Over the Christmas week, I had a truly wonderful time in Jamaica hanging out with my folks, brother, and Katherine. We got to know quite a bit about Jamaicans through many interactions with locals and generally had a leisurely vacation of swimming, snorkeling, eating and drinking in perfect weather.
But that doesn’t make much of a story.
On the way home, we happened to connect through Houston, which was in the throes of “Winter Storm Goliath” (Is there a non-sensationalistic, non-media reason to start naming these things?) I will just give you the play-by-play:
Sunday 1430: Leave Montego Bay on time, as scheduled
Sunday 1600: Pilot warns us of bad weather in Houston and the likely turbulent landing
Sunday 1640: Pilot attempts landing. I feel like I’m on an amusement park ride. Someone pukes in the back of the plane, setting off a rather unfortunate chain reaction. After a terrifying ten minutes of this, I feel G-forces pulling me down. The pilot has abandoned the landing and decides to go to Corpus Christi instead. I wonder how and when we will eventually get back to Houston.
Sunday 1730: Plane lands in Corpus Christi
Sunday 1830: Plane is still on the tarmac. Pilot informs us that another plane is in our way at the intended gate.
Sunday 1930: Still haven’t moved. Pilot informs us that they have “timed out” as per FAA regulations, and will have to deplane in Corpus Christi. Unfortunately we can’t because it’s an international flight and we have to go through customs.
Sunday 2100: We finally move to the gate, after the airline lines up enough personnel to manage customs and immigration. Pilot informs us that there is also a mechanical problem with the pressurization system.
Sunday 2200: Get through customs after waiting an hour. Wait another hour and a half for everyone to get their new flight itineraries. A TV showing The weather channel spews drama about the storm.
Sunday 2330: Get new flight itinerary: a 0930 flight from Houston to SFO then 1600 flight to SLC. Receive a hotel voucher and some meal coupons from United. We pack about 12 people into a small van to go to the hotel.
Monday 0030: Reach the hotel, get a room, go to bed. We inquire about the free airport shuttle and realize that it can only hold 10 people and there are 180 people on our flight. We decide to get up early.
Monday 0430: Get up and notice a discomfort in my right ear. It feels like I have water in it. I try and shake it out to no avail. We grab the next shuttle. There is a minimal wait. When checking in, we hear that the flight to Houston (which would finally finish our flight leg) has been delayed until 1000.
Monday 0600: Go through security and enjoy the free wifi. I am grateful that I brought my laptop and can get some work done.
Monday 1030: Board plane to Houston. Our SFO flight was delayed until 1100. We are scheduled to arrive at 1130.
Monday 1130: Arrive at IAH. Go to United Customer Service to get back in line with a whole bunch of really pissed-off people.
Monday 1230: Atmosphere is toxic. Hispanic family starts throwing racial slurs at African-American employee behind the desk. She calls the police.
Monday 1300: Line lemmings are annoyed that employee is talking with airport police rather than helping us get new itineraries.
Monday 1330: Get third itinerary of the trip. There is only one seat on the next flight to Salt Lake. Katherine gets it and I get a standby ticket. My ear is hurting more and more.
Monday 1700: Get a call from United customer service that a seat opened up on the later flight to SLC (2100). I get it, and relax.
Monday 1730: K boards the plane bound for SLC. I am second on the standby list. Everybody boards, and the gate agent checks the remaining seats — two left. I am pretty stoked, as I am finally headed home. The agent hands me a tag to gate check my roller bag and I walk down the jetbridge. I go to find my seat, and there is somebody there. It seemed too good to be true. The flight attendant tells me she has some “bad news.” I do the jetbridge walk of shame back to the waiting area and, on the way, note that my bag is well on its way to SLC. I feel rather light with only my computer bag. I don’t like not having any toiletries or a change of clothes.
Monday 1800: The gate agent prints out my boarding pass for the next flight. I feel pretty exhausted, so I go and buy a coffee and wander over to another terminal for the later flight.
