Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My December Travel Story. Gene’s 70th birthday

My December Travel Story.  Gene’s 70th birthday. (Tom E Anspach  December 11, 2012)
My little brother Gene’s birthday (70) was on Sunday December 9th.  1 year and 2 days after Pearl Harbor.  He was born at home, at our farm near the very small Indiana town of Headlee.  Us, his older 4 brothers were over at our neighbors playing ‘kick the can’. 
His Massachusetts family was planning on an afternoon dinner gathering at his house, Marshfield Hills, to wish him a happy 70th birthday.  Last week I was busy thinking up some odd way to wish him a happy birthday as everyone was gathered at his house. 
Thursday night, or better described as Friday morning, I woke up at 3:30 am with this thought in my mind that I could not get rid of.  I am sure we have all done that from time to time.  I was thinking, I should, I must fly out and surprise Gene on his 70th birthday.  A fast airplane trip, out Saturday back Monday would not interrupt things too much at home.  I finally got back to sleep, and woke up at dawn as usual. Before I went outside for my morning chores and my morning walk in the woods, I emailed my littlest brother Earl who lives in Brookline MA to see if we could set up a plan. 
By Friday night we had a plan and space available reservations-  3448 6:55 AM South Bend to Chicago, 282 8:59 AM Chicago to Boston.  Earl and I would drive down to Marshfield Hills and spend Saturday and Sunday at Gene’s.  Drive back up to Brookline Sunday eve and Monday – 574 8:59AM Boston to Chicago, 5984 1:28pm arrive South Bend 3:10pm, I would be home about 5 PM or so.  Nice schedules, good connecting times, to Massachusetts surprise and spend some time with Gene’s family and get back home at a reasonable time. 
I get up at about 4am Saturday morning.  It is drizzly on the 2 hour drive to South Bend as we go through deer country.  Only saw 1 deer, dead, alongside of the road.  Whew!, so far so good.
Through security easily, and out to the gate.  Uh Oh, 3448 seems to be having early morning trouble.  People seem to be in the cockpit with baseball caps and flashlights, not your normal airline crew getting ready to leave.  After several delays totaling 2 hours, the pilot tells us that an emergency light had a loose wire and the mechanics had to remove some panels to reconnect it.  Me being space available was among the very last to board with no seats to spare.  Made it to Chicago easily but a couple hours late.  It was about departure time for 3448.  According to the gate info that I had 282 arrived in the same terminal but quite a ways from arriving 3448
Will I make my connecting flight?  Fortunately I was in the forward area of 3448 and carrying my bag.  I got off quickly and started trying to figure out where 282 was. Just by accident I glanced at the sign on the gate next to our arrival.  Lo and behold there was 282 about ready to close the doors.  I rushed to the counter and they had a seat for me whew!.  It was a center seat, but turned out no one was in the aisle seat so I and the passenger next to the window had an empty center seat, always nice.  As they closed the doors and we were ready to go; the pilot comes on with a ‘we are delayed’ we have a weight and balance data issue we are trying to work out.  About 15 minutes or so later all seemed to be ok and we left.  As I looked out the window: wow is there ever a lot of airplanes at the Chicago airport. 
We made it to Boston about on time, contacted Earl at the cell phone lot and we were on our way to my Brother Gene’s place at Marshfield Hills about 40 miles or so south of Boston...
Monday; the return. 
Earl got me to the airport plenty of time to catch 574 9:59AM to Chicago.  Lots of people at security but flowing pretty fast, made it to the gate in plenty of time.  Near last on board, center seat, but in ‘elegant’ economy section with plenty of leg room and under the seat bag space.  Plane left the gate about on time. . . . . oops.  Plane stopped on the taxi way.  Pilot came on ‘we are having trouble with one of the pressurization valves.  Back to the gate.  Uh Oh, needed mechanical work.  Flight delayed till noon and that appeared to be iffy.  There is a plane leave for Chicago at 288 10:55 AM, can I make it.  By now the 574 had been delayed to about 10:30 or so. There was an immense amount of commotion.  There were several passengers with international connections in Chicago. And most of the others had business connections.  Here the smart phone users were extremely active.  Calling their associates and airline agencies to come up with work a rounds.  Certainly a dramatic example of the use of the modern cell, internet, smart, phone technology.
