On the Plane…Off the Plane, Part Two

11 June 2015

In Tarragona, Spain it’s 7:am Sunday and United, in full “We’re Sorry” mode tried tranquilizing us would-be travelers with an extravagant buffet breakfast. It was tantalizingly brief, though, since by 7:30 we had to be herded onto buses for the return trip to the airport, an hour away, and a flight home, although there was no indication that a plane was ready or that there was, indeed, a flight home for us, since the regularly scheduled flight was full and our “special flight” would have to be shoe-horned in.

For all their culinary thoughtfulness, United provided no one to tell us what plans they had for us and no Moses to hand hold us through a sea of Sunday passengers crowding the airport and guide us to the special check-in area, they pressed into service for us displaced persons. It was on a different floor, a furlong away…and if I didn’t mention it, we were dragging the luggage we crammed onto the bus in Tarragona, then pulled off the bus at the airport. Once there we had the luxury of a full two check-in lines for 230 passengers and stood, inching our luggage forward for a mere two hours to be weighed, measured and authenticated. Then with boarding passes, we lined up, another furlong away, for a security check and finally surged across the finish line to the gate only to wait another hour and a half to be loaded onto buses (the airplane wasn’t at the terminal gate). We had to be driven to the other side of the airport to the fix-it area, where our craft stood awaiting us. Up the gangway we emplaned, exuding hope, but with reticence…knowing a plane is only as good as the people fixing it.

Music played, the air conditioning was on and the overhead bins were closing…and we sat. The captain said we’d be moving shortly, after catering supplies were brought up to required levels. Then, after another hour, with the larder stocked, the captain told us we’re in a delay, because the other cargo door (not the one from yesterday) was not closing…but they were working on it. An hour later, he reassured us that they got the door to move a little and the hope was they’d be able to move it the rest of the way. Hope? Hope. This is an airplane, it operates with read-outs and instrument panels and electronic certainties. Hope is not a course they teach at pilot school. Hope went out with goggles, leather flight jackets and open cockpits.

Hope, or whatever, ran out an hour later. The door, supposedly, was fixed (I didn’t for a minute believe it), but now we were up against “crew legality issues”. Crew members can’t be on a plane past a certain number of hours, including the time spent in delays. And our crew was nearing the limit. Then the pilot, whose voice was drowning in sorrow, told us, word was from corporate, that this flight was cancelled again. Get your luggage from carousel six, we’re told, drag it to bus slip 29 for a trip to a hotel a mere 30 minutes from the airport, where you can wait on another line of 230 folks to check in. Of course, we had to go through Spanish immigration, again. I’ve now left and arrived back in Spain for two days running.

There’s more. This is cathartic.