The day did not begin as a blog post in the making. Eric had a trade show in Las Vegas. The hotel was paid for and frequent flyer miles took care of my plane ticket. For a date night he just needed to buy me dinner. Oh, I needed to get a sitter.
So, the previous evening had been a ball. I flew in on Southwest. Everything went smoothly. I caught a taxi to New York-New York and met Eric there. We had a simply superb tapas dinner at Julian Serrano’s restaurant in the Aria Hotel & Casino.
By the way, if you want an amazing dinner of electic small plates, this place is the bomb. Such a fun way to eat! We had the most divine malbec with dinner. Sigh, happy.
Where was I? Right, how we went from this to a day deserving its own blog post. Two words: Air Travel.
I have found, as with so many other things, air travel in our country is either laugh or cry. (Of course, there is also the temptation to tell the idiot behind the counter that which they so richly deserve to hear, but I was brought up better than to pick a battle of wits with an unarmed person.)
There have become certain standardized cultural mores to flying in today’s world. These are the easy go to jokes one hears so often. They are the low hanging fruit. It would be child’s play to point and laugh at the cattle car seating arrangements (I am five feet tall with short legs, if I can’t cross my legs there’s really no leg room). We’ve all made snide remarks at the peanuts (averaging fifteen nuts per bag, yes, I’ve done the research). Then there’s the classic Saturday Night Live rendition of the “I-could-not-care-less” demeanor of certain flight attendants. You may remember that one, “Bu-bye”.
It would also be easy to make a few succinct observations regarding that exquisite dance we call airport “security”. Leaving Las Vegas this particular Friday morning we had all the elements that make one want to bang one’s head against a wall. (The head to wall experience is infinitely less painful.) There were the grumpy TSA officials (I like to play a game with them; it’s called “See If I Can Get You To Smile”), the self-important TSA officials (watch me wield my itsy-bitsy smidge of power over you), the humorless TSA officials (do NOT under any circumstances crack any wiseass remarks), the mass dumping of all liquids over three ounces and my personal favorite, the ritual disrobing and redressing of the passengers. Mind you, I am good with all this and more if it keeps us safe. It would be a small price to pay. However, I have my doubts; that’s a whole different post though.
No, while all these items certainly contributed to the day’s gigglefest, they were not what made the day jump the shark. Friends, let us pony up to the bar and talk about the following words: duct tape, oop’s, the noise of a saw, stop short, psycho passengers and procedures.
Eric and I, fresh from a fabulous date night, still in the afterglow of adult conversation and the new Ghostbusters slot machine, arrive at the airport. We are early so we can afford to be philosophical about the security lines. We have a quick lunch at Chili’s and hurry to our gate to catch the flight home. We had it all planned: land at 1:50pm in Oakland, pick up the girls from school at 3pm, David home by 3:30pm and then a nice family dinner and movie night. Sadly, ’twas not to be.
Our first clue things had gone awry came as soon as we arrived at the gate. The plane should have already been boarding. We had assigned seats so we were okay if the boarding process had begun. It had not. We knew this because a very angry and (can I use the word “bitchy” here, oh wait, it’s my blog) bitchy lady was creating a scene amongst the other waiting passengers. Sure enough, although the status board behind the counter had not been updated, as the boarding process had not started by 12:15pm it was unlikely that the plane would be leaving at its scheduled 12:35pm time. That’s okay, Eric and I thought, we had a little bit of wiggle room. We’d be alright.
The delay became ten minutes, then twenty and finally a half an hour. Still the status board was not updated. Then they updated it. For your entertainment I include the following photo…
Oops, we’re still at the gate, plane is still parked outside. Could someone please let the nice lady behind the counter know?
And we waited.
As we waited, we had time to observe. Show of hands, folks, how many of you have flown Spirit Airlines? That’s what I thought. Okay, show of hands again, how many of you even knew they existed? Yeah, us too. This was our first time flying Spirit and we’d never heard of them before. However, my better half had found $9 one-way tickets so we were giving them a roll. Yep, $9, no red flags there, no sirree. Then they charge $30 for a carry-on bag, you buy drinks (yes, even sodas and water), no complimentary snacks, you get the idea.
Then there was the plane itself. Now, I don’t want to say the plane was styrofoam covered with tin foil. We never could prove it. However, doesn’t this picture look like the cockpit’s window has been duct tapped? Just saying.
At last, we get the go ahead and board the plane. Eric and I can still make it to pick up the kids. Potential crisis averted.
As we taxi down the runway, we hear the craziest noise. It truly sounded like there was someone (or something, cue sinister music) in the hold of the plane trying to saw their way out. (Shouldn’t be too hard to get through the styrofoam, right?) We were told that this was the sound of the hydraulics and it was a perfectly normal noise. Normal? How come I’ve never heard it before? What cho’ talking about, Willis? Now, to be fair to Spirit Airlines, my understanding is that the type of plane we were on, an airbus, has the hydraulics in a different position than most planes. The hydraulics on other planes are still making the same sound but because of the different design, we don’t hear the noise.
