“If God had intended us to fly, he wouldn’t have give us the railways” said Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. And given my experience of flying around the USA this month, I think they might well be right.
Due to the nature of the hub and spokes system of American airports (which is also the model America uses, incidentally, for its foreign policy; make of that what you will) I am travelling to more airports than to cities. Let me explain.
To arrive in Washington DC, where I landed at Dulles Airport, I flew from Auckland to San Francisco. To fly from DC to Indianapolis I didn’t fly out of any of DC’s airports. That would just be daft. Instead, we drove to Baltimore, which is in the state of Maryland (next to DC) and caught a plane from what is helpfully called Baltimore Washington Airport, even though it is not, as I have said, in Washington.
From Baltimore we fly to Atlanta, Georgia, which is in the South, thence to Indianapolis, which is in the mid West. Are you with me so far?
From Indianapolis we were due to fly to Seattle via Chicago, Illinois. However, due to the heavy rain in the mid West we find, as we go to check in, that we shall not be flying that route, or even that day.
Instead, we are scheduled to fly via Dallas, Texas, except those of us that are scheduled to fly via Minnesota, Minneapolis. There are ten of us, travelling together. So in rescheduling our flights to Seattle the airline decides, in its infinite wisdom, to route us on separate trips. Half the group are to go via Dallas, but not together. The other half, via Minnesota, but not at the same time or on the same airline, but rather, as we might say, ‘in the fullness of time’.
Clearly this won’t do. So we look at a map and realise that Seattle isn’t all that far from Indianapolis. We look at a bigger map and it seems somewhat further. I think I hear someone say it’s a five hour drive. Problem solved! Well, not quite. What they actually said was ‘five days’. They may have been referring the amount of time we had spent going nowhere in Indianapolis airport, but coincidentally that is also the amount of time it would take to drive to Canada, or Seattle if you stopped on the way.
So we leave those higher and mightier than ourselves to sort out if we are ever to leave Indiana, and when, and return to the hotel, to the same room, put away our Obama badges, change our ties to blue, and contemplate another day (possibly a lot longer) in the mid West.
Some hours later – time moves slower in the mid West – we are told of the plans to get us out. We think helicopter, private jet, possibly even horse and saddle (they are more common than you would believe). But none of those. Instead half of us will fly via Dallas and half via Minnesota. This is all starting to sound strangely familiar. We may have been here before…
But it is resolved that we will, in fact, travel as three separate groups, rather than ten separate individuals, flying the friendly skies. I and three others are to go via Minnesota, arrive in Seattle before the two groups that will go via Dallas, and wait for them. How hard can it be?
Getting to Minnesota was straight forward enough, though we had mere minutes to get our connecting flight to Seattle. And so we ran.
We got the connecting flight just in time to stand and wait with everyone else who had had flights diverted, until they boarded the plane. And we got on the plane, back row as usual, and the pilot said that we were to fly to Seattle, about which we were greatly relieved.
So we sat on the Tarmac, pulled back from the gate. The pilot said he would then take us to a “special location” to de ice the plane. I immediately thought ‘rendition’. I asked my colleague whether that “special location” would even be in America.
It turned out it was about ten minutes from the gate. The de icing, done under heavy snow and with a sound that is a lot like a car wash, took about 15 minutes. Then the pilot started the engines. At least, I am sure he planned to. But it was not to be. We returned to the gate because the plane needed a new part, but never mind because EnginesRUs was just around the corner and it would be fixed in a jiffy and we would be on our merry way.
Americans don’t really say ‘jiffy’ and the pilot actually said ‘half an hour’. But they couldn’t find the mechanic – he was on his lunch break, or in the bathroom – so we disembarked. They talk about ‘Minnesota nice’, and we began to wonder how nice it would be to spend a few days there. An hour turned into two.
The airline generously gave us a voucher to buy lunch, but not quite enough time to buy it and eat it before re boarding the plane. So we asked for our lunch ‘to go’ (American for take away) and scrambled back on to the plane, lunch in hand. My colleague and I, so hungry that we would have even eaten American food, ate our Ramen noodles so fast that we had hardly sat in our seats by the time we finished. And certainly we’d finished before the plane was air borne.
Eventually, the plane departed, and we arrived in Seattle, 12 hours after we had left the hotel in Indianapolis. There to meet us was our guide, who of course had arrived several weeks ahead of us, as she, and the others in the group, had flown on a plane with two working engines.
So we go to get a taxi. You will think I am making this next bit up, but I assure you I am not. To get a taxi from the luggage carousel, we walk to the elevators, go up three floors, walk along a connecting bridge to another building, take another elevator, go down one floor, walk along to the taxi stand, which is helpfully obscured by a large pillar, ask for two taxis – for we come laden with luggage – and are told to move, with our luggage, to the other large pillar, which only moments ago we had walked past. We stand there, briefly, only to then be told that they meant the other, other pillar, next to the elevator, and that they wouldn’t put us in two taxis but would call us a bus.
We ask ourselves what part of ‘two taxis’ sounds like ‘bus’ only to then be greeted by what was, in fact, a large yellow school bus, just for us.
The driver says to us that he’ll load the luggage, we can just get into the bus. But, we are smart people and have had a day that child charitably be described as ‘difficult’ and we think to ourselves we aren’t just going to leave our luggage sitting there for the driver to forget about as we drive on our way to the hotel and our luggage is systematically and carefully blown up by the airport security worried about this large pile of suspicious baggage by the third pillar in the vicinity of the taxi stand. Believe me, the way our day was going, this was not beyond the realms of possibility.
So we watch, eagle eyed, as the bus driver loads our bags. We get into the bus and arrive at our hotel, somewhat older than we were at the beginning of the day.
We never thought we would make it this far, this year. But we are glad we did. We are greeted by rain – it is Seattle, so what else? – and a three hour time difference that only exacerbates our tiredness. And we think to ourselves that while our next, and final, stop is Hawaii, there is a country much closer where we could seek asylum.
As they aptly start their national anthem, “Oh Canada!”