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Stupid US Airlines...

This past weekend I went home to my parent’s house in Ironwood, Michigan, to celebrate Thanksgiving. By all accounts, it was a lovely weekend. I had a great time, lots of fantastic food, and got to spend time with almost all of the most important people in my life that I rarely get to see.

The return trip, however, was very irritating. My original return-trip itinerary was that I would fly from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Phoenix, and catch an express flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque. Seems simple, right?

The plane to Albuquerque was late.

And by late, I mean irritatingly late. Frustratingly late. Thankfully late. Thankfully? Yes, because my flight from Minneapolis got into the terminal at 9:25 (early!), at some gate in the low A’s (A5?), and boarding of my next flight was due to begin at 9:31. Not, of course, that I had any delusions of getting to eat dinner, but sometimes stray wishes enter the brain just to make things more exciting. After hustling down from one gate to the next, the plane was not there. Not there not because it had left, but because it had never arrived; it was expected to arrive in time to start boarding by 11:45, but the lady behind the desk seemed optimistic we might get on board as early as 11:30 (note, a full two hours late). What luck, right? Dinner! Of course, this dream was short-lived. The nearest restaurants to the gate were already closed, and the next-nearest was only serving booze until 10 (the kitchen had long-since closed). I sat down and ordered a Sam Adams just in time for last call. They kicked everyone out before 10:15.

This was, on the whole, fully unsatisfying. In part because I was really getting rather hungry, and in part because I just wanted a nap (I got up at around 5:30 that morning, after all), or at least to be able to sit down, savor a beer, and stare into the distance for a while. Such was not to be. But, now that I had almost a full hour and a half in front of me, I set about investigating the possibility that somewhere in that God-forsaken airport, some bright young entrepreneur realized that the airlines sometimes bring in new customers even at odd hours of the night. After discussing this with the airport security personnel, who are all-knowing in the ways of airport comestibles, I exited security and arrived at the Paradise Bakery & Grill. This was an oasis in a sea of closed shops and metal grating. They had but one employee and limited cold-cuts-only sandwiches (because it was after hours), and a line about a half-hour deep. I stood, patiently, to get what may have been the most unexpectedly tasty roast beef sandwich of my life. I sat, enjoyed, sipped my cup of ice-water, and nibbled on the slightly under-cooked chocolate chip cookie that came with the sandwich.

By the time I finished, and this is due in part to the fact that I chit-chatted with some of the other unfortunate souls who had also discovered the Paradise Bakery from the security folks, it was past 11:00. This is an important thing to note because, of course, all but one of the security checkpoints close down at that point. One security crew, in the C terminal, are still at their posts. As best I can tell, their job is to frisk Paradise Bakery customers who, because of the late hour, don’t care anymore. I made it back through security and made the long trek back to the far end of the A terminal in good time, and arrived at gate A25 to discover that the plane was there, and that boarding (or, more specifically, pre-boarding) had just begun. After waiting for the various frequent-flier clubs and zones 1 and 2 to board, I entered the airplane, took my seat, and got settled.

This is when things began to get a little more unusual.

Everyone slowly stowed their baggage and took their seats as directed. The people in the emergency exit rows consented to sitting and not doing anything for the extra legroom, and the stewardesses counted the number of passengers, twice. Then, at the point where everyone fully expected the airplane to push back from the gate and get underway, there was an uncomfortable pause. It wasn’t very long, just long enough to be uncomfortable. That was when someone up front informed us all that there was a test that needed to be run on the plane, but that the test needed to be run without passengers. Never fear, of course, we were encouraged to leave our belongings in the plane because we’d be back shortly, but we had to leave. Some of us, myself included, believed the nice man, and so left things. I left my jacket, others left everything. Some were smart, or merely had no luggage, and took everything they had off the plane.

Once off the plane, with a few stragglers still exiting, we were informed by the gate staff that, in fact, we were changing planes. Not only would we need to go back and get our belongings, but we would need to go to gate B6. Note that this is a different terminal. So, back on the plane we went, pushing past other passengers exiting the plane, to fetch our things. On the way down, we ran into the pilot, who demanded to know why we were getting back on the plane. When we told him that we had to because we were changing planes, he got a pained and worried look on his face, and jogged up the jetway to do what can only be guessed would be “knocking some heads.” Belongings gathered, everyone exited the plane and started the long walk to gate B6. Some, who didn’t have luggage or who had wisely chosen not to trust the airline, had already made the trek. By the time I’d gotten down to around the closed Starbucks just past gate A15, they announced over the speakers that, in fact, we were not changing planes, and to come back to gate A25. Back we went.

The fellow manning the gate announced the obvious, that there was apparently some confusion, and that we should all sit tight at gate A25 while the bigwigs figured out what was going on. Those who had made it all the way to gate B6 took several minutes to return, and so only heard the explanation from sarcastic co- would-be passengers. The plane departed for testing, and everyone made themselves comfortable. After a half-hour, the gate staff broke out the normally-$5 “snack packs” and small bottles of water to help with passenger morale. These were greedily devoured by the crowd, no doubt due to some combination of wishing to recoup their losses, thinking they were taking vengeance, boredom, and actual hunger, given that stores had been closed for almost three hours now.

Finally, they announced that the plane had, in fact, failed the test, which as it turns out was less routine and more because the guy who was supposed to hook up his tractor to push the plane away from the gate had noticed some problem with the landing gear. We would indeed be changing planes, and they needed us all to vacate the premises and go to gate B6 now.

No one walked quickly, and everyone appeared to be rather tired. One man near me made several comments revealing that his brother lived in town, and had he gone straight home when the plane was originally delayed, he’d have had dinner and been in bed already. One group commented that once in Albuquerque they were looking forward to a 3-hour drive to their real destination. When I got to gate B6, I could see out the window that there was a plane sitting there, but several key features were missing. First, the people to let us on the plane, and second, the pilots, who one assumes were busy disposing of the previous plane to wherever they dispose of planes. At this new gate, we waited, for somewhere around another half an hour. CNN switched from a long expose on autistic children to a repeat of some live interview show that I forget the name of that promised an in-depth look at Michael Richard’s comments at the comedy club. Finally, the gate workers arrived and let us onto the new plane.

We entered, got stowed luggage, and got settled once more. The stewardesses—one looking just as tired as the rest of us, the other so perky she must have been taking amphetamines of some sort—handed out pillows and blankets. Again, at about the time that we should have pushed away from the gate, there was an awkward pause. No one spoke, hoping against hope.

It really is an unusual thing, to be amongst so many people, in perfect silence.

The silence was broken by the pilot, who explained, with a detectable amount of irritation mixed with some sort of “please forgive us” overtones that apparently someone had forgotten to put fuel in the plane, and if we would all be patient, the fuel truck would soon arrive and disgorge 8,300 pounds of fuel into the belly of the beast. We sat, and waited. It was at this point that I broke out my free “snack pack”. I had no more illusions that this would be quick. The crinkling of my wrappers sounded strange in the surreal-ly quiet cabin. I quickly consumed the cream crackers with processed cheese, a disturbingly yellow Quaker apple-cinnamon breakfast bar, a small chocolate-chip biscotti, and best of all, some shortbread cookies. The dried fruit pack went into my laptop bag for later (if ever). Finally, the captain announced that the fuel had been delivered, and a few moments later, the plane pushed back from the gate. The passengers, myself included, were too tired to cheer, but they began to have quiet conversations once again. I leaned into the pillow they had brought, and fell asleep before takeoff.

The plane finally landed at about 3am, Albuquerque time. I made it to my car, and back home, without incident, finally getting to sleep around 3:30 in the morning.


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