terror in the skies
Okay, it wasn’t in the skies and it wasn’t particularly terrifying, but it was annoying in the extreme and it is a story that must be told. Enough time has finally passed that I can tell the tale. It’s quite the story, so settle in
It was to be routine trip to Atlanta to visit our son, his wife and three children. The occasion was a BYU football game to be played at Georgia Southern University a mere four hour drive from my son’s house. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do—an eight hour drive to see a three hour game. So, we planned the trip. As it was the week before Thanksgiving, James invited us to stay with them through the holiday. Perfect. We had never spent Thanksgiving with their family, not really anyway. When they came to Utah for the holiday they stayed at James’ wife’s parents and spent most of Thanksgiving Day with them. So, we were looking forward to the experience.
As the game was to be played on Saturday, we decided to fly on the Thursday before rather than the Friday because it would give us more time before our drive. We booked a 3:00 pm flight because that would put us at James’ house around 9:30 or 10:00 pm Eastern. We could go to sleep and have the entire next day before leaving for the game.
We arrived at the airport at 1:30 for our flight and bidding farewell to our daughter who had been our ride, we donned our masks (you recall those days, right? Masking in the airport, masking on the plane—masking, masking, masking.) and headed to security and our gate.
We arrived in plenty of time because I abhor that feeling of being late and not knowing whether we will clear security on time. Consequently, we generally have a leisurely stroll to our gate and plenty of time to read (or, in my case, write since I was working on my latest novel) before boarding.
At the gate we found seats. Mari began working on her computer and I hauled out my computer and started trying to save the world from destruction at the hands of the alien machine parked at Earth’s trailing Lagrange Point. With my Airpods on noise cancelling I was deeply involved in rescuing my hero and his buddies from the clutches of the villain when I chanced to glance at the gate information board. I nudged TLM who was engrossed in a family history project that will actually help real people as opposed to my wholly fictional pursuit that won’t even benefit both people who eventually read my epic.
“Hey, look at the board.”
She glanced up from her computer and squinted. “Does that say 4:05?”
I nodded. “Yeah, it looks like they’ve changed our departure.”
Sure enough just as I uttered those words the announcement came. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have encountered a slight electrical problem with our aircraft. Our departure time has changed now to 4:05. We apologize for the delay, but we’ll get you on your way shortly.”
TLM shook her head. Okay, it wasn’t the end of the world, but still it meant arriving at our son’s house at 10:30 or 11:00 pm eastern. We alerted him to the change.
As I look back on this event, I remind myself of someone who stands on the ocean shore and says to himself, “I wonder why all the water is disappearing?” and decides it’s a great time to go tide pooling.
I dived back into my novel dragging my hero and friends on a camel ride across the Mongolian countryside. I resurfaced when TLM nudged me and pointed with her chin at the board: 5:15. I groaned. This put us at our son’s house at 11:30 or midnight. He and his family would be in bed. We’d have to get the garage code from him. TLM began texting.
To continue my tsunami metaphor, I looked up from a really fascinating pool with crabs and starfish and wondered what that strange looking cloud hugging the horizon off shore could be then decided it was probably nothing.
Back in Mongolia, my hero and friends arranged a terrifying flight in a small plane piloted by a teenager. In the midst of the ensuing hilarity and fear, I chanced to look at the board again. 6:10. The numbers seemed to grow in size until they threatened to engulf me. It was now 4:30. At this point I removed my Airpods and consulted with TLM.
“You know this mean we’ll be rolling in about 1:00 am, don’t you?”
Ever the calm one, she patted my hand. “We don’t have anything tomorrow morning. We can sleep in. Besides, 1:00 am eastern is only 11:00 our time, so it’ll be just like going to bed at a normal hour.”
Mollified, despite my resistance, I grumbled, “I suppose so, but now that we have some time, let’s go eat. I’m starved and I don’t want to try to rummage in James and Karen’s kitchen at one am.”
Off we went then. After a fine meal at Panda Express (no, I’m not being ironic here; I actually do like the food there so, go ahead and make fun of my taste. It’s no secret that my taste in food is plebian), we returned to the gate. I had managed to get my heroes beyond the villain’s reach for the moment, so I found a book to read.
At 5:50 the gate agent still had not announced boarding our flight. I began to suspect that the cloud on the horizon was something ominous heading our way. At 5:55 the gate agent called our attention.
“It looks like the problem is not being resolved.” I contributed my voice to a chorus of groans that cascaded through the boarding area. “So, we’re bringing in a new airplane.” The numbers on the board changed to 8:40. “Our new departure time is 8:40. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience.”
I shook my head. “That’s three in the morning now, we’re getting there assuming the rental car counter is open when we arrive.”
TLM patted my arm again, but she was fresh out of cheering consolation. She looked as glum as I felt.
At 7:45, passengers began streaming through the gate. Our new plane had arrived. Forty-five minutes later we were snugged into our seats awaiting our departure. 8:40 rolls around and we’re still snugged in our seats awaiting our departure. 8:45, 8:50 still snugged etc. 8:55, pushback. Finally we were on our way. We should be a James and Karen’s just in time for breakfast.
We proceed under power away from the terminal. The captain comes on the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize again for the delay, but we’ll be on our way after a short taxi.”
