Something special on the Ground (TM)

Travel by air is fun, assuming you get that far.

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Traveling on business is one of those wonderful things that sometimes makes you reflect on how much better off you would be if you were unemployed.  It isn't that travel in general is bad.  No, only the kind of travel where you are told where to go, what to do, and how much to take care of during the trip are the types of travel adventures that should be avoided. 

In 1993, I was sent on a business trip by a company I don't work for anymore.  The trip probably didn't have anything to do with me not working for the company anymore, but it does allow me to say that after experiencing the actual flying part of this one particular business trip, I would probably have rather been lashed to the outside of a well-marked rental car in Florida with "Tourista!" spray-painted on my body, and then have the car driven around for hours through rough neighborhoods.  At least the scenery would change.

The trip in question was a relatively simple one on the surface.  Fly from Dallas/Fort Worth International (a curious name for an airport that is not even in Dallas but is in Fort Worth) to Newark, New Jersey (motto "There *is* a reason why everyone makes fun of us").  Once there, I was scheduled to be driven to the hotel by a representative of the company I am to visit, have dinner with selected marketing and technical persons who want my company to buy their product, visit their offices the next day, be driven back to the airport, and finally fly back home that evening.  Sounds simple?  I'll describe the trip from end to end and you decide.

The trip started innocently enough with my arrival at the Dallas Fort Worth airport with briefcase, camera bag and suitcase.  I park at Terminal 3E section C because gate 42 was at that location.  This is the gate that was written on the ticket and was confirmed as the correct gate by phone two hours before the flight.  Upon checking-in, I discover that the plane is going to depart from a gate ten or so gates lower than originally planned.  Since I was early, I took a stroll down the concourse to the new gate, all the time able to view the wrecked plane out on the tarmac.

This plane, which no longer had the Good Pilots Seal of Approval, had crashed the morning before.  Well, it didn't really crash.  It landed without problems and the pilot, in a hurry to get to the terminal quickly, took advantage of one of these high-speed turnoffs that DFW has, rather than letting the plane roll another half-mile and then taking one of the more traditional off-ramps.  However, the pilot did this at a somewhat excessive rate of speed, and did it during a blinding rainstorm.  One set of wheels got off the concrete and got stuck in the mud, causing that side of the plane to slow down somewhat faster than the other side of the plane.  This caused the front landing gear to collapse, causing the plane to use its remaining momentum to knock out runway landing lights and make lots of sparks.  No one was hurt in the secondary multi-point landing, but over a dozen were hurt going down the emergency ramps.

So now, over 30 hours later, the National Traffic Safety Board were still out there, drawing a big chalk line around the plane, taking pictures, interviewing witnesses, measuring skid marks, checking the cockpit ash trays for beer cans, asking about this big speaker magnet stuck to the front of the cockpit voice recorder, etc.  The airline that owned this plane happened to be the same company I was about to use.

I arrive at the now-correct gate and after a while they let us on the plane.  They start announcing almost immediately that everyone should get settled straight away and that we should all quit fighting over who was going to stow which persons snow tires in the overhead compartments, because they want to leave on time.  Sure enough, the plane pulls away from the gate two minutes after the stated time and starts taxiing to the far side of the airport, right past the wreckage of the crashed plane, and eventually to within 500 yards of the runway we will eventually use.

At this point, the pilot comes on the speaker and says that he has a little news for us.  He prefaces this and all subsequent announcements during the entire flight with "There's nothing wrong with the plane", just in case the sight of the smoking hulk (okay, it really wasn't smoking) of the wrecked plane might have concerned any of the 200 people who all leaned over to that side of the plane to have a better look as we went by.

No, the pilot went on to announce that due to bad weather on the East coast, the FAA had put all air traffic going within 39,000 miles of that area onto "flow control".  He then said "Our position in the flow is that we will stay right here for the next 45 minutes, but I'll leave the air conditioning on in the meantime. " So we parked, and sat for nearly an hour.  In the official record books, we did leave on time.

During this time, the crew was unable to serve drinks or anything, although this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  The television could not be used, and the cabin crew explained that this was because of some rule which says that you can't watch airline television shows while on the ground.

