Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Air Marshal's Travel Day From Hell

Chicago Midway CodeAs someone who spent 14 years in the aviation industry (and misses it at times) and is flying around the country for different events, I love traveling by air. 

Veteran trans activists still call me Air Monica or the Air Marshal because back in the late 90's when I started as an activist I became the trans community's rapid response team.   When a crisis or snap protest needed some national trans leadership support, because I was an airline employee at the time and could easily do so, if if happened on my days off, I was hopping a flight to your vicinity

So as many of you know I spent an enjoyable two days in Boston with Tiq, Kellee, Kenyon and many of the wonderful peeps who attended the National Association of Black Journalists conference there and is still going on with more seminars today.    I also had a trip from heaven up to Boston for it on Wednesday.

My panel was fun but serious business.  We discussed talking about the issue of trans coverage in the media and how Black journalists can do a better job of it because frankly, they must.

It is import that the media, and especially journalists who share our ethnic background get it right.

I got to meet many of the people involved with the organizations LGBT Task Force and get an invitation to join it.  I was also bummed I missed their reception last night.

I even had some fangirl moment when I got to see ESPN's Michael Wilbon walking the halls as eager journalism students stopped him in the halls to take photos. I thought I saw one of my journalism idols in former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson   I bumped into Mark Thompson while grabbing a Dunkin donut in the massive mall that was between my hotel and the Hynes Convention Center.

I even ran into Houston's Mary Benton, who interviewed me during the HERO fight and FOX 26 Isiah Carey when I showed up in the Sheraton bar post panel with my fellow panelists, Jonathan and Chris from the LGBT Task Force to talk about some other issues and our lives..    

And yes, seriously thinking about becoming a member of NABJ.   Next year's conference is in Minneapolis, so get ready Twin Cites. 

Back Bay Digital Sign 800So as I mentioned, I had the travel day from hell and it started that morning in Boston. 

After getting up at 5:30 AM EDT to check out of my room and allow time for my train ride to Logan Airport so I can clear TSA security and make my 9:05 AM departure to MDW and home, I bounce to the Back Bay station to start my trip on the Orange Line.

I'm ready to leave the room at 6:30 AM and after dropping off my room key and getting direction from the bell captain, I made one wrong turn trying to get to it that put me in the Copley Square Mall's parking garage. I finally the station at 6:55 AM  and the MBTA ticket machines so I can purchase my ticket to start the journey to Logan.  Of the two available one is out and the other is being electronically recalcitrant and timing out my transaction before I have a chance to complete the purchase.   I know the clock's ticking and I need to make forward progress toward Logan so I hit the call box to get some help.

A friendly sister MBTA employee starts trying to get the machine to work and I miss one northbound Orange Line train in the process.  Fortunately it's rush hour, and and she makes some failed attempts to get the recalcitrant ticketing machine to do its job sends me on my way with her apologies.

But I didn't have a ticket or receipt, and flashbacking to home and METRO transit cops patrolling the METRORail trains looking for peeps trying to ride free and getting ticketed for it made for an anxiety filled MBTA train ride as I moved closer to my Orange Line transfer station to the Blue Line that would take me to Logan.

I eventually arrive at the Airport Station and just miss the shuttle bus heading to the airport.   The next one arrives five minutes later and unlike my inbound trip when I went from Terminal E straight to the station, I have to do the Tour De Logan this time including a stop at the Rental Car Center..

Then I get to Terminal E, check the monitor to find my gate and as I'm approaching TSA security realize I can't find my tickets.  The panic that registered on my face led the TSA security personnel to give me the full treatment including scan, pat down by female officer and swabbing of both hands before being allowed to proceed to the gate. 

I get to the gate, get on my flight, we leave early and get to Midway early around 10:40 AM CDT.   I gt to gate B14 and settle in for my what was supposed to be a 1.5 hour wait as visions of Pappas barbecue are dancing in my head along with my fave R&B tunes playing on my laptop.

Then I notice as I look out the windows of Gate B15 an ominous darkening of clouds heralded the pop up thunderstorm that would ruin my travel day.   Moments later it unleashed a torrential rain so intense that I couldn't see the Southwest hangar buildings or the off airport property treeline.

And once I heard our inbound aircraft making up our Houston trip diverted to Milwaukee, my feeling of impending airline travel doom was confirmed.    The short but intense storm caused 20 planes to divert and triggered a creeping delay on my originally scheduled 12:30 PM departure that got backed up to 1:45 PM, then 2:30 PM, then 3:55 PM.   Meanwhile as I'm sitting there I think about the fact the plane I got off of was continuing to San Antonio and a delayed flight next door on B12 was going to New Orleans.

