Monday, January 05, 2009

Vacation-- Day 1

My flights from New Mexico back to Virginia yesterday, were perfect. Unfortunately, it will take ten perfect air-travel experiences to make up for the horrors of the trip out there. I had to get up very early, before 4 in the morning, in order to drive from here to Richmond. I didn't mind, though, because with the time zones and everything it would still be morning in New Mexico when I would get there, so I would probably be able to catch up with a nap then. Ah, "would", and the conditional tense. Conditions changed.

The first flight, from Richmond to Dallas, seemed to be going along OK until the captain announced that nobody could land at DFW due to thunderstorms. So, we entered a "holding pattern" (read: plane circles the city, tilting and turning until I'm good and sick) for half an hour... Until the captain announces that, actually, we are being re-routed to Austin for the time being. This is a bit upsetting as I have a connecting flight to catch, but I figure that if no planes are able to land, then nobody is taking off either, which should delay my second flight as well.

The landing in Austin takes us down through the far end of whatever storm system is over Dallas, making it rougher and more turbulent than any landing I can remember. I had to use my Little White Bag for the first time in probably ten years. Is there anything more embarrassing than throwing up in public? Let me know, because I sure can't think of it. Once we're on the ground at the Austin airport, we sit. And sit. There are maybe ten other planes in exactly the same situation, having been turned away from DFW airport and waiting to return there.

After about an hour and a half on the tarmac, we finally re--fuel and take off again for Dallas, which takes forever considering you can drive between the two cities in less than three hours. Once again the landing is so rough that I use another bag... eugh. By now the flight that should have taken 2 1/2 hours has taken more than four. I haven't eaten anything except a bag of pretzels, which was wasted anyway. When we land at DFW there is no gate for us, (being that every plane that had been rerouted is back and they're all waiting to de-board) so... we sit, on the tarmac, again. For a long time. It is during this time that I find out that my second flight was not delayed, but cancelled entirely. Why? WHY? It is two days after Christmas, and every flight is completely booked or close to it. How can they cancel a flight and expect to squeeze all 160 people (or however many fit on a 747) on standby for the rest of the (ALSO FULL) flights to that destination? It makes no sense.

By the time I actually de-plane, I'm starving and actually pretty out-of-it. My sister, who was supposed to be on the same (CANCELLED) flight to Albuquerque, met me at my gate and explained the situation to me. She, having been at the gate when the flight was cancelled, managed to get a confirmed seat on a later flight. I, however, had to get on standby, after being told by the gate attendant that not only was every flight to Albuquerque for this day booked solid, but also the next day and the next. And, unfortunately, there are about 90 other people also waiting on standby seats, all in exactly the same position as me. Also, unfortunately, each flight left from the other end of the airport, so I (and the other gazillion people doing the same thing) had to scoot from Terminal C to D, back to C, back to D... repeat as needed. Did I mention that I am still pregnant? And that I carried on all my luggage rather than checking it? Hoofing it all over DFW lugging my baggage, unable to eat, was a BAD combination. I end up waiting on standby for the next three flights, before finally boarding a plane again. I have never been so incredibly glad to actually get on a plane. It just seems so weird to think that you can buy your air tickets four months in advance, check in first thing in the morning to confirm your seats, and still be confronted with the possibility of not getting to your destination. What other industry could work like that?

KK and I were supposed to arrive in Albuquerque about 11:10 am. She ended up getting in about 6:00, and I about 7:30, which isn't bad at all considering that I was afraid of not getting to New Mexico for days. What was bad, was that Albuquerque wasn't our final destination; Mom and Dad's vacation house is about three hours away, north of Taos. So my brother and Dad had set out first thing in the morning to come and get us, and ended up spending all day hanging out at the airport waiting for us. Once we had both finally gotten in, we of course have to drive the three hours back to the house. We get to the house around midnight, which is 2 am Virginia time, making my total awake-time almost 24 hours. The drive from Taos to the house is so mountainous and twisty that I threw up for the third time that day, thankfully at the house and not, say, on the side of the road. Small blessings.

Need it be said that we all of us did nothing the next day, but sleep? Apparently, at some point in the Albuquerque airport, I dropped my cellphone on the floor without realizing it. We couldn't find it that night at the house, but as I was sleep-deprived and barfy I didn't worry about it at the time. The next morning we got a call (on my brother's phone) from a nice lady who had found my phone at the airport and is in the process of mailing it back to me. So, if I've been ignoring anybody's calls, don't take it personally; it's because I've been without cell phone for over a week (a truly strange feeling).

I know that observing human behavior at the airport is passe and over-done, but it really is interesting to see how people react to adverse situations. For three flights, I had to wait with the dozens of other booted passengers desperate to get on a plane. Standby is computerized and in order, so you can see exactly where you are; for example on my first standby I was number 50-something. For each subsequent flight your place in line remains stable, so your number drops as the people ahead of you get on planes. By the time I was on standby for the flight I eventually boarded, I had dropped to number 12. The vast majority of people seem to both understand the system and comply with it, realizing, I guess, that there is nothing else to be done. There is also a lot of commiseration, even camaraderie, among the stranded. But there are always a few folks that just don't know how to act. Their situation is so terrible, they must whine and bitch and moan, loudly, for all to hear. Hello, we are all in exactly the same boat! All of us were supposed to be on that cancelled flight; all of us are in the uncertain position of waiting. All of us had confirmed, paid-for seats at one time that no longer exist, and are now stranded. YOUR problem, that you seem to need to broadcast all over the airport, is no bigger, no different, than that of the other 50 people shuffling from gate to gate with you. You are not as special as you seem to think. Seriously: read the manual, "How to Act".


Rachel said...

Oh dear, what a nightmare! Mr. A also went out to CA over the holidays and had a similar experience. I would never, ever advise anyone to fly into or out of Richmond. :D Live and learn.

Mara said...

Hey, Richmond wasn't the problem... It was a combination in some parts of DFW and American Airlines (which are basically the same thing anyway) plus a huge blob of uncontrollable circumstances, i.e. the weather. Can't do nothin' about that, although I do still question the logic of cancelling a flight as opposed to just delaying it. Still, that didn't happen at Richmond...