Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More Airplane Woes...

Gather around children, as I tell you all about my airplane-based-misadventure over the weekend! Like most plane-based adventures, it starts at the check-in counter, where an over-zealous North West Airline employee watches over my shoulder as I use the self-check-in kiosk, and then reads aloud the information on screen that my flight has been delayed my 25 minutes. I thank her for the information, but nonchalantly dismiss the minor delay as a possible convenience for the people picking me up in Minneapolis.

When going through security, the jaded guard stops me for a moment, and quizzes me over the name discrepancy between my boarding pass and my Passport; I’ve been travelling under the alias Sen O’Sullivan, as I was stupid enough to save my Passenger Information on Expedia as Seán, and every flight I’ve booked with Expedia for the past two months has excluded the ‘á’. I explain to the guard and continue on my way, possibly whistling merrily. I see that the tram to the departure gates has been waiting for quite some time now, and will probably take off at any second, but I maintain my walking pace, unwilling to rush until absolutely necessary. I’m about four steps away when the doors start to close so I lunge towards it, hoping the doors will not crush my outstretched hand. I barely had enough time to think “This might not be a good idea” before the doors pulled open again. Breathing a sigh of relief, I board the tram, as a stern, pre-recorded female voice, who had previously been making safety announcements and background chatter, now berates my brashness. “Somebody has interfered with the doors.” Everyone in the tram snaps their heads towards me at once. I smile awkwardly. “Please Step Away from the doors” she warns, and I worry that I’ve just got us stuck on a tram to nowhere, but the delay I caused only lasted as long as my automated-slap on the wrist.

Funnily enough, there was a bald businessman who rushed in behind me when I prised the doors apart, and he took off running as soon as we arrived at the departure terminal. He charged a good 100 yards towards the escalator, his briefcase swinging dangerously, and then stopped and stood still on the moving-stairs, holding onto the railing, seemingly forgetting his rush for a moment! Quite bizarre. When I arrived at my departure gate, I killed time on my Nintendo DS, until we finally boarded around 2.20pm, almost an hour later than we ought to have.

Cosy, no?

The plane was pretty small - it was a Canadair RJ, and as a 6’4” guy with what I’ll refer to as a ‘sturdy’ build, it was a bit cramped. I couldn’t stand up straight - or even close to straight - I had my knees bent and head bowed as low as I could comfortably manage, but I still knocked my noggin on every Exit sign, and my shoulders were pressed hard against the overhead bins on either side of the aisle I was trying to walk down. I finally got to my seat, and after usurping the woman who had mistakenly laid claim to it, I turned my attention to stowing my backpack. It wouldn’t fit in the tiny overhead bins, so I had to put it under the seat in front of me, which made squeezing into my spot all the more painful.

We sat on the plane outside the terminal for a good half hour before I fell asleep. I awoke while the plane was taxiing back to the terminal. The Pilot comes over the PA and announces that the first hour of delay had been caused by a ‘paperwork issue’ to do with ‘routing’, and now we were out of fuel from all the taxiing, and had to wait for the fuel truck before we could take off again. It was 4.10 at this stage - I know because my phone records show that I rang my friend Jac who was supposed to be picking me up twenty minutes later to tell her I was going to be very late.

People were understandably upset by the delays, and wanted to get off the plane to try and find another way to make their connecting flights, which prompted an NWA agent to board, and tell us that if just one person wanted to get off the plane, then the plane was no longer secured, and everyone on the plane would have to get off, and go through ticketing and security again. He also said that if we did that, our plane, which was now a number one priority that was ready to take off as soon as it was fuelled, would then be relegated to the bottom of the priority pile, as the planes that were on schedule would be kept on schedule. He also advised that all flights were pretty much sold out, so if any one person got off, we’d all be waiting on standby. He summed up this statement with the following, word for word; “You can stay here and go somewhere, or you can get off and go nowhere.”

Suspicious stares shot through the cabin from one passenger to another, before it became clear that no one person was willing to be hated by forty others. The question & answer session that followed was interrupted by our fuel truck showing up. Not before the overweight, bearded gentleman across the row from me in a garish Hawaiian shirt shouted out “How about we get some cheeseburgers!?” Which would have been fine, but he shouted it every four seconds until the guy next to him satisfied his craving for attention by acknowledging his outburst. Trapped on a cramped plane, sitting opposite the forty-year old class clown, I began to entertain myself by narrating in my head the events as they unfolded.

The joy that followed our refuelling was instantly quashed by the captain informing us that we couldn’t take off until the plane had been de-iced again, which elicited a few more groans from the chorus. He then summarised what had happened, and how long he expected it would be before we’d be in the air, and got off the mic. I turned to the clown to my right, and in a rare moment of trying to be nice to a complete fool, I quipped “I didn’t hear any mention of a Big Mac just now”. He responded with a look of utter confusion, then an ill-suitedly sincere “Yes... You’re right.” It took me a moment to realise that over the hum of the engines, and also possibly his unpreparedness to hear an Irish accent, I had just accosted him with “Ah dinnae heeuh ‘nee men-chun uv a Bi’ Mack junnow!”

