Why Long-Distance?

Something I forgot to mention: the state of Vermont was so welcoming that it simply did not want me to leave. Or something. The result may have been the most bipolar travel day I’ve ever had, bouncing between panic and relief, fury and amazement, and, well, a general sense that all was well and an absolute conviction that I’ll never see Southern California again.

The Middlebury College van, with student driver, was supposed to pick us up at the lovely Middlebury Inn at noon yesterday, to take us to Burlington International Airport (an amusing concept, right there). I spent the morning in the lobby, using the free wi-fi to get some work done, checking out around 11.15 and waiting for the van. Around 12.20, we finally started to get nervous, and so one of my colleagues began making calls. As it turns out, the conference administrator had returned the cell phone she’d borrowed for the weekend to her daughter, so we couldn’t get ahold of her. The conference director was at the grocery store, with no cell phone, so we couldn’t get ahold of him. And the one phone number we had for something to do with transportation was not the folks with whom our ride had been organized. Finally, after much franticness, we just called a cab, who picked us up around 12.50 for the 45-minute ride to the airport. Given that our flight was at 2.25, we figured all would be well.

But then the ride seemed to be taking longer than we’d been led to expect. And who knew if this was one of those airports where, if you’re not there an hour in advance, too bad for you? So the nerves started ratcheting up again, until we arrived at about 1.40, to find no line whatsoever (but two very helpful employees) at the ticket counter. So no worries.

And, as it turned out, the plane that we were supposed to fly out on hadn’t arrived yet, so we had plenty of time. It was only 15 minutes late, so it appeared we’d be fine; I had an hour and five minutes to make my connection in DC. We boarded the plane, did the obligatory regional-jet rebalancing of passengers (incidentally, if the weight in that plane needs to be balanced that carefully, do I really want to be flying in it?), and began taxiing off only about 20 minutes behind schedule.

And then we came to a dead halt on the tarmac, where the pilot came on and told us that air traffic control had placed about a 35-minute hold on our flight. Which now put us getting into DC 55 minutes late, leaving me ten minutes to make my connection.

Ten minutes which we spent sitting on the tarmac in DC, looking from a distance at our gate, waiting for someone to wave us in.

I literally ran off the plane four minutes before my connection, which was flying to Denver, was scheduled to take off. I sprinted the length of the terminal, despite the monitors which said that my flight was closed, just on the off chance that they might let me board.

They let me board. I was wheezing and red, and the last person let on the plane, but I was on the plane, in my exit row aisle seat, just happy to be there. They closed the door right behind me, and even brought me a glass of water when the run triggered an allergy-induced fit of uncontrollable coughing that had the guy sitting next to me convinced that I had the plague. We were on time, and all was now right with the world.

Except that we sat there, with the door closed, for about 15 minutes. And then did the longest taxi in the history of air travel. And then were greeted by the co-pilot who told us — and I swear to god, I’m not making this us — that the plane’s computer system had informed them that the plane’s cargo was misloaded, and that stuff that was supposed to be in the back of the plane was instead in the front of the plane, and that it had to be reloaded before we could take off. Which had to happen back at the gate.

So we began the world’s longest taxi back to the terminal, but then stopped dead on the tarmac for about 20 minutes, while we apparently waited for some other plane that had some other problem to get out of our way. We finally made it to the gate, and the co-pilot promised us that the reloading would only take about ten minutes.

But we were, at this point, well over an hour late for takeoff. And the co-pilot also said — point-blank, something I’ve never had happen before — that those of us with tight connections simply weren’t going to make them, and that we’d be put up in Denver for the night. And that it was starting to snow there, and so they really weren’t sure what was going to happen in terms of tomorrow at all.

So the flight attendant who was sitting in the jump seat directly across from me, who’d heard me talking to R. on my cell phone, and who’d heard me mention the irony that I’d nearly missed a connection that would have stranded me in the very same town that he was now currently in, said “you’ll probably do just as well to hop off here and fly out tomorrow morning.” To which I responded, “I can do that?” “Sure,” she said. “You’re not getting home tonight. So do you want to spend the night here, or in Denver?”

Well.

I ran off the plane, calling R. to come get me, and stopping off at the customer service center to get rebooked for what should have been this morning. And the first flight this airline — which has been added to my list of companies I’ll never do business with again — can put me on flies out at 5.15 this evening.

R. picked me up at the airport, brought me to his hotel, and fed me, at 8.00 pm, the first meal I’d eaten since breakfast. And I slept like a log. And it was lovely, of course, to see him. But now I’m juggling both the problems that my ridiculously late return will have resulted in — rescheduled classes and meetings; unfed, unhappy cats — and the guilt of having, at least in a small part, added to my lateness through choice, not necessity. I feel, as R. keeps putting it, like I got sent out of class because I was sick, only instead of spending the day in the nurse’s office, I was told that I could spend the day on the playground, if I wanted to.

My superego simply will not let me play hooky. So I’ve attempted to make up for having gotten anything good out of this travel fiasco by working like a fiend all day, and by developing a terrible stomachache.

Thus, at great length, the long distance. Cross your fingers for me today, though, okay? I really have to get home tonight, so that I can vote tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Why Long-Distance?

  1. Well…. I was going to be all super-secret, but what the heck. It was United. Who won back a small (very small (in fact, very, very small)) piece of my heart tonight. First, by getting me home fifteen minutes early. Second, and more importantly, by having a busted in-flight entertainment system on the DC-to-Denver leg, such that the flight attendants instead felt obligated to keep me amused by BUYING ME BEERS.

    I’m still never flying United again, not if I can help it. But I want to hire those two guys should I ever wind up with my own personal plane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *