How to Travel Ten Hours and Go Absolutely Nowhere

So! Thanksgiving. The plan was pretty simple: get up early Thursday morning, fly from National Airport to Charlotte, then from Charlotte to Birmingham. Then, late on Saturday, we’d fly back home. Of course, since I said, “the plan was pretty simple” you know that means that the end result was anything but.

It started out on target; got up at 4:15am, Charlie picked me up at 5:30am, and by 5:50am we’d parked the car, checked in, and checked our luggage. (There were plans to go running several days, plus nice clothes and casual clothes packed, so the bag was otherwise bigger than I’d have planned. It could have still fit in the overhead compartments, but since it was a full flight I figured I would just find it easier to not have to struggle.) At 7am, our flight was completely boarded and we soon took off for Charlotte, despite heavy fog in DC.

It was around 8am that the pilot came on the intercom. I thought he was going to say we were descending to Charlotte, but instead he started explaining that they had mechanical difficulties and the flaps on the wings wouldn’t come back up after take-off, which would make landing tricky. And, because of heavy fog in both Charlotte and DC, they couldn’t land safely at either airport. So as a result, we were being diverted to Pittsburgh. Yes, instead of going 330 miles southwest, we were going 191 miles northwest.

After we landed, they started working on the plane. And working. And working. And working. After an hour or two, we realized that we were in trouble, because there was no way that we would make our flight to Birmingham. Worse, the only other flight from Charlotte to Birmingham was already overbooked. So that wasn’t an option either. Charlie got on the phone with USAirways, and after a lot of talking they booked us on a Delta flight from Charlotte to Atlanta. It’s only two hours from Birmingham so it wasn’t impossible, right?

Except the airplane still wasn’t ready. After several hours they finally let us off the plane to stretch our legs (and get food if necessary), then they moved us onto a new plane. Finally we took off, back to Charlotte. We landed there at 1:30pm, a mere five hours and fifteen minutes late. And too late for the Delta flight to Atlanta.

At this point, we wanted to just go home. Getting to Birmingham for Thanksgiving was impossible, and staying in Charlotte was not our idea of a good time. That’s when we discovered a new snag. The woman at the ticket counter wouldn’t change our flight because we were only flying one way on USAirways (the way back was via Delta), so she said we’d have to buy another ticket. Aaarrrgghhhh.

I stood in line for the assistance counter, with about 25 people in front of me, while Charlie got on the phone again with USAirways. After an hour, I still wasn’t at the front of the line, but Charlie had someone on the phone that said yes, they’d fly us back and no, we did not have to buy new tickets. Charlie went to a new ticket counter where the woman proceeded to say that we’d have to buy new ones. Fortunately, Charlie had kept the guy on the line and handed her the phone. (Also, around the same time, another passenger from our flight who had also given up on getting to his intended destination told her to stop giving Charlie a hard time because we were from the same mechanical error disaster.) Finally we got our boarding passes, got on a new flight now seating back to DC, and at 4pm were back where we started.

Well, except for our bags, which we didn’t get until the next evening. But I rather expected that.

Exhausted (we’d been awake for 12 hours and in airports/airplanes for 10 of them), we drove up to Rosslyn, had pizza at Piola, and then went home and crashed. For better or for worse, the most memorable Thanksgiving I suspect I will ever have. Hopefully next year things will be a bit calmer. (And hopefully next year I will get to do what I’ve wanted to try: brining a turkey.)