PLANEJOTTING: When ‘A Little Minute’ Means ‘A Little 2 1/2 Hours’

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.

PART II

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.

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