Recently, in an e-mail exchange with Harvey, I made a crack about having to change planes in Atlanta and Chicago. Originally, my not-so-funny funny was going to say I had to change planes in Atlanta ... twice. But I realized that, as ridiculous as that was, it wasn't really all that funny. So, I scrapped it, and went with the more realistic Hartsfield and O'Haire changing planes in the sentence I wrote to him.
But it got me to thinking about air travel. And the best ... and worst ... air travel experience I ever had.
It was 1990 and I was stationed at Ft. Belvoir (VA). It was also nearly Christmas, and the opportunity to head home for a few days was something I was going to take advantage of.
So, I bought me a ticket on American Airlines.
At Ft. Belvoir, since it's so close to Washington, the Metro buses run through the post. So, I packed my bags and hopped a Metro bus to Huntington Station. From there, I took the train to Washington (now Reagan) National.
Since I hadn't traveled much by air at the time, it was still a little bit of an experience getting through the airport. Remember, this was 15 years ago when air travel was so much simpler.
Anyway, I arrived not-quite-late for the flight, and was one of the last to board. I remember at the ticket counter a family having discussions with the airline personnel, but didn't think much of it. I was going to see the children for Christmas!
I got seated ... on the back row of the airplane ... and was ready for my trip.
After a bit, I heard announcements being made, but I didn't care. I was excited about heading home.
A few minutes later, another announcement. Again, I didn't pay attention. Just realized they were announcing something.
We continued to sit on the ground, and it was past time for the plane to take off. Then another announcement. The weather had been threatening, and I decided to listen, just in case it was something I needed to hear.
What I heard was a plea for someone to give up a seat so a family could travel together. They apparently had been offering incentives for people to give up their seat. So I paid attention.
They were offering an upgraded (first class) ticket on the next scheduled flight to Savannah, plus a $600 travel credit.
So, I could do a good deed, lose only about four hours, and get a credit for future travel. Sounded good, so I stood up and got the flight attendants' attention.
Since I was taking the next flight, and it was only a few hours later, the luggage stayed on the plane and I'd catch up with it at Savannah.
So, they escorted me off, and I saw the family needing the seat at the counter. It was the same family that had been talking with the airline personnel when I boarded.
They gave me my ticket ... first class ... and wrote me up a credit. And I went and ate.
When I came back to wait for the next flight, the weather had gotten worse. And my flight (not the one I had given up, the make-up flight I had a first class ticket for) was delayed.
And finally cancelled.
Now, American Airlines was kind enough to set me up with another flight. On another airline. Turns out that they were shutting down almost all flights out of National. But since the other airline had flights out of Dulles, I agreed. So I got to looking for a way to Dulles.
Taxis were expensive. In fact, a limo was cheaper. So I hired a limo to take me, a soldier with no luggage, from National Airport to Dulles Airport.
When I got to Dulles, I got to the ticket counter and explained the situation. They had me hooked up, but told me the weather was bad. Of course, I had already figured that out.
Anyhow, they started canceling flights. And they finally cancelled mine. They said they'd put me up in a close-by hotel (the Hilton) and get me on an early flight the next morning.
The next morning wasn't exactly when the flight left. It was late morning before it took off. But it did. Only the thing was, it wasn't a direct flight to Savannah, as orginally scheduled. This one stopped in Raleigh/Durham. Which was okay.
I got off at Raleigh/Durham to change planes. I waited around, reading newspapers and solving puzzles in a book I bought in Washington. Finally, the plane for the leg to Savannah arrived.
I watched everyone get off the flight.
No, really. Everyone.
Including the flight crew.
They got off the jet and left.
They went home.
Sick, officially, but it was the "blue flu" ... a work slowdown because of a labor dispute. And guess what flight they chose to get "sick" for? Yep. My flight.
So, there's the airline personnel trying to figure out what they can say to all the passengers that were now stranded.
Closing in on midnight, they came up with the idea to get a bus to take folks to Savannah. I was one of those that agreed to take the airlines bus.
I was awake most of the six-hour or so bus ride. And so were many of the other travellers.
I don't remember much about the trip, other than thinking how crazy the whole thing was.
Turns out the driver had never been to Savannah. He knew it was on I-95, but didn't know much more than that. He looked through his papers for instructions on how to get to the airport in Savannah, but was having to ... you know ... drive the bus.
He found out I was from southeast Georgia and knew where the Savannah airport was. Well, I had an idea. I had never approached it from the north.
He thought I was a smart-ass when I told him when he got to Georgia, he could look for the big green exit sign that said "Airport." Maybe I was, but you know what? There's a big green sign that says "Airport" and if you follow the sign, you end up at the airport. So, it wasn't hard to do. Or tell. And, he might have thought I was a smart-ass, but he found out how easy it was to find the airport in Savannah.
Anyway, we got off the plane and I had to find my luggage. Only it was all locked up.
Savannah's not a big airport. And some of the airlines stations close at night. And don't open early on Sunday morning.
But, there it was, 5:00 AM on a Sunday in the Savannah airport, with one security guard who was waiting for the end of his shift, and a bunch of people not from around there. Except for me. Well, not from Savannah. But from a little over an hour away.
Anyway, no one from the airline was there to meet us. But they stations weren't locked.
So, I found the telephone and started calling people. I let my family know we had arrived, and I helped the Yankees that were visiting folks in Savannah get ahold of their hosts.
I finally got my luggage after airline personnel showed up and got me off their phone. And I got in the car with family and went to spend Christmas.
And in my pocket was a $600 credit for the next time I decided I wanted the fun experience of air travel.