Flight 2222 to Austin was said to be ‘on time’ on the departure board, and we were all duly shepherded onto the aircraft ready for a 12.30 pm take-off. It took forever to get us all on – it was a full flight, and ridiculously they loaded (which they always seem to) from the front first. I suppose it’s understandable that they’d give the First-Class lot preferential treatment, but after them, why don’t they load everyone else starting with those at the back? Loading from the front means that those trying the get to the back have to wait while those seated at the front faff around putting their stuff in the overhead and generally getting themselves comfy, causing a major bottleneck. By the time we were all on, it was already ten minutes past when we should have taken off. It was then that the captain announced that due to the recent heavy rain in Austin that flooded the airport, the radar system there still was out of action so they were relying instead on sharing Houston’s radar system, and because Houston needed it for their own airport, they could only give a window when it could be diverted for Austin’s use every now and then through the day. The next window would be in an hour’s time, at 1.40… There was an audible communal groan through the already stuffy cabin. Except for the young couple sitting right next to me… The chap continued to chit-chat to the much more softly spoken woman to his other side in a highly irritating enthusiastic way, throwing in even more irritating imitations of other people’s voices every now and then to impress her I presume. My nerves were already on edge by now and he didn’t help. Not one bit.
Anyway, we taxied for about ten minutes to the very far end of the runway and waited. And waited. Finally the captain came on again and said that Houston was sticking to the 1.40 slot so we’d just wait there until then. It was getting hotter and I was getting edgier and the man next to me was getting more annoying.
At 1.35 the captain came on again to say that we would be able to take off in about ten minutes, except that a caution light was on on the instrument panel and they couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. Warning lights flashed on in me at that and stayed on! You don’t just turn off a caution light, do you? Don’t you find out why it’s on first? Anyway, because they couldn’t turn it off, we’d have to taxi all the way back to the terminal and get the engineers to sort it out, and then wait for the next window from Houston. It might just involve a reset of a button or it might be something more serious, he couldn’t say. A louder communal groan. A ‘Christ almighty!’ from me.
When we got back to the terminal the flight attendants started handing out water as by now it was very hot in the cabin. I asked for some whisky with mine, which raised a few laughs but no whisky. Then the captain came on some considerable time later to say the engineers were halfway through their check and hadn’t figured out what was wrong yet. It might be nothing or it might be something that couldn’t be fixed. And there was always the fact that we’d have to wait for the next window from Houston. Whenever that might be. He then said that if any passengers wished to ‘deplane’ at this point they were welcome to, but their checked-in luggage would have to stay on the plane and they’d have to pick it up in Austin. I mulled over the idea, as by now I was convinced that flying, albeit for just 41 minutes, was NOT a good idea. But how would I then get to Austin? I could rent a car but it would be expensive and my equally expensive satnav (‘GPS’) was packed in my checked-in luggage so I’d have to fork out for another one from the rental car company. Or I could work out how to get from the remote location of DFW Airport into downtown Dallas and get a Greyhound bus if I could get on the internet and buy a ticket. Bloody hell! It should have just been a barely noticeable hop down to Austin and now it was turning into a massively nerve-racking headache!
I sat it out for as long as I could, watching as passengers one by one collected their stuff from the overhead bins and made their way to the front of the plane, and wondering if I should follow suit. The captain came on again and had no further news of any import except to reiterate what he’d already said, not giving any clue as to when or if we might be able to depart. At that I made my snap decision, and texted Peggy, who was going to be meeting me at Austin International Airport, to say, ‘I’m getting off.’
People gawped at me as I fetched my travel guitar out of the overhead bin and struggled down the crowded aisle with my laptop bag, guitar and various coats that I hadn’t been able to squeeze into my checked-in bag, but by then the deed was done and I was out of there! The ticket agent on the desk outside cancelled my place on the flight and I was left to fall back on my own resources in terms of making my way to Austin.
I was so angry and nerve-shredded by then that my first port of call was to the American Airlines information desk, where I spoke to the most lovely woman, Maria, who did absolutely all she could to give me the information I’d need to claim a refund and find out where my checked-in bag had ended up. I told her the whole sorry story, including the bit about me being a nervous flyer and how this had just been too much for me to cope with, and then she said the most genuine and generous thing – she said that if she hadn’t been on duty the next morning, she’d have personally flown with me to Austin and talked to me all the way to reassure me.
