When Airline Travel Goes Wrong

We thought we had it made. With boarding passes in hand and luggage stowed, Herb and I relaxed at the Orlando (MCO) airport in plenty of time to board our flight. The sunny skies confirmed we had good weather for flying. Our itinerary included traveling to Newark, New Jersey from Orlando. Once in Newark, we would embark on a night flight to London.

Herb thought of everything. He even reserved seats with extra leg space on the flight to London to ensure our comfort. We planned to sleep on the plane and arrive rested and ready to see a few sights in London before meeting our Viking tour group.

Then we heard an announcement. “The three p.m. flight to Newark is delayed. Liberty International is closed due to storms. Stay tuned for more information.” An hour went by. I tried to occupy my mind with a crossword puzzle. The four p.m. announcement repeated the same information.

Herb began to pace the airport like a caged tiger. “Looks like we’re going to miss our connection to London.” I continued to focus on my crossword puzzle and hope for the best.

Finally at five p.m. the staff started boarding procedures. The plane taxied out of the gate. Then the captain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry—Newark is not allowing any planes to land. The storm has gotten worse. We will need to go back to the gate. I promise to update you in an hour.”

So we sat. And we sat. True to his word, at six-thirty the captain told us nothing changed. People were starting to panic. Word had spread there were two dogs stowed in the baggage section of the plane. In ninety-degree heat with no water, how would the animals survive?

Soon the captain announced anyone who wanted to exit to plane, could do so. Someone was going to take the dogs out of the hold and give them water. Whew! The passengers cheered.

We remained in our seats. At this point I didn’t want to be left behind if the plane departed. I also didn’t want to join the number of passengers who might delay our flight any longer with their goings and comings. I began to regret my decision when the person next to me returned with a pizza. The protein bar I ate a couple of hours ago couldn’t compete with the aroma. My stomach churned from hunger and anxiety.

Finally, at eight p.m. we were cleared for Newark. Herb and I knew we were doomed. What would happen when we arrived? Our future hung in the balance.

Finally at eleven p.m. we landed in Newark. We rushed to our connecting gate, only to discover our flight to London took off about fifteen minutes prior to our arrival. We were told to go to customer service to find out what to do next.

Tired and disappointed, we joined the line with other disgruntled customers. When our turn came, we pleaded our case to the attendant behind the desk. After checking her computer she said, “Well, it looks like you might be able to fly stand-by to London first thing in the morning at eight o’clock. You will need to board at seven. “

“What do we do until then?” Herb asked.

“You can take a taxi to a hotel for the night. But you will need to collect your luggage from baggage claim and recheck it in the morning.” she responded.

Herb and I moved away from the counter to discuss our options. We got back in line until it was our turn to speak to the attendant again.

“We’ve decided to stay here. We don’t want to be late in case we can board the early flight. Do you have any pillows or blankets?” Herb asked.

The attendant stepped into a side closet and returned with two blankets. (The same super thin kind they give out on planes.) She didn’t produce any pillows.

Herb decided to buy a neck pillow from a self-serve vendor. We took the blankets and our carry-on luggage to the only piece of carpeted floor we could find. A few other wretched souls were curled up across from us.

“Goodnight, Herb.” I tried to get comfortable by resting my head on top of my purse. It didn’t work. Sleep eluded me. Blame it on the glaring ceiling lights. Blame it on the incessant droning of airport “techno” music. Blame it on the guy talking on the phone a few feet away. On top of all this, I couldn’t get warm. Every time I looked at Herb his eyes were closed and I thought I better stay quiet.

About five a.m. the activity in the airport picked up. A stream of passengers with early flights rolled by our “bedroom.” Herb and I picked up our blankets and stumbled off to find coffee and breakfast.

After breakfast, we checked in with the receptionist at our new gate and took our seats in the waiting area. Finally after another hour of anxious waiting our names were called! We had seats on the next flight to London. Is this what it might feel like when God looks in his “book of names” for entry to heaven? We were elated.

Eight more hours of flying and a five hour time difference put us at London Heathrow airport around eight p.m. Twenty-seven hours had passed from when we set foot in the Orlando airport. We made it, but of course our luggage did not. This was a perfect example of what can go wrong, did go wrong.

What did this experience teach me? What are the lessons I learned?

“Traveling is brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and lose sight of the familiar comforts of home. You are constantly off balance.” —James Michner.

This quote rings true with me. Traveling can be brutal. No matter how carefully a person plans, forces beyond his control can change everything. Do you agree? Leave a comment. I also welcome any travel tips you may want to offer.