I coulda been on the ocean.
Yeah, this is the end of the story, but I just gotta tell it now. Then I’ll get back to posting about the Island.
I spent eight days on Edisto Island in South Carolina with my sister and her family. A few days before my departure, my sis suggested I change my flight, stay a little longer. They’d be there several more days after I left. I could have stayed.
My partner encouraged me to do so even though I’d miss his birthday. But I declined the offer and encouragement. I had a few things scheduled at home. I wanted to celebrate his birthday with him, I had some work to do, and it seemed easier to just head on out rather than stay.
Oh, what a mistake. What. A. Mistake.
I got to the Charlotte airport in plenty of time and sailed through security with a pre board pass: no scans, no pat-downs, no shoes off.
When I got to my gate, things still looked good. But about forty-five minutes before departure, they still had anther destination posted at boarding at my gate. And it wasn’t boarding.
I approached the counter and found there were THREE planes to board at that gate before mine. Somehow, they eventually shuffled things around and got us all out of there, albeit over an hour late.
I texted my sister who got online and found my connecting flight in Chicago, Midway Airport, was also delayed. Whew! I might make the connection.
Then we landed and the runways were all backed up. A few more texts to my sister and I learned my flight had been cancelled. She told me to get to a Southwest station ASAP so I could reschedule.
But as soon as I got off the plane I could tell it was, in the words of Stephen Colbert, a clusterf#@k.
Lengthy lines snaked through the airport. Rebooking lines. I took my place at the end of one and eventually heard the story.
The Southwest computer system had totally crashed. All Southwest flights across the country were affected. I later heard this had made national news.
With no computers, there was no way to communicate with ticketing agents or boarding gates, no way to reschedule flights, nothing. They could not even tell where planes were or what plane might be landing.
A clusterf#@k, for sure.
I stood in line a little over four hours before I got to a reticketing station. Well, that is not quite true. I didn’t stand the whole time.
About two hours in, I noticed a line of wheelchairs. I grabbed one. Then I grabbed one for a woman who was struggling to both hold her cranky four-year-old and drag her bags along. The wheelchairs made it so-o-o much easier! A short time later other folks my age and other single moms had scarfed up all the wheelchairs. We all shared them around over the next few hours.
A few of us laughingly talked about renting a car. Looking back, not a bad idea.
While we waited:
Two pre-teen girls practiced their dribbling and tossing skills with a basketball. They both tried spinning the ball on their finger.
A group of early twenty-somethings laughed it up and sang a few songs.
An eight-year-old turned cartwheels.
People lay on the floor.
Southwest employees passed out peanuts and water. (It should have been steak and wine.)
We heard a huge cheer and soon watched a plane board. Then forty-five minute later the same plane deboarded. It seems the pilot had already worked nearly a full day and was therefore not allowed to fly for three more hours.
Makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with an overworked, sleepy pilot. But why in the world couldn’t someone have figured that out before they loaded all those people onto the plane? Well, no way to communicate. The passengers were livid when they were herded back into the airport and told to reschedule.
Frankly, I was livid, too. Someone should have been there to simply reschedule all of them onto a whole new flight.
Eventually it was my turn at the ticketing desk. Four hours and fifteen minutes in line. The woman gave me the bad news that I would not get out until 10:15 that night. It was 2:45 a.m., so I asked for a motel. More bad news: Motel rooms had not been authorized.
I stumbled away, new boarding pass in hand, and found someone to ask about my baggage. I had no idea if I was supposed to pick it up and check it in again or if it would be done for me. I should have figured it out, but I’d been up for nearly twenty-two hours and was punch drunk. I was sent down to baggage, out of the security area, to find out. Yes, it would be done for me. I asked about motels and was told all the motels Southwest worked with were totally booked. The woman also told me all the cots were full.
Cots? There were COTS???
I staggered back upstairs and through security where the water Southwest had given me was promptly confiscated. I told the woman, who apologize while taking it, that I was about to have a meltdown. I had been awake 23-1/2 hours and had been dealing with airport madness for over five hours. She told me where to go to try to find a cot. I love her.
I struggled through the airport to the cot area then wandered down the aisle searching for an empty one. I found one with a woman sitting in a wheelchair beside it. I asked if it were available and she told me no, that she might want to put her feet up on it. I refrained from choking her.
Finally I saw a woman getting up and reaching for her bags. I asked if the cot were available and she said yes. I told her that was the best news I’d heard in twenty-four hours.
I stashed my bag and purse underneath the cot, grabbed my little pillow and lay down. Just as I snuggled in and closed my eyes, I heard a loud voice: “Four a.m. wakeup call! Everyone has to get up.”
No, I thought. This simply cannot be happening. It can not.
I looked through bloodshot eyes at the woman and gave her the sixty-second version of my last twenty-four hours. She said she knew a place I could lie down. I love this woman, too.
She took me to a basement room. It was warm and comfy and had cots with blankets and pillows all waiting. Few cots were in use.
Finally. At 4:15 a.m., I settled in, pulled up my blanket and drifted off to a not-very-comfortable sleep.
We were awakened before eight. The area had to be cleared. The good news was there was another area set aside for those of us who had a full day to spend. The bad news was the room was on the ground floor, full of windows and light, and was quite chilly. But I got a new cot, a new pillow, and a new blanket.
I had to take my things if I left the room, but I could come back. All day long!
I left once and put a note on the cot saying it was occupied. I was starved, having not eaten for about twenty hours, so I dashed out for a bite to eat. But I came back a short time later to find my blanket and pillow gone, along with the note. Thankfully there were a few more blankets and pillows still left.
So here I stay, not comfortable with leaving the chilly room because if I leave and my blanket is taken, there are no more blankets. But for now, this is my place, my home away from home for the next ten hours. And it feels okay until I remember: I coulda been on the ocean.
My flight that night at 10:15 was cancelled and many more were postponed. We found this out after waiting for hours at the boarding gate. I knew I didn’t have it in me to stand in line another few hours, so I hightailed it back to the room full of cots.
Thankfully, there were a few unoccupied cots, and I settled down for another few hours of sleep. And there were little kits of necessities. All but a comb or brush, and mine was in my suitcase.
By this time, though, nerves were frayed. People were beginning to holler at others. One woman was in tears because she would miss her son’s wedding. I wondered how many others were missing important family gatherings: weddings, funerals, memorials, reunions.
At four a.m. I got up and stood in line again until I had secured a standby position that would be good all day on any Tucson-bound flight with space available.
I managed to get on the first flight. I was the last passenger on, and although it was delayed a few hours, it actually took off.
Thirty-seven hours in the airport, up for fifty-seven hours with only three hours sleep when I coulda been, you know, on the ocean.