One hour into USWhoreWays flight one-zero-zero-niner, Charlotte-to-Pittsburgh, the third leg of our three-legged tour (a three-legged tour), the pilot spoke to his napping, snoring and drooling passengers. His voice was that Chuck Yeager drawl that every pilot uses, from Space Shuttle astronauts to the guy manning the rudder on the Just Ducky Tour boat, the one that tells you he could land a elephant onto an iceburg. “Uhhh… this is your Captain speaking. We’ve just been informed by the fine folks in Pittsburgh that they have no runways for us.”
That’s about as pissed off as you’ll hear a pilot be in public. “The fine folks in Pittsburgh” were not fine. He knew it. He wanted us to know it. They were, in fact, pussies. They were keeping him from landing his plane because they couldn’t manage to plow a little snow. Instead, he informed us, they were considering closing the airport due to some “weather”.
“Uhhh…They’re having some weather,” he said.
In fact, they were having a blizzard.
“We’re gonna circle for about five-oh minutes until the fine folks in Pittsburgh decide,” said the Pilot. “And then we’ll either land or divert to Buffalo.” He then added, rather nonchalantly, “Uhhh… because we’ll need fuel.”
I wanted to land in Pittsburgh. It was, after all, my final destination. But what I did not want, above all else, was for it to be my FINAL destination, as in, the tank goes below “E” and we drop like a stone, creating a ditch from Moon to Aliquippa.
Forty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds later, the pilot came back on the intercom. “Uhhh… folks. This is your Captain. The fine folks in Pittsburgh have decided to close the airport (Pussies). So we’re going to fly over to Philadelphia. We’ll be getting you folks on the ground in about an hour. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”
It was a conundrum. Run out of jet fuel and crash in the snow or go to Philadelphia. Hmm.
At midnight we landed in a snowstorm in Philly, where, we were told, a USWhoreWays representative would greet us and provide us with the answers to our many questions.
Instead, there was Lisa.
Lisa knew nothing about nothing. That’s not me singing Billy Preston. That’s her exact words. “I don’t know nothing!” she pleaded with the angry mob that burned torches and waved pitchforks. “Well,” said a calm man who polite and kind. “Perhaps you direct us to someone who could.”
That’s a lie, too.
What he said I cannot repeat in front of the children, but it had something to do with fitting a large object into a smallish opening. There were words scattered among his sentences, but mostly it was ranting and thrashing, spitting and threatening.
I laughed to myself, both because I had been up for about 20 hours and I had been that very guy about twenty years ago. My ranting and thrashing moment came to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, at the end of another very long travel day in the middle of another very bad snowstorm. The Lisa I verbally attacked broke into tears and left for the day.
The lesson learned that day was that blowing your stack gets you nowhere in the world of airline travel. Instead, it cost me a floral arrangement and a note of apology sent to my "Lisa" the next day, after I had come to my senses and realized being stuck somewhere was not the end of the world.
The lines were long. The hour was late. The wait was forever. But thanks to four other Lisas, some of whom knew answers to questions, the best was made of a bad situation.
We’d be staying the night in Philadelphia.
We’d be flying out the next night to Pittsburgh.
I made plans to rent a car and drive.
And then, suddenly, one of the Lisas, a smart one with experience and cool hair, found an airplane to take us to Pittsburgh. She handed us two boarding passes and whispered in a prison-break voice, “Go down to B-6. They’ll be boarding ten minutes.” I expected her to tell Ilsa that Rick had to stay, but no.
At two in the morning, we boarded our fourth airplane. The wings were weighed down by five inches of snow and ice. I pulled down my window shade. I knew that if I kept staring, a gargoyle would appear, taunting from the wingtip.
The plane did as well.
Once airborne, the pilot (a different pilot, but the same voice) spoke to us from somewhere beyond first class. “Uhhh….folks. This is the Captain. Once we’ve been de-iced we’ll be making our way to Pittsburgh, where the fine folks there have decided to clear a runway for us (pussies). We certainly apologize for the delay, but we’ll get you to your destination just as quickly as possible.”
No, I said to myself.
Do not fly quickly.
It’s a blizzard.
I’m in no hurry.
I’d been over the threshold of being in a hurry. It was three-forty-five in the morning. I’d been traveling for nearly a day. Nine hours, in fact, to get from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, a distance easily walked in that time frame. I was no longer in a hurry. Take your time, Buck Rogers, I silently wished. Fly gently into this bleak night.
We landed in Pittsburgh at four-forty-nine, the only plane in the friendly skies. The flight attendant promised that a USWhoreWays representative would greet us and provide us with the answers to our many questions.
Instead, we were greeted by dozens of people sleeping in incredibly uncomfortable looking positions: slumped forward in chairs, rolled into balls under coats on the floor, standing up, grumbling, snoring, drooling. Sleeping overnight in a plastic chair at an airport is a winner in the whine-for-your-supper game every time. I’ve done it. Once. Atlanta. 1997. There’s not much worse.
I counted my blessings to have remembered to not pack my car keys into the luggage, which was somewhere in Philadelphia.
We drove home through the unplowed snow, thinking of the last words my sister said to us as we packed for home. Standing on her back porch, overlooking the Caribbean, she asked, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay one more day?”