Airplanes & Other Misfortunes

HB-JRI, George Best Belfast City Airport (March 2015) by Albert Bridge is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Hi there. I’m back from my cross country excursion. I’ve been home for two days now and I’m still exhausted. That three hour time change is a bitch.

Last week, I flew from Los Angeles, CA to Detroit, MI. Pro tip: if at all possible, do not fly Spirit Airlines. I flew Spirit Airlines. I usually fly an airline I’ve heard of before, but this was the cheapest flight and it was non-stop with no layovers.

Things to know about Spirit Airlines: everything is a la carte. All airlines love to charge you extra fees, but Spirit takes it to the extreme. They charge you for everything from a carry on bag to assigned seating to water. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t charge me to use the airplane bathroom with a $5 toilet paper fee.

The second thing to know about Spirit Airlines is that all their seats are essentially the same, i.e., there is no first class. Not that I can afford to fly first class, but it’s not even an option on Spirit. All of their seats have not enough leg room, are non-reclining, and they have slightly more cushioning than a wooden chair. Try sitting in a non-reclining wooden chair for over four hours and tell me how your butt fares. Mine was numb. For that matter, so were my legs.

The third thing to know about Spirit Airlines is that, apparently, it is the airline of choice for screaming babies nationwide as I had to share two flights with a lot of them–half going one way, half going the other. The youngest of these babies was just over a month old. Seriously, who travels with a newborn? The people who shared my flight, that’s who. Thanks!

The fourth thing to know about Spirit Airlines is that, at some point in your flight going either direction, it will feel like the plane is going to vibrate itself into a million pieces. That’s not such a great thing when you’re a few thousand feet above ground. So, in conclusion, it might be worth paying an extra few hundred to fly another airline.

On the way there, my flight was delayed in landing because they had to call the police on one of the passengers. We were instructed not to leave our seats when we arrived at the gate. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a gate and not being allowed to leave. So close, yet so far…. Anyway, after 15 minutes, they retrieved a man sitting a couple of rows behind me. They told the row he was in plus the two rows on either side not to leave yet, so they could give witness statements. I was very happy that I missed that by only one row. I have no idea what that man did and had witnessed nothing. I wish there was a way to find out.

Once Spirit unceremoniously dumped me into Detroit Metro Airport, I made my way to baggage claim where I stood for almost another hour. Why don’t they ever have seats at baggage claim? Nope, you have to stand there like a schmo. If I had enough money, I would hire someone to retrieve my bag for me while I waited in my chauffeur driven car sipping cocktails.

The roundy-round that we were told would eventually contain our suitcases was not moving when I got there. It didn’t move for at least 15 more minutes. Finally, it started to move, plopped out about 10 suitcases, and stopped again. Another 10 minutes went by and nothing happened.

Suddenly, at least half the people on my flight, as if they got some telepathic message I was not privy to, moved to the luggage roundabout next to the one we were told to go to. I asked one of the people at the new place why everyone had moved over here. She said that she heard from someone else who heard that our luggage would be at this new roundy-round, not the one we were told to go to. There was no announcement of this information, formal or otherwise.

I stood between the two so that I could readily catch my suitcase no matter which circular luggage conveyance roundabout it happened to appear on. A half hour later, the new one popped out my suitcase.

My mom picked up my sister and me, and we drove about 2,000 miles looking at various places. I will go into more detail on this part of our adventure in another post. For now, I’m just going to talk about the return trip.

My mother lives over four hours north of Detroit Metro Airport. Our plan was to stay overnight in Ohio then drive to the airport. The problem with that plan is that where we stayed in Ohio was under five hours south of the airport, my mom is a very early riser, and our return flight wasn’t until 8:55 pm. She wanted to get home before dark. Fair enough. Darkness in that neck of the woods this time of year comes around the same time as our flight was due to leave.

