I rarely fly, so when it comes to people who get to moan about the woeful state of airline travel today, I’m clearly at the back of the line.
Nonetheless, lend me your ears, as I’ve some first-class kvetching to do.
I was on an 11 a.m. Delta flight to Myrtle Beach this morning for a quick work trip. It’s one of those tiny airplanes that Delta outsources to Comair, with maybe 20 rows. We were due in at 1 pm.
At 11:02, a cheery stewardess (I know, I know, flight attendant) comes on the mike.
“It’ll be just a little minute while we take care of some paperwork,” she said, explaining how there was some FAA papers that had to be signed off on by the Feds, and it would be a few moments until that got done. “We should be moving in just a few moments,” she said.
11:17, the captain comes on. He explains that the “logbook” is moving around between the plane and the airport; indeed, that white van we saw out the window was couriering it as he spoke.
“We should be moving in 1o to 15 minutes,” he said, as everyone groaned.
11:55, Capitano comes back on the mike. “It’s FAA bureaucracy, folks, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he says. “It’s just out of our hands. Soon as the paperwork comes back, we’ll get you going.”
Groans, a lot of them. Suddenly the tiny Comair rig feels even smaller and more bereft of air.
12:05, an extraordinarily chipper stewardess grabs the mike.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEEENNN!” she bellows in her best ring-annnouncer voice. “The cabin door has closed, and we’ll be moving in just a moment.”
The passengers let out an exhale of relief.
Then there’s a bit of comedy. The stewardess comes around to collect the trash we’ve created in the last 90-odd minutes: cups, napkins, nails I’ve picked down to the cuticle. The woman in front of me, who looked like Andre the Giant from the neck up and answered to the name “Phyllis” (I heard her say so on her cell), hands the stewardess a cup, a plastic wrapper…and a used tissue.
“I’m not taking your tissue,” the stewardess, a lanky blonde woman of 50, says through clenched teeth. As she walks away from Andre the Giant, she lets loose an audible “Geez!”
Ah, the mirth was short-lived.
12:30, the captain comes back on.
“Folks,” he starts, and we know right away.
“The plane is not equipped to fly in icy conditions, and the forecast calls for thunderstorms.”
Icy conditions. It’s 80 in New York and 90 in Myrtle. Icy fucking conditions.
El Capitan then tells us we must deplane.
Broken and beaten, we gather our personal items and shuffle off the plane.
12:20, and we’re on a little bus taking us back to the terminal so we can switch from gate 5A to gate 2. We trudge up the ramp and back into the terminal. Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” plays, and it completely fails to capture the mood–too soothing, too mystical. I would’ve prefered “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
We shuffle over to gate 2 and learn that our plane has just arrived, and it’ll take some time to “service” it. The monitor says we’ll have a 1:05 departure.
Perhaps the least pleasant aspect of all this is hearing the 42 different versions of the same experience as my fellow passengers phone their loved ones.
12:44, that song that goes “Howww longgg…Has this been going on?” comes on the house music. That’s a little more like it. It’s followed by “King of Pain”, which seems terribly apt as well.
1 p.m., the time we were supposed to land in Myrtle Beach, we are told to commence boarding the new plane. “Make one line!” yells the Delta employee, as they need to reissue boarding passes due to the different configuration of our new plane, which, God willing, is equipped with the proper icing equipment.
It’s a bit awkward getting the large mass of irritated bodies pooled around the desk into a single-file line, but we make do. Out of the corner of my eye, I see none other than the Andre the Giant lady inching up on my left flank. I slide my laptop case over to block her.
A worker finishes the lady in front of me and I wait to be acknowledged. Andre the Giant skirts around my laptop case and heads to the desk.
The day wouldn’t be complete without a Larry David cringeworthy moment, so I say, “Excuse me, there’s a line.”
She shoots me the dirtiest of looks–coming from a lumpy mug that looks like Andre the Giant, it’s a harrowing experience. “She’s ready!” she says. I tell Andre I’ll wait for the lady to signal to me. (There’s already been enough trouble with paperwork today, so I certainly don’t want to distract the Delta employees.)
“Really, you can go ahead,” I say, mostly sarcastically.
To my surprise, she does.
1:30, the plane starts to taxi.
1:50, still taxiing. The plane is like Nomar Garciaparra, adjusting batting gloves, tapping feet, OCD-addled brain looking for just the right feel before taking off.
1:53, pilot gets on. We hold our collective breath. “We’re #3 for takeoff,” he says. (Don’t say ‘just a little minute!’ Don’t say ‘just a little minute!’)
1:59, we do, in fact, take off–a minute shy of three hours after we were supposed to.
We touch down in Myrtle at 3:22. I climb down the narrow, steep stairs that lead to the pavement, thinking of the Beatles at Idlewild, Gerald Ford moments before a tumble, and other world leaders who’ve taken narrow, steep stairs down from small planes.
It’s 90 and muggy beyond belief. But somewhere between here and heaven, there is ice, and a plane that could not deal with it.