Thursday, December 08, 2016

My Worst Flight Story

Rather than clog up a friend's Facebook wall, I thought I would share this here, in this (more than) fallow space.

When the boys were little Jo was flown to Windsor, ON, for a job interview. Deciding I wanted to tag along, I booked a flight via Air Miles (the boys would stay with their grandparents for what was a long weekend). Because U of W booked Jo's flight, I wasn't able to book on the same one. Instead, I was able to book so we arrived close to the same time, in Detroit. From there we were renting a car to drive South to Canada (yes, really).

We flew together to Minneapolis, then connected on two different planes, which departed 10 minutes apart. My seat partners were an elderly couple flying to Pennsylvania, me on the aisle, she in the middle, he at the window. The husband needed oxygen to get through the day, but couldn't fly with the bottles, so he had a rental waiting for him on the other end. In the meantime, we played crib and chatted a whole lot. We being the wife and I, since the longer he went without oxygen the more difficult he was finding his day.

But then, a giant storm blew in over Detroit, and we spent time going in circles, or what the pilot called "punching holes in the air." This kept on for 4 or 5 hours until he announced we were going to be forced to land.

In Saginaw.

When we got on the runway we were the 4th or 5th large plane on the tarmac, waiting for a small airport to get the staff and equipment in to be able to handle the thousands of people that might be getting off there. This was pre-9/11, but there were still security requirements, which meant we couldn't leave the plane. There was no more food, no more water, a couple on the plane had were coming home from China where they had adopted a toddler who, I am always happy to remember, the people on the plane were happy to chip in and entertain.

These were also the days before ubiquitous cell phones. I managed to get up to the cockpit to talk with the pilot and co-pilot to ask if they knew where Jo's flight was. They didn't know, of course, but said they would find out. An hour or so later, the co-pilot made an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, if Derryl Murphy is still on this plane... what am I saying? Of course he's on the plane. Anyways, can he come up to the cockpit?" Everyone laughed, I went up front, and when I got there he dialed a number with his own cell phone. When someone on the other end answered, he handed me the phone. It was Jo, using a phone that belonged to a guy on her plane.

Yes, she was still on the tarmac, but we couldn't figure out who's plane belonged to whom. We were pleased to be able to talk with each other, that we weren't both off somewhere even more distant. We hung up, sure we'd get together soon.

But then I watched two planes take off, and then it was announced that our own flight crew was over hours, and we would have to get off. When the airport crew got around to us. Over a thousand people, and our plane was almost the last, I think. By the time we got in, all the pizzas they had brought in to feed us were gone (I've never seen so many pizza boxes in my life), but I did score a bottle of water and two lousy cookies. Everyone I asked was no help about Jo, couldn't tell me anything about her flight number, and she was nowhere in the horde of people. And so I resolved to stay there until I could figure out where she was. I called her parents, asking if they'd heard from her, which was a sure way to get them worrying, as of course they had not.

There was a bus going to Detroit, but I chose not to take it, in case Jo was still going to arrive. After the bus, there were still hundreds of us, and it was like Dunkirk. Cabs and private vehicles of all types (I remember an old rusty Chevy Suburban, for instance). I insisted I would stay at the airport all night if need be, but they were shutting down at midnight, and so I was a part of the last crew of 9 who left. In a stretch limo, of all things. A glorious ride.

They sent us to a hotel they'd assured us was ready to take us, but that wasn't the case. There was a dentist convention in Saginaw, and there were not a lot of rooms to be had.

Now, I don't know if you've been to Saginaw, so if you haven't, let me tell you there is no There there. Everything seemed far away from everything else, freeways and stores and hotels and whatever, all spread out. And when we got to the hotel, as noted, they had to rooms. But they were hard on the phones, calling around, trying to find us places to stay.

In the meantime, word had gotten around that Jo and I had lost each other. As I sat in the lobby, people would walk by at 2 or 3 minute intervals, each one of them saying the same thing:

"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


And on and on.

I made another call to Jo's parents, and they still hadn't heard from her. I told them what was happening up until then, then went back to sit. As I was sitting, one of the desk phones, in between an out-going call, rang, and the clerk who answered said "Who? No, I'm afraid we don't have anyone here by that name."

I jumped and took the phone from his hands, knowing absolutely it was for me, and sure enough, it was Jo. She was in Windsor, had caught a ride with three women who had rented the last car at the airport, she had thought I had flown out, and they had let her ride even though she only had a few bucks Canadian on her (the cab ride from Detroit airport to Windsor was also a challenge, but she managed it). She said she would tell the hotel about me arriving the next day, I wished her luck for her interview (without a change of clothes, without most of her toiletries), and that was that.

A few minutes later they hustled us out to a bus to take us to another hotel. When it was full, the driver tried to shut the door, but a woman forced her way on, said her husband was already on the bus, and she wasn't "going to end up like him." Pointing at me. We all laughed.

The next hotel had a brand new desk clerk and a late night security guard. She booked us in slowly, nervously, but she managed, while he wrote down wake-up call times. I think I managed about 5 hours sleep that night, and shared a cab back to the airport with a couple of other refugees the next morning.

At the airport all of our luggage was piled in a small mountain, and I picked through and found mine and Jo's. Then I stood in line and quickly got on an empty flight to Detroit, had Jo's bags retagged for me (really different before 9/11).

What worked for me didn't work for others, though. One person was flying to Europe, but the domino effect of this storm meant the only flights available for her to get to London were via Seattle and Asia. And then I met the older couple. He had spent the night feeling like he was drowning, they were going to miss their granddaughter's wedding, but they were carrying on. I think it was going to take three connections to get to Philadelphia. He certainly looked awful.

Added fun: The rest of the day. My rental car was there for me, but when I got to Canada Customs I discovered they didn't like Canadians renting cars in the US and bringing them to Canada. I almost lost my shit at the agent, he called his supervisor, and I was allowed in but advised to not do this again. Then I got to the hotel and they had no idea who I was, and of course I couldn't get a hold of Jo. I showed them my driver's license, which had the same home address as was listed on the booking, and eventually they let me in. Where I fell asleep, but forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and was awakened by housekeeping, because I didn't hear them knock.

We don't book flights like that anymore.

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