Before I left for NYC last week, I had this thought: What if the zombie apocalypse happens while I’m flying back to California, and I’m stuck with the things in my backpack, a ratty pair of contact lenses, a few electronic gadgets, and the $20 in my wallet? That would’ve been something.
When I went to LaGuardia airport on Thursday, I fully expected to leave and make it back. I’d been in upper Manhattan with my sister (Washington Heights, for those of you who know my birth city) and figured since my flight left at 3 we would be able to get out before the thunderstorms. Tropical storm watch, they said. Hurricane Arthur.
We were actually on the plane (I was flying back to San Francisco through Denver) and ready to push off just about on time when we got word of a maintenance hold. They had to check the air filtration system, which they’d done in Chicago but neglected to record. About 15 minutes later, we headed out to the runway.
Then Air Traffic Control shut down LaGuardia.
Then they opened it again. We taxied out to the runway where we were 13th for takeoff. By this point I had long since missed my connection in Denver, but I wasn’t worried. It’s not hard to get to San Francisco from just about anywhere. Planes started leaving.
Then they shut the airport again.
Then they opened it again. 40 minutes to takeoff, the pilot said.
At just about the 40 minute mark (no air conditioning, by the way, in the 90+-degree heat) we headed back to the gate. There’s an FAA regulation that says you can’t keep passengers on the plane on the ground for more than two hours any more, and we were approaching the two hour mark. We got back, disembarked (they said to leave luggage, but yeah, no), and watched as people poured in and poured back in from planes that like mine had been ready to go.
It wasn’t until around 9:30 that night that they finally canceled our flight. The storm was horrendous and it sure wasn’t anyone’s fault, so I cabbed it back uptown to my sister’s and discovered I’d been rebooked on a Friday evening flight out of Newark. Thank heavens for that, because I had to get home before my sweetheart left for a trip to Europe… because he had my car and my keys.
I have to say, though: despite LGA being a pretty crappy airport in general (overcrowded, not enough power outlets these days, no wifi, crappy food selection in Terminal C), people were just wonderful. Out of the thousands of displaced travelers crammed into Terminal C, I only heard two people lose their temper and both of those lost it with someone on the other end of their phone. Those of us going to Denver formed a little solidarity group. The people traveling with kids seemed to be running an impromptu day care: the kids all played together, sang, took care of each other, laughed, danced around, and had a great time in general. One guy who looked the part of an IT expert took a couple power strips out of his computer bag and offered free outlet space to people desperate to charge their phones.
It could have been a lot worse. Despite having to pay my way back and forth a few extra times, I was lucky because I had a place to stay. There are no hotel shortages in Manhattan, but I’m sure the airport hotels were booked to overflowing. The storm was brutal. Friday was much better – I got to Newark some five hours early because my sister & her partner were leaving for the weekend, tried to get on every other flight to SF only to find out they were all overbooked, treated myself to a diner comfort-food lunch, and did a good job biding my time until the flight was scheduled to board. Then–
“We can’t board yet. We’re waiting for the Captain, and we don’t know when he’s going to get here.” That announcement was made five minutes before boarding time.
All I could do was laugh.