Finally we got into the air and for some reason the plane took us due East to Newark, rather than taking the more traditional North-Easterly route.  After flying over Tampa, we then proceeded up the East coast until we were to that point in the flight where they take all the items away from you that you might use as weapons to escape from the plane sooner than they want.  Stuff like your drink, napkins, magazines, trays, bazookas, etc.  Up to this point, it has been completely overcast but no thunderheads. The skies are clearing now and we can actually see some landmarks, and the Captain pointed out that we were nearing Philadelphia and that there still wasn't anything wrong with the plane.  Then unexpectedly, the plane turned West, then South, and eventually East then North again.  Shortly after we had decided that we were not on the way to Cuba, the Captain came on again and indicated that the weather was bad in Newark and that we were going to be in a holding pattern for some period of time and that it wasn't because there was something wrong with the plane.

We looped around only twice, with our northern limit being near Philadelphia, and the south end of our loop being over some large river, quite probably the Amazon.

Eventually we got approval to land in Newark, despite the fact that there was still nothing wrong with the plane apart from the seats that needed to be in the upright position.  On landing we discovered that the "bad weather" consisted of a completely dry airport with a non-threatening cloud cover.  Based on this, I must assume that no flights are allowed into Newark when they are having snow anywhere closer than Iowa.

Now, I am at the Newark airport, and meet one of the representatives of the company I am visiting, who was on the same plane, but was seated further back in a different time zone.  We are now trying to locate our ride, who, due to the unique design of Newark airport, has been circling the airport for two hours in the rental car because they don't actually have any parking.  He has no idea what has become of us.  Eventually we meet, and we rush out of Newark (fine by me) and after a short drive, arrive at a fine hotel, and go to the basement for a fine dinner surrounded by nine additional representatives of the company, all of whom would really like me to buy a lot of their product.  Now.

No, it really wasn't like that, and although I fully expected to see the mob, Dinsdale Piranha and at least two celebrated singers at the next table in the dimly lit, red-walled dining area.  Everything at the hotel was fine, and I didn't even find a dead horse in my bathtub or anything.

So, the trip to Newark wasn't much to talk about, but read on.  Getting out is the tricky part.

The next day.  .  .  .

Today I get to go to the research center of the company.  I haven't mentioned their name, but it should be easy to guess since they own most of New Jersey anyway.  Yes, they are the "Death Star" people (DS for short), and I got the opportunity to visit Murray Hill, famed in history, and flamed on the Internet.  The building has a big lobby and the back wall is covered with portraits of people who helped make the company a lot of money over the years.  These portraits are obviously for the benefit of visitors, but the unsmiling Pinkerton guards won't let you past their desk until your escort arrives, who promptly takes you out of this area, so you can't actually get close enough to read the names on the portraits.  I did recognize a beard or two.  :-)

As I am being escorted down a long hall towards a longer one, I am advised to not be alarmed by any of the people I meet during my visit.  I am also told that some people may not be up-to-date on events out in the world and that "the last newspaper some of these people read was the one that said 'NIXON RESIGNS'".  Great! Thinking to myself, I wonder if these guys have seen the price scanners down at the grocery stores?  President Bush certainly hadn't.

Well, I didn't meet anyone who was that out of date, and the consensus of the people I talked to was that they really felt that Andropov would loosen his grip on the Soviet citizens after a few more years.  (Andropov died perhaps ten years earlier and the Soviet Union had ceased to exist by this time.) Other than that, things were very interesting and the day passed quickly.  I could tell you what they showed me, but then they'd have to sell you some, and unless you wanted to steer a navy destroyer and fire its armaments by voice commands, you probably don't want any.

The Return Trip.  .  .  .

Now, myself and two Death Star people are now getting in the rental car and going back to the airport.  One of the DS people is flying back in the same plane as I am, while the other is to be dropped off at the train station, so he can go to his next appointment in Philadelphia.  We left Murray Hill and following the instructions we were given, drove a few blocks, went under a railway, and turned left.  After a few miles it was obvious we had missed the station, as the road and railway were rapidly diverging.  So we drive back towards Murray Hill.

About halfway back to Murray Hill, we pass a grocery store and decide to ask for directions to the train station.  As we are circling in the parking lot, we roll down the window and ask a man who is loading his groceries into his car about how to get to the station.  He says that it is a block or so behind the grocery store and if we'll hop in his car, he will take us all there.  Well, we are already seated in our car, so we decline this bizarre offer.

