Fog Fouls Up Flights

October 11, 2010

in Weather Stories

The year is 1981. My first ship has just been decommissioned and my wife, 2 kids (ages 2 and 1) and I are flying from Portland, Oregon to Hartford, Connecticut to spend some leave time with our families before reporting to a new ship in Newport, R.I.

Our flight is scheduled to depart Portland at midnight west coast time, change planes in Chicago, and arrive at Bradley Airport at 9 am east coast time. We depart on time and after a few hours flying time we start circling O’Hare. It’s fogged in. We circle for an hour or so, then the captain says we have to go back to Denver because the fog is too thick in Chicago. Great! My parents haven’t seen their grandson since he was a tiny baby and have never met their 1-year-old granddaughter (they wouldn’t fly) and now we’re going to be delayed by weather! We land at Denver, refuel, and take back off into the friendly skies for another shot at O’Hare. Mind you…. the kids are 2 and 1. God bless them, they were perfect throughout the entire ordeal.

We get over to Chicago only to circle for another hour and then get another announcement that it’s still fogged in so we’re going to Memphis to refuel again! Okay, the kids are being great, but their 19-year-old father (yeah that’s right, I was 19 and had 2 kids, no one’s perfect ha-ha) is starting to get a little pissed. We land in Memphis, refuel, and fly back to Chicago again. This time we land.

After deplaning, we head to the friendly skies counter (anyone remember them?) to try to get on a flight to Hartford (we missed our connecting flight by a mere 5 hours). There is a mass of humanity at that counter, all yelling and screaming at the poor people trying to get everyone booked on new flights. Seriously, there had to be 400-500 people trying to rebook their flights! I walked through the crowd and up to the front of the line and said to the poor guy at the counter, “Look, I can see you’re having a bad day, but my family and I haven’t seen home in 2 years. Is there any chance you can get me on a flight to Hartford this evening? Please?” The guy checks his screen, pulls the tickets out of my hand, writes something on them and says, “You’re on a flight departing in 25 mins. You’re the nicest white boy (yup, he was black) I’ve talked to all day. Now get outta my face!” I grabbed the wife and kids and hoofed it a few gates down, boarded the plane, and knew… JUST KNEW!! it would all be better now. We backed away from the gate, and took our place in line for takeoff.

An hour and 15 minutes later, our DC-10 rotated into the air and as we headed for Hartford the pilot said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem, are declaring an emergency, and are going back to O’Hare.” WHAT?!!!!!! I don’t care if the wings fall off of this thing!!! I just want to get home!!! We land safely, get off of the plane, go back to the counter (my buddy had gone home) and get booked on another flight.

Now, while waiting for this flight to board, I hear my name called out over the PA system in O’Hare: “Mr. Scott H… please pick up a white courtesy telephone!!” Wow!! This is bizarre. I’m getting paged in the busiest airport in the world (which I believe O’Hare was in 1981). I pick up the phone only to hear my father’s loving voice say to me, “Where the hell are you?! The whole g0d#@$% family has been here for hours.!!” I explain to my dear old dad that if he called O’Hare airport, and I answered that call, logic dictates that I’m in O’Hare airport!! My father responds that if we weren’t on the next flight to Hartford, he was gonna drive out there and get us himself. He assured me that it wouldn’t be a pleasant drive home. Nice! Now I’ve got the whole family upset, and I’m still in the middle of the country!

Okay, we board the new flight, take off, and as we are climbing to altitude the captain says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the last flight to leave Chicago tonight, they just shutdown for the fog.”

We land uneventfully at Bradley Airport 12 hrs and 30 mins later than planned.

– Scott H.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

James October 12, 2010 at 6:16 am

Good for you for keeping your cool, and showing that courtesy begets courtesy.


Amber May 20, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Except for his entitled cutting of the line.


Dina October 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

Wow, that was messed up on your dad's part. (Although I probably would have tried to call ahead and let him know what was up…)

Personally, when mechanical problems hit planes, I'm always happy to return to gate or whatever because living is more important than getting out on time… on the other hand, after such a mess I could see becoming impatient!


TacoDave October 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

It was probably before most people had cell phones, so if the family had already left for the airport, what could he do?

Nice story.


Dina October 13, 2010 at 11:10 am

Good point. But how long's the flight between Chicago and Newport? I'd imagine it's more than a couple hours… I was thinking pay phone to the parents' home.


scott h October 13, 2010 at 6:16 am

not really messed up, dina. it was just part of his charm. my old man was and is my hero. great guy who i miss everyday since he passed 10 years ago. he wanted to meet his granddaughter who remained the light of his life until the day he died. He even started flying after we got stationed in italy just so he could see the grandkids


D-Money October 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Well, there's always the option of using the Sky-phone, if they had 'em in '81. I wonder how many "week's pay" that would have cost?


scott h October 13, 2010 at 6:19 am

on navy pay?! not a chance!!! didnt those sky phones need a credit card? i was an e-4 at the time. the following year i was an e-5, did 6 months in country in Beirut during the civil war(read getting shot at every other day by every side) and made a whopping $10,000 for the year. No credit card company was going to give me a card back then. lol!


ps October 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Around that time hearing the word problem and being on a DC10 would be enough to scare the hell out of anyone.


rerere October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

lol, The word "DC-10" would scare the pants off of anyone. Nice story.


scott h October 13, 2010 at 6:09 am

I actually flew out of chicago to hartford the day after a dc-10 dropped an engine and crashed. we taxied past the wreckage on our way to the runway. That was in 79 or 80. I believe the crash was a flying tigers cargo flight. I was 18. I was invincible. These days, we hit some turbulence and my buttcheeks clamp down on the seat so hard, i need a jackhammer to get it back out! LOL!!!

Oh, and the flight to hartford was on a DC-10.


Adam McLemore October 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Definitely an aggravating experience, but there's nothing you can do about the weather. Unexpected weather delays are just part of traveling. If you didn't take the chance, you could have always driven four or five long days, or done three days on the train. The flights were still a lot faster. But I can definitely understand the frustration! I once had a flight from Europe to Boston delayed 12 hours. When I checked in, on-time, the plane hadn't even landed in the USA from it's original flight over from Europe, yet!


Troy October 19, 2010 at 2:24 am

That DC-10 that lost an engine in 1979 at ORD was actually an American airlines passenger plane not a 'Flying Tigers Cargo Flight'.


scott h October 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm

thank you. i stand corrected


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