I relaxed into my seat and wondered if this time as opposed to all the other flights I’ve been on, I’ll be able to sleep. After five minutes I began to wonder how long a short taxi was. After ten minutes, I concluded that the captain and I did not see eye to eye on what short meant.
After fifteen minutes we stopped. At last, I thought we were waiting in line for take off. I peered out my window trying to make out how far back we were in line to the head of the runway. I couldn’t see any other planes. We waited. And waited. Surely, we should be moving by now?
At last, the captain spoke again. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I apologize,” he began. Uh oh, I thought, this can’t be good. “We have exceeded our in-service hours and will not be able to continue. We were five minutes from take off when the wind changed and we had to proceed to a different runway. That process took too long. We have to return to the terminal.”
Disappointed doesn’t begin to describe my reaction. It was ten thirty now. We’d been in the airport on sitting in an airplane on the ground for nine hours. Yet, still we waited. After the captain’s announcement we still didn’t move. It was 11:00 pm when we arrived back at the terminal. At the terminal we were told that our flight would depart the next day and to consult the Delta app for our flight time.
Then we had to shlep ourselves through the airport and call an Uber. It was midnight when we arrived home. On the Delta app I was receiving mixed messages about our departure time. It would alternate between two on the afternoon and eight in the morning. Two in the afternoon would give us more sleep, but if the flight really was at eight, we would miss it. We had to plan on eight which meant leaving home at six and awaking at five thirty. So, finally at one in the morning we hit the hay.
And I couldn’t sleep.
I was so wound up by the experience that I tossed and turned. Finally, I drifted off.
Back at the airport we made our way through security still not certain what time our flight departed. After clearing security, we inspected the departure board.
It wasn’t there.
Our flight was not listed on the board. Did that mean it was at two pm after all? Did that mean it was postponed again?
Out of desperation not knowing what else to do we made our way to the gate we’d been at the day before. Sure enough another flight was listed for nine am, but not ours. We recognized a few people who had been with us the day before and mingled with them all of us wondering what was going on. Then someone said that the flight was leaving at eight. That turned out to be true.
Sure enough at seven thirty we started to board and at eight we pushed back. Tired as I was, I still couldn’t get to sleep (sleeping on airplanes is not a thing I do really).
Fast forward to Atlanta. We land, deplane and make our way to the train for the main terminal to retrieve our luggage. If you’ve been to Atlanta you’re aware the concourses are widely separated, so to speed passengers on their way there is a subway train to transport you. We were in concourse D which is the farthest out from main terminal and baggage claim. TLM and I boarded the train. When we pulled into concourse C a few people waited by the door needing to exit.
The doors didn’t open. The train started again to the vocal dismay of the passengers who had wanted to disembark.
We duly arrived at concourse B
The doors didn’t open. More dismay verging on anger.
I had visions of us being stuck on the train.
Concourse A. As we were stopped a technician showed up and pried open the doors. TLM and I decided that given our luck on this trip we wouldn’t chance the faulty doors. We left and walked to baggage claim. Hartsfield Jackson’s Delta baggage claim is a cavernous room with nine baggage carousels. We perused the board looking for the carousel assigned to our flight.
It wasn’t there.
We looked again—no joy. I stood in a stupor. A haze of exhaustion had shut down my faculties, such as they are.
“Maybe we should ask someone.” TLM was right of course. We identified someone with an official looking outfit and explained our predicament.
“Hmm,” he said nodding his head. “Let me check.” He consulted his phone, frowned and shook his head. “What flight number did you say that was?”
I told him again. The frown deepened. “Huh, I don’t see it here.”
At this point, I was ready to give up. With all these forces arrayed against us, perhaps we were better off turning around right here and leaving.
“You should go talk to someone in the baggage claim office.” He pointed across the hall and down a couple of carrousels. “They should know.”
Off we trekked. At the baggage claim office, we repeated our sad story. More checking of electronic devices, another frown. “What flight number did you say it was again?”
“Huh, I don’t—”
TLM tugged on my arm and pointed. There in the carousel opposite us, our suitcases clunked past our eyes.
Finally, a break. We thanked the man and pulled our luggage from the belt. We were on our way now. After another train ride to the rental center, we rode the escalator down to find our rental car counter. Stepping off the escalator, I glanced up to find the Alamo counter and stopped in my tracks. The line wound through six layers of those back-and-forth temporary single strip barriers then fifty feet down a corridor and back another fifty feet.
I screamed. “No. No. No.” Rage colored my world red and erupted. I grabbed my luggage threw it on the ground and jumped on it repeatedly all the while screaming “It’s not fair,” over and over again.
TLM squeezed my arm. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. I was just daydreaming.”
She smiled and patted my arm. “Go get our car dear. I’ll wait over there. It’ll be okay.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. Then I opened them and got in line. And it was, okay, I mean. It only took an hour and a half to get the car when I had estimated it would be at least two hours. So, a win, right?
The visit was wonderful. BYU won the football game. Thanksgiving with our son, daughter-in-law and three grand children was amazing (Karen is a marvelous cook and makes all kinds of yummy Armenian dishes), we helped decorate the Christmas tree, and the trip down to see them faded into the background where it belongs with other horror stories.
From left to right, Karen, Abbie, Sam and Sophie, and yes, that’s baklava they’re making. It was incredible.