- If it was a joke, it would start like this: Once there was a lawyer, 3 pilots, a sex educator, a financier, and a white-haired lady stuck on a tarmac for 4 hours . . . But it would not be a joke; it would be true!
I flew out of LA yesterday (That check-in experience probably deserves its own post!) It was a very bumpy ride to Chicago, but we made it safely. (By the way, just as a recommendation: If there is a lot of turbulence and passengers are not to leave their seats, it’s probably not a good idea to serve drinks three times and only have 2 bathrooms.)
I had enough time in my layover to grab a bit of lunch; then, I found my gate and waited. Waited might need to be underscored here. Okay, granted, there was snow coming down, but not enough to stop Canadians from taking off. Possibly OHare does not know that. The plane was supposed to load at 2:15, but didn’t until 4 gate changes and 3 and a half hours. Strangers get to be friends after that stretch.
We finally boarded at 5:30 something and sat. Apparently, there was a question as to whether or not the flight attendant hobbit was legal to fly. I say hobbit because he had the low-key demeanor and familiar warmth of a pre-burglar hobbit. They (anonymous ubiquitous they) were apparently on hold with somebody for 45 minutes, and meanwhile a crew came to de-ice the plane–not so efficiently I might add. There had been very little communication and updates all along, but finally one male passenger had enough, and he wanted off the plane. Problem: Because it was an international flight, his bags would have to be taken off, which would be more delays. He was finally talked into staying and was quasi soothed by the lawyer lady in front of me.
The legality issue continued to be a problem, and we sat on the tarmac a couple of hours. To further bolster passenger confidence, the bathroom apparently was a bring-your-own-paper one. No seat protectors, no tissue, no toilet paper, and no hand towels.
When the attendant was, I guess, deemed legal, we started to pull away from the gate; at the same time, a passenger started walking toward the front of the plane to talk to the hobbit. He kept pointing to the outside of the plane–the passenger, not the hobbit. What he was trying to do was have the attendant talk the pilot into coming out to look at the wings, which were now all loaded with ice. Given that he was an experienced pilot and test pilot, his opinion bore more weight than any other passenger.
The captain did in fact come out, storming his way down the aisle toward the guy, who had returned to his seat area. He yelled at the man threatening him for the man’s threatening to call the FAA. Lots of threatening going around, similar to what may happen on a kids’ playground when the adults are not around. I expected a fist fight any second.
I have never heard a captain act in such an unprofessional manner, let alone heard of a pilot since 9-11 coming out of the locked cockpit–especially in light of a perceived “threat” of some sort. Typically, you could be about to fall into the ocean in a firey blaze, and he would still be talking in soothing tones, thanking folks for flying Always-positive Airways. Bizarre. Totally bizarre.
The TSA took the passenger off, and of course our distraught passenger from before decided he too wanted off. There was almost a passenger revolt as others were tempted to follow suit, given that if we flew with all that ice on the wings we might crash and burn. The captain, back in his cockpit, came on the intercom and whined about the meddling guy and reassured everyone that the de-icing should last for 3 hours. Of course, every i-phone and googling i-pad found contradicting information. Gotta love Wi-fi. He then told us he was calling for another de-icing to reassure us peons, given that safety always comes first–right after proper attitude and proper communication.
Of course after so long on the tarmac idling and polluting, we now needed to be refueled. After another go at de-icing where you could actually see the wings again, the snow was coming down harder, but we were ready to rock and roll. Except for a few abrupt brakings, we made it to the runway; and with a prayer, we were airborne and on our way to Ottawa.
That is when the passengers by me started exchanging emails to make a massive chain letter complaint to American Airlines and the FAA. The other pilot in front of me, who was a friend and co-worker of the pilot who had been kicked off, gave us a lot of information about flight and procedures and death by ice so that we were all very appreciative of the guy who had sacrificed his party with friends and relatives in Ottawa to keep us all safe!
The rest of the flight was without incident and ended with an almost intelligible muttering by the captain, thanking us for flying American. Really? I would rather have had an apology or at least a Starbucks coupon.
My arrival which was to be at 5:45 EST was midnight. I got through immigration unscathed and found out my sister and brother-in-law had gone home and found out my flight was cancelled. So when I texted I was still alive, my brave brother-in-law turned around and made the hour-long trip back to Ottawa. I walked out to meet him, hit in the face with -25 degrees of cold. Welcome to Canada! Welcome to real winter!
That was a trip to remember, for sure. I have never had such a weird experience in flying, but am happy to be safe, on the ground, and am already fashioning my complaint to American Airlines. Maybe I’ll get a free roll of toilet paper out of it.
Oh, and we hit the news. Tons of flights were cancelled and rerouted from Ohare, but we weren’t the one cancelled because of the baby diaper down the toilet; we were the one with the blustery captain, the hobbit, the pilots, the white-haired lady, and the sex educator (who dazzled those around her with research findings once the plane actually made it to the air!)