After a few minutes we locate the train station, but find that it isn't the right type.  We want an Amtrak station, but this one is only Direct Current.  After a quick talk with the stationmaster, we also discover that the correct way to get to the Amtrak station is to drive to Newark airport which is 20 miles away, then take a bus to the train station, which by then will be an Amtrak station.  Whatever.

So we drive to the airport, deposit our rental car and send one companion on his way, looking for a bus to take him to the train station.  My companion and I, fearful about being late for our 5:35 plane (its 5:20 now) tip the porter at the curb extra to make sure the luggage gets on the plane and we run into the airport lobby, only to discover two thousand people getting ready to go to Disney World who are all in line to get their tickets changed to aisle seats.  We eventually get checked-in, get through security and walk hurriedly down the long hallway that connects the main terminal to the part of the terminal that actually has gates and planes.

On arrive at the gate we are informed that the plane has not yet arrived due to bad weather (it's cloudy again, but not raining at the Newark airport and hasn't rained all day) and that we won't be leaving until 6:00.  They also mention darkly that the area is under a Tornado watch.  Maybe that is normal for April in Newark, I don't know.

My companion decided to spend this period asking me what I thought of the visit, "isn't our product great", "when can we send you 50,000 of them", and I say "uh huh" a lot, because I really didn't get much sleep the night before, and I can't authorize a purchase anyway.  I then read the newspaper that someone had shoved under the door of my hotel room that morning, but most of the paper seemed to concern some local event called "Amy Fischer", so I tossed it back in the briefcase.

About this time, we began to notice a complete lack of airplane.  As the clock approached 6:00, the manual departure sign was mysteriously changed to say 6:30.  Then at 6:35 we were told that the plane was here, but was somewhere overhead in a holding pattern and was unable to land due to the bad weather.  (This is a new usage of the word "here" and should be reported to the Websters dictionary people immediately.)

Also, another look out the window showed that it was still cloudy and just a slight misty rain, nothing that should affect air travel anywhere else in the world.  Perhaps the acid rain problem is really bad in Newark.

Of course, all of this was explained on the TV show "The X-Files", where it was disclosed that all the air traffic controllers working in Newark got deliberately shown the wrong movie during their training.  Normally, trainees would see the training film with the exciting title "Traffic control operations in limited visibility conditions utilizing the Instrument Landing System" and the second feature "VOR is our friend", which all other air traffic controllers trained since 1957 have viewed.  However, as part of one of the many top-secret experiments the Army secretly did on the general population in the fifties and sixties, the Newark controllers were instead shown "Casablanca", which to air traffic controllers drives home the point that if you let a plane arrive or take-off when it is foggy or cloudy, you lose the girl and you end up having to go off with another guy and join a free-French garrison. 

Of course, maybe the Newark air traffic controllers are actually very smart and are not really in Newark, running things from an office in New York City, which can be dimly seen in the distance.  This would make sense, because if it's cloudy or foggy or a really tall ship docks in Newark, the controllers sitting on Manhattan island would not be able to see the Newark airport from where they are, so the best solution would be to close Newark airport for the afternoon, and go see the matinee at Radio City instead.

Anyway, as we waited, we noted that hardly any other planes were arriving and many cancellations "due to bad weather, so your accommodations are your own problem, HA HA!" were being announced over the terminal public address system.  Finally about 7:00, the plane from Chicago that we were to use finally arrived outside the terminal window, instead of just being "here".  By this time, it is now raining (not heavy) and there is some distant lightning.  Around 7:20 they started letting us get on board.

As we are standing in line in the jet-way, one of the pilots comes up the jet-way and goes out the side door onto the tarmac.  After a few minutes, he returns (I had only advanced a few feet in line) and goes back to the cockpit with a disgusted (and damp) look on his face.  Anyway, I work my way back to my seat, 27A, as far back as you can go on the left side of this 727.  The plane is completely full, and we wait.

