Jet Planes, Storms, Twin Falls and Delta

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy.

OK, it is 9:30 AM and I just got off a conference call. I’m in Richmond, California and today is the day that I get to go home to my Wonderful Wife. I have a 1:00 PM flight out of the Oakland, California airport so . . . it is time to head that way. First, I check out of the hotel, “How was everything?”, “Nice, comfortable, enjoyed the visit to the Bay area. Hey, I even got to go to the world famous ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’ at Pier 39”. It is a 20 or so mile drive to the airport. Now contrary to what you may have heard about California traffic, the trip is pretty much uneventful. I arrive and start following the signs to the rental car return. After a few zigs and zags due to construction I arrive at the proper place and check the car back in. Put the receipt in my computer bag and head to the terminal to check my luggage and go through what has now become the normal airport security screening. All goes well checking the luggage and going through screening only takes about 15 minutes. So I am off to the gate area with about an hour and a half to wait. Make a couple of calls, get a couple of calls and wow, it is time to start boarding.

I’m on a Delta Connection SkyWest flight to Salt Lake City, Utah. Flying on one of those great Canadair Regional Jets. The only problem with them is the overhead bins will only hold something about 8 inches high, which means that my computer bag will not fit. I flew from Salt Lake to Oakland on one going out and tried to put it under the “seat in front of you” as instructed and quickly discover that doing so didn’t leave much foot room. Having made that discovery, I pulled the computer out of the back of the bag and checked the bag at the end of the jet way. I knew I would get it back when we landed in Salt Lake. Based on experience I also knew that we would be getting off the plane on the tarmac and walking to the terminal so I would not have to worry about it getting misrouted.

It is now 1:00 PM and we are on our way to the out-bound runway. Nice takeoff, great climb-out, we are on our way to Salt Lake airport. Our estimated flying time is one hour and twenty-five minutes. About an hour and ten minutes into the flight we get the first hint that we might have a “slight” delay in our travel plans. Seems there are thunder storms in Salt Lake with 50 to 60 mile per hour winds, rain and lightning at the airport and we are now in one of those infamous “holding patterns”, you know where you make a 50 mile square 30,000 feet in the air. Right turn, right turn, right turn, right turn, things on the ground look the same again, right turn, right turn, right turn, you get the idea.

We make about four circuits around the square and the pilot comes back on the PA system to announce that we are getting a little low on fuel. Hey, “a little low” or low or whatever, 30,000 feet up is not where I want to run out of gas. He advised that we are going to divert to another airport, get some fuel, wait for the storms to clear and then head back to Salt Lake City. We are going to break formation and head there now so we can be the first in line to head back to Salt Lake. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. So off we go to Twin Falls Idaho. Where? Twin Falls Idaho, I missed that one on Delta’s list of places they fly into, but whatever, if they have fuel, let’s go.

Twenty five minutes later we are on final approach to the Twin Falls – Sun Valley Regional Joslin Field. Now understand that this is not Twin Falls “International Airport”, it is a small regional airfield. The pilot makes a great landing, smooth as silk and as we taxi to the gate I see a fuel truck, so that is good. Seems that we can’t get off the plane, the airport only has two TSA security people and we are not the only plane diverted to this airport. There are 2 more already on the ground and then a good size Delta Jet pulls in beside us. Soon there are several jets and turbo-jets behind us. The pilot advised us, based on the airport layout and the fact that there only being 2 TSA people, that it would take more then an hour to get us through screening and back on the plane. He feels that if we stay on the plane that we won’t lose that hour. What a guy, looking out for us like that.

