I have never liked flying. I didn’t like it before 9-11, and afterwards I hated it. This was not helped by the fact that my family was IN the UK on vacation when 9-11 happened, and we had to fly back to NJ with a 2 year old and a 4 year old during those first few horrible days immediately after they lifted the flight ban. In fact I credit myself with the ‘transparent carry on’ rule. Their first desperate security measure was to say “No carry ons,” to which I responded helplessly that I was taking a 7 hour flight with a toddler and needed, as a bare minimum, 3 diapers, baby wipes, a bottle of milk, a bottle of juice, appropriate snacks and preferably toys. After hasty consultation they gave me a clear plastic bag to put my necessities in and the ‘transparent carry on’ rule was born, or so I like to think.
Flying has continued to go downhill, IMHO, since then. Seats are more cramped, freebies have diminished, tickets are more expensive, and the peremptoriness of the airlines rampages unchecked. But until this week I hadn’t personally experienced that frustrating and depressing issue known as the cancelled flight.
Airplane 1 – Cancelled!
On Tuesday I arrived at Philadelphia Airport in good time, checked in, ate crab cakes with wine at Chickie ‘n Pete’s, and proceeded to the gate as instructed 30 minutes before take-off. The half-full US Airways flight was canceled “due to a maintenance issue” 5 minutes before boarding was supposed to commence, and it was suggested to us all that we take the (presumably also half-full) flight at the same time the following night–hotel vouchers would be issued.
One of the reasons I booked the flight I was on was to spend a day in the company of my brother, who lives in Australia, and whom I had therefore not seen for (we worked out later) 11 years. Had I taken the flight 24 hours later, I would have been able to spend about 3 hours with him, which was unacceptable. I proceeded to get myself booked on the Philly-Edinburgh US Airways flight instead, followed by a Flybe puddle jumper to Manchester.
Airplane 2 – Plane Change!
As I was rushing to the gate at the other end of the terminal a delay was announced on that flight. Foolishly, I thought “Great!” and stopped rushing. I duly arrived, checked in at the gate, boarded, and we taxied out onto the runway.
Where we sat.
And sat, until an hour later when they announced there was a “maintenance issue”, and we were returning to the gate.
Airplane 3 -Frigid!
Disembarked, we sat some more, until they eventually announced a plane change. I don’t think they dared cancel this full flight, especially since half the passengers had already had a plane cancelled on them. But it took time for the plane to arrive, and it didn’t take off until 1 a.m. Wednesday.
It was an unpleasant flight, despite my delightful seat mates–a couple of spry early sixties classics professors on their way to a conference in Durham. But the airplane air conditioning was fierce, and I shivered under the thin blanket despite my hoodie and jeans. I was also totally stressed that the four hour delay on THIS flight had now reduced my transfer time in Edinburgh down to 90 minutes, and I had to get through Immigration.
Airplane 4 – Turbulence!
I queue-jumped at Immigration, pleading short transfer time. (Go figure–the officials weren’t expecting a FULL flight and had only 1 person processing non EU passports.) I established that my bag was not on the flight and I would need to file a claim at Manchester. At last, at 2.55 p.m. I boarded the tiny plane and started to relax. I even ordered a glass of wine (4 GBP!)
The plane hit the worst bump of turbulence I have ever encountered. The wine shot directly upwards, hit the roof above my head, and proceeded to rain down on myself and my (also delightful) seat mate, a soft-spoken businessman from ‘Old’ Jersey, with a much-needed sense of humor.
You have to laugh, we agreed, or else you weep profoundly.
Anyway, I did reach Little Haywood and spent a wonderful evening with Stephen, his wife and stepdaughter. But here’s my final take:
ANGELS: The classic professors, the Jersey businessman, the staff of the Fringe bar in Edinburgh airport who let me recharge my iPhone for 30 minutes, the US Airways booking clerk who found me the flight to Edinburgh, my taxi driver Tony who let me weep in relief when I finally got into his cab at Manchester, my husband for the text support, my family, Mike Lloyd, and finally the guy who delivered my suitcase last night at 9.05 p.m.
DEMONS: US Airways, you suck! You know you do! You most likely cancelled that flight for cost reasons, with no consideration for the bad remake of Planes, Trains & Automobiles that you were about to put me through. I hate you!
You need to write a poem on “The Zen of flying”
On it, Vida! “13 Ways of Looking at a Flight Cancellation.”