About 7:35, with everybody finally seated, the pilot comes on the public address system and says that a fuel truck has struck the back of the plane, the flight is canceled, and would we please get off.  Now.  You might expect a frantic rush for the exits, but something quite different happened. Immediately, dozens of people, including the man sitting next to me grab the phones in the seats and start calling the airline to change their reservations.  My neighbor said something like "Yes, I am sitting on flight 13, which was just canceled, and would like to change my reservation to a plane that hasn't been hit by a fuel truck lately." In his case, the computer back at the reservation center was convinced that we were in the air and well on our way to our destination, and the computer hadn't heard about the fuel truck, so it really didn't want to make any reservation changes.  It also turns out that although you can specify smoking or non-smoking, you can't actually request a plane that has been "hit by fuel truck" or "not hit by fuel truck".

It was funny in a way, because the airport only had two or three planes arriving at any given time due to the weather situation (which is now a light rain that wouldn't impress Gene Kelly), so each plane had available two or three times the number of ground personnel that would normally service a given plane.  It was probably this overstaffing that led to truck and plane coming into such close contact.  I assume this is why the crew member went out in the rain at that point in time, to exchange insurance information, point wildly at the dent in the bumper, argue about who should get the ticket, etc.   Note also that the airline continued to load people on the plane after the "incident" occurred.

Like the tourist death march, all the passengers get their belongings and trudge back to the terminal. By the time I make my way from the back of the plane and reach the terminal, they are just completing an announcement regarding what we should do.  So I got in a long line at the ticket agent to find out what they had said before I was able to get off the plane.  After twenty minutes or so and only halfway through the line, they start yelling the new plan: "A 767 is being sent from DFW to Newark, and it will pick us up and fly us back.  It won't be here until 9:30, so be patient. " They went on to say that if we wanted to fly out tomorrow, they would now give us hotel vouchers.  This they would do now because the cancellation was due to a non-weather-related-event, ie, hitting the plane with a fuel truck.

We should have suspected that this was a lie, because this plane would have to travel at 1,200 miles per hour to reach Newark by 9:30, but we missed this curious flaw in their story at the time.

Then came the ultimate leap of faith: a new announcement is yelled at us that says our luggage had been taken off the plane with minor fuel truck damage and was being sent to the Newark baggage claim area.  They went on to say that if the luggage was still there by the time our new plane arrived, the luggage would be collected and put on the new plane.  We were not allowed to go down there and get the luggage if we wanted it to be on the new plane.  So for two hours (under the current plan), our luggage would be whizzing around the baggage carousel at the Newark airport, waiting for anyone to walk off with it, assuming the baggage machine didn't wear holes in it first.  This sounded like a really great plan to the bulk of the passengers, right up there with taking a skiing holiday in Libya.

So we waited some more.  Around 8:30, the agents yelled that the new plane was now a 727, so we would all have the same seats as before.  They never explained how this plane changed from a 767 to a 727 in mid-air.  We also found out that it was actually the sewer truck that hit the plane, not a fuel truck.  I suspect people would have gotten off the plane a lot slower if they had known it was just a sewer truck.

The rain and wind were quite strong by now, and if the weather had been like this at 5:30, it would have justified the first delay and Gene Kelly would be searching for cover or the director.

About 9:00 the ticket agents announced that the replacement plane was "in the Newark area" (apparently not quite as close as the Newark usage of the word "here"), but due to the weather (the storm had let up and it was now just a light sprinkle), the plane was in a holding pattern, and not actually on the ground.  Big surprise.

About now we noticed an interesting trend.  If the airline had good news to report, the airline agent would happily use the public address system that the Newark airport thoughtfully provided.  If they had bad news, he or she would simply shout the information, possibly hoping fewer people would hear the bad news.  As time went by, we heard a lot of shouting.

About 9:30 we were told the plane that would now be used to take us back to DFW was coming from Dulles airport in Washington, and it was expected to take off shortly and be in Newark around 10:00.  What happened to the magical plane from DFW that changed model numbers in mid-air and was in a holding pattern above Newark just thirty minutes earlier?  No one seemed to know, but they insisted that the plane from Dulles was the one to be used now.

