|Photo used courtesy of Aviation News|
Did you ever have one of those trips where you thought you’d never get home? Where it seemed as if fate was toying with your travel plans, conspiring to take you anywhere except your intended destination? That’s happened to us only once – the time Andrew, our two daughters and I flew back from Morocco.
Our journey home consisted of two flights: Marrakech to London, and London to Toronto. The Moroccan part of the trip was smooth and problem-free. But when we arrived at Heathrow, the line for security stretched beyond eyesight. By the time we made it to the desk, the British Airways agent told us we wouldn’t make our connecting flight to Toronto. There was also a terrible winter storm over much of northeastern U.S. and Canada, and airports were starting to shut down. She couldn’t get us to Toronto, but could fly us into Boston, with an Air Canada flight from Boston to Toronto the following day.
We took it, and ran to make the flight. The plane was about an hour outside of Boston when they announced that Logan airport had been shut down, and they were rerouting us to Montreal. Good news for us – right? Montreal is much closer to Toronto, and maybe we could get a connecting flight that night! However, when we arrived, the flight attendant said no one could get off the plane unless everyone did. After an hour and a half sitting on the tarmac, another announcement was made that Logan airport had reopened and we were flying back to Boston!
When we arrived, it was past midnight – sometime the next morning in Moroccan time. A worker in security told us every hotel in the city was sold out, both because so many flights had been cancelled, and because it was St Patrick’s Day, an already-busy time in the city of Boston. Undaunted, we decided to double-check at the Hilton, which is directly connected to the airport. The check-in clerk said that indeed they were sold out, but I decided to appeal to her sympathy. Gently pulling my exhausted daughters (then 12 and 9) up to the counter, I said, “We’re on our way home from Africa. We’ve already been traveling almost 24 hours. Is there any way you could find something for my children?” Her eyes grew big, and she huddled in a back room with a colleague. And happily, they were able to find half a suite that wasn’t being used. It had no bed, but we were delighted for the pull-out sofa and the extra cot they wheeled in.
The next morning we woke early, thrilled for the night that we didn’t spend on an airport floor. As we went to breakfast down the hall and watched the TVs that were turned to CNN, we realized the gravity of the situation. The lead story was the weather in the northeastern U.S, and video coverage showed people camped out on airport floors across the region – including in Boston. We quickly made our way back to Logan to check in. Word in the lineup was that the first flight to Toronto had been cancelled that morning, but the second one was expected to go. We jauntily stepped up to the counter, secure in the possession of our tickets home. The Air Canada worker took one look at them and said, “These aren’t guaranteed; they’re only a promise for a ticket on the next available flight. That’s sometime on Tuesday.” This was Saturday morning.
It worked once – would it work again? I gently pulled my daughters up to the counter. (Did I mention that they were exhausted?) Her eyes grew big, and she huddled in a back room with a colleague. Discussions were held, arms were waved, heads were shaken. And still we waited.
Finally she came out with a document in her hand. “I’ve managed to get you four seats on this flight,” she said. “If this one doesn’t leave Boston, you’re back to Tuesday. And if I need to put anyone else on the flight, you’ll be the first ones bumped.”
We took it. And we spent the next two and a half hours with our backs to the wall, both literally and figuratively. It was surprisingly pleasant, as people were made friendly by their shared misfortunes. Telling our story to others seemed to cheer them up. And we were buoyed, too. Until we ran into the fellow passenger who told us that they needed to get four flight attendants back to Toronto and would have to bump that many passengers off the flight.
I still don’t know how we held onto those seats. I don’t think I breathed until we got into them, until we took off, and until we landed in Toronto an hour later. Of course none of our luggage showed up for a week. It was a small price to pay for actually getting home.
And the amazing conclusion is this: arriving home after spending the last day and a half in five airports, four countries and three continents, I read the email from a publisher saying that she loved my manuscript and wanted to publish my first book.
Life is indeed stranger than fiction.