Fun at LaGuardia -- 08/14/01

It was raining on and off Monday morning as I packed for my trip to North Carolina -- we had had thunderstorms overnight -- and there were reports of rain and thunderstorms throughout the east. So I tossed a cheap plastic raincoat -- the kind you pick up in one of those dollar stores -- into my suitcase and stuffed a denim shirt into my backpack 'cause I was wearing shorts and t-shirt for the trip and the long-sleeve shirt in my backpack could be used if I ended up the victim of excessive air-conditioning or of a rain shower on my way from Hertz shuttle van to rental car.

It is possible to fly direct -- non-stop -- from Providence to Raleigh-Durham but bean-counter decree that we must take the lowest possible fare -- even if that means flying a longer two-stage flight, changing planes at another airport... yes, even if the airline is USAirways and even if that intermediate airport is LaGuardia. My Monday flight to Raleigh-Durham by way of LaGuardia, what with the extra distance and the time wasted between planes at LaGuardia added a couple hours of travel time but it would save fifty-three dollars compared to flying Southwest's advertised fare for a direct flight.

PVD to LGA, light rain, a small Dash-Eight turboprop, only a few minutes off scheduled departure time, nothing worth complaining about. There are some people who don't like smaller planes but I don't have a problem with modern planes of this size... in fact, I must admit that for short hops I actually prefer them... boarding and unboarding only takes a few minutes, no long waits, and no chance of ending up in a middle seat. (Oh, yeah, those little cigar tube puddle-jumpers of ten or fifteen years ago, I absolutely hated, made me feel claustrophobic...) So we got to LaGuardia on time, I found the gate for my flight to Raleigh-Durham, 2:09 departure time, wander around to kill a little time, get the kinks out, get a coffee, settle down to read while I wait for what I assume will be a delayed departure, guessing maybe not until 2:30 or 3:00, typical airline stuff... but much to my amazement, a few minutes after two they call for boarding. Since this was another small plane -- one of those Brazilian-made commuter jets, two seats on one side of the aisle and just one seat on the other -- it would not take that long to board everybody. We began to taxi away from the gate within a few minutes of our advertised time and I thought that maybe, despite the rain, we might actually get to our destination somewhere around the advertised time.

And then I looked out the window and saw planes of every size lined up like summer traffic leaving the beaches, just sitting there and nobody's moving. From time to time we maneuvered a bit, but then the pilot parked us, turned off the fasten seatbelt sign, and told people that there were at least thirty-five planes ahead of us and nobody was cleared for takeoff and we should feel free to use any electronic devices, including cell phones. Instantly half the people on the plane were busy chatting on their phones. I waited a while, but after we'd been there a couple of hours I did phone home to let them know I was stuck on a runway at LaGuardia. At one point the pilot fired up the engines and we moved a bit and he announced that he had been given clearance for a route to RDU that was actually eight minutes faster than the route we had originally been assigned (of course we were already more than two hours past our takeoff time) although there were still a lot of planes ahead of us. A short while later he announced that thunderstorms had moved to block that route so we would have to wait longer... As it neared six o'clock he said something about going back to get more fuel and take on more supplies (the steward had given everyone a little package with two cookies in it in addition to the anticipated tiny bag of mini-pretzels and bagel chips) but that there were no gate areas free. A little after six he announced that "the company" said that he should return to the terminal area to refuel... but when we finally got there he announced that "the company'' was cancelling this flight... but that customer assistance representatives were waiting to help us rebook and get to our destinations.

We got back inside the terminal not quite four and a half hours after we had left. The "customer assistance" process did not mean any special people assigned to help, it just meant standing in line at the counter nearest to where we had re-entered the terminal... a long line filled with people from other cancelled flights as well... we were lined up at Gate 1 and could see similar lines at Gate 2 and Gate 3 and Gate 4 and Gate 5... I phoned AmEx travel (good old cell phone) to see if they could handle rebooking me but their advice was just to stay in line and at least I might get a hotel room, their computer was showing the LGA to RDU leg as "used" and they told me that if they rebooked me to RDU then USAirways would probably cancel my return flight booking. Okay, whatever... 'cause by this time it was obvious that I was not going to be able to get to Raleigh that night... And eventually, after something like an hour and half to two hours on line, I finally reached the counter, got booked onto a 10:29 a.m. flight and got a voucher for a night's stay at a Ramada Inn plus a voucher for up to $12 for a meal. Next a long wait for luggage. Then a long wait for a van to the Ramada -- which was not one of the hotels right by the airport -- several minutes ride away, driven quite rapidly (past where a van from another hotel chain had lost control on a rain-slick curving ramp and ended up straddling the guardrail fencing)... but he told us not to worry because his day job was as an ambulance driver so he was good a rapid driving, although he said he wished he had flashing lights and a siren on the van... tired, hungry, frustrated... I couldn't work up the energy to worry about the wet roads or his speed through traffic or the fact that he was working the second of two full-time jobs... just get me to the hotel. The hotel, of course, was in the middle of renovations, which meant that they had no restaurant open in which the meal voucher could be used. (When I called AmEx later that night so they could take care of Hilton and Hertz, who were, after all, holding a room and a car for me in North Carolina, I was told to hold onto the meal voucher as proof that my flight had been cancelled in case Hilton or Hertz wanted to charge me for Monday.) Instead of having a restaurant, the Ramada courtesy van would give guests rides to diners in that area (Shea Stadium was just a few blocks from the hotel)... so by the time I did that and then waited half an hour or so for the van to pick me up, didn't get back to my room until past midnight... they did, however, have a bountiful and lavish free breakfast buffet in the morning... well, that was the way they described it... turned out to be mini-bagels and mini-danish, coffee (with cardboard cups) and juice from plastic jugs.

Oh well, eventually I did get here... just a day later than expected... fortunately the guy I worked with on rewriting this course was here... we had planned to co-teach the course, except I was going to do most of the presentations and he would handle the lab exercises (since he had redesigned those exercises)... so he was able to take over and start teaching Tuesday morning and into the afternoon (it was past two-thirty, maybe almost three o'clock by the time I got to the classroom)... almost twenty-nine hours after I'd left home on Monday.

Ah, modern travel....

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