This activity reminded me a lot of the game "Cheese Shop", which was invented by the writers of Monty Pythons Flying Circus, a television show that entailed a lot more flying than we were doing.  In this game, the first player is the customer who wants to buy a certain type of cheese.  The second player, who plays the part of the shopkeeper must always provide an excuse as to why he cannot sell that particular type of cheese to the customer.  The customer must then ask for a different type of cheese.  The customer gets five seconds to come up with the name of a different type of cheese he wants to buy, and the shopkeeper gets five seconds to come up with a new excuse for why the customer can't have the cheese, and the excuse must be one that he has not used before in this game. Using the same excuse twice, asking for the same type of cheese, or exceeding either time limit ends the game.  Physical assault by either player also ends the game.

Sharp (or "Tangy") observers can see that we were actually playing the Advanced Edition of "Cheese Shop", where you use airplanes and sewer trucks instead of cheese, and there are no time limits.

At 10:05 we were informed that due to bad weather in Washington, the replacement plane for the replacement plane had finally been allowed to take-off, but it wouldn't be here before 11:00.  At this point, we decided to get something to eat.  Since the first plane never actually got in the air, we didn't get any of the food they had loaded on board.

But the single snack stand in this terminal had closed a little earlier. We wanted to go back to the main terminal to find a place that was still open and then we discovered another charming thing about Newark airport.  Apparently the Newark newspapers never cover anything other than Amy Fischer, so the airport never found out about the end of the Persian Gulf War some years earlier.  Because of this, the only way you can reach the gates is with a ticket.  But the airline had taken the tickets from us when we arrived, leaving us with the seat stub for a plane that was canceled hours ago.  The ticket agent didn't think security would give us any trouble, but by this time we were paranoid.  The ticket agent also didn't offer us a voucher for meals or anything, insisting that we would get a meal on the plane.  We asked the guy at the metal detector and he didn't know the rule on just having a boarding pass stub.  His supervisor finally said our boarding pass stub would allow us back into the terminal, so on we went, hoping he conveyed this information to his employees.

At the security gate, we passed a throng of people, just staring up the long hallway that connects to the gate.  You can't actually see anything from this location, just the hall, which was empty.  The people looked much like your dog does when you leave him/her in the car and go inside a store for a minute.  The dog will stick his/her head out the window and just STARE at the door of the shop, unless the dog is too busy barfing in the car seat. Anyway, that's how these people looked, hoping for friends to arrive on a flight that meanwhile was probably circling around, waiting for every cloud in the Eastern time zone to go away before they would be allowed to land.

Well, we were able to get out to the main terminal and find ancient food at outrageous prices.  You know, normal airport food.  After a quick and partially digestable meal we went back to our gate, and managed to get past the new security person (the old one went off duty or something), past the people who were still staring up the hall, and returned to the gate area to find that the latest news was that the plane in Washington was now preparing to take off, something it supposedly did an hour earlier. 

As was becoming the norm, they used the PA system to give us what was deemed "good" news. Also, there was more news which wasn't so good, so they said it in a much softer voice.  Citing FAA regulations, they said that by the time the plane arrived here, the crew would have its maximum on-duty time, (although most of this time was on the ground) and that they would not be able to actually fly the plane anywhere when they arrived.

The nervous voice from the ticket agent hiding under the counter who was speaking into the microphone said we should not worry, because the airline had located a new crew with fresh batteries at La Guardia airport (East of New York City, sort of on Long Island) and that they would put the crew in a limo and drive them to Newark (West of New York City, sort of in New Jersey).  Hopefully the crew would arrive at about the same time as the plane did and well before the new crews' batteries also ran down.  Apparently the idea of flying a crew the fifteen or so air-miles from La Guardia to Newark was considered too risky, as they might be forced to land in Alabama first.

We weren't too impressed by this plan.  Between 11 PM and midnight, several other planes from this airline arrived at adjacent gates, and the entire waiting crowd would look the disembarking crews and collectively think "Why don't we grab these guys and get them to fly us home?  And look! They even have a plane that hasn't been run into by a sewer truck lately!" As though they read our thoughts, these crews tended to walk past us in a very brisk fashion, the same way you would walk past the muggers in the park at night.  But we didn't assault any of them.  At this point, few of us had enough energy left.

