The Ballad Of Flight 66

January 17, 2010

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

This goes back to when I was in college, back when US airlines were flying 747s domestically, Nixon was President, and the planes that are now flying for NW were only 10 years old. As a kid, I never knew what flying with a reservation was. I was an airline brat. It allowed me to go to college in a warm climate while my buddies froze their butts in the north.

One Christmas, after my finals, I hitched a ride with a buddy who was driving straight from Phoenix back to Ohio. On his way out of town, he dropped me off at the Phoenix airport. I was giving him crap about having to drive that far and how long it would take. I called my dad’s airline, and the flight was “on-time” and seats were available. Super. Coach was full, but First was wide open. I was disappointed, my friends would be in the cheap seats, I’d have to wear a suit and tie, look like a dork and sit with some stuffed shirt who no doubt would be boring. The cute young girls were also in coach. Whatever, I’d be home soon. The drinking age just turned 19 and I’d be higher than the airplane by the time I got home.

I check in for the flight, as a non-rev, you want to be early, and I was told the flight would be late. Roughly seven hours at this juncture. The plane hadn’t left Chicago yet. In fact, it hadn’t quite gotten to Chicago yet. So much for checking before I went to the airport. Weather in Chicago was bad. It had been snowing for a while, and a Delta 727 and a North Central DC-9 decided to play tag out on the runway, so the runway was shut down. Chances are Delta is flying the North Central plane now anyway since they acquired NW (which acquired Republic which acquired North Central). O’Hare Airport started backing up flights all over.

By 8:00pm that evening I was comfortably seated on my 11:00 am flight to Chicago, the first leg of what was turning into my first (alas not last) flight from hell.

Most of the passengers, having been irate at noon, were gradually stumbling into the Christmas spirit. Eight hours in an airport bar can have that effect. My seatmate wasn’t boring as much as passed out. We college students didn’t have the budget to get plowed in an airport bar; we had to wait for the drinks on the plane. The crew, either because they were in the Christmas spirit or because they signed their new union contract, decided to allow free drinks for all. A decision they ultimately regretted.

Eventually my seatmate woke up. He continued to get plastered and was soon hitting on an older woman a few rows back, who no doubt hadn’t been hit upon since the Korean War. Both were obviously married, just not to each other. Back in coach some old hippie pulled out a guitar and was trying to write a song; he wasn’t very good. But gradually the words to the Ballad of Flight 66 were coming out. Flight 666 might have been more appropriate.

The flight to Chicago, or at least the Chicago area, was routine. With 150 mph tailwinds, we got there fast. Unfortunately, there was no place to land. So we circled, a lot, and for a very long time. The bar closed, which caused the drunken masses, all 350 of us, to threaten a mutiny. My seatmate considered himself quite the stud, despite his obvious beer belly and slurred speech. The lady a couple rows back, who wasn’t in much better condition, seemed to agree. She thought his jokes were hilarious, although I wasn’t convinced they were meant to be jokes. After circling for a time, almost three times as long as what the flight took to get to Chicago, the captain announced we were going to land. I heard a flight attendant mutter, (“or we’re going to run out of fuel…”). We broke through the clouds about the same time the tires hit the runway. We slide to a stop more or less routinely and then taxied. Everyone clapped. Clapping passengers does not mean satisfied. By this time we were about 12 hours late from our scheduled arrival. It was 4:00am in Chicago. The 3 ½ hour flight to Chicago took about 8 hours. Although at O’Hare we weren’t to the gate yet.

We taxied, then stopped. People started wandering, err, stumbling around the plane. The flight attendants made some announcements that every one was to remain in their seats. They might as well have been speaking Mandarin. No one paid any attention. The captain finally came on and said we had to wait for a gate. When another plane loomed out of the snow, we taxied some more so he could get by. We got a nice tour of O’Hare. Unfortunately, many of us wanted to get off the airplane. Then it got ugly. The flight attendants announced that we had run out of booze. They barricaded themselves in the lounge section upstairs and refused to come down. The inmates controlled the plane. My seatmate started up the spiral staircase insisting their must be booze upstairs in the lounge. A moment later he came tumbling down the staircase, but being as fat as he was, his stomach broke his fall. His new girlfriend came to his aide, wanting to make sure he didn’t break any booze bottles he might have acquired. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t any more booze. What was there the crew was likely consuming anyway.