However, it seems that we have been a little bit misled. The pilot said we were going to get out of the pattern and head for Twin Falls earlier then the others so that we could get fuel and get back in line to be first to head back to Salt Lake. Well, now according to him, we cannot get fuel until the weather clears and we are released to go back to Salt Lake. An hour passes and still no word, another hour or so and finally, the weather has cleared and we can get our fuel. Anyone remember what FIFO means, in case you don’t it is “First In, First Out”, well that isn’t going to happen here. Remember we got here early to be the first in line. It seems that all those planes that arrived later and are parked behind and beside us now have us blocked in so we are told we are going to use the FILO procedure. That is “First In, Last Out”. One by one I watch the other planes get fuel and head out. Finally, finally it is our turn. They put 650 gallons of fuel on the plane. How do I know that? The fuel truck is on my side and I can see the meter as they add fuel. Anyway, that is just a little trivia for you. Now we have fuel and we are on our way. It is going on 7:00 PM and I had a 5:00 PM flight out of Salt Lake to Atlanta and my Wonderful Wife.

With all the activity, maybe, just maybe it was also delayed. We land in Salt Lake, not nearly as good a landing, but hey, we are all OK and we are now at the correct airport. We park at the E terminal gate 30 something. I get my computer bag and put my computer back in it (I knew that part would work). Once inside the terminal I check the boards to see what gate I need to go to now. Seems that my flight to Atlanta is going to be leaving from the D terminal so off I go. Oh, the boards also showed the flight as “Delayed” with no estimated departure time. Well, OK, I still have a chance of getting home at a reasonable hour.

Get to the gate and there isn’t even an aircraft there. Where is it? Seems the inbound flight was diverted to Boise Idaho and is on its way back. According to the gate agent, “It should be here in about 25 minutes; we will clean it up a little, gets some fuel and it should be ready to board around 8:00 PM”. Little did I know.

I call my Wonderful Wife to let her know that I am OK, that I have been stuck in Twin Falls Idaho, that I am finally in Salt Lake City, that the plane to Atlanta will be here shortly, that we are schedule to board at 8:00 PM (little did I know) and that I would see her in a little while. “Love you and will call if anything changes”. Not fifteen minutes later the airplane shows up at the gate. Delta is on it like a championship NASCAR pit crew. Luggage is going on, food is going on, fuel is getting added, and the people that clean the cabin are rushing to get on board to do their job. Wow, everyone is working as a team to turn this aircraft and get us headed to Atlanta (little did I know).

8:00 PM comes; the screens around the gate show the order of boarding. Everyone is ready. We are getting in line and waiting for the announcement and waiting for the announcement and waiting for the announcement. Finally, the gate agent gets on the PA system and says “there seems to be a slight problem with the aircraft, seems it was struck by lightning when it was in the Salt Lake City area during the storm and the maintenance crew is checking it out. Hey, did they not know that an hour ago. I walk over to the window and sure enough, there is a guy in a bucket-truck checking the horizontal rear tail section out. There is a guy standing beside me and we start talking as we watch this guy. Looks like he is taking pictures and then it appears that he sands on the damage a little. It appears that he has some duct tape in his hand and something else. Now I don’t have a problem with them using duct tape on a race car, but an airplane, that isn’t going to happen (I hope). I mean, it’s called 200 mile per hour tape, not 500 mile per hour tape. Based on this observation, I decide that the other item he is holding is bailing wire. Hey, this is not looking good as far as I am concerned.

OK, Delta makes a decision (a GREAT one in my view), the plane is not safe to fly and they are going to change equipment. Seems that they do have another Boeing 767 available, I mean doesn’t everyone have one of those just setting around. According to the agent they are going to board us at gate C04 shortly. So we all head that direction. Now, I have to stop by the men’s room (you do need to know that). When I come out the gate agent is running up the terminal trying to get everyone to stop. Seems that while he was talking that Delta put the aircraft at D03, right across the terminal from where we were. By now I should have known, but little did I know.

I am slowing discovering a couple of things about Delta and my getting to Atlanta. The first is that Delta does not want to tell us the truth about what is going on, second, that when they a forced to tell us something that they will only tell us as much as they want us to know.  Mind you, not all the facts, just those that they feel will protect their interest, not the ours. Additionally, they will make excuses and provide misinformation or misdirection that would make a magician proud. Anyway, several of us are standing talking and two stewardesses come up the ramp from the plane and walk past us. Now normally this would not be important. One of the guys asked, “Do you think that means anything?” I responded that at this point everything that Delta is doing is going to affect us and our ability to get to Atlanta in a negative way. Now, those that know me know that I am hardly every negative, but for some reason . . . anyway, “it didn’t take the “Physic Friends Network” to see what was coming next.