Monday 2000: The flight is delayed three hours right off the bat. My stomach sinks a little. I decide to buy some tylenol for my ear, as it’s really starting to hurt.
Monday 2210: Finally get hungry again and realize all the restaurants in the airport just closed. Walk over to a different terminal to buy whatever food I can. All that’s left are some chips and yogurt parfaits. I munch on these snacks while watching a replay of a Premier League game.
Monday 2330: Walk back to the gate. Flight is delayed another hour. People around me are upset. I bite my tongue.
Tuesday 0115: Incoming flight finally arrives. Waiting area is notified that flight attendants are cleaning plane. We gather in excitement to board. Then are notified that pilots are “tired” and don’t think they can safely fly. I am devastated. But they will try and line ‘another’ flight staff up. I already know how this will end.
Tuesday 0230: Notified that the flight has been cancelled. A few people start running towards the customer service desk, fully aware that we are all competing for a limited number of seats to SLC the next day. I join them.
Tuesday 0330: The line moves faster than usual. I get to the counter and facepalm while waiting for itinerary #4 from the agent. She is visibly displeased and lets me know there are no open seats to SLC all day on any flight. She can put me on standby and give me a seat for a 1430 flight on Wednesday. I ask to be put on “priority” standby due to my situation. She doesn’t know how to do it and asks for help, then informs me that I am #15 on the standby list. I imagine myself strangling her. She suggests waiting in the airport and getting a “nice big breakfast.” The thought of waiting another six hours in the airport makes me want to cry. I demand a hotel room, even if it is for two hours. The standby flight is at 0920.
Tuesday 0400: I have received a taxi voucher to get to the hotel since the shuttle doesn’t run at 4am. The taxi driver gets off on the wrong exit and then seems lost. I see the comedy in the situation and am simultaneously amused and baffled at the incompetence surrounding me. I am quite hungry but ignore it.
Tuesday 0410: Walk into my hotel room, turn on the light, drop my computer bag, take off my clothes, pull back the sheets, set the alarm, and turn off the light. Simplest hotel stay ever.
Tuesday 0645: Alarm goes off. I dress and stumble back down the hallway, catching the airport shuttle right away. Check in and wait in yet another security line. I feel like a sheep. Baaaaa
Tuesday 0800: Get to the gate for the SLC flight and decide that I need to be the first person to talk to the gate agent. I am out of tylenol and realize I have a full-on ear infection, something I’ve never experienced as an adult.
Tuesday 0830: Gate agent arrives and I explain my situation. She doesn’t understand how they didn’t find an alternate connection and immediately puts me on a 1430 flight to Denver, then tells me that she will find a connecting flight to SLC later. This makes me very happy. I decide to wait out boarding to see how standby pans out.
Tuesday 0900: The flight is mostly boarded and three people on standby get seats. I think to myself, fuck standby.
Tuesday 0930: Get breakfast with a meal voucher, which covers the whole meal. It is my first real food in 15 hours. I feel like an airport refugee.
Tuesday 1330: The United iOS app says I have a seat, but I don’t have a boarding pass yet which makes me nervous. This flight is making me more paranoid than any other flight in my life. I talk to the gate agent and she checks the computer, murmuring something like “that’s strange.” I feel like I’m drowning. After an agonizing few minutes she prints out two boarding passes for me, IAH > DEN and DEN > SLC. I refuse to gain any hope for fear of it being dashed yet again.
Tuesday 1430: I board the plane and get a window seat. Nobody kicks me off, and the plane soon starts taxiing. I expect the pilot to suddenly become ill. No PA announcement comes on announcing mechanical problems with the plane. We take off.
Tuesday 1920: Flight takes off from Denver after a 20 minute delay. I am in agony from my ear. The pressure changes make it worse. I strongly regret not buying more tylenol in Denver.
Tuesday 2000: Touch down in SLC, 54 hours after leaving Montego Bay. It feels surreal. I can’t imagine sleeping a whole night with this ear pain, so K picks me up and we go directly from the airport to the clinic. They take care of me. It is over.