We bummed around southern Michigan for as long as my mom could stand it before she plunked us at the airport just after 3 pm. Our flight wasn’t due to start boarding until 8:10 pm. For those of you not paying attention, that means spending five hours at the airport. Ahem, FIVE HOURS AT THE AIRPORT.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Detroit Metro Airport, but no airport on earth has five hours worth of diversionary entertainment. You can shop and walk around and eat something, but at best, that will kill maybe a couple of hours. That still leaves three hours to waste.

I had already spent just under seven hours in a car that day, then five more hours in an airport. At 8:10 pm, I was ready to board a plane so I could finally go home. At 8:15 pm, nothing had happened. Finally, they announced that one of the flight attendants was late and we could not, according to FAA regulations, fly without a full crew. Around the fourth announcement, they added that she was on her way, but as of yet, there was no ETA.

At 8:55 pm, the exact time that the plane should have been taking off, my mom texted me that she made it home safely. This was even after getting stuck for 2 hours in road construction traffic. Still, we did not board the plane. I was sitting in the same airport chair that I had been sitting in for many hours.

At 9:10 pm, fully an hour late, they started boarding the plane. I’m not sure what time we actually took off. At that point, I didn’t care because I was finally on a plane that was moving.

On the plane, even squeezed into a non-reclining seat with not enough leg room and not much cushion, I managed to get about an hour of sleep. For the record: 7 hours in a car, 6 hours in an airport, 5 hours in a plane.

I was awakened by the captain telling us we were beginning our final descent into Los Angeles. I looked out the window and we seemed entirely too high in the air by a few miles for any sort of landing attempt. 45 friggin’ minutes later, we actually landed. Why would they wake me up just so that I could spend the next 45 minutes descending? Wake me up 10 minutes before we get there, not nearly an hour.

This time, I didn’t have a luggage problem. My suitcase appeared on the very same roundy-round they told us it would with a record time of about twenty minutes.

The real problem was the bus. If all the begging and cajoling in the world will not convince anyone you know to give a ride to the airport at dawn o’clock (like me when I flew out), LA has this thing called Flyaway where you can park elsewhere and take a bus to and from the airport. It’s way cheaper than parking your car at LAX for a week. Normally, I’d make my sister drive me to the airport, but we flew together.

Right outside baggage claim was the sign for Flyaway. I stood there for an interminable time waiting for the right bus. They’re supposed to come every 20 minutes, but this one was late. The bus came, but the second I looked inside the bus, my heart sank. It looked very full. She asked how many of us were taking this bus and nearly everyone raised their hand. The driver walked onto the bus and counted available seats. “Good news! There are just enough seats!” Yay!!! If I had to wait for the next bus, I probably would have broken down crying right there on the airport sidewalk.

A group of 4 people who had showed up at least 10 minutes after my sister and me took cuts and got to take the primo seats in the front. I walked at least halfway down the bus before I saw even one vacant seat. My sister beelined to the last row where she was bounced up and down like a ball. I asked a woman in an aisle seat if I could squeeze in next to her. I didn’t think “squeeze” would end up being quite as literal as it turned out to be.

My back was completely straight in the seat and still my knees were wedged into the seat in front of me. I had a backpack and nowhere to put my arms so I hugged it like a teddy bear. The driver told us to put our seat belts on and I couldn’t even reach mine let alone manage the feat of putting it on. I figured that I was so wedged into the seat that if we got into an accident, I wouldn’t be moving anyway. Strangely, it wasn’t even the most uncomfortable seat I sat in that day. Once again, Spirit Airlines wins that prize.

A half an hour later, I unfurled from the tightest seat of the day and drove home. Final tally: 7 hours in a car, 6 hours in an airport, over 5 hours in a plane (only 4 of them actually flying), half an hour in a bus, 20 minutes in another car. When I finally crawled into bed, it was 1:37 am PST or 4:37 am EST. I had been traveling (or not) for an elapsed time of more than 22 hours. Lying in my own bed, I still felt like I was moving.

It’s good to be home. More on the trip later I promise.