Planes, Trains & Automobiles?

I have never sat down and watched the 1987 comedy classic starring Steve Martin and John Candy, but I’ve never let that minor little detail stop me from comparing my bad travel experiences with the movie.

“It was a little like Planes, Trains & Automobiles,”  I’ll tell people when describing a few minor inconveniences, like a flight delay followed by a GPS malfunction in the rental car.  Add a third element to the misfortune mix, like a traffic jam or a lost long-term parking ticket, and suddenly I’m describing a one way journey to WoeIsMeVille.

Yeah…after this past weekend, I’m going to officially retire that comparison from my conversation.

Last week, I enjoyed a week of sun, laughter, food and fun in the Outer Banks (Corolla, NC) with my dearest friends in the world.  But that’s not what I’m here to write about.  This post is about the journey home.

It started with a traffic jam that nearly doubled our travel time to the Norfolk, VA airport.  (Yes, that traffic is normal for a summer Saturday on the OBX, but we didn’t expect it.)  Still, this was no problem.  We had afternoon flights and had given ourselves more than enough time to get to the airport.

After seeing my friends off at the Southwest concourse, I settled in for a 2+ hour wait near the gate for my 5:50 pm Delta flight.  Soon, the flight was listed as delayed fifteen minutes.  Then thirty minutes.  Then fifty minutes.  Welcome to Delta.

As I listened to other passengers fret over disappearing layover times and possible missed connections, I silently savored the joy of travel via direct flight.  Then someone announced the flight was cancelled.

I know it happens, but it’s never happened to me before.  There was a momentary swell of anxiety in my chest, quickly replaced by mild annoyance with all the overreacting going on around me.

A few people burst into panic.  I heard choruses of “Why? Why?” and “What are we going to do?” coming from multiple directions.  I would not have been surprised to see Henny Penny run through the scene screaming “The sky is falling!”  A retired Delta flight attendant with a Stella draft in one hand and her iPhone in the other calmly announced to anyone listening, “Bad weather.  That’s just summer in Atlanta.”

I ordered a glass of wine and called Delta.

My customer service agent had a thick Jamaican accent and the conversation felt a little like talking to Peggy from the Capital One Commercials, except my guy did right by me.  He got me booked on a 5:50 am flight the next morning (Sunday), emailed the confirmation, gave me a $100 voucher, told me I could pick up my checked baggage at the gate and advised me to ask the gate attendant for assistance in booking a room at the “distressed passenger rate.”

Okay, not such a bad deal.

I called my Honey to warn him of the change (as he was supposed to be meeting me).  While I was explaining the situation, his electricity went out.  Yes, it was a nasty thunderstorm in the ATL.  I most certainly did not want to fly in this weather.

I decided to give the more frantic passengers time to clear out, so settled in to enjoy my wine and work on my weekly writing assignment.  When I finally made my way to the ticket counter, there were very few people left.

  • A young mother traveling alone with two small children who couldn’t find any other flights home for at least three days.
  • A family of four that was going to need to rent a car and drive two hours to get to another airport in order to catch a flight to their hometown in Texas.
  • A young woman who was going to have to rent a car to get to her grandparent’s funeral in Florida the next day.
  • An active duty soldier who needed to report to his new post the next day…he’d been in this airport since 5 am and this was the fourth flight that had been cancelled for him.

As I listened to these people’s stories, any residual annoyance gave way to a lovely mix of sympathy for their situations and gratitude for mine.  Even though I was ahead of some of these people in line, I let them go first.  Compared to them, I had nowhere to go and lots of time to get there.

As we were waiting, another family of four arrived on the scene.  The father, a red-faced beefy guy in a Texas Longhorns t-shirt, started yelling that this was unacceptable, that he was through talking to idiots, and that he needed a supervisor out there RIGHT NOW.

The soldier (who looked no older than some pairs of underwear in my drawer) quietly commented, “Because it always helps a bad situation to behave like a complete jerk.”

It took me a moment before I started giggling.  Then everybody in our little group was giggling.

When I finally made it up to the counter, the agent was lovely.  And I do mean she was wonderful at her job.  She gave me three meal vouchers, fought valiantly to get me a rate of $89 at the airport Sleep Inn (they wanted to charge $105) and drew a map to the free shuttle area.

I thought the drama was over.  I was wrong.

I needed to be on the 4:00 am shuttle to the airport, so I set my alarm for 3:30 and fell into bed around midnight….only to wake up at 2:30 am to the sound of many voices in the next room, at least 4-5 people talking.  This was no wild party.  They were talking in normal conversational voices about mundane topics like lawn care and a mutual friend’s divorce.  Not a single cuss word was uttered.  The walls were thin.  I could hear the deep southern tone in their voices.  I nicknamed that room The Midnight Baptist Convention.

Now, I was a bit perplexed as to why this soft babble of voices had pulled me out of sleep.  I should be able sleep through moderate chatter (though I did wonder why that conversation they were having could not have waited until a more reasonable hour…maybe they were Baptist vampires).  While contemplating this, the room on the other side starts gasping and moaning and squealing with pleasure…you get the picture.

I am all in favor of a little pleasurable fun between consenting adults, but since when does squealing “F*@k we have neighbors!” over and over to the rhythmic clanking of your bed seem like good manners?  I nicknamed them Dick and Mona.

The air conditioning suddenly started up and all noise was (mostly) drowned out.  That gave me an idea.  I cranked the thermostat down as low as possible and piled on the covers.  It worked fairly well, but the damage was done.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.

At 3:30 I got up with the alarm to a room so frigid you could see your breath and switched off the A/C.  Dick and Mona were still at it.  Now she was gasping “F*@k it’s so good.”

Really?  Like I said, I’m all for getting physical….but is it really that good if you’ve been at it for over an hour without getting to O-Town?  I doubt it.

The shower had no hot water.  Seriously, I turned that knob every which way possible and waited over 10 minutes.  The best I could do was slightly warmer than glacial.  By this point, I was laughing so hard it almost stopped my teeth from chattering.

Here’s the end of the story….I made it back to the airport, on my flight and was safely home by 10:00 am.  Whew!

Believe it or not, I still feel very lucky.  It could have been a lot worse.

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