If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know that I was in Orlando Sunday – Tuesday for a conference at which I was presenting on my organization’s social media practices. I was returning to Raleigh Tuesday evening and left for the airport right after my presentation ended.
What Should Have Happened
After I rock my presentation, I dash to get my suitcase and meet the shuttle outside. I arrive at the airport in time to check my bag, make it through security, and browse in a few shops before heading to the gate. I’ve timed it perfectly so that I have to wait only about 15 minutes before we board the plane. The flight is uneventful, and I have enough time in Charlotte before my next flight to get something to eat, which is a nice change from the usual sprint I do through the airport to make my connecting flight. The Charlotte flight leaves and lands on time, and I’m back at my house by midnight. It’s a late night, but it’s worth it to be home that night so that I can be the one to greet Daniel in the morning and go to work at my normal time since I am such a dutiful employee.
What Really Happened
Everyone I’ve talked to about my flight out of Orlando worries that I won’t make it if I leave the hotel at 5:30. Panicking, I change the shuttle pick-up time to 5 and leave my presentation 10 minutes early (I’m part of a panel). I had planned to change out of the shift dress and heels I was wearing into something more comfortable for the flight, but as a result of my concern about making my flight, I conclude I don’t have the time. Surely I’ll be fine albeit a tad uncomfortable.
I check my bag and get through security quickly although I am selected by the TSA to have my hands tested for…chemicals? Gun powder? Bomb residue? Uranium? Not sure. No one explains, and I don’t ask questions. It turns out I have plenty of time. Oh well. I decide to head to my gate. As I approach my gate, I recognize it as the “afterthought” part of the terminal. It looks a little bit like someone cut a tin can in half. Unlike other parts of the terminal, it has no shops other than a tiny convenience store. I buy a bag of pretzels and Diet Pepsi and take a seat, people watching. “Oh, wow, that guy looks like Peeta,” I think, momentarily daydreaming about it being him although I wonder how he got the injury that landed him in the wheelchair.
A few minutes later, the attendants announce that our plane is 15 minutes late, but it shouldn’t delay our overall flight time. At 7:15, we board the plane. I’m sandwiched between two huge guys and try to adjust my dress so that it doesn’t ride up my thighs. As soon as we’re all seated and ready for take-off, the pilot announces that the Charlotte airport is closed due to bad weather and that we will taxi to the runway but not take off for 30 minutes. 30 minutes. Ok, I can handle that. At 8pm, the pilot announces the Charlotte airport is still closed and that we will wait another 45 minutes. I pull out my book because my iPhone battery is getting low. One of the guys next to me sleeps while the other watches a movie on his phone. The flight attendants bring around cookies and drinks. At 9:30, the pilot announces another 30-minute delay. At 10pm, the pilot tells us that while the Charlotte airport is now open, the Jacksonville airport is in chaos as it tries to sort out all the planes in its airspace. We have 10 minutes either to take off or return to the gate because we will have reached the maximum time allowed by the FAA for sitting on the plane.
At 10:05, the pilot tells us everything is hunky dory and we can take off. We clap and cheer. Yay! You know who else is on a flight from Orlando? Families. Children. Small children who get grumpy, hungry, whiney and the other seven dwarves when they miss dinner time and bedtime. The noise level and parental aggravation have been steadily increasing over the last hour, so we are all very glad it’s almost over. The flight is very bumpy due to the weather, and the flight attendants aren’t able to bring out the beverage cart. I shift constantly, trying to find a comfortable position because after sitting in oh-so-comfortable airplane seats for over three hours, my back and legs hurt. In positive news, I started and finished one book and started another.
We land in Charlotte at 11:30 PM. The customer service rep directs us where to go as we deplane. No flight for me. I’ve missed the connecting flight to Raleigh, so I’m directed to Special Services which now that I think about it kind of sounds like Special Forces, and if I recall correctly, Special Forces are known for their ruthlessness and efficiency, not sympathy. Tempers are starting to flare between aggravated travelers and airline employees, which at least offers a distraction. The ladies of Special Forces, I mean Special Services, inform me that the next flight is at 9:30 AM on Wednesday and hand me a coupon voucher for a local hotel. Not being a resident of Charlotte and logically assuming they are if they are working at the airport, I ask them if they can recommend a hotel. One of them looks at me blankly and says, “I don’t know any hotels. Sorry. Call the number on the voucher.”