By this time there really wasn’t any more first or coach, it was open seating. I had moved into coach and was hanging out with a few college acquaintances, the hippy was in first singing with a number of others the latest drunken version of the Ballad of Flight 66, and my seatmate’s new girlfriend was sharing the seat somehow with my former seatmate. We moved about the airport every few minutes for a good couple hours until we ran out of fuel. About an hour later a fuel truck came to our aid and in the blowing snow pumped fuel into our dry tanks. The passengers wanted booze. The fuel drivers made faces at us. It was now well past dawn, and once the captain managed to re-prime the engines, we started moving and eventually got to a gate. My seatmate staggered out the door being serenaded by the old hippy singing the Ballad of Flight 66 with his hand on his new friend’s ass.

The scene at O’Hare was something out of a disaster movie. People were strewn around the floor. It looked like a horrific aftermath of a terrorist attack only without blood. The bodies were technically alive, just lifeless. Other people shuffled about like they were zombies in need of human flesh.

The good news was, despite being 24 hours late, I made my connection. The other good news – my father told me when I called him to let him know I was in Chicago – was the flight was “wide open.” The bad news? The new computer system was showing the flight was wide open, but unfortunately approximately 750 passengers showed up. Except for three African American Navy guys and me, all had confirmed reservations. The plane, not a 747, held about 120 people.

Ahh the joys of flying non-rev. I shuffled to the gate, careful not to trip on the human carnage on the floor and handed my ticket to the tired and impatient agent. In his defense, he had been working 48 hours straight. Airline employees were snowed in and couldn’t get to the airport, and so employees there when the snow started were still working two days later. Passengers were managing to arrive and so were the passengers trying to make connections. I think grumpy ticket agents love to get family non-rev passengers so they can yell and humiliate them like everyone does to them. It’s nothing personal, just when a smelly unshaven college kid with long hair in a dorky looking suit flying for free wants to get on a plane when there are 750 angry passengers around, it gives them an outlet for his understandable frustration and rage. He threw my ticket back at me, it went over my head, hit a zombie guy in the face, who immediately woke up and started to berate the jerk for being a jerk.

I plopped down next to the Navy guys flying standby. They’d flown in from off the coast of Vietnam via Japan, Alaska and one of the Dakotas. They didn’t really want to talk to some dorky white dude in a suit from one of the lily white Detroit suburbs, but when they found out I was going to school with the brother of the hottest girl in Highland Park, where they lived, I became “ok.” They broke open a flask and we settled in for the stand-by marathon.

By that evening the weather started to improve. The airline brought in some extra flights, and the Navy guys got out. Being non-rev, my chances still didn’t look good. There were no cars to rent, and the buses were full. I called my dad who insisted the flights were open and I could get on. By now it was the following morning, and the situation was still grim. I’d been at O’Hare for over a day, not counting taxing, and I was tired and hungry. The restaurants had run out of food, even if they did have liquor. I was afraid to ask an airline representative what my odds were, they didn’t really want to talk to non-revs. Out of desperation I shuffled over to North Central and asked if they had any flights. Lo and behold, there was one. It required an 8 hour layover in Kalamazoo, but there was a flight. I managed to come up with the right amount of fare. I guess they offer a lower rate if you were willing to layover 8 hours in Kalamazoo.

I eventually made it home. My dad was kind of irritated that I spent money to buy a revenue ticket, but I didn’t care. I was home and headed straight to bed. As I started to go to my room, my mom handed me a note from my college friend in Ohio who called the day before. He was home and wanted me to call him… The Jerk.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

david January 17, 2010 at 7:36 pm

what utter bs…..i guess it took you all that time to come up with a story like that


whoopie January 18, 2010 at 7:03 am

About half this story could have been left out. Boring


KPinky January 18, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Umm I stopped reading halfway through… this story is complete bollocks


Max January 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Well, not to be a jerk, but



D-Money January 19, 2010 at 4:48 am

Well there goes 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.


Tony January 21, 2010 at 5:57 am

Um…when did airlines ever fly 747's domestically?


Kad January 23, 2010 at 12:23 am

Number of words: Around 1700. Copy and paste into Word. I didn't really spend the time counting.

Number I read: about 250.

Number of errors: unknown, but a quick scan of some of the post includes 10 year old 747's when Nixon was President.

-747's weren't cleared for use until December 1969.

-The bar was closed and then later the plane has run out of alcohol.

-Number of references to alcohol: too many

-Attempt at dramatic writing: poor to pathetic.

This post looks like it was written by a drunk person.


Salamandra January 23, 2010 at 12:23 am

LIAR. Made for a B movie and the star will be a zombie


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