I watch the gate agent and can tell he does not want to talk to us, but that he has to. Sure enough, the PA system clicks to life and it seems “We are short two stewardesses for the flight to Atlanta”. Two walked by and now we are short two. He then states, “There are two on an inbound flight that will be here shortly”. By the way, I made another discovery about Delta, their favorite words of the day are “We apologize”, “We appreciate your patience” and “shortly”, seems everything is going to happen shortly. Anyway, one of the guys I was talking with goes to the gate agent to find out exactly why the two left and we are stuck waiting for two more. The answer, “If we could have left at 8:45 everything would have been fine, but since it is going to be after 9:30 they would have had to many hours in for the day.” I mean what does that mean, that Delta would have had to pay them some overtime or that they would have gotten in some kind of trouble or what. So it seems that they are willing to inconvenience 175 or so passenger to prevent whatever the problem with them working an additional 3 hours might be. Made me kind of worry about the pilot and the rest of the crew. I mean would they be the next to walk by.

It is now approaching 10:00 PM in Salt Lake. We just saw the two new stewardesses walk down the jet way. Click, the PA system comes to life, it is actually (really, really) time to board. We get on the plane and everyone gets buckled in and we are ready. We get pushed back from the gate and taxi out to the runway. Well, it seems we are number one for take-off, I mean WOW, we are finally going to get started to Atlanta. We roll down the runway picking up speed, the plane rotates upward and we are off. Nice climb out, get to 30,000 feet pretty quickly and we are cruising toward Atlanta.

Now, it seems that since we have been so “patient” and that they want to “apologize” for all the problems that we have had and that we will be in Atlanta “shortly” that we can watch the movie for free, wow, a free movie, no popcorn, just a movie. This normally cost $5.00, oh, Wow what a deal. I mean it is now after 12:00 midnight in Atlanta and I have been traveling for 12 hours and Delta is going to let me watch a movie free.

As I said earlier, “little did I know”. We are about an hour into the movie when it goes off. Seems that the pilot wants to know if there is a doctor on board, seems we now have a medical emergency. I can see several people around someone in the next cabin. A gentleman identifies himself as a doctor and they take him to the front. A few people come toward the back of the plane and settle into some available seats. The movie comes back on and nothing is said about what is wrong with the person up front. Anyway, it appears that whatever the problem that they are going to be OK.

It is now approaching 4:30 AM on Saturday (I left hotel at 9:30 AM of Friday) and it seems that we are in the process of landing in Atlanta. “Seat belts tight, tray table up, seat backs in the upright position” we are going to be landing “shortly”. Flaps down, wheels down, we are on final approach. We wiggle, we wobble, we bump a little, but we land OK. We taxi to the gate and start to make the turn to park and guess what. We stop. It seems that no one is at the gate to park the airplane. I mean, they have had better then 16 hours to get ready for us to arrive and no one is there. We sit and sit, finally someone shows up to park the airplane. Now one other thing, we have been trying to get here all day, as we taxied by the T-gates I noticed that almost all the gates were empty, but could we stop at one closer to the baggage claim area, no. We go to the last gate in the terminal building, as far as we can get from baggage claim. It just seems to me that they could have parked us closer and then moved the airplane if they had to, they do have equipment to do that.

Finally, in Atlanta. Go to baggage claim and wait for my luggage. As I expected it was almost the last bag off the plane, but I got it, so I’m on my way to the Parking Spot bus. Get to the bus and the guy takes me right to my truck, no waiting or anything. Guess my telling him that I had been waiting in airports and flying for better then 16 hours got to him and he wanted to help me get home. Get to the truck, load the luggage, start it up and I am on my way to my Wonderful Wife. Another 45 minutes or so and I’ll be home. Back in the garage, it is 5:30 AM on Saturday. Wake Wonderful Wife, hug and kiss, glad I’m home. Sun in just starting to peek over the horizon and I am going to bed.

As always, The Adventure Continues . . .



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