Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Joys of Airline Travel - June 17, 2010

Nothing like getting up at 3AM Pacific to get to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, return the rental minivan, check in at the ticket counter, and go through security with 3 kids to catch a 6AM flight to Dallas. We had it all set up so nicely - leave early from Seattle, have a roughly a 2 hour layover in Dallas, and arrive in Richmond just in time for dinner at 6PM Eastern time. We boarded the plane in Seattle at 5:30AM. 6AM rolled around and the plane sat. At about 6:15, the pilot announced on the intercom that there was a maintenance issue with the plane involving the co-pilot's instruments and that was a "no go". Nothing like hearing the words "maintenance issue" on an airplane. Regardless, the pilot said that maintenance was working on the problem and that they would get us in the air as soon as possible. Another 15 minutes passed and still no resolution to the problem. The pilot than said that they would shut down all the power on the plane and it would be dark for 30 seconds and once they turned it on, hopefully the instruments would reset. Fixing a plane is apparently like fixing a computer or DirecTv - just shut it down and restart and everything will be okay. Well, that didn't work and the pilot said that the part that they needed to fix the instruments wasn't local (kind of ironic considering that this was a Boeing plane and the Boeing factory was a couple miles up the road in Seattle from the airport) - it would have to be flown in from Los Angeles and that the new takeoff time would be 12:30PM Pacific. As for now, the plane would be taken out of commission, we would have to pick up our luggage at the baggage carousel, and they recommended that we all try to find new flights at the ticket counter we started at earlier in the morning. H and A went to the ticket counter while J, Z, and B went to get the luggage. We're happy to report that our luggage was not lost on the flight from Seattle to Seattle. J, Z, and B then rode the escalator with all of the luggage back up towards the ticket counter and were greeted by a Hawaiian Airlines employee who asked us "Are you going to Hawaii?" J replied "I wish" - quite a kick in the backside to an already suspect morning. We all then met up in the ticket counter line which naturally was very long and wrapped around the corner. We had no idea if we would actually be able to get out of Seattle that day. We were thinking of possibly trying to land in DC or even Baltimore just to get closer to home. Well, we really lucked out - kudos to the extremely helpful American representative who got us on an 11:45 AM flight to Chicago landing at 5:30PM Central and a connection to Richmond leaving at 6:45 PM Central and landing at 9:55PM Eastern. On both flights, we still obtained seats together, which was amazing considering we were getting tickets the day of the flight. After our 2nd go-round through security with 3 kids, we sat at the gate and waited for the new flight. The highlight of those 3 hours waiting was watching Z and B ride the moving walkways parallel to where we were all sitting. It was extremely entertaining watching them walk in the opposite direction of the moving walkway. Sure, they almost ran over some people, but no one actually fell.

As we were waiting in line to board plane #2, we heard a lady next in line behind us tell a friend of hers, "I'm not going to shake your hand because I'm sick and I don't want to infect everyone." Fantastic! Because there's no way we could get infected (1) in a confined space such as an airplane or (2) standing right in front of her in line with her breathing around us. Once the new plane took off from Seattle headed for Chicago, we all breathed a little easier. We landed in Chicago about a hour before the flight left for Richmond - not a ton of time for a huge airport like O'Hare. We made it to our gate 15 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. Then they changed the gate and pushed back the takeoff time 10 minutes. Then they pushed it back another 10 minutes to 7:05PM Central. Airports just don't respect mid-major cities like Richmond. Fortunately, that was the last takeoff time change and we boarded around 6:40PM Central. This was a very interesting plane. It was small and probably was flown in World War I. Items that we stowed under the seats or put in the overhead bins on earlier flights (booster seats for Z and B, backpack) wouldn't fit in either the overhead bins or under the seats so they had to be "valeted" with the rest of the luggage. There were 2 seats on one side and one on the other. H, A, and B sat in row 3 on one side, Z sat in row 3 on the other side, and J sat in row 2 on the only side - the other side was the flight attendant's closet. We were glad that we ended up switching planes in Chicago instead of Dallas because it was awesome seeing the Chicago skyline again (Sears Tower, John Hancock Tower, etc) as the plane started out from O'Hare. We loved going to Chicago in 2007. The highlight of this flight was during the safety presentation as we were taking off. The flight attendant started reading from his card and the intercom stopped working. Unfazed, he kept reading although no one could hear him including J in row 2, a few feet away from him. It was a good flight home and had the added bonus of landing over Richmond just as fireworks were going off at the Diamond at the end of the Squirrels game. It was really cool seeing fireworks from a plane - it was a neat finish to a very, very long day.

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