Let me say right off the bat that I realize that everything that follows consists of First World Problems and that there are worse things and I should always look on the bright side and count my blessings and I need a sense of perspective and blah blah blah blah fucking blah.
So in other words, shut up. I’m going to complain – and may do so in a hyperbolic manner for comedic effect and I’m fully aware that my annoying experiences don’t qualify as some sort of horrific suffering – and I don’t want to hear any crap about my sense of entitlement or whininess or whatever the fuck you’re going to complain about, because honestly? Being annoyed by hearing about First World Problems is largely a First World Problem in and of itself. Think about it; if you’re living in some sort of Third World squalor you’re not worrying about some whiny white guy saying “FML” on the Internet while you’re busy searching for potable water and wishing you’d gotten a vaccination for polio, are you?
Anyway, last week I made a trip back to the old homeland to visit with my family, and, more to the point, to meet the latest addition to said family, my beautiful new grand-niece, Chloe.
It started out promisingly enough, in that shortly before my trip United, the airline whisking me away to the frozen north, released an app for my phone, which meant that I could check in, pay for my checked bag, and display my boarding passes right from my phone. Yay, technology.
I got to Dulles with some time to spare, even though the bus ride from the parking lot to the terminal took quite some time, as I had parked near Shuttle Stop 12 and there were 18 stops in between there and the terminal.
In any case, after stopping to finalize the check-in and get the tag for my bag before dropping it off with TSA for inspection, I found myself just standing there waiting around, as no one was bothering to notice me. Finally, someone did, and I was on my way through security.
At some point between going through security and arriving at my gate my flight out had been delayed by an hour, which meant that, by the time we landed and I got off the plane in Chicago I’d have about twenty minutes to get to connecting flight, which is cutting things pretty close given that my connecting flight would be in another terminal entirely and would involve another shuttle bus ride.
I was actually supposed to meet up with my brother, who was flying in from Texas, in Chicago.
Not remembering that there was another, later flight, I thought for certain that, unless that flight was also delayed, I’d end up spending the night in Chicago.
Despite my hopes (or maybe because of, depending on what impact my hopes have on causality) that they had overestimated things, the airline was completely correct about exactly how long my flight would be delayed and so I boarded the plane with an increasingly shrinking window of opportunity to arrive in Chicago on time.
As we made our way out to the runway that window continued to shrink, and, even though I was being blinded by the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the wing, we were informed that our takeoff had been delayed due to weather.
Bad weather elsewhere had created a narrow corridor of safe travel, and that was, at that time, being used solely for the benefit of arriving planes.
We sat there for over two hours waiting, and by the time we actually took off from Virginia, the flight out of Chicago had actually landed – with my brother on board* – in Michigan.
Once in Chicago, I found that my new flight out had also been delayed by a considerable margin.
Having failed to arrive home in time for dinner, I decided to get something to eat, and was forced to get a pizza from the only non-overwhelmed place in the entire airport. It was kind of depressing that in Chicago of all places I had to settle for a pizza that was not of sufficient quality to be served at a gas station in the middle of, let’s say, Nebraska.
It’s worth noting that when we landed in Chicago, in the course of putting them back into my carry-on bag, I broke my very expensive noise-cancelling headphones. I ended up buying a cheap (though expensive) pair of earbuds while I was in O’Hare to get me through the last leg of my journey.
After spending what seemed like an eternity sitting around waiting I was on the plane and eventually we took off, arriving in the UP an hour later than scheduled, and almost six hours later than when I’d originally been scheduled to arrive.
The last fifteen minutes of the flight were set to the soundtrack of a couple of babies crying at maximum volume.
When I booked my flight I’d been unable to also book a rental car. Eventually I found that, for whatever reason, you couldn’t book a car after 6 PM, so I booked one for the following morning, with the expectation that someone would bring me up to the airport in the morning to pick it up. However, on a positive note, when I arrived and was greeted by my sister, brother, and niece, I found that the rental place was open, and my sister had checked to see if they had something available for me to pick up, which they did.
As bad as that day was – the worst part was the time spent sitting on the runway at Dulles trapped on the plane and wishing I could just be let off to go home and have them call me when they were ready to leave – the trip back was worse.
Before I left my mom’s place that day I noticed that at some point – I don’t know how or when – the front of the rental car had suffered some damage in the form of a very large scrape and a dent, so I had to fill out an accident report when I returned it (and provide my insurance information). That flight out, too, because of course it was, was delayed, though not by a lot. I was actually kind of glad, as it had reduced the amount of time I’d have to spend sitting around in O’Hare by a fair amount without making it so that I’d have to make a mad dash to get to my gate. After all, I’d spent enough time sitting around in O’Hare already, so this was a good thing.