The gate for 288 turned out to be near by.  It was being delayed do to passengers from 574 coming over for boarding.  Those who had made reservations using their phones from 574 were boarded pretty quickly after some fast computer typing by the gate agents.  I was impressed with how calmly the agents responded to the great amount of turmoil.  The number of SA seats was rapidly declining.  Uh Oh.  I was standing by the counter.  They knew I was waiting for an empty seat.  As they are getting close to closing the door, they had an empty seat for me.  The last one to board the plane.  A center seat in the low cost economy end.  Hardly any leg room, I had to really squash my bag to get it under the seat in front of me.  It was not accessible during the 3 hour flight so I could not get my connection info for South Bend out of my bag.  I should have removed it and put it in my pocket. The plane was about a half hour late.  2 and a half hours later than my scheduled departure on 574.   I would probably miss my 5984 1:28PM connection to South Bend. 
The pilot had made up a little time.  We arrived in Chicago about 1:25.  I was well in the back of the plane.  They were trying to get the International connecting passengers off 1st from the back of the plane.  It seemed to take forever before I was able to get off.  What gate is 5984?  I had not been able to get my info out of my bag and forgotten the flight number.  I tried to find a schedule board… finally found one 5984 showed a gate, fortunately in the same terminal, but way down at the end from where I was, scheduled to leave at 1:28.  I hurried down as fast as possible.  To the counter…to find. .  ‘oh we are delayed’.  Flight delayed 1 hour, plane is not here yet.  Wow how lucky can I get….  But there were very few seats left and 3 SA’s.  As time went on 2 SA’s were booked.  I was not.  As they were ready to close the doors the agent was looking for, and calling for, 1 passenger who had not showed up.  Finally she said, well I guess you made it, stamped my seat number on my gate pass and I was on, Whew!!!.  This was a small plane and every one had to check the bags, the usual overhead bags, at the gate.  Mine had been fitting under the seat so I carried mine.  I walked down the aisle to the back of the plane to my seat… spotted my seat and someone was in it.  He realized he was in my seat.  The story came out fast.  Here we go:  He, will call him pass3, was in my seat because pass2 was in his seat.  Pass2 was in pass3’s seat because pass1 was in her seat.  Pass1’s seat next to the window was empty.  Pass1 was talking very emotionally on his phone with a hand over his unoccupied ear.  I said I can sit in pass1’s original seat which is empty.  By then a flight attendant arrive aware that there was some kind of an ‘comotion event’ going on.  She got the story figured out right away.  She got a hold of the pas1’s arm, who was still on the phone and not paying any attention, getting his attention.  What seat are you supposed to be in?  This one he said between his conversation words.  She said lets see your gate pass.  Oops you are supposed to be up there.  She told me to sit there in the empty seat . . . problem resolved.  Pass1 was still talking avidly on his phone.  Here the under seat was even smaller than before.  But I managed to get my bag jammed under it. 
South bend is only about and hour or so, depending on traffic, gate to gate from Chicago O’Hare.  The pilot being humorous as we taxied out to the strip “Ladies and Gentlemen, after we have taxied about halfway to South Bend we are now ready to fly the rest of the way”.  And there was snow, wet heavy an inch or so, on the ground and my car in South Bend and was misting rainy snow.  It was gone by the time I got home, 75 miles later.   After all of this, I made it home only about an hour later than my original schedule.  And my amazing journey came to an end.
I was on 5 different United flights; every one of them had trouble.  This is the 1st time that I recall from all of my flying, this much trouble in one trip.
3448 – Loose emergency light wire, delayed 2 hours
282 – Weight and Balance issue delayed about 15 minutes
574 – Pressurization valve  delayed 3 hours (I do not know if it met that schedule)
288 – Boarding turmoil and weight and balance issue. Delayed about half hour
5984 – Plane was late arriving inbound – delayed 2 hours.
It was great being at Gene’s 70th birthday celebration.  I got to surprise most everyone by being there.  Rena and Jasmine had surmised that I might be there because of some vague comments Earl had made.  As Gene came into his house from Mallory’s wedding he wondered who in the world was taking a nap on his couch.  Due to his regular walking and exercize he did not have a heart attack.  It was great seeing all of Gene’s family (except for a couple who were not able to make it).  Earl and I represented, as best we could, Gene’s brothers who were not there.  Gene and Rena may not invite me again though.  As Doug and Kerry’s girls, now a few years older, Abby and Grace and I got kicked out of the house as we revived our old Spit Ball war games.
That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. 


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