Wednesday, June 23, 2004

While well worth the effort, my journey home was far from snag-free.

I arrived at the airbase three hours prior to the rotator's (a plane chartered by the military to ferry troops into and out of the theater) scheduled departure. I was informed by the airman at the check-in desk that the "bag drag" for my flight was completed hours earlier and that the luggage was already loaded and all passengers had long since checked in. I was told that I probably wouldn't be able to take this flight. Rotators must be booked weeks in advance and commercial was out of the question (I was transporting a weapon). I was unhappy, to say the least. My transportation office never told me that I was supposed to be there six hours early.

The airman got his supervisor. Her response was about the same as his. I asked if there was anything she could do. She made some phone calls, talked the ground crew into loading my gear, and checked me in. Thinking outside the box and making things happen is the sign of a true professional. I hope that the powers-that-be at the passenger terminal at Al Udeid AB know how lucky they are to have MSgt Russell working for them.

I boarded the plane and found myself seated in a middle seat between two big guys. I'm not small myself, so the trip was less than comfortable.

We stopped in a European city to change flight crews. We landed, taxied to a stop and waited. And waited. And waited. I walked toward the front of the cabin to get some fresh air from the open door. I chatted with one of the flight attendents. He told me that we were waiting for the other crew to arrive. It seems that no one bothered to tell them that they were flying today. Eventually, they showed up. Then we waited some more. A flight attendent announced that we were waiting for ice to be delivered to the plane. Ice. We couldn't take off because there was no ice for the beverage service. BEVERAGE SERVICE!?!!?? IT'S ONLY AN HOUR AND CHANGE TO OUR NEXT STOP!!!! SCREW THE BEVERAGE SERVICE!!! KICK THE TIRES AND LIGHT THE FIRES; LET'S BLOW THIS BURG!!!! Since I was not the Captain of the aircraft, my advice went unheeded. I am not an airline pilot and I don't play one on TV. Hell, I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. So we waited. The ice came. We took off. They served beverages. I had a Coke....with ice.

We arrived at Rein Mein AB in Germany. Some of the passengers were not continuing on. We had about an hour in the terminal before takeoff. I sat and watched the clock, occasionally looