Bad Travels- how to spend 49 hours on a 29 hour plane trip

My 29 hour journey took 49 hours from gate to gate:(

I was on my way from Muscat, Oman to Tucson, Arizona in April 2007.  This is a trip that is about half way around the world.

Muscat to Frankfurt, Germany via Bahrain was ok. After landing at Frankfurt, they took us through security to the next gate. The security did not have any walk through metal detectors. The security people had their wands and hands, and they used both! Everyone was being inspected by hand. I can think of a few people who might have enjoyed that, but not me.

The trip from Frankfurt to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas was scheduled for about 10 hours with an arrival at 1430 Texas time. Near the end, the screens predicted arriving 15-20 minutes early. About a half hour and 180 km before arrival, I noticed that we were flying in strange directions that did not go towards the airport. Soon we we were flying in circles. The Captain announced that there was concern about tornados and thunderstorms at the airport. Other planes were diverting to Houston 360km away, but he said we had plenty of fuel and would circle for a while. After about an hour, he said we were going to Houston to refuel. After refueling, we ended up behind 13 other planes. When it was our turn to lift off, he said the bad weather was back at DFW and we would pull aside and wait half an hour. So, at 1830 Texas time, we were taking off. I remember waking up at 2030, looking at the screen and seeing that we were about 180-200km away from the airport and circling. I was off the plane about 2115, or 17 hours after departure.

Immigration and customs was not a problem, but the next step was when I found a 100m line to check bags for the next flight. Some people had cats in cages and a few people were walking their dogs who had also endured the 17 hour flight. The notice board showed my connecting flight was leaving in about 20 minutes. As I waited longer in line, my flight’s departure time kept getting later, and was even changed as late as 2330. I think 2 men were working the baggage recheck desk. They were so slow that the 2 men assigned to take the bags and put them on the conveyor belt sat in wheelchairs playing music on their mobile phones. It reminded me of when our drivers have nothing to do:)

After 90 minutes in line, the one remaining baggage check guy (the other had left) said he was closing and we should go upstairs to the regular checkin (same place where people just dropped off at the airport would check in). I rushed upstairs, and found a checkin for American Airlines, but the attendant at the entrance to the line said they were closing and to go to the one at the other end of the terminal. After 5 minutes fast walk I found the other line, and the line zigzagged back and forth for 6 layers. One lady was handing out papers with toll free numbers to call the airline. A lady from my flight told me she was on hold for 20 minutes. When I made it to the desk agent, it was already well after midnight, and therefore already Wednesday. The original plan was scheduled to have arrived in Tucson about 1745 Tuesday and have dinner with my parents on the way home.

The desk agent told me the next flight was at 1315 on Wednesday as the 2 morning flights had been canceled. With the 5 hour airport closure, and flights not arriving on Tuesday night, there were no planes to depart the next day. She said there was no compensation or hotels provided. In fact she said there were not any available rooms within 100km. So, I went to security to enter the terminals.

I noticed that some people had blankets and camping cots. One guy had an extra blanket and offered it to me. I walked around the terminal, and eventually boarded the inter-terminal train (all within the secure zone) and went to the terminal where my next flight was scheduled to leave to see what was there. I found a McDonald’s, a fast Mexican restaurant called Taco Bell, and a fried chicken restaurant. I proceeded to order and eat about 2.5 meals worth of food. At about 0230 Wednesday, after having failed to find any camping cots, I found a table about 1m x 1.5m near a boarding gate, climbed up and tried to sleep. As in most airports, the seating has armrests that stop people from sleeping. Many people were sleeping on the floor. Some slept on the carpeting at the center of the baggage return carousels. Throughout the night, the loudspeaker had announcements in English and Spanish such as NO SMOKING and you can only bring small bottles of liquids through security. At about 0400 the main lights came on and I was awake for good.

I started walking and decided I was going to walk the full length of each of the 5 terminals having about 40 gates each. Fortunately I still had the paper cup and the plastic takeaway bag from Taco Bell and was using the bag to keep the cup clean and tied to my roller bag as I found that bottled water was about $2 for 500mL.  I regularly filled my cup from the drinking fountains. I noticed some of the more creative people had taken the rows of seats with armrests and leaned them onto the backs and made a bed for 5 people to lie on the floor while using the backrest as their pillow. Others took 2 facing rows of chairs, moved them together, and found sleep as the armrests did not completely meet their opposite, leaving room for the sleeper in the middle.

My 1315 flight was on time. After 2 hours of flight, there were some strong winds on final approach, and the pilot suddenly gave a lot of power. He said there was wind shear and procedure called for aborting the landing, so we went around a again, taking another 10-15 minutes. We landed, and I quickly found the baggage claim and my parents 49 hours after the departure from Seeb. The airport is about the same size as Seeb. After the baggage carousel stopped and they said there were no more bags, I realized my luggage had not arrived. They were handing out papers with a phone number to call for those people who did not want to wait in the line of 20-30 people to file a claim for the lost baggage in person.

So, using my mother’s phone, I called the claim line on the drive home. The lady on the phone kept apologizing for taking other people’s calls. When she got to me, she seemed confused as to why I was calling her. I explained that they gave out the number at the airport. I finally gave up and called from home to file a claim. My bag arrived Thursday just before noon.

For the return in May 2007, it went a little better:) AA from Tucson to London allows 45 minutes to change planes in Chicago (same terminal).  The problem is we had a weather hold of an hour before leaving Tucson. In Chicago, they didn’t wait for me:( Then I missed the flight leaving London by 2-3 hours, so instead of getting the 0930 flight, I had the 2030 flight and got to spend 8 hours that day walking in circles at Heathrow waiting for the next flight.

These are the joys of international travel.  After these experiences, 10 hour flights are easy!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.