But no matter - we were finally in the air, and all was well… For a while anyway. I was minding my own business, playing my DS, (dancing up a storm in Elite Beat Agents for the few that care), when I could’ve swore I heard the air hostess say something that sounded like “We need a doctor”. When a very large woman pounded her way past me, I removed my headphones and turned to my new acquaintance, Bland Bob (a nice chap with little personality), and asked him what was going on. Bland Bob softly told me “I think somebody needs a doctor”. Sure enough, about three rows in front of me there was an old geezer looking a bit hot and bothered, and out of it, while the aforementioned fatty stood over him mopping his brow and neck with a cloth. The lone stewardess clumsily got down a tank of oxygen from the overhead bin and advanced on the ill chap, looking absolutely panic-stricken. This is where I admit that I missed out on a bit of character development, and rewind a bit. Very shortly after the plane took off, she began distributing beverages (giving away free alcohol as compensation! Damn my non-drinking disposition!), she confided in me and Bland Bob that she was incredibly nervous because she never knew how to deal with passengers on a delayed flight. So back to the emergency then - the old geezer got his oxygen while his wife looked on in terror, but I still felt worst for the stewardess, who seemed to be having a worse heart-attack than the chap clutching his chest.

After a bit, the old geezer started to look a bit better, and even seemed to be joking with his hideously obese helper (who was no way a doctor - I’ve never seen an obese doctor, let alone a doctor who dresses as poorly as that woman… sorry). However, it felt as though the plane was starting to descend already - we had at least another hour of flight time! Bland Bob turns to me and says “I think we’re descending”. I look out the window - there’s a city a few hundred feet below us and inching closer - good catch there, Bob. Bob looks at his watch, chuffed, and says “That was pretty quick, yeah?” I postulate that we might not actually be in Minneapolis, but rather making an emergency landing in Chicago. The people behind me are now discussing how fast the flight was, and begin to point out landmarks in the city, identifying them as various bits and pieces they know from Minneapolis. The stewardess gets on the mic once again, informing us “Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be landing soon, but please remain in your seats with your seat-belts fastened”. I turn to Bland Bob, asking if he noticed that she didn’t specify where we’d be landing, and he tells me without a shadow of a doubt that we are in Chicago. Anyway - the plane eventually lands, while the woman behind me mistakenly points out that the flight was actually 2 hours because Pittsburgh is an hour behind Minneapolis (it’s the other way around), and I resist the temptation to set her straight because she’s actually amusing me.

There’s an ambulance waiting on the runway, and once the plane has come to a stop, the stewardess announces “Folks, we are NOT in Minneapolis, we are in Chicago”. The collective “What!?” from seemingly everyone else other than Bland Bob, the Class Clown and his lackey makes me laugh. It’s 7pm now - I call Jac and tell her I’m going to be delayed some more. The old geezer walks himself off the plane with the medical staff, and hops into the ambulance, which then sits on the runway, like us for 45 minutes, as we speculate on our flight’s fate. Is the plane now ‘compromised’, since a passenger has gotten off? Do we have to go through security again and sit on standby? The stewardess and pilot are both unaware of the policy, and we wait anxiously, while those more fortunate (by which I mean less tall) than I stand up and stretch out. 5 hours of sitting on a plane is a literal pain in the ass.

Finally, we get the go ahead, and after a ‘quick’ de-icing stop, and a bit of waiting on the runway for our turn to take off, we get on our way. This leg of the journey is largely uneventful, although I did manage to squeeze myself into the pathetically small bathroom, and stand up and take a piss while not actually standing up… Upon my exit from the world’s smallest cubicle, a fellow passenger asks “How did you fit in there?” A dry “I didn’t” was the wittiest reply I had to offer.

We finally touch down in Minneapolis, at 9pm. Not 4.30pm. And I ring Jac, and I tell her I’m finally there. She tells me to wait by the baggage carousel, and hangs up - and then Caitlyn greets me, which was a great surprise, but I was surprisingly out of it from the amount of endorphins my brain had released to maintain paralysis of my posterior, and I waited by the first baggage claim I saw - the wrong baggage claim. I may even have called her by the wrong name when I saw her, but I was overjoyed at the prospect of not having to spend any more time in a plane!

The weekend that followed was worth the problematic trip, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear - I wish I had taken my camera so I’d at least have some colourful indication of the happy ending, but such is life! Thanks for reading this gargantuan post, I'm sorry to have taken as much of your time as I have with some of the self-indulgent narration that I have, but this is a recreation of the inner-monologue that I entertained myself with on the plane!

Nothing says "I love you" like a hand-made Valentine... To my friends who have yet to meet Caitlyn, however, it says something more along the lines of "Is Sully a paedophile?"

Also, just to tie up the loose ends; we were told that the chap who suffered the heart attack was in a ‘stable condition’ upon our arrival in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, after leaving the hospital he was hit by a bus and died.


MEGA said...

6'4'' me arse, we all know ur shrinking Sully, you'll come back shorter than glove!

Mega said...

Good entry though, very entertaining.

Anonymous said...

ranting? perhaps... its shane.i can't figure out how to leave my name up.