Welcome to jet lag. It’s almost 3:00 am here in Merry Ol’ and my body thinks that it is 9:00 pm. So you are thinking, well, it’s not too long til bedtime. That would be true, except that I had two big naps since I got back, due, at least in part, to being awake almost all of 28 hours.
So now’s as good a time as any to describe the journey back.
At the very small regional airport near my parents home, I learned that it is possible to have almost as many federal TSA employees as there are passengers. It took three of them to process five of us. My checked bag was searched. I was searched. I have never been so thoroughly wanded down and patted down. Then I sat down in the gate area next to a bloke from Newport in South Wales. He took American citizenship in 2000 (something being from Newport might motivate you to do).
At the little airport, the woman working the airline counter charged me $25 for an extra bag. Since I was bringing one of my Stratocasters back to the UK, I came over with one checked bag and was returning with two. Continental has reduced the number of free checked bags on many flight itineraries from two to one. However – and I checked this information several times – those travel to and from Europe are still entitled to two bags. Well, that’s not what the Continental Connection lady had in her brochure. I assume she had heard of the Internet, but she did not seem to think anything published on the Continental website was of any authority. She wouldn’t budge, so I forked out the $25.
Fortunately, when I got the Houston I found there were several Continental customer service areas dotted around the secure side of the terminal. I suppose they figure while you wait for your next flight you might want to buy some expensive food, shop for various over-priced retail goods you don’t need, and complain about the airline. Either Continental doesn’t have that many complaints or I just caught them in a lull, so I walked right up to the counter.
If the agent’s name had been Lucy, I would have opened with, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do,” in a Cuban accent, but unfortunately her name wasn’t Lucy. Fortunately she was very helpful. She couldn’t even find any excuse for the Continental Connection agent to have charged me. Apparently the Continental computer system isn’t as eager to give as it is to receive, so not-Lucy had to trick it into giving me my money back, filling in various database fields with various number combinations until it returned the $25.
In the wee hours as we drove to the airport, my mother had prayed that I wouldn’t have to sit next to a fat person on my journey. (I did ask what she thought would happen to me if the mother of the person sitting next to me had prayed the same thing.) As it turned out, from Houston to Newark I sat next to a relatively skinny person in the middle seat. But God has a sense of humour. I sat next to a hugely tall basketball player travelling to his latest European professional team. As you can imagine, he also had extremely long arms to match his extremely long frame. And clearly his mother had not prayed that he would not sit next to a fat person.
The wait in Newark was longer than the flight to the UK. It was already going to be five hours. No sooner had I found what I thought was going to be my gate and sat down when CNN started reporting an FAA computer failure so that no new flight plans could be submitted. I thought I might be in for a long wait. As it turned out, planes were backed up at JFK and LaGuardia, but Newark was fine.
But just because planes could leave, this didn’t mean my plane could leave. After wandering around the terminal for hours, eating a large cup of Ben & Jerry’s and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, and twice almost buying more junk to bring home, it was finally time for boarding. That’s when the delays started.
First, the plane was late getting to Newark, so there was a delay while they hoovered it and restocked the catering. They started boarding first class. Then there was an unspecified mechanical problem and the first class people were stopped on the jetway and turned back. We who are nervous flyers don’t like mechanical problems in the first place. When they are unspecified, the imagination goes to very dark places.
Half an hour later, we started to board again. I was in the front of the cattle class, so I was in the last group to board. I had just taken my seat, when a flight attendant smelled smoke. We were ordered to leave our bags and de-plane. Just as I got to the door, the pilot realised it was smoke from a nearby burning warehouse (it was New Jersey so perhaps someone hadn’t paid their protection money) and ordered everyone back onto the aircraft.
Then we waited. We pulled away from the gate and waited. We taxied a little bit and waited. The pilot would rev up the engines, move us a few inches and power back down. It would seem that being delayed caused us to be delayed even more because we had to join the back of the queue. We spent over an hour on the tarmac. And that was a good thing. Blessings come in strange ways. This was way better than not sitting next to a fat person.
About an hour into the flight, the pilot came on the public address system and told us that the flights ahead of us had radioed back reporting severe turbulence lasting over an hour and it was at every possible altitude. He said by “severe” he meant that on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 10. But the wind blows where it wishes. By the time we got there, on a scale of 1 to 10 it never got more than a 3. I just tried to focus on Prince Caspian on the screen in front of me until it passed.
The rest of the flight passed without incident. After we landed and I got through passport control and got my bags, I was reunited with my family. After being gone for nearly three weeks, my children were so glad to see me. The first thing an unnamed child said was, “Can I have my presents?”