “very sorry ladies and gentlemen, but we have a minor mechanical problem that will delay our departure just a bit.” Oh boy, here we go again!

After twenty minutes, the captain announced we would have to disembark since our 1:10 flight would not now leave until as late as 3:00 p.m. Let’s see…a two-hour flight, land in Chicago at 4:00 central time or so…it was looking a bit sketchy to make the 6:00 train, but should be doable. As a smoker, I had become an expert at moving through TSA security over the past day and one-half, so I went outside to burn a couple cigarettes before the saga continued.

Back at the gate, our flight was boarding, so we once again got seated, buckled and ready to get the hell out of Philly. As the jetway rolled away from our aircraft, I noticed the flight attendants were having an animated conversation while poring over the passenger manifest. It seems their “number” did not agree with the gate crews’ number of passengers and we could not leave until that was ironed out. It got down to the point of “will passenger John Doe please identify yourself to a flight attendant if you’re aboard the aircraft.” Aargh, we’ll never get out of here! Incredibly, they wheeled the jetway back so the gate crew and flight attendants could work out their differences face to face…for a half-hour or so!

Finally, the numbers agreed and we took off into the wild blue yonder. Landing in Chicago just before 5:00, I still held out hope for making the train when the captain jumped on that lousy PA system to say, “since we arrived late, folks, we have no gate so we must stay out here on the tarmac until a gate becomes available.” All the while I’m thinking what my “Plan C” will be to get me home.

That delay made it certain the train was out of the question. I decided to take matters into my own hands, rent a vehicle and drive myself home. I, at long last, felt as if I was the one in control and I drove just across the Indiana border to get a room and lay my head down after more than 40 hours of travel purgatory. Still, the amazing weekend with my boys made it all worthwhile.

OBSERVATIONS AND LESSONS LEARNED:

  • Always have your necessities in hand; never check a carry-on bag thinking, “I don’t need this; I’ll be home in a couple hours, after all.”
  • Airports take advantage of their captive audience. Cigarettes for $12 a pack and iPhone charging cords for $34…shame on me.
  • Americans love to travel, especially by air.
  • Airport people watching is very, very interesting. We are certainly a unique bunch of folks.
  • The different ways we react to delays, cancellations and other travel problems are very telling of our individual personalities, quirks and anger thresholds.
  • I flew on four completely sold out flights. The airlines are packing us in like never before.
  • The cookies and water provided while we waited out the weather delay in Philly told a tale of how far customer service has fallen in the airline industry. At that point, I for one was more than ready for something stronger than water!
This entry was posted in Travel.

2 comments on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

  1. As I said before, my “gift” of travel arrangements to/from Massachusetts ended up being the gift that kept on giving! So sorry for all of that trouble getting home but it was a great visit!

    Like

  2. Ken says:

    Paul, your horror story is of the first tier! Amazing tale of pain and suffering, it far surpasses my experience trying to get back home after a regional accreditation site visit near Riverside, CA (southern CA) and returning to Modesto by way of San Francisco airport. After my flight was cancelled at Riverside (at least I found a room!) I spent the next 18 hours in the San Francisco airport trying to fly 100 miles to the regional airport at Modesto (I could have had my wife drive to SFO and pick me up and get home faster, but they were always promising “a short delay” for 18 hours.

    Yours is MUCH worse!

    Like

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