But she couldn’t, so she directed me to the car rental area, and advised me to go online to get a better price. So I went to the nearby Starbucks, ordered a coffee and a cheese danish, and switched on the laptop – thank god the DFW free wi-fi connection was unlimited and reliable. However, I discovered that there were no rental cars available that late in the day, and that even if there had been they’d have been hideously expensive for a one-way rental. So I went on the Greyhound Bus website and found that if I booked a ticket online it was very much cheaper than buying it at the bus station (or ‘depot’). Before doing so, though, I called a taxi service and ascertained that the flat fee for a taxi ride from the airport to downtown Dallas, where the bus station is located, was $47. By that time I’d have paid anything, so it seemed fairly OK. Then I purchased my bus ticket, but obviously couldn’t print it off, so I’d just have to pick it up at the station – which I’d read that I could do. But when I looked at the confirmation email it implied that I HAD to print it off or it would be invalid. Oh well, I’d just phone them on the way and tell them my sad story and I was sure it’d all be OK.
I got the first taxi in the rank, and by then was in no mood to talk to anyone about where my accent was from, so the poor taxi guy got slightly short shrift from me. But he was getting a good fare from me, so what the heck? On the way, it being the Dallas rush hour by then, there was plenty of time for me to phone Greyhound and ascertain that I could indeed pick up my ticket when I got there. Or there would have been had there been someone at the other end to pick up the phone. When I FINALLY got through to the customer service centre, the guy I spoke to garbled something about if my ticket was a ‘purchase and print at home’ ticket, that meant just that, and if I didn’t have a printed ticket I’d have to buy another one at the depot. Thoroughly frustrated by now, I yelled at him that I didn’t know what the hell my ticket was called, I’d just bought it online at the airport, he could tell from the confirmation number I’d given him that I had indeed bought it, that I was having a day from hell, and that all I wanted now was to go home. Then I hung up on him, which is never very satisfying on a mobile phone as you don’t hear the thunk of the receiver being slammed down at the other end. The taxi guy had become very quiet by then, realising how utterly furious and at my wits’ end I was by now.
Once I’d paid him (including a seemingly mandatory 15% tip, which put the total at more like $58), I made my way into the bus station and went up to the ticket counter to rant about the injustice of it all, only to be directed to a machine that, if I typed in my confirmation number, would print out my ticket there and then! Why hadn’t the customer service guy thought to tell me that?? Or perhaps he had been about to when I ‘slammed’ the phone down? Who knows? Anyway, I now had my bus ticket and just had to wait 90 minutes or so in a somewhat dodgy departure lounge, holding my laptop bag and guitar very close to me (it was actually in that very bus station 25 years previously that I discovered my beloved Ovation guitar had been stolen off the bus I’d travelled down on, so that memory came back to me vividly and painfully).
The thankfully fairly empty bus would take three hours to get to Austin, and we set off at about 6.45 pm, at which point I breathed a sigh of relief, plugged my laptop into the on-board power point and tuned into the on-board wi-fi (my, how Greyhound buses have improved in those 25 years!), and settled back for the ride down Interstate 35.
All went smoothly for the first 90 minutes or so, but then the driver made a sudden detour off the road and then came to a grinding halt, muttering a disconcerting ‘Uh-oh!’ He’d seen a sign saying the road ahead was closed, so had detoured to take us the scenic back way, but then discovered a weight-restriction sign which meant we couldn’t go that way after all – and in his experience, the road block up ahead could take two to three hours to get through. Another ‘Christ almighty!’ muttered by me and a communal groan from the rest of the bus very similar to those that I had heard on the plane several hours previously. Would I EVER get to Austin?
A couple of women were heading down to Laredo, the bus's ultimate destination, on the Mexican border, and very irritatingly one of them – who was getting married over the border evidently – kept ‘joking’ to the driver, ‘Oh, just go straight to Laredo, bypass Austin and San Antonio!’ Clearly she was too thick-skinned to feel the vibes of irritation being directed at her from me.
Anyway, somehow the road block melted away and we carried on down I-35 without any further bother, arriving at the Austin bus station at about 10 pm. Peggy was waiting for me there, though we managed to sail right past each other like ships in the proverbial night, and I went to a red car that I assumed was hers only to discover that it wasn’t at all. But that was only to be expected after everything else that day, I suppose. When we finally saw each other, though, what utter joy!! :)
PS My checked-in bag made it to Austin Airport, I discovered this morning, and I have a rather gentlemanly kitty called Odyssey (one of Peggy’s many rescues) as my bed fellow, so all is at last well!