At my gate, I saw that the plane was already there, so that was a positive sign.
Everything went south just when it was time to begin boarding the plane. It seemed that while we had a plane, we didn’t actually have a pilot, and so the flight was delayed by two hours while we waited for him to arrive from Newark.
Then it was delayed again.
Finally, more than three hours later, we boarded the plane. After we’d all been seated, we were informed that the pilot still hadn’t arrived, but that he would be there shortly. He arrived, begged our indulgence, and said that he needed another fifteen minutes to get settled in.
Twenty minutes later we headed out to the runway. And then we sat there for an hour.
Finally, the pilot announced that there was something broken on the plane that he had been attempting to fix without success, and that we needed to go back to the gate to allow a maintenance crew to come aboard to fix it.
We went back to the gate and sat and waited. Eventually, someone announced that the problem would be fixed in twenty minutes. Fifty minutes later they said that they needed another hour, at which time they would have either fixed it or decided that it would be easier to transfer us to another plane. They also pointed out that we were entirely at their mercy, as there were no other flights out – either to Dulles or National – available to us. They then made us get off the plane.
Sometime later it was announced that the plane we had been on had been rendered completely useless. It wasn’t clear whether this was caused by the original problem or by the attempts to fix said problem. In any case, we were going with Plan B, which was to fly out on another plane.
Unfortunately, said plane wouldn’t arrive for another hour, at which time it would need to be cleaned and catered.
More than an hour later – I remain convinced that when airline employees say things like “in fifteen minutes” they’re just making funny noises that, by sheer coincidence, happen to sound like they’re saying “in fifteen minutes,” as they have no actual understanding of the concept of time of the meaning of the words they’re inadvertently forming, and that they might as well be saying something like “woozle wazzle,” and may even be some form of jazz scatting**, like, “zippedy zee zaw zow" - we were informed that the plane had arrived and – good news – had already been cleaned, so we just had to wait for them to cater it.
Because, you know, that’s so important for an hour and a half long flight at nearly midnight Central time.
Finally, we were on the plane, everyone had settled back in and done the overhead compartment stuffing, and we actually took to the air.
We landed at Dulles, made our way to the gate…and then parked just yards away from the gate for ten minutes.
When the pilot said, “Folks, we’re not quite at the gate yet, so please remain seated with your seat belts fastened,” I said, “Of course we’re not at the gate. Why would we be? Next he’ll be telling us that we have to fly back to Chicago.”
Fortunately, I was wrong about that last bit, though honestly, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised at that point if I hadn’t been.
Once we were finally off the plane, I got to the train back to the terminal.
The train that runs every six minutes.
The train that wouldn’t be returning for another 5 minutes and 59 seconds, because of course I got there just as it left.
The one bit of good luck was that I was the only person on the shuttle to the parking lot, and the driver took me directly to my stop.
When it was all said and done – my parking ticket was rendered unreadable in the course of six days in my wallet, so I had to go through a cashier line to get out of the parking lot – I finally arrived at home at 4 AM. Which meant that my journey home, which involves something like two and a half hours of time actually spent in the air, took me about 14 hours.
Added to the time it took me to get to the UP, I spent a total of something like 26 hours spent in airports and airplanes.
More than one full day of my vacation was pissed away in that fashion. That’s 1/6 of my vacation.
First World Problem or not, I think that at least rises to the level of something to be a bit annoyed about.
About the only thing that went well in all of it was that my bag didn’t get lost at any point.
As for the actual vacation itself, I’ll talk about that in another post. I will say, though, that while I was in the UP I picked up a bit of a cold, which helped make the return voyage that much more fun.
After all, somewhere around hour nine into my nicotine fit, with some fat guy encroaching into my seating area, I tried giving meditation a shot in an effort to achieve the sort of Zen-like calm that’s necessary to fulfill the desire so many people have for no one to ever complain about anything, but it’s difficult to take in deep cleansing breaths when your nose is plugged with a cement-like coating of snot and your chest feels like it’s in a vice.
The cold even ruined it for me when I was finally free to feed my nicotine cravings.
But I made it, and I suppose that, as is the point of vacations, it ultimately serves to make me a little better prepared to return to work.
*My brother also suffered a few delays, though nothing as severe, and he thought that he would miss the earlier flight out of Chicago as well. He had more or less intended to do just that, given that he knew about my delays, and doing so would mean that we’d still meet up and arrive in the UP together. However, the earlier flight out was delayed sufficiently that he was hustled on board when he arrived.
**Alternatively, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit and are speaking in tongues. The bottom line is that any kind of time estimate airline employees give you is entirely meaningless.