To keep busy, we spent most of our time watching a small group of people tangle with the security personnel.  As I mentioned hours ago, the only snack stand in this entire terminal had closed about the same time it got dark outside.  But there was a group of people who wanted beer.  So they sent one of their group out of the terminal, who went somewhere in Newark via taxicab, found a 7-11 and bought several six-packs of cold beer, which he then placed in a duffle bag that he retrieved from the still-whizzing-around luggage down in the baggage area.  He then proceeded to attempt to bring this through the security checkpoint and back to the gate.  However, the fact that he had in his possession enough metal to construct an attack submarine was actually noticed by the security people, or at least, by their equipment.

Instead of doing something normal, like showing the contents of the bag and trying to explain what he was doing with a case of beer (known only to the security personnel at this point as a large amount of metal that pegged the meter), this person instead picked up the bag and continued walking, jogging and then running down the corridor to our terminal, which was vacant apart from the custodians and everyone waiting for this particular flight.  He ran faster in response to the calls and protests of the guards now chasing after him.

By the time this person reached the gate lobby, he was finally stopped by some of the security guards, who didn't shoot him, even though they had every reason, especially since he didn't offer them any beer.  He explained that his party (now cheering him on, but from well across the room so that they might avoid arrest) wanted to have some beer and couldn't buy any in the terminal at this point because the store was closed.  The security guards pointed at the large sign behind him that said that alcohol could not be taken from the snack stand premises, now safely locked behind a gate. (This rule either means that the Newark airport terminal is "dry", or the rule prevents tipsy ticket agents from accidentally letting passengers escape the Newark airport at any time close to what is printed on their tickets.)

After much arguing, including a threat that he would personally drink all of the beer right on the spot rather than give up a single can, this group was finally allowed to not be arrested, and they could drink their beer provided they did so by standing on the tiny part of the snack stand tile floor that extended a foot or so outside the snack stand gate.  So this group worked on the six-packs, and the rest of us waited for plane and crew to arrive.

Finally, just after midnight, the plane from Dulles arrives and we find out that this really is the plane that left DFW that we had been originally told about, the one that had changed sizes in mid-air.  It was a regularly scheduled flight, but had spent so much time circling Newark waiting for all the sewer trucks to get out of the way that it had run out of fuel and had been forced to land at Dulles, even though there are at least five major airports that are closer.  Once refueled at Dulles, they wouldn't let the plane take-off again until the storm had cleared up.  In fact, they managed to land for fuel in front of the approaching storm (the same one), rather than landing at an airport behind the storm and they ended-up flying through the same storm three times before they landed in Newark.

About 12:20AM, the crew from La Guardia arrives, walking through the lobby to a feeble cheer from the audience.  After ten minutes or so, they start loading us on the plane, nearly seven hours after we should have been boarding the first plane. (The first plane is probably getting a strategic coat of "Bondo" at this very moment.)

Now we are in line in the same jet-way we were in hours earlier, waiting to get to our seats (I'm still to be seated in the very back). While I'm in the very front of the plane waiting for the line to move toward the rear, the Stewardess in the front galley has just finished looking in the various drawers, gets on the phone and says "Hi.  Is there any food back there?"  Bad sign, I suspect, considering they refused food vouchers because they definitely were going to feed us eventually.  Oh well, I ate something earlier, and am tired enough to not care about any meal that they offer, so no problem.

I move on and finally reach my seat which is just in front of the rear galley.  After a little while I hear another voice from the rear galley say "Kelli, do you have any ice or drinks up there?"  Oh, great! No drinks either.  I could really use one at this point.

So we sit and wait.  Clearly everyone who is coming is seated on the plane, and any of our luggage that hasn't been stolen or destroyed has supposedly been put on the plane, but nothing is happening.  After a little longer the Captain comes on the PA and says that he hears that we have had an "interesting evening", and that everything is ready to go but that we need to wait until the plane receives its supply of drinks and ice before we can take-off.

I am thinking that his next line is going to be that "We are also awaiting our supply of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort and convenience.  Until then, there will be a short delay." But he didn't say that.  I think I did say it, somewhat loudly, probably causing severe mental confusion to people in the area.  (Please refer to Part 12 of the radio version of "The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy" if you don't know what this reference is about.)