And with that response, I am dismissed. Honey Badger doesn’t care what happens to me after that point. I, however, do care and am slightly overwhelmed. I don’t know Charlotte well, and I don’t like Charlotte (I don’t think Charlotte has a soul). I also don’t like the Charlotte airport. While this trip wasn’t my first business trip, I’m far from a seasoned traveler. I’ve never been through a situation like this before. I call the number on the voucher but surprise! I can’t get through because they are experiencing a high volume of calls. Uh, yeah, from looking around me, I can see we’re all on phones doing the same thing. I pull out my iPad and go to the site listed on the voucher. There are 4 hotels listed and all are miles away from the hotel. I try looking up closer hotels, but there are no rooms (I find out later there is a huge convention in town at the same time, hence no rooms). I finally get through to one of the hotels, and they have space, but they don’t have shuttle service. I call Jimmy, who helpfully tells me to take a taxi. Being that it’s 1AM at this point, that sounds like my best option. There are two ladies around me also looking for rooms, so I give them the number to my hotel. We agree to split a taxi and head downstairs to find…
Masses of people waiting for taxis. The good news is that the line is moving fairly quickly. The closer we get to a taxi, the more people stream through the doors and line up. Jimmy calls and I bitch at him for not being as helpful as I thought he should have been. Yes, I was projecting and probably somewhat irrational as well as tired and a little scared. When the three of us get in our taxi, the driver asks if our hotel is in South Carolina. I channeled my inner diva and reply, “Is that a problem?” I had had it. All I wanted to do was take off my shoes, rub my aching legs and go to bed. I’d pay whatever amount to get to the hotel. Turns out that it was not a problem, and 20 minutes later we arrived at the hotel. After a painfully slow check-in, I trudge to my room. It’s 2am. I eat the bag of pretzels bought hours ago for dinner and go to bed.
Wednesday morning, I’m out of bed at 6:30am and dressed in seconds. After all, I have no makeup, toiletries or extra clothes. I don’t exactly feel fresh as a daisy (I feel like crap honestly), but I look presentable although I’m starting to hate my dress and shoes. At the airport, I limp into the terminal and am rewarded for my misfortune by being selected for a pat-down by the TSA. I try to joke to the TSA staff about getting to experience all of their search methods, but they don’t laugh. I wonder if they are radioing to ground crew to pick my bag to be searched after I’m cleared through. Starbucks takes some of the edge off the fatigue although I want to throat punch the next attendant who tells me she loves my dress. Instead, I reply sweetly, “Thank you! I’m glad to know it still looks nice since I’ve had to wear it for two days.”
Finally, I’m back in Raleigh. I open my front door at noon, exactly 18 hours after I arrived at the Orlando airport. I change out of the dress – grateful it isn’t permanently stuck to by body– inhale food and collapse into bed.
Lucky for me, I get to do it all over again in two weeks when I head to Orlando for another conference.
We had a vote on a little initiative known as Amendment One on Tuesday while I was in Orlando. Unfortunately, Amendment One passed (more on that tomorrow). Those of us who voted against it are pretty bummed, especially since those in favor of it are gleefully proclaiming God’s will has been done. In the Elizabethan Age, there was a concept known as the Great Chain of Being, positing basically that there was a divine order. A divine version of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Whenever this divine order was disrupted, God’s will was being thwarted, and disorder happened as a result. Often, this disorder manifested in nature: earthquakes, storms, unnatural weather. As I thought about my horrific night on Tuesday, caused by bad weather in North Carolina, the fanciful part of me couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe the storms were a manifestation of divine order being ignored. Perhaps God’s will was not done on Tuesday night after all.