Nightmares at 20,000 feet

Surprisingly, the after-effects of Tropical Storm Fay were mild enough to allow us to fly out of Florida early Wednesday morning.   I figured now would be a good time to tell some stories about the flights to and from the Sunshine State.

We were to fly to Florida from Rapid City with a connection at Chicago O’Hare. When we presented our itinerary to the gal at the start of the check-in line at Rapid City, she flipped through our paperwork. “Hmm… final destination Florida with a forty-minute layover at O’Hare,” she said knowingly. Then, passing back the travel documents to us, added “Enjoy your stay in Chicago.”

It turns out that Chicago O’Hare International Airport is infamous for both the quantity and duration of its flight delays. As the lady at our gate in Rapid City somberly observed, Jesus is more likely to return to Earth as a participant on next season’s Big Brother than you are to catch a connecting flight with anything less than a two-hour layover. Flights into O’Hare are routinely several hours late, and the only consolation to panicked travelers is that their connecting flight is most like also equally late.

Our flight from Rapid City to Chicago actually originated in Chicago, and hence arrived an hour late, thereby completely obliterating any chance to make our connecting flight by fifteen full minutes. The Queen B fumed over this development with Faustian wrath until the gal at the gate pointed out that the layover time had been calculated based on the boarding time, not the actual departure time, which is thirty minutes later. The Queen B did some quick mental calculations and realized that, while we would definitely miss the first several boarding calls, we’d still land with fifteen minutes of time to catch the connection before it left.

So, we boarded and flew to Chicago on United’s “Ted” airline, an air-travel provider so cheap their motto is “We can’t even afford to pay for our full name.” Things were looking good during the flight, and when we finally landed the pilot announced that, thanks to a tailwind and clear skies and his generally advanced degree of kick-assitude, we’d actually arrived a good ten minutes ahead of schedule, which meant that we now had a full twenty-five minutes before our connecting flight departed. The elation over this revelation, however, was short-lived, as we promptly got stuck on the tarmac waiting to be assigned a new gate, since the gate we should have landed at an hour previously was currently being used the only aircraft in Chicago that actually managed to arrive on time. The Queen B frantically stared at her watch as our window of opportunity closed, until, with only five minutes to spare, we arrived at our gate and the door opened.

The Queen B grabbed me, her fists clenched on either side of my collar.”

“Run! Tell them we’re coming! Throw yourself in the doorway if you have to! GO!”

And off I went. I pushed my way off the plane, up-ending infants and old people along the way. I raced up the jetway to the departure board and found the connecting flight on it. ON-TIME, it said; BOARDING, it added.

I cursed my bad luck — of all the flights at the routinely late Chicago airport, I have to connect with the only one leaving on time.   Nevertheless, my watch said I had a few minutes before the scheduled departure time, so I ran like hell down the length of Concourse C, down an underground tunnel, to the end of Concourse B.   Along the way, I ran past the massive skeletal remains of a brachiosaurus, which caught me so off-guard that I paused a moment to admire it.   I wondered why it was there, but I quickly decided the skeleton of the massive quadruped was there to impress upon airport patrons the vastness of the airport.   I then resumed my sprint to the end of the concourse, staggering  up to the gate covered in sweat.  and in ragged breaths asked the uniformed woman standing there if the flight was still boarding.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” she said in wonder. “That flight actually left a few minutes early!   Can you believe it?”

There were many things about it that I couldn’t believe, and many choice words I would have liked to used at the smiling woman to convey my disbelief, but I was too out of breath to muster any.

Instead, I hobbled my way back to my family to break the bad news that we were going to be stuck in the airport for who knew how long.    Once again I passed  the massive petrified remains of the dinosaur, whereupon I realized that its role in the airport was not to impress upon airport patrons the vastness of the airport, but rather  to prepare them for the duration of their life they could expect to stay trapped there.

So we were stuck in Chicago for the evening.   The airline found us a flight that left in the morning the next day, and in the interim set us up at a reasonably ritzy hotel.   They gave us vouchers for food there, which we spent at a sports bar that served fast-food quality entrees at gourmet prices.   Since we were still hungry but couldn’t afford to pay the $17.59 they charged for a small sundae, we decided instead to walk down the block to the McDonald’s we’d spied at the corner.”Do you want to go to McDonald’s,” I asked the Ladybug.

The very mention delighted the little girl to an unexpected degree, and she smiled and laughed and clapped with delight.

So I hefted her up onto my shoulders, and the Queen B and I walked leisurely down the block to the McDonald’s, our pace partly to enjoy the time together as a family, but mostly because my legs ached so terribly from all the sprinting I’d done earlier.   When we finally got to the restaurant and walked through the doors, I put the Ladybug down on the ground.   She looked around for a minute or two with an expression that was a mix of disappointment and confusion.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“Where the cows?   Where the dogs?   Where the horsies?” she asked.

I stared blankly at her.   “There aren’t any animals here…   This is McDonald’s…,” I offered.

The Ladybug continued to look confused.   “Where the animals?” she asked again.

“There aren’t any.   We’re here for ice cream, remember?   This is McDonald’s,” I said.

“Yes, McDonald’s,” she agreed.   “E-I-E-I-O.”

Our return trip from Florida to Chicago was on-time and uneventful.   This is actually somewhat surprising to me, since I would assume that having  a flight start off with the woman sitting  next to you explaining to the flight attendant that the one little barf bag provided in the seat pocket was of insufficient volume to last for the duration of the trip was something of a bad omen.

As we were boarding for the final leg of the trip — the one from Chicago back to Rapid City — the athletic couple sitting across the aisle were excitedly discussing the hiking trips in and about the Black Hills they had planned for their summer vacation.   The guy was particularly enthused about a hiking excursion into the Badlands when the woman in the seat in front of him, a frightening looking thing with  orange hair —  turned around and declared “I’ve been to the Badlands!   There’s nothing to see there!   You don’t want to go there!”

“Actually, I hiked it when I was–” started the guy.

“There’s nothing to see there!   You don’t want to go there!” she interrupted.

“But–” he started to say.

“You don’t want to go there!”

“How–” he tried again.

“You don’t want to go there!”


“You don’t want to go there!”

The guy, unsure of what to do, simply turned back to his girlfriend and tried to resume his conversation, ignoring the orange-haired hag.   She took a deep breath and was about to burst into another You don’t want to go there! when a flight attendant tapped her on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said politely, “I need you to turn around in your seat.”

“Why?   Are we getting ready to take off?” she asked.

“No,” he continued politely.   “You’re irritating the passengers behind you.”

The shuttle ride back to our house from the airport confirmed we were back home in South Dakota, as all the cars I saw had the same South Dakota paint job

and, in one case, was adorned with the state bird.

Man, it’s good to be home.

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