About three years ago, after two trips in a row where I missed a connection flying back home to Buffalo and had to spend the night in a not-too-clean airport hotel, I made a promise to myself: in the future, I would only book morning flights. Ever since 9/11 there have been fewer flights, and fewer options if you miss a connection. Add that to the always uncertain Buffalo weather, and you never know when you’re going to make it home. I kept that promise for three years, until I had a simple overnight to Jacksonville through Charlotte and back, and thought what the heck, I didn’t want to spend two nights away from home. So I booked an evening return flight Monday.
The first sign things weren’t going to work out was when we got lost on the way to the airport. My colleague had rented a car and offered me a ride back to the Jacksonville airport. Ever trusting and optimistic, I accepted. The meeting finished at 4:00, and my flight was at 7:40, so I had plenty of time. So in the car and off we go.
It seemed to me we were driving a long time. Finally, when we saw the Georgia highway signs, we realized we had missed the exit. No big deal, though; we were only about 20 miles off track, and a quick turn around had us back at the airport with time to spare.
I like going places, and I even kind of like airports, but I’m not too fond of the airplanes themselves. Once in my life I merited a first class upgrade, but other than that I’m always stuck in the narrow, cheap seats. Add turbulence to that and I’m not a happy traveler.
It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning flashed in the clouds around us. The plane bounced and rattled. Once upon a time I used to say the Hail Mary when I got nervous during turbulent flights; it helped calm me, although the “in the hour of our death” part was a bit of a buzzkill. These days I practice metta meditation when the bouncing starts:
May I be free from danger.
May I have mental happiness.
May I have physical happiness.
May I live with ease of wellbeing.
As we approached the landing strip in Buffalo, the bouncing got worse. The plane rocked from side to side. We were just a few feet off the ground when the plane suddenly accelerated and we were climbing again. I remembered reading somewhere that landing is the most dangerous part of a flight.
We circled around. The pilot came on the intercom and told us the wind was outside the acceptable limits for our Airbus A321. We came in for second attempt. Once again we pulled out, and in a few minutes we were up in the clouds again.
The helpful flight attendant told us that Pittsburgh is the usual alternative, but for some reason it was unavailable. We were headed for Syracuse. About fifteen minutes later the pilot comes back on and tells us that Syracuse doesn’t have a crew, or fuel, or something, so we’re going to try Rochester.
As we approached the landing strip, the plane was rocking again, but not as badly as our two failed attempts in Buffalo. May I be free from danger…. We landed successfully, to relief and scattered applause from the passengers. As we were gathering our carry-on luggage and waiting in the aisle to leave the plane, the pilot came on again. We might make one more try at Buffalo. But no, after a few more minutes we disembarked.
Two hours of confusion followed. The very calm and helpful US Airways staff began trying to make arrangements for us, but at 1:00am in Rochester there were not many buses or taxis to hire. A crowd of twenty or so swarmed the desk, while the rest of us waited patiently. Suddenly the swarm headed off–a bus had been found to take them to Buffalo. Then the rest of us approached the desk, and one by one, arrangements were made. A few more people elected to take taxis to Buffalo, or Niagara Falls. For others, rooms were found at a downtown hotel. By 2:00am I didn’t want to face an hourlong taxi drive and then have to drive home from the airport; I wasn’t even sure if the parking lot would be open at 3:00am. So I spent the night at another not-too-clean hotel, with the in-room heater blasting, and managed to get some sleep.
Up at 9:30am, showered, and had breakfast. Called the taxi company. Reached the Buffalo airport at noon. Came home. Greeted the cats. Posted this story. Renewed my promise: never again book an evening flight.