We were already sitting on the Airtran plane in Tampa for the 9:40 a.m. flight to Milwaukee when there was an announcement we were turning back to the gate because of some difficulty in the flight deck. It wasn’t clear what the inspectors they brought on board were checking. “The coffee pot must not be working,” I remarked to my fellow passengers. In a while we learned it was the air conditioning, and light commons flew around the cabin such as, “Pass out the fans,” or “Just open the windows.”
Around 10:30, however, we were told they would be “deboarding” the plane since repairs could take a while. Everyone patiently collected their bags and filed back into the waiting room. We were given periodic updates, including that a new part was needed, so there would be further delay. “They must be flying it in from Tokyo,” was one passenger’s comment, and I replied, “Gee, if I had known, I could have brought it with me.” According to the next announcement, the part was being flown in from Orlando and, once it arrived, the repair should only take about 15 minutes.
Lunchtime rolled around, and they announced that food vouchers were being provided, so everyone lined up–both at the counter and then at the deli. Anxious not to miss the announcement about reboarding, because it was now close to 1:00, I took my turkey and Swiss on 5-grain wheat with dark mustard (could never get that in a Japanese airport) back to the waiting area.
Around 1:15 there was a new announcement. The flight was cancelled. I was stunned – this being the last day I had planned to spend with my mother until next year – and I burst into tears. The next half hour was rather chaotic, with long lines at the counter for people to change their travel plans, including staying overnight. What I hated most was the teasers of 20 seats available on another flight (but too many people ahead of me wanting them) and a possible flight to Atlanta, then Chicago, then Milwaukee. One of the women near me graciously lent me her cell phone so I could call my mother to let her know. I said I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get to Milwaukee that day or not, and she said cheerfully, “Oh, you will, you will.”
Then came the announcement that special connections could be made for people who had ticketed through travel agents. That was me! Although I wondered if booking through a Japanese travel agent counted. The few of us who went up to the counter were told us they needed the hard copy of our tickets, and we’re like, “but we handed them in at the counter to get our boarding passes.” So one of the ground attendants went running back to get them. Then we were given instructions to go get our bags at carousel 16 in the red area, then proceed to Northwestern where we could catch a flight to Minneapolis, then change planes for one to Milwaukee. Kind of round about, and we wouldn’t get in until 9 p.m. or so, but at least we’d get to Milwaukee.
No bags at the carousel. It was taking time to sort out the ones that had been destined for Milwaukee, we were told, but they would be there “shortly.” At the Northwest counter, I handed over my “hard” ticket, now looking well-used, which had been scribbled on by the Airtran agent. The Northwest agent peered at it and said, “What’s this?” I explained how the agent at Airtran had directed us there. She said, that can’t be since we’re fully booked. My heart sank. She went into a long discussion with another of the agents. 15 minutes to flight time. Finally she turned to me and said, “We don’t have any agreement with Airtran, and their agent hasn’t contacted us. We can’t accept you on this flight.” I told them at least 3 other people in the same situation were coming, and she said that she’d be telling them the same thing.
I was at a loss but decided to go back down to the baggage carousel so at least I’d have my bags with me. My Milwaukee flight friends who had been making the rounds with me were by now becoming buddies. With our luggage, we went to the Airtran counter. So at 2:30 p.m. I was back at the same place I had been at 8:00 in the morning. There we got an agent who knew all about the cancelled flight and said she could get us on a Midwest flight, direct from Tampa to Milwaukee, arriving at the fairly decent hour of 7:30.
I gleefully left the counter with ticket in hand and followed signs all over the floor until I finally found a tiny little counter for Midwest. As I stood there, the clerk from Airtran came running up with my check-in bags and my passport that I had left at the other counter. In fact, the mother of my by now very familiar Milwaukee flight friends was about to pick them up to bring them to me, but the agent quickly stopped her admonishing, “You can’t do that!” With today’s convoluted situation, such niceties are no longer permissible.
Finally I had a boarding pass and for the 2nd time that day went to take the tram to Gate E. At the initial security checkpoint, I was stopped by the guard. “What’s in this bag?”
“You can’t carry that bag. Only one bag.”
My attempts to explain that I had purchased the candy at the gate where I had already been before boarding the plane that morning. He simply kept insisting, in heavily accented English, “Only one carry-on bag.” It was the rule. Since I wasn’t going to be able to get to the gate any other way, I knelt down and started stuffing candy in every little nook and cranny of my computer carry-on bag I could find.
At Gate E, I once again saw my 3 buddies, an elderly couple with their son, and went over to talk with them. They chattered on about being retired, how he had wanted her as a secretary for his private business, but she had gone to work for a company, and that now he was grateful because they ended up living off her retirement, and how she had worked for the same company for 26 years, then retired but didn’t really enjoy being retired, so had spent 6 more years working at a retirement center. They had heard me talking about my mother so asked where she lived. “Hales Corners. In a retirement center. Have you ever heard of Tudor Oaks.”
“That’s where I used to work,” exclaimed the woman.
“Do you know Dorothy Martin?”
So it turned out that my day at the Tampa Airport, from which I was flying to see my mother, was spent with someone who knew my mother very well! Perhaps the biggest synchronicity of the month.