Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
Our travel on Saturday will probably go into the family legends as one of our most nightmarish trips ever. Friday evening, after finding a hotel room in Providence, RI where the snowstorm had stranded us, we walked 1/2 mile through the snow to the closest restaurant. It was OK, and most of all, it was food. Then we went back and slept.
Our flight for Philadelphia didn’t (theoretically) leave until 1:35 pm on Saturday, so we waited until about 10:00 to leave the hotel room. By then we had exhausted all the entertainment possibilities available in a fairly standard room, and we felt ready to face the certain travel travails that awaited us.
Looking back on it, things could certainly have gone worse. I talked with one girl who goes to college at Cornell in Ithaca, NY. Her story seemed not atypical: Tried to fly out of Syracuse. No flights due to bad weather. Decides to fly out of anywhere that goes to Seattle. Flight out of Philadelphia discovered; spends night in bus station and takes last seat on a bus going to Philly. Gets fortunate upgrade to first class and we meet her. At least we spent our night in a very comfortable king-sized bed, and if our total trip time approached 48 hours, most of it just involved endless waiting.
In Providence on Day 2, flights were successfully arriving and departing. The flight ahead of ours, though, arrived at its departure time and left quite late. Fortunately our plane pulled up almost immediately after the previous one left, and at long last we boarded a plane. I slept most of the way to Philly, which was a blessing. I do not fly well, and spending the next five hours in an airport feeling nauseous didn’t sound pleasant. Sleeping helped the hour-long flight zip right by, too.
We landed in a snow-free Philadelphia and marveled at the clear runways. We debarked somewhere in Terminal C, and our gate was A8, a solid 10 or 15 minutes’ walk. But we thought that, having five hours to kill and all, we would detour to the Envoy Lounge or whatever the fancy-dancy US Airways club lounge is. We hoped our first-class tickets would get us through the door, but the snazzily-dressed dude behind the counter quickly crushed that hope. We could purchase a one-day club membership for $40 each if we wanted to stay… We didn’t. Instead, we walked 10 minutes back towards the nexus of the terminals, intending to head back to our gate. Along the way we leisurely examined art on the walls:
- Terracotta sculptures of strange animals
- A suspended fulcrum that occasionally received a tap to keep moving
- Books as art (very neat but I could not easily describe it)
- Pictures and bios of famous musicians from Philadelphia
- A wall of movie posters of movies made in Philadelphia
- Tiny, realistically-shaped bird sculptures suspended in flocks to form a larger bird or airplane shape
- Two big murals of different forms of flight, from kite-flying to astronauts
- A six-foot-tall Lego replica of the Liberty Bell
By the time we had finished taking our time to look at all these things — which most travelers just dashed right by; their loss — I felt pretty hungry. So we staked out a spot in a food court and ate. I had what I deem the World’s Most Boring Sandwich. It comprised:
- A white baguette
- Plain iceberg lettuce
- White turkey
- White American cheese
No condiments, no flavors, nothing whatsoever. For that and an excessively sweet peach, stawberry, and banana smoothie I paid almost $13. As I ate, I kept reminding myself that bland food still provides nutrients. Ian, on the other hand, obtained remarkably good orange chicken, rice, and veggies from a Chinese place. To supplement the blahness of my lunch, we also bought the waffle-shaped fries from Chik-fil-A (the chain is apparently a local phenomenon, and I probably would have had a more interesting lunch if I had eaten from there).
After that we still had hours to kill — five hours in an airport is really a long time — but we adjourned to the seating near our gate. I almost immediately fell asleep stretched out on the chairs, but still managed to hear all the woeful details of at least three separate travel-story conversations. Earplugs helped dampen out the ambient noise, but let voice frequencies right through.
Finally with about an hour left, Ian wandered around. Fortunately he checked the status board, which told us that our flight had moved to gate A21, a ten-minute walk from A8. Grateful we noticed this before it became an emergency, we hoisted our bags and trekked to the gate. We had barely settled before an amusing thing happened.
Lots of people kept coming to the gate. More than one plane-load. Come to find out that a flight to Dublin was also scheduled to leave at that gate, but that it was delayed a couple hours. The guy at the counter announced this fact and, with a straight voice, asked the Dublin passengers to please not get on the Seattle-bound plane, since they’d be going the wrong direction. Hehe. Not to be confusing, a general announcement was then made saying that the Dublin flight was boarding at gate A21. Much milling around and making of announcements ensued, but Ian and I ignored them and played a game of cribbage that Ian almost won.
When our plane boarded at around 9:00 (not a bad delay; we had become cavalier about the scheduled times posted by airlines by this point), we were the second and third people on. A few minutes went to playing with the spacious and unfamiliar first-class seats we finally enjoyed, but it didn’t take too long for me to appropriate both pillows and fall asleep again.
This became a pattern. I woke up for dinner — which involved real china and silverware, nicely done pasta in a white sauce with mushrooms and peas, a side salad with vinaigrette dressing, a roll, and a cookie, plus all the beverages we wanted (US Airways now charges $2 for a bottle of water in coach class, as well as $15 for one bag, $25 for a second bag, and $100 for a third bag, more reasons I never intend to fly with them again) — and eventually fell asleep again. I slept and woke up at 1:50 (EST); I woke again to hear the sound of some first-class passenger vomiting copiously (vomit smell on a plane has got to be among the worst); I woke a occasionally to shift position or allow blood back into various limbs. It was not a restful flight, but with an hour left, I felt about as well as I would expect to.
When they announced that they were beginning the descent to Seattle, I decided it could have been worse. Amusingly, I quickly found out how much worse it could be: Instead of landing in Seattle, we were diverted to Spokane, the only airport open in the area. The pilot announced that high winds and icy runways in Seattle had closed SeaTac entirely and that we would spend a couple hours in Spokane on the runway (they had no gate for us) waiting for conditions to improve.
We called my parents. They had left our house for SeaTac already. Ultimately they spent three hours waiting through the night at the airport for our flight to arrive. Fortunately, despite dire predictions, the winds in Seattle became more favorable almost the instant we landed. This meant we simply fueled up, let off a couple of people who
wanted to get to Yakima and didn’t want to have to go over the pass, and took off again. The leg from Spokane to Seattle only took an hour, but I didn’t sleep: I spent the whole time trying not to throw up. It was bad. The night kept wearing away, and by the time we arrived in SeaTac, Ian and I realized that if we were in Massachusetts we’d be up and getting ready for work.
SeaTac looked like a refugee center. I guess it was. People slept on every horizontal, non-floor surface available. Lots of people stood waiting for arrivals outside the security checkpoints. We met Mom and Dad at the baggage claim, where our bags appeared almost immediately (thank goodness!). The drive back to Kirkland landed us at home about 3:45 am, which felt like time to be up and eating breakfast for us. But we managed to fall asleep for a while.
Now we are somewhat snowed in here at my parents’ house. It could be much worse. We made it, after 44 hours of traveling. Tonight I expect we will sleep really well.