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Not Quite First Class September 19, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Fun, Humor, Travel.

On the heels of my First Class upgrade on the way to New Hampshire, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I suppose it’s easy to think more highly of yourself than you ought to when you get the posh treatment a few times.


Unfortunately, my return from New Hampshire didn’t result in the same feeling of being pampered. In fact, “abandoned” is a bit more like it.

“What a Smooth Ride”
It all began well enough. The night before my flight out, I went online and printed my boarding passes. Both legs of my flight showed seats in row 3, which on a Northwest flight is frequently in First Class. Score!

Having a bit of extra time on my last day at the job site, I showed up at the airport about 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time. In sharp contrast to my experiences of late, security was efficient and fast. Nearly an hour before scheduled departure, I was at the gate, recharging the laptop, and wearing a fresh shirt and tennis shoes for travel.

My scheduled departure time was 4:14 PM. Just a few minutes after 4:00, I was in my seat, luggage stowed, and relaxing in the extra wide seats of First Class. Since the schedule of the week had left me a bit sleep-deprived (I worked past midnight two of the three nights), I promptly went to sleep. Ahhh…

Rude Awakening
Some time later, I awoke. I glanced to the passenger next to me, and noticed that he was watching “A History of Violence” on DVD. That movie had always intrigued me, and I noted that I might be able to catch a few of the more interesting scenes between Manchester and Detroit.

At this point, I realized what an incredibly smooth ride we were having. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “I know it’s my imagination, but it seems so much smoother and quieter up here in First Class.” I shot a glance out the window to the ground below.

The ground was very close.

In fact, we were still on the ground. Even worse, we weren’t at a gate. We were on the ground, close to the runway. Hmmm… the man next to me is watching a DVD; we’re on the ground; we’re not at a gate, but are close to the runways; the terrain in the distance appears very… New Hampshire-ish. I picked up my phone, to check the time.

6:03 PM

Time Flies When You’re Sleep Deprived
I had been asleep for an hour and 45 minutes, and it appeared that we were still at the Manchester airport. This was not good. The second leg of my flight was supposed to take off at 7:05 PM, and the trip from Manchester to Detroit was at least 90 minutes.

I called home. “I think I’m going to be late.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t explain why I was going to be late. I didn’t know, because I had slept through whatever announcements had been made. So I hung up and waited for some kind of announcment. Within a few minutes, the pilot came on and said “the thunderstorms in Detroit are starting to clear, and they’re allowing some flights bound for Detroit to take off now, but we don’t yet have clearance to take off.”

Now I understood. Thunderstorms in Detroit had rolled through, and were so bad that air traffic control wasn’t even allowing our flight to take off, because there was no clear indication when we might be able to land. Seems fair enough.

Since there was nothing else to do, I went back to sleep.

About 7:00 PM, the stewardess came around to alert us that we might be taking off at any moment, so we needed to stow our electronic devices. (I vaguely remember a couple of scenes from my seat neighbor’s DVD, but not enough to describe anything beyond severe gunshot wounds and an amazing special effects scene with Ed Harris.)

Finally, nearly 3 hours after our original scheduled departure time, we were taking off. Now I had to hope that the last leg, from Detroit to Louisville, had also been delayed.

“You’re Not Going to Louisville Tonight”
The flight from Manchester to Detroit was uneventful, though marred by our arriving at 8:45 PM instead of just before 6:00 PM. As we were exiting the plane, the stewardess said hopefully “Check with the gate agent for connections. Many flights have been delayed.”

Delayed almost three hours? I had to wonder.

When I saw the video board listing scheduled departures, Louisville was nowhere to be seen. That is not good. Spotting a gate agent that appeared to not have nearly enough to do, I stepped up and explained my dilemma. She listened pleasantly and consulted her computer.

“Well,” she said nicely enough, “you’re not going to Louisville tonight. All flights to Louisville, on any airline, are long gone. Is there somewhere else you’d like to go?”

