Mike Cline: 900 miles in 17 hours is no way to fly

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2011

Wife Julie and I decided to fly to Maine for a week to visit our kids and grandkids. Our itinerary was simple: Charlotte to Philadelphia, one-hour layover to change planes, Philly to Bangor. Total time in the air to be 21/2 hours. Not bad for a destination 900 miles away.
The 11:20 a.m. flight to Philadelphia was delayed for an hour due to a ěmaintenanceî problem. This would cause us to miss our connecting flight to Maine, so we had to be rebooked. The US Airways customer service lady told me, ěI can put you on a 1:30 p.m. flight to New York arriving at 3, and I can confirm you on Deltaís N.Y. to Bangor flight at 9 p.m., arriving at 10:15.î
She added that she realized we would be sitting in LaGuardia for six hours, but she said that even though US Airwaysí two flights to Maine, one at 4 and one at 7 were full, we could go to the gates and try to get on via standby, and we might get to Bangor sooner than 10:15.
We were delighted that the flight to LaGuardia was on time and without incident. So there we were, heading towards the departure gate for the 4 p.m. flight out, hoping that a little payback luck would surface.
And now, the season finale of ěFrom Charlotte to Bangor.î
ëAre you kidding?í
We stepped up to the counter to put our names on the standby list.
ěAre you kidding?î said the lady at the gate. ěThis flight is overbooked. Weíre having to pull five people off the plane who have tickets.î
So, strike the first shuttle to Bangor off the list. Only three hours until the next one. So we grabbed a McSnack and settled into two comfortable seats at the gate of the next departure. Televisions from all around were broadcasting the federal governmentís woes to raise the U.S debt ceiling.
Then, all of a sudden, they all went quiet. I looked at one of them nearby and it read ěsearching for signal.î
ěMust be some rain nearby,î I told Julie.
Shortly, itís pouring so hard, visibility across the tarmac is nearly non-existent. No planes are taking off or landing. Quite a summer shower. Almost an hour later, the TV signal returns to all the monitors, and the government woes continue.
An announcement in the terminal tells us that severe afternoon storms up and down the Eastern seaboard have caused several airports (including LaGuardia) to shut down for a while and many flights would be rerouted.
About 6:15 p.m., the counter at our next standby gate opened. Julie went to put our names on the list. She returned shortly to say the 7 p.m. shuttle to Bangor had been canceled.
Seems the aircraft was grounded at a closed airport farther south. So, strike the second shuttle to Bangor off the list.
We tried to stay positive. Getting on this plane had been a long shot, and at least we were confirmed on the Delta flight at 9. So we decided to head over to Delta. Seems theyíre located in a different terminal, so we had to go outside and grab a shuttle bus to get there.
It was raining too hard to walk. Cats and dogs, I almost stepped in a poodle. I know, very old joke.
Avoid LaGuardia
While waiting outside for the bus, we struck up a conversation with a flight attendant who was heading home for the day.
When I told her how our day was going, she said, ěDonít ever let anyone reroute you through LaGuardia. This place is hell!î
Then it came back to me that the longest delay I had ever had flying previously to this occurred at LaGuardia. Had to wait about four hours for my departure that time. Iíll take her advice to heart in the future.
We arrived at the Delta terminal, went upstairs, waited in line 20 minutes, and finally arrived at the counter. I handed the agent the paperwork I had been given by the customer rep in Charlotte, who had assured me we were booked on the 9 p.m. Delta flight to Bangor.
ěSorry, but your names are not in our system, and this flight is full.î
Not wanting to see two grandparents burst into tears at his counter, he asked for my original itinerary.
ěIíll see if I can find your names in the system this way.î
It took a bit, but he found us. Then he had to figure out how to transfer us from the US Airways system into the Delta system. But we WERE booked on the 9 p.m. flight.
We had been standing at the counter nearly 30 minutes when the supervisor must have noticed this line wasnít moving, so she came over and started speaking to the agent in a very stern tone.
He explained what he was trying to do, and she shouted back, ěHit this key, hit that key, hit this key, and hit print. Then give them their boarding passes.î
So he did. As he handed us our boarding passes, he said, ěYour 9 oíclock flight is scheduled to leave Gate 12 at 11:50 p.m.î
ě11:50???î I asked.
ěYes sir, the aircraft is still grounded in Savannah, Ga., due to the storms. It canít get here until 11:30.î
So, we dragged ourselves to Gate 12 for another three-hour wait. I made a quick call to our kids in Maine to update them on our journey. In an almost begging voice, son Matthew asked if we would check into the Sheraton (only 100 feet from the airport) for what would be left of the night, and he would pick us up at 9 the next morning.
He would even spring for the hotel bill. Grandpa was understanding, Grandma not as much.
The time dragged, but about 9:15, an announcement told us that our plane had just left Savannah for LaGuardia. A round of cheers went up from the folks at Gate 12.
The hands of the clock finally stretched to 11:30 p.m. and we were asked to board the aircraft. Julie handed her boarding pass to the agent, the machine said ěbeepî and she headed down the ramp.
Machine says ëno goí
I handed my ticket to the agent and the machine went, ěZonk.î
ěSorry sir, but youíre going to Portland.î
I looked at my boarding pass for the first time, and it did indeed say Portland.
ěShe and I are together,î I said. ěThe clerk entered the wrong city.î
ěSorry,î was her reply.
Oh no, to get so close. Just then, a man I will call my guardian angel appeared and took my boarding pass, tapped a few computer keys, struck out Portland and wrote Bangor on my pass and told me I could board. I wish he had been in Charlotte 12 hours earlier.
The ride to Bangor went without incident. We touched down at my favorite airport in all the world at 1:30 a.m. Bangor International Airport had closed for the business day, except for the three airport employees who were standing around yawning, waiting for our arrival.
After I kissed the floor of the terminal, we were asked to exit through the doors marked ěno exit.î I felt like I was home.
We made the 100-foot walk to the Sheraton, expecting to be told the hotel was full, but our string of mishaps had ended. I took the keys and we headed up to our room. Our four-hour trip from Charlotte to Bangor had taken 17 hours. Gilligan and the Skipper probably could have gotten us there sooner.
Six hours later, we were up, had a great breakfast, and our son arrived. The 40-minute drive to his house went quickly.
And there we parked ourselves for the next six days, enjoying family and the fantastic environment. Iím convinced God has His summer home in Maine.
While North Carolina baked in 95-100 degree heat, it got above 80 only one day we were there. And Iíve never seen so much green.
ěDroughtî and ěozoneî are words not in the Maine vocabulary.
The sequel, ěFrom Bangor to Charlotte,î went without incident. When I stepped outside the Charlotte airport that Thursday night around 10, it felt like someone slapped me in the face with a hot towel. I wanted to get on the plane and head back to Bangor, even if it might take almost a full day to get there.
Mike Cline lives near Salisbury. His website, ěMike Clineís Then Playing,î documents all the movies that were played in Rowan County from 1920 through 1979.