As we're sitting in the ever more increasingly crowded lobby area in B12-14, plugs to recharge our electronic devices are at a premium.  A renovation project has started in the gate lobby areas to add the nice leather chairs with plugs Southwest has in many of its airports at Midway.  The comfy chairs were there, but weren't plugged in so you could charge or run your devices on them.    

Speaking of not plugged in, it was at that point we also discovered that Midway doesn't have free WiFi.  

Note to Chicago Airport Authority:  Join the rest of us in the 21st century and offer free WiFi to your citizens and passengers transiting through your airports.  It damned sure would have come in handy during this delay situation.  

A bitter joke starts circulating amongst many of the stranded travelers that MDW stands for Motherf*****g Damned Weather and other more profane combinations that you can come up with for Midway's IATA designation.   

At approximately 5 PM the news comes that Flight 2314 has been canceled.   I know my gate agents are going to be overwhelmed, so I head up the hall to B-9 to find out which one of the two remaining fights from MDW to Hobby I've been booked on.    I discover from the friendly B-9 gate agent I'm on the one that is scheduled for 7:15 PM but is delayed until 9 PM back on gate B-14.

After checking the flight, I call Tiq Milan who is still at the NABJ convention, tell him I'm stuck in Chicago and ask him to help me get in contact with some of the peeps I know in the Chitown trams community since I left my phone book with those numbers in Houston thing I wouldn't need it..

Note to self:  From now on, bring that damned phone book with you.  

I also call Mom to let her know I was stuck in Chicago, because I was supposed to be back in Houston originally at 3:10 PM.  I also tell her I'm formulating a back up plan in case this delayed one I'm on now gets canceled for whatever reason and I have to spend the night in Chicago.

I eventually get calls from Myles Brady and Jen Richards, and it's agreed that if I have to stay in Chicago, it'll be at Jen's place.  I seriously considered just saying frack it and asking to be rebooked in the morning and heading over there since I'd been up since 5:30 AM Boston time and I'd spent 6 hours in the crowded confines of MDW already, but I wasn't feeling another encounter with TSA security.  

I also had a HERO meeting I wanted to attend in Houston that started at 12 noon Saturday, and was going to do my utmost to get back to the Lone Star State for it, even if it was in the wee hours of the morning.

Those of us who were on the cancelled Houston fight by now were bonding.   Holding seats for each other if one of us got up to use the bathroom, discussing our lives and several crowding around one person's laptop so we could watch the Astros-Blue Jays game with a Cubs fan originating in.Chicago but headed to Houston to visit family.

We finally got some good news-bad news about our delayed Houston flight around 8 PM.  We have a plane, a first officer and enough flight attendants to board our flight, but would have to wait for a captain and a replacement flight attendant to round out the crew.   We also weren't boarding it until about 9:30 PM and it would be through gate B-12.

We end up boarding our flight around 10 PM and sat on board as we waited for our flight attendant and captain.  We get our sister flight attendant around 10:15 PM and our captain 5 minutes later.   After the timed out FA briefs the new arrival as to what's up, she leaves.   Gate agent places final departure paperwork in cockpit around 10:30 PM and shuts the main cabin door.   At 10:30 PM, exactly 12 hours after I arrived in MDW for what was supposed to be a 1.5 hour layover, our 737-800 pushed back from gate B-12 destination Houston and takes off a few minutes later.

But the fun isn't over yet.  Flight attendants are advised by our captain to stay seated after takeoff, and we have to deal with bumpy air for the next 15-20 minutes of the flight as we escape the Chicago area.  We ducked and dodged storms as we crossed the Midwest enroute to Texas before it smoothed out and it was safe for the flight attendants and passengers to move around in the cabin.   

But once we hit 10,000 feet I didn't care because I had a whole row to myself and enough music for the 2 hour ride back to Houston.   Made up for me losing my A boarding position once the original flight cancelled.     

Eventually we flew over Dallas (and I waved at my Dallas peeps as we did so) and an hour later we were on final approach to Hobby.   We finally touched down and pulled into our arrival gate at 1:45 AM Saturday.

After having some great travel experiences over the last year, even including the trip up to Boston, it was just a matter of time before the law of averages caught up with me and I'd have a negative one.  Airline travel can be like that sometimes.   But the one thing I'm most concerned about with any airline trip is getting me from Point A to Point B safely. 

And on that, Southwest gets an A+ despite all the weather induced drama that caused me to spead a lot more time in Chicago than I'd planned.     

No comments: