Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter Weather

Winter weather can be an adventure. While in Minnesota for the holidays we went from snow to wind chills of 40 below and colder, to more show, then (amazingly) 40 above, then rain, then ice, then snow, then more below zero temperatures. It can make travel iffy but you quickly learn to plan activities around the weather. When traveling by air, however, you are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature.

Just after the first of the year I flew from Nashville to Seattle. Or that was the plan. I was going to stay on Bainbridge Island for a week or so to work on a book. All was well until our plane neared Washington state and we learned that Seattle was having so much wind and snow that dozens of planes were already circling the airport waiting out the weather before they could land. Our plane had originated in San Antonio and had then stopped in Dallas and Birmingham before I boarded in Nashville. We did not have enough fuel to circle so we landed instead in Spokane. Lots of snow there, too. It was about 8:30 p.m. when we got to the gate and it was decided that, as it would be at least a few hours, that we could get of the plane and wander the airport for a while. That was wonderful except that none of the shops or restaurants were open and after just a handful of peanuts and a four hour flight, most of us were hungry. Imagine close to 700 stranded people from three different planes who were all starving and cranky.

As we were the third plane to land to wait out the storm, we were supposed to be the third plane out. But, as our flight crew was quickly running out of working hours, it was determined that if we didn't leave first, that our crew would have to be replaced. And, as there wasn't another full crew anywhere close to Spokane we'd end up delayed even longer. So we all got back on the plane (which was completely full) and flew to Seattle.

We were able to land fairly quickly but as all the planes that had been delayed by the storm were now at the gates, we had to sit on the tarmac for about 45 minutes. That made some people very angry, including a man sitting behind me who began loudly berating babies, fat people, airlines, businesses in general, and the government. As no one seemed to be listening to him he called his girlfriend and repeated the litany to her just as loudly and she did the right thing and promptly hung up. Well, this angered him further so he began cussing all of the above and added his now ex-girlfriend to the list. Flight attendants finally converged upon him and escorted him to the back of the plane where he sat out the remaining wait in the rear jump seat guarded by a male flight attendant.

A gate eventually was cleared for us but the 45 minute wait with the engines running had melted all the snow around our plane to ice and we were now stuck, so the pilot called for a tow vehicle. This created another 15 minute wait but we did get our plane towed to a gate. Now the problem was with the baggage handlers who were quite overwhelmed with all baggage from all the planes that had landed virtually at once. The 52 minute wait for my luggage was not too bad. At least I was out of the cramped seat and actually standing up.

By this time it was almost 1:00 a.m. To get to Bainbridge Island I had to take a 30 minute cab ride to the ferry and the last ferry was scheduled to leave at 2:10 a.m. So I hurried to the cab stand to find I was the 208th person in line. And, as most of the people in line were students returning from break, or military personnel headed to base, no one else seemed to be heading to the ferry. Rather than get stranded at the ferry station, my wonderful literary agent found a hotel room for me for the night and I ended up on the island the next afternoon.

I mention all this because, although I was very tired from all the delays, what could have been a horrible trip, had some unexpected perks. I met some great people, including a number of students who were excited about entering the job market and making a difference in our world. There were some very capable young military men who led me to believe we are very safe in their hands. I met several business people who were working on exciting new ideas in technology, science, teaching and medicine. So instead of being angry about delays that I could not control, I came away from the experience excited about the many people who are all working in their own small way to make our country and our world a better place. So next time you are delayed in your travels I hope you will take time to reach out to those around you. Get to know them and hopefully you will be as encouraged about life and our country as I was.

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