We thought we had the perfect plan. Every year we have a Canadian client who plans their executive off site the week of our Thanksgiving. We don’t really have a huge issue with this, except the travel part of the equation. Being on the roads or in the air during the week of Thanksgiving is generally not such a great idea. So this year, with the location being in Toronto, I made the plan to stay an extra day and fly home on Thanksgiving day. I figured most folks wanted to be home for the holiday, thus the airports would be less crowded and things would be running smoothly.
The idea was working well coming through customs in Toronto. Our line was short and easy to navigate. Arriving in Minnesota, we had time for a matcha green tea at Starbucks and some snacks before getting to our gate for the last leg of the trip home. Our plans were to have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with our friends at The Green Tea House.
As we were making our way to the departure gate, we saw the first sign of an issue. The word delayed was parked next to our flight number to Kalispell. We went to the nearest Delta desk to inqure. The answer was discouraging: “Wow, I have no idea what this code means, but the computer says your flight is only 30 minutes delayed”. I never like hearing, “I have no idea what that means.” I’ve heard that before and it generally means trouble.
Once at the gate, we saw that the delay was still showing as only 30 minutes. However, the folks at the desk were whispering amongst themselves, and I had a bad feeling about what might be coming next. Sure enough, the desk folks told us there was a maintenance issue, but that it wasn’t the plane but the gas line from the refueling truck. This should be fixed quickly.
The next sign of further issues came when some folks watching the plane out the window commented on the cloud of smoke coming from the back. At that point, it had been at least forty-five minutes since an update. With the crowd moving to the window, the desk folks made another announcement. This time we learned there was indeed a plane issue, some type of fuel line leak inside the plane. At this point they offered us food vouchers. I think they were hoping most of us would stop looking at the window.
There were various reactions to the news. I was frustrated with the inconsistent information but grateful we were not going to be boarding a smoking plane. Most folks were grumpy but not too upset. One woman started on a major rant about why anyone ever came to Montana and her appreciation for living in New York City. I briefly wanted to encourage her not to visit Montana again after sitting next to her while she complained to everyone she knew on the phone.
The desk team still held out hope for a flight but soon there was the first mention of a possible cancellation. Plus, the flight crew, which had boarded earlier, came off the plane. The pilot assured us the plane was too cold and they were just taking a break for warmth. Truthfully, he seemed nervous about having to inform the crowd of another delay. This really started the flurry of activity. There was only one other option for getting back to Montana that day, and it involved switching to Alaska Airlines and flying through Seattle. As an Alaska Gold member, I thought this, at least, sounded better than a night in Minnesota. So I called the member line to hear my options. The biggest issue was the fact we had already checked our bags. I could book and make the flights, but if we left without the original flight being canceled our bags would become the security risk that grounded the flight. At that moment, I did not care and basically shared this with the Alaska reservation person. She handled this amazingly well and talked me down, assuring me the reservation could wait. Apparently, neither flight was full and even if all fifty folks from this flight shifted, there would be room for everyone. Okay. I quit being so self-involved and came to my senses. I was not going to be the one who grounded a plane even if I was very frustrated with the Delta system.
Time continued to pass and it seemed more folks were opting to switch to the Alaska flight. A few were making this happen through tears and stories of why they had to get home. The New Yorker woman gave an Oscar performance. The tears were not believable to me because I had been sitting next to her and did not believe her sob story about how she had to get to her family. Other stories were much more heartwarming and gut-wrenching. One woman was traveling alone and not only was she missing her family, it was her birthday.
Because I had been sitting next to New Yorker woman I decided I could not let myself become like her. It’s within my abilities, mind you, but I just did not want to become that negative and she was giving me a fantastic mirror of what I can be like when upset. I started finding ways to make it work. We had friends who were tracking our progress and were willing to pick us up at anytime – even the late midnight Alaska flight was okay with them. We had a voucher for food and even though it really only covered another Matcha – that was something. I also booked the Alaska flight just in case, and learned that I would not ground the flight. I also moved away from the New Yorker woman and discovered some friendly folks who had been dealing with much worse circumstances and who were in great spirits. (They were the newly trained ATT Wireless folks coming home after three weeks of training, having already spent an extra night in Memphis. I was inspired by their spirit and loved the fact that this did truly mean Verizon was going have real competition.)
Finally, six hours later, we got the news our flight was going to be canceled. BUT the Delta team had asked for help and Compass Airlines was bringing in a crew and a plane to take us home! The news bought cheers and applause.
The next bit was surprising. We were leaving in less then fifteen minutes and had to leave the C gates rush through the airport to another gate, G7. The Delta desk folks shared with us a short cut and sent us on our way. Basically, there were forty of us running or at least walking very fast most of the way around the airport. Upon arrival at the G gates there was no sign of our flight. The desk folks there checked. There was a mistake. It wasn’t the G gates but the D gates. So off we went again, basically going back the way we came (the D Gates were right next to the C gates). It was somewhat comical.
Other than the Compass Airlines folks, the D gates seemed closed. Instead of the fast departure we had anticipated, we soon learned that going from one airline to another was not that simple. Everyone had to be rechecked in. Plus, there were suddenly all the folks who had made their cases for switching to Alaska who had to be transferred back again. Though no problem for us, the shift was a bit of a computer nightmare for the Delta and Compass folks. In many ways, a comical trip around the airport and the hours of uncertainty had bonded us together. Once on the plane, the Compass crew announced that they too had been called in special, just for our trip and we applauded their efforts.
The flight was smooth. It was clear that the flight crew were not regularly heading into Montana. They had no idea how to pronounce Kalispell (Cowsbells) and assured the passengers that gates agents would assist us upon arrival with any missing baggage. (Anyone who has flown into our airport after 7pm knows that there are no agents at the gate, just one security guard and one baggage person.) Still, they were great and had become part of our drama. Upon touch down, a large cheer went up. Indeed, we were all grateful to be home. (Well, I am not sure about the New Yorker woman, though I did see her with family at the baggage claim and she seemed much happier.)
Though not what we expected, I have no doubt this will be a Thanksgiving we won’t forget. We even made it to The Green Tea House in time for a late evening taste of the wonderful meal which had been saved especially for us. Our friends stayed to keep us company and I knew I had some great blog material. What more could I ask for!!