The other day, I frustratedly scrawled the following into a notebook:
I am sitting in Gate D6 at the Amsterdam airport. In a bout of nostalgia which is completely circumstantial and not my choice at all, I am HANDWRITING this blog post before I can type it. Why? I made the mistake of A) owning a dinosaur of a laptop that constantly needs to be plugged in, and B) packing my outlet adaptors in my checked luggage rather than my carry-on. In my defense, though, my plan was to NOT EVEN HAVE TIME to use an outlet at this airport. Originally, I was only supposed to spend an hour here between flights. But OH the utter fickleness of a flight itinerary booked through Delta.
See, yesterday I was on the “Flight from Hell” (this term was coined by Nancy, an elderly woman standing in front of me and my friend in the practically stagnant line for hotel vouchers… which I will get to later). Our flight to Amsterdam was scheduled to leave Seattle at 2:15pm, and at first things were looking alright – we had some pre-flight mimosas and boarding was relatively painless. Took our seats, settled in, watched the cheesy safety video. After all of this, we were told that one of the air valves on the plane needed repairs and they were bringing in a maintenance team, which would delay us slightly – that’s fine, whatever. Delays are normal and problems need to be fixed. Eventually the maintenance crew left and we were forced to watch the safety video again, which was comically irksome, but then we were finally up in the air. I mean, we were up in the air for thirty minutes. And then they notified us that the valve problem had not, in fact, been fixed, and we had to return to Seattle to re-address the issue.
… and then I took a pause in recording my story because yet another flight of mine had been delayed. And I wasn’t even sure if I had a seat on it. (“I didn’t even cry!” she exclaimed with pride)
Anyway, I am now ready to continue telling this story. As you’ve probably noticed, I call it “Hot Mess in Terminal S.” Because when we re-landed in the Emerald City, we touched down at Terminal S. And it was a HOT MESS, YOU GUYS.
So. The pilot turned the plane around and parked it back at Seatac. The maintenance crew came back. Since we were all in the middle of watching the Oscar-nominated movies we never had the chance (or money) to see in theaters, we did not de-board the plane. You don’t turn down the opportunity to watch free, good movies, ever. That is a rule. But much to our chagrin, the movies eventually ended and we were STILL sitting on the runway, five hours after we were supposed to take off. Dry airplane sandwiches could not squelch the widespread, ever-growing annoyance. Eventually the crew began to sense that their passengers were slowly turning against them, and they let us off the plane, saying we would re-group in approximately two hours and then we would be on our way – at 9pm.
The disgruntlement was palpable (and also quite audible) as we exited the aircraft. We distributed ourselves among the four restaurants in the terminal, and some people re-booked for a flight the next day. It was an odd and miserable atmosphere, with dozens of strangers exchanging knowing eye-rolls and sardonic laughter while dunking over-priced chicken strips in plastic containers of BBQ sauce. I was, of course, sorely disappointed because this delay pushed back my long-awaited reunion with my best friend in Glasgow – but I also thought the situation was pretty funny. It was so ridiculous it was kind of unbelievable. I continued laughing when we had to watch the stupid safety video for the THIRD time around 9:30 that night, although at this point the spirits of the group as a whole had risen a little bit. Hope had finally re-gained some buoyancy all thanks to free Pizza Hut at the gate’s info desk. We settled in under our paper-thin airplane blankets and resumed our movie marathons, greatly looking forward to our inevitable takeoff.
After 45 minutes of sitting on the runway, a man’s voice came over the intercom. “I have some bad news,” it said mournfully. I chuckled, thinking it had to be a joke. Spoiler alert: it was not a joke. The pilot had just exceeded the hours he was legally allowed to spend on-duty. “I’m afraid we are going to have to shut this down tonight” explained the mystery intercom man as the undeniable rumblings of mutiny spread throughout the economy cabin. Once again, we de-boarded. Slowly, angrily, some people loudly and profanely. And then… The Lines.
A massive line formed outside the gate’s desk with passengers demanding hotel rooms, re-bookings, and profuse/tearful apologies from each and every Delta employee at Seatac Airport. My friend and I joined this line, and we stood there so long that my backpack straps actually gave me a slight rugburn on my shoulders. When we reached the exhausted and trampled-upon employee working the service desk, he kindly printed us a hotel voucher while repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow (I felt very, very bad that he had been scheduled for this shift – worst shift ever, dude). Sadly, though, the shuttle to this particular hotel was no longer running, and it was definitely not within walking distance. And after unsuccessfully fumbling around with the computer keys for ten minutes, our poor Delta friend sent us off to the airline’s check-in desk at the front of the airport to get another hotel voucher.
Our journey to this destination involved running down an escalator and retrieving our luggage from baggage claim, only to arrive at the check-in desk where there was, you guessed it, another line. This one was at least fifty people in length and it was not moving. Like at all. For twenty minutes. Despite counting ourselves among the more patient and civil Flight from Hell passengers, we finally got fed up enough to abandon our efforts and just pay for a cab to our shuttle-less hotel. I think I fell asleep en route.
The next morning, we encountered a few other disheveled non-traveling travelers in the hotel lobby. We had all been automatically rescheduled for a 2pm flight that day, but it was not as straightforward as it sounds – the details we received were few and vague, and connecting flights had been metaphorically mangled with a blunt-edged knife (as I learned for myself when I reached Amsterdam). But rather than express our irritation directly to the Delta employees at the airport (since they didn’t really have anything to do with it), my trooper of a friend and I rebelled in a more mature way by proceeding to the nicest restaurant in Terminal S – now our second home – and ordering champagne and $15 entrees, fully intending to demand reimbursement because we were not provided food vouchers. It was his idea. Pretty brilliant.
Although our flight that afternoon departed late (and we had to watch that damn safety video again), it did depart… AND IT ARRIVED! In a place that wasn’t Seattle! Imagine that! And now I write to you, happily, from the quiet lobby of the Glasgow Airport. I think my unlucky streak is over. Let’s all cross our fingers.
Next time: I express my love for Scotland and yes there will be pictures.
PS: even though this particular flight was undeniably a shitshow, I do not mean this to be an attack on Delta Airlines – most of the employees I encountered tried very hard to be helpful and dealt kindly with some pretty angry people. I mean, they could improve their safety information video, but…