While we are all still adjusting to the sound that might or might not be someone sawing their way out of the plane’s belly, we increase speed. At the precise moment that we can just feel the nose of the plane start to come up off the ground, the pilot SLAMS on the brakes. I am not an incredibly nervous flyer. I took physics. I understand thrust and lift. I’m usually pretty casual about the miracle that is all those tons of steel in the air. Still, I have to admit, that stop short was pretty freaky.
The pilot quickly came on to explain that the thruster, which was computer controlled, had failed to come online and so takeoff had been aborted. The crew would reboot the computer, make a lap around the runway and take off as planned.
Through his announcement the grumpy lady passenger (remember her), who been making her uniquely colorful presence felt throughout the whole delay process, pitched a royal fit a few rows up from us. In screeching tones and with a huge dollop of profanity she starts shrieking, “What the f— was that?”, “Holy S—” and “Get the f— off this piece of s—“. On and on she goes. Tragically, while she speaks at great length, the style of her oration was a bit monotonous. Really? You only have command over five swear words and their accompanying phrases? Some people. No imagination.
This is where my spouse leans over and says softly, “She’s going to screw this up.” I look at him and respond, “Bite your tongue”. The flight attendants try to get the shrew to calm down. They speak soothingly. They flatter her. They apologize profusely.
Then the pilot comes on again and announces we have a passenger who wants to get off the plane. We’ll have to return to the gate. This process will take about a half an hour. The plane groans in unison. Except for Grumpy Lady (yes, now it’s her official name). She is screaming at the top of her lungs, “F— yeah”, “I’m the A–h—” and “I’m getting the f— off”. Did I mention no imagination? This is when I start calling friends and sitters. We’re not going to make it home in time. I am worried about my kids. It’s a rotten feeling.
We let Grumpy Lady off the plane. The pilot announces since we’re at the gate anyhow, he’s going to ask maintenance to give everything a quick once over. We wait a half an hour. Then he announces maintenance can’t get there for another forty-five minutes. Better yet, now that they’ve been requested procedure says we can’t leave until maintenance signs off the logbook confirming we’re good to go. They decide to deplane. We march off, back to the gate, sweet gate.
I note that Grumpy Lady was still standing at the gate. I guess she had to get her $9 back. Now she was on her cell phone trying to find another flight out of Las Vegas. (In a much appreciated moment of levity I overheard one passenger refer to the city as “Lost Wages”. I liked that very much.) Had I been Grumpy Lady I would have done so at another gate. We, her former fellow travelers, were not her biggest fans. In fact, I started walking very purposely over to her but Eric (he does know me) grabbed my arm and steered me away. “Don’t,” he muttered emphatically through gritted teeth. “But it’s sooooo tempting,” I wailed, shooting daggers at Grumpy Lady with my eyes.
Happily, some of the people at the gate who also had time on their hands shared my sensibilities and didn’t have Eric there to talk them out of it. A scene quickly ensued. I tried not to cheer as Grumpy Lady was led further away from the gate by Security. Again, for your entertainment I’ve included a photo. (Sorry, it was a long afternoon, I took pictures.)
I wish I could say I forgave Grumpy Lady. From a good karma point of view it would have been a wise thing to do. I can understand being scared and what’s more important than safety? After all, I did manage to find a sitter for the kids. Except for the lost time and money I wasn’t out too much for this wasted afternoon. And I did find out that she would be on the 8:35pm flight and it was costing her $239 one-way. Eric and I truly believe without her raging fit we would have simply taken off. Maybe the thrusters would not have come on (which happened once) and maybe they would have (which also ended up happening once). I sort of hoped her flight would be delayed. Is that so wrong?
An hour later we reloaded the plane. This time we went in alphabetical order since they had taken most people’s boarding passes. Once again we started to take off and once again, you guessed it, it was aborted. (This time without the dramatic stop short.) Our good buddy, the pilot, came on to tell us that the thruster had failed to come online again. Since we had already called maintenance about this issue once today we could not simply circle the tarmac and take off again. Procedure said we needed to return to the gate and get maintenance to sign off on the plane.
Back to the gate we go. This time we did not deplane. (I guess last time was just too painful to do it again.) After about a half an hour the pilot gave anyone who wanted to leave and find another flight the option to get off the plane. Of the 200 or so passengers only 57 stayed. Eric and I stayed. We had refundable tickets on a 6:35pm Southwest flight as a back up. (He’s a wizard with a laptop, that boy.) Spirit kicked down with free water and stale pretzels to compensate us for the inconvenience. And here I thought the airlines didn’t care.
At last, we got the go ahead. We spent another half an hour as some poor, dense, sweet lady tried to check us individually by name. After twenty minutes and perhaps twelve names of this they gave up and settled for counting heads. There was an intense whispered deliberation between staff members. In the end I guess they liked the number they got because we pulled back from the gate and went down the runway. Apparently, third time really is the charm. The thrusters worked and off we went. We left at 4:35pm, exactly four hours later than scheduled. As soon as we were airborne Eric and I ordered wine, pringles and peanut M & M’s. With all the people who had left the plane, most of us now had our own row. All in all, it turned out to be a really nice flight home. LOL!
Remember, my friends, it’s laugh or cry. Laugh or cry. I’m going with laughter. Life is too absurd not to.