Christmas In Pittsburgh

March 3, 2012

in Odds & Ends Stories

There I was, trying to fly the day before Christmas. Barely twenty-one, and still naïve enough to think the world should open its door up to me and give me everything I wanted. I spent the past week down in the south, wearing shorts and eating well with friends from long ago. Christmas lights on a palm tree; the only weird thing about a Floridian holiday. On the flight down, my luggage had been lost for two days, but the warm weather abated my aggression and I patiently waited for my things to arrive after me. They did, and that problem was solved. Unfortunately, lost luggage was the least of my worries. 

I hitched a flight from PBI and headed to my layover in North Carolina. Heavy turbulence was thundering against the cabin as we circled for over an hour waiting for a cleared runway. The plane landed, in a sort of slide-skid, without killing anyone, and we got off. The windows in the terminal showed a snow globe outside. Total whiteout surrounded the airport, but feeling warm and confident, I barely paid it a glance. I took my carry-on and headed to my next gate. In about 90 minutes, I was scheduled to head up and over to Indianapolis International Airport. I was going home. The next day was Christmas, and I was excited (again, thinking of only myself) about getting home and opening gifts. Little did I know that my journey was far from over.

Approximately thirty minutes before the flight, the first doom-laden ding came over the loudspeaker. A timid terminal worker informed us the flight had been delayed. Understandably, I was annoyed, but I just sat there stewing. It wasn’t as if there was anything I could do about it. Shortly after that, we were informed by another ominous ding and a sultry “May I have your attention please?” that the flight was outright cancelled, along with the majority of planes trying to leave the airport. It was around 5PM and I maddeningly got into someone’s face. I argued, I belittled, I got ignored – nobody takes a 21-year-old seriously – and in the end, I went back to the little brown leather chair, defeated, to let my anger slowly melt away.

I let go of hope and grabbed something to eat (and a beer of course, I was 21!) and then curled up on the floor of the terminal. With my messenger bag tucked beside me and my bulky brown coat bundled up under my head, I fell asleep. The next day was a nightmare. People, most of them in wrinkled clothes from the day before and with their hair tangled from bedhead, were everywhere. Angry customers, hungry babies, disgruntled employees all seemed to cultivate in a massive cacophony of unhappiness. It had stopped snowing in the night and the runways were in the process of clearing. There was still no word on my new flight, but I was hopeful as the weather had cleared.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I realized that something was wrong. We found out that a terrible storm was raging through the area my plane needed to fly through. All flights from the airports along the way to home had been grounded. I was essentially stuck in North Carolina until tomorrow. My other option was to catch a flight to Pittsburgh, and then skip on a connecting flight to cut back to Indiana. Chances were good, so I was told, that I could be home before midnight. Being that it was Christmas and all I wanted to do was get home, I went with option B. There was no way I would spend another night in an airport terminal. I’d at least be somewhat right on that account.

I took the flight, amongst fellow Indy bound passengers, and we hitched a ride to the Steel City. We landed into pitch black, and were told that all outbound flights had been indefinitely cancelled. I was fuming, and this time was heard. The airline gave me a voucher for a free cab ride and hotel stay, and I stumbled out into the icy cold of night. I hailed a cab and told the driver the name of the hotel. I arrived and spent the rest of my Christmas in a dingy, dimly lit, depressing hotel room. I can honestly say this was one of the biggest lows of my life. I can remember thinking that I was being repaid for some slight in a previous life that I had done against some angry, wrathful deity. My mom cried on the phone, as it was our first Christmas spent apart. My girlfriend cried too. I felt like crying but just couldn’t find the tears. I slept, awkwardly, and was awoken at 2 in the morning by a phone call. It was the airport. There was a flight I could catch the next day at 3PM if the weather held. I got defensive and asked if it was another layover or a straight shot to Indy. I was told there would be no more stops, just home. I said I’d be there.

The next morning I boarded the free airport shuttle back to the airport and was greeted by a multitude of people, all in seemingly dire straits as me, and stood in line for the next three hours in order to get through security. I was hungry, thirsty, tired, and at my breaking point, but at least I was going home. Right? Well, not quite yet. I still had to sit for hours at the terminal waiting for the flight. The gate was changed twice within those few hours, making me have to hike back and forth across the airport. As I sat at the new gate, flocks of people crowded in. All the chairs were taken. There were people sitting and laying on the floor, people standing everywhere. It was a mess. Shortly before the flight was scheduled to board, we got an announcement that due to all the shuffle and mayhem caused by the weather, the two pilots we had were over their legal limit for number of flying hours in a single day and would not be able to fly the plane. Yes, this really happened. So we waited even longer.

The sun set and a storm front had moved in. It began to snow. Suddenly, two pilots were there like guardian angels. They were ready and willing to go. The flight was back on. I got butterflies in my stomach thinking that maybe this was it. Then the announcer called for me to come to the desk. When I got there, I was asked if I would be willing to give up my seat for a lady for some reason or another. She probably had a problem and was on a timetable, but I was 21 and didn’t care. I didn’t listen closely enough to remember what was said. All my brain heard was “…give up your seat….flight tomorrow…” and I said no with authority and went and sat back down. (Yes, I was a rude punk kid at 21. My apologies.) Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I did lots more waiting. Finally they started boarding. I got on and found out the plane wasn’t a full-sized one. It was a streamlined jet that would get us there faster, but was much smaller than a regular 747. It had one full row of two seats and one single row of seats. I got stuck in the single seat and was surprised to find I couldn’t even get my legs in. I stand at 6’8″ and normally am cramped for a flight. But this jet was even smaller and my knees dug uncomfortably into the back of the seat.

We had to sit in the cabin, at the terminal for two hours as they had the plane deiced. I was getting claustrophobic and my legs were falling asleep, but there was no way I was complaining or getting off that plane. And then the cheerful captain, bless his wonderful soul, came on the loudspeaker and announced we were cleared for takeoff. A cheer erupted in the cabin and we all let out a collective sigh of relief. The flight home was bumpy and one of the most miserable experiences of my life. I vowed, as we all do, to never fly again (we do, and I did) and that I would be filing a complaint with the airline (I didn’t, as they don’t control the weather).

We landed back in Indy and I was stuck at the airport for another hour while I waited for my mother to get there through the ice snow storm outside. I made it home in one piece. Unfortunately, my bags did not. Through all the confusion and unexpected detours, my bags hadn’t been on the jet with me. They arrived about a week later at my house. The large blue suitcase had been torn and stained and would never get used again. It was a horrific ordeal and since then I have refused to ever travel via airplane during any type of holiday. And that’s the story of my flight(s) – and Christmas – from hell.

– Jamie Curtis Baker
My blog: The Earth Tourist
My website: Jamie Curtis Baker

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Poco March 3, 2012 at 1:53 am

Yep. That's pretty bad alright.

Reply

Mike R. March 4, 2012 at 5:09 am

Man, what an ordeal.
And, despite being 21, I think you had a right to angry,
and disappointed. But in the end you also managed to
keep perspective in your realization that no one can contol the weather.
Hope your next Christmas travel goes better for you.
Best wishes,
MAR, M.D.

Reply

jkn March 4, 2012 at 10:48 am

You really did need to grow up. Sh*t happens, even on Christmas, even to kids.

Reply

Edward March 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Because of course it's all about you. You're a jerk, OP. Grow up and deal with stuff.

Reply

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