Finally, around 12:45, someone appeared at the front door of the plane holding a couple of cases of canned drinks (still in cardboard) and a 10lb plastic bag of "Reddi-Ice".  They probably went to the same 7-11 where the guy got the beer.

It turned out that SkyChief, maker of airplane food and high performance gasoline, or whoever it is that cooks the food at Newark had gone to bed already and so there was no plane catering available.  Anyway, the drinks and ice were stowed and the plane was allowed to leave.

It was just past 1 AM when the plane finally took off.  They flew the straight-line route to DFW this time, passing over Louisville and Denver.  We really didn't care at this point, as we were moving generally in the right direction, and were unlikely to strike any sewer trucks at this altitude.

We arrived at DFW around 4 AM.  This pilot landed on the runway that used to contain the wrecked plane, so hopefully it had been moved out of the way, and our pilot elected not to take the high-speed off-ramp, the sign for which probably now has a little black plane silhouette painted on it.

We arrived at a gate at terminal 2E (now renamed "A" to confuse people who had 25 years to get used to the original names), which is about two miles by car from 3E (now "C"), where my car was waiting (under Slot E and Tab G).  Again, by the time I was able to reach the darkened terminal, an announcement of great importance had just ended. (Why they don't wait until everybody gets off the plane before doing the announcements or put speakers in the jetway is still a mystery to me.)  After trying in vain to get one of the agents to repeat the message, some of the people who were in line to get hotel rooms explained that they had said that the airport was closed at this hour, and our luggage was outside the secure area, and if we went out there to get it, we could not get back in.

I had considered getting them to pay for a hotel room, but I found out that since this was my end destination, you didn't get a free hotel room, even if you arrived hours or days later than anticipated for non-weather reasons.

No problem, I would get my bag (assuming it wasn't sitting in a pawn shop in Newark), take the automated tram to terminal 3E (I mean "C"), and get in my car and drive home.

The Death Star representative, was still around, but who got really quiet six or seven hours earlier (apparently not enough Stand-by battery life), was probably thinking about how this experience was going to wreck the whole deal, staggered off the plane, said he would call me next week, and we parted company.  He went off in search of a taxicab or something.

I was almost through the one-way door when the ticket agent called-out "The tram isn't running tonight, and there are no buses at this hour. " FINE! It isn't possible to get from one terminal at DFW to another by foot outside the terminal.  However, another passenger said she been in this situation before (not the entire trip, just this part), and the way to handle it was to walk all the way through terminal 2E (I give up; it was 2E for 25 years and will stay 2E, nayyah), take the moving sidewalk to terminal 3E, then walk through 3E until you come to an exit close to your car.  Then get in your car and drive it through the highway loops back to terminal 2E, pick up your luggage, and go.

Ok, that seemed marginally reasonable, but of course, a two mile walk at 4:30 AM after being awake for 24 hours already isn't that fun.  This airport was dead; even the custodians had gone home.  The moving sidewalk between terminals wasn't working, but as we approached, we must have set off some alarm and the walkway came on, reducing our walking distance by a quarter of a mile.

So I got the car, drove back over to the terminal I arrived at, wrestled my bag away from the one clerk that was still awake and who was trying to lock the bag up because I didn't pick it up instantly, and I went home.

After all of this, did the airline slip me a few extra "frequent try-to-be-a flyer" miles?  Give me a voucher for my meal?  Pay for the extra parking fees?  Possibly provide a discount or upgrade on a future flight?  A letter of apology?  An overnight kit?  A free septic tank cleaning?  Nope, I didn't get a sausage.  But it was certainly "Something special on the Ground." (TM)


In 1995, another company I don't work for anymore sent me to visit the Death Star people via Newark yet-again.  Guess what? Very little has changed.  The airport was still on Gulf War security footing, and all departing planes were still being canceled because of "bad weather". This time, it was just partly cloudy. I had to change airlines and switch flights two more times before finding a plane that worked and had a pilot daring enough to fly back to DFW via Atlanta and other interesting places. The Death Star people I visited had heard something about "Glastnost", but they probably thought it was a trade name of a new German car, and the newspaper I got on the trip still had Amy Fischer articles in it, although they were no longer on page one of every section - including the classifieds - like they were before.  On the plus side, the Newark airport does seem to finally have their sewer trucks under control, so there is room for hope.

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