I'm surprised -- and relieved -- that it hasn't happened more often, especially as much as we travel. Eventually, you're going to have "one of those days" when you show up to the airport for your flight.
Our trip back to the States from San Juan, Puerto Rico, after our cruise last week, however, turned into "three of those days."
CMac had started to feel ill the night before, and we surmise she had a case of food poisoning. She spent the morning trying to rest and calm her stomach. We were among the last people off the ship, Celebrity Summit, because we were in no rush to get to the airport that morning and our plans to walk around Old San Juan had been scuttled by the rains -- and her grumpy tummy.
Colleen was unable to eat much but otherwise remained hopeful that she could hold it together while we made the 3.5-hour Delta flight back. But the captain came over the PA and said there was something wrong with the cabin pressure and we would be returning to San Juan.
That didn't help Colleen or her stomach -- hello barf bag (no one noticed, I think).
I started wondering whether this mechanical issue was something to worry about: "Well, planes go down. I guess this might be happening." Then, "Nah, we'll be all right."
I thought it would be a glitch that would get checked out and that we could take off again not long after landing (the captain said he wasn't sure why the warning light came on and that we would be turning around to be safe).
However, the plane was gonna need some testing and eventually a new part, so we were going to be evacuating the plane and working on new travel arrangements. "Oh well, it happens," we allowed at this point.
Thus started our nights and days of standing in lines and waiting. As you know, we didn't make it out that night or the following day (the massive snows in the Northeast). The mechanical issue, plus the snow storm conspired to keep us in Puerto Rico for about 44 extra hours. But our own choices on travel options also seemed to work against us a couple times.
We decided not to take an 8:45 p.m. Delta flight to JFK, where we would connect to Philly and eventually drive home. We had been up since 6 a.m. and thought it would be best to start again fresh on the 8 a.m. flight. Delta also offered a few meal vouchers and paid for the night at the San Juan Airport Hotel, which provided toothbrushes and toothpaste (we snagged two; that proved to be fortunate, as it turns out).
So, we grabbed a mini personal pizza and a water at the Domino's on-site. The food options were scarce and two $6 vouchers didn't go far anyways. Besides, CMac still wasn't hungry. We settled in. I watched a little football, Colleen zonked out right away and we got up early for a continental breakfast at the hotel and walked out to the Delta counter to get our seats. Oh yeah, our 8 a.m. flight was pushed back to 9:30 a.m. Uh-oh.
We got our boarding passes and headed through TSA security for a second time. "Deja vu," I said to CMac, thinking this ordeal was nearly over. If only I had known.
That quip wasn't gonna be used again the next day.
I'll add here that the employees we dealt with at Delta during our misadventures were pleasing, apologetic and kept all the passengers informed as often as they could. I heard "I'm sorry that this happened to you," several times, from flight crew to gate agents.
They set up a service cart at the gate area and handed out free drinks and snacks while we tried to work out what was next on the first night our flight was canceled. The pilot even came out to give updates on the progress of repairs as we waited on Sunday (our second try at getting home). I told you the flight was pushed back to 9:30 a.m. I overheard that the part needed for the fix had just been flown in that morning. I was not confident that we would be leaving any time soon.
The updates on the board brought bad news about every half hour.
Flight departing 10 a.m.
Flight departing 10:30 a.m. (passengers groan)
Flight departing 11:30 a.m. (another pilot update: progress is slow; can't be sure when we'll leave)
CMac asked the Delta agent to find us a direct flight to Philly on a different line. The agent switched us to a US Airways flight leaving at 3 p.m.
Good deal. A little bit of certainty. We'll just wait a couple more hours and be on our way, and we won't even have to change planes. Could be a lot worse, we figured.
We figured right.
Hmmm. While watching updates of NFL games on the Internet as we waited, we started to notice a lot of mentions of the crazy snow in Philadelphia (and many other places).
We board the US Airways flight for our 3 p.m. takeoff, but sit on the tarmac for about two hours. Meanwhile, updates and rumors filter throughout the cabin.
Philly airport is closed. Flights are landing but no takeoffs. Planes are in holding patterns over that airport awaiting for their turn to land. Cellphones ring and ping with updates that our flight is delayed another half-hour, then one hour. No, wait, it's gonna take off in 15 minutes.
Ultimately, we would have been able to land in Philly that night if we had got off the ground. Guess what?
"We're sorry, but the pilot and crew will not be able to work many more. Their hours are up, and the shift is over," is essentially what the pilot came on the PA to let us know. Everyone off the plane.
We rolled with the punches pretty well, I think. I mean we were about to be stuck for a second straight night beyond our planned departure day. But it was bizarre watching some of the passengers melt down. The couple right next to me on this flight had no clue that the weather was bad in Philly. The lady was frantic when I told her not to expect to get out of Philadelphia IF we even take off from Puerto Rico to go there. She and her husband were on their way to Pittsburgh. She broke down weeping when the flight out of San Juan was canceled that night. "What do we do, what do we do?" she asked her husband.
A US Airways gate agent quickly came over the PA to let us know that "because of weather, the flight was canceled." Umm, that's not what we all heard. That cover-your-ass announcement was meant to let us know that US Airways would not be giving out vouchers or helping us with our hotel arrangements.
There were basically three or four US Airways workers handling a line of 250 passengers. One handling the rebookings and two others standing near the front of the queue to make sure people knew where the line was and that there would be no cutting.
The three employees acting as hall monitors at the airport could have simply strolled up and down the line once and let us know that and we would have been out of there in 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the airport hotel was sold out (I waited in line, at right, before discovering this), so we made a call and booked a nice room and the Hampton Inn (they welcomed us with cookies and hot chocolate; finally something goes right!).
It was 7 p.m. on a nice warm Sunday night, so we decided to make the best of it. My thinking was that it's a chance to have a nice dinner date with the wife and watch a little football and enjoy a beer. It was 80 in San Juan; why do we want to rush home to the Northeast, which under a blanket of snow and ice?
Another night's sleep and we awoke ready to give it another try.
We arrived back at the airport ...
Back through security and bag screening a third time without a hitch.
Another wait at the gate: check.
Boarded the plane: been here before.
Down the runway, and up into the air: We're ahead of where we were Sunday, I thought. Now, 45 minutes into the flight, I knew we were actually heading home.