I considered Hawaii briefly, but reality set in, and I remembered seeing Lexington listed on the Scheduled Departures listing. “How about Lexington?” I offered.

Her demeanor changed immediately. “Start walking now, catch the tram to the Gate B/C walkway. It leaves at 9:05 from gate C29… go NOW.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I took off for C29 “on the hop” as they say.

Counting Cargo
At this point, you may be wondering what I was thinking. Lexington is about 90 miles away from Louisville. My car was at the Louisville airport. By the time I arrived in Lexington, it would be 10:23 PM.

My ace-in-the-hole was my oldest son. He’s currently at the University of KY, in Lexington. My plan was to have him pick me up and take me back to Louisville, and then leave for class early the next morning. I had it all figured out.

So I thought.

At 8:58 PM, I walked up to the gate, worked out the ticket exchange with C29’s gate agent, and hustled down the ramp. At the bend in the ramp, I saw the rack of gate-checked bags, and asked if that was for my flight.

“Do you have a tag on your bag?” she asked.

“Yes, but it’s a Continental tag” I replied. I didn’t know if she heard me or not, but she didn’t seem upset about my answer. I tossed the bag on the rack and headed down the jetway to seat 5B.

Safely in my seat, I noted that we seemed to be slightly delayed, so I called my son and suggested that he meet me at 10:45 PM instead of 10:23. Having made that call, I did the only thing that made sense, given the circumstances.

I went to sleep.

Another Smooth Ride
Some time later, I woke up. I looked across the aisle to see a guy listening to his iPod. Thinking this was a good sign, I noted the familiar feeling… “what a smooth ride!”

Looking out the window, I saw the ground… again. It was much closer than it should have been, and we weren’t moving.

Dang… it happened again. I stopped to think. I couldn’t remember hearing any announcements. As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long.

The speaker came on with the pilot’s voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we’re going to be here on the tarmac for a bit longer. In addition to the traffic that has been keeping us out of the takeoff pattern, the gate has now informed us that their count on the baggage doesn’t match up with the count we have on the same bags.”

I checked my watch. It was 10:00 PM, almost a full hour past the scheduled depature time.

The pilot continued. “Unfortunately, they’re also telling us that we need to return to the gate for a complete recount.”

I sat there, remembering vividly putting my bag on the gate-check rack. “Could it be? Was mine one of the bags that wasn’t counted propery?” Perhaps there is a good time to keep your mouth shut. I decided that this was just such a time.

The passengers were furious, but in particular, one man was going off to excess. Making matters worse, it was the stewardess’ first week on the job. Soon enough, he demanded that he be allowed off the plane. As we made our way back to the gate, they arranged for him to disembark.

As we approached the gate, Northwest scrambled to find a stair/ramp for our plane, since this particular gate didn’t seem equipped for our aircraft. After another few minutes, we were parked, our angry passenger was getting off the plane, they were searching through checked bags for his, and we were getting more fuel.

I called my son back. “Don’t be at the airport any earlier than 12:30 AM.”

We took off by 11, and landed around 12:30. I dropped my son back off at the dorm, and headed home. By 2:30 AM, I was finally in bed, the last portion of my trip being without event. However, as I lay there motionless, drifting off to sleep, one thought kept passing through my head.

“What a smooth ride.”


1. Misreading the News: Rice Negotiations? « A Fool and his Words are Soon Parted - October 7, 2006

[…] This is unfortunate, but if the Secretary of State flies on the same airlines I have, it’s not unexpected. The second story touched on our similar crisis with North Korea, but introduced a subtle twist if you read this story right after the previous one (and didn’t pay attention to capitalization): Rice could doom U.S.-Korea trade deal: source Reuters – A proposed free-trade deal between the United States and South Korea would probably be doomed if Washington succeeds in putting rice on the negotiating table, according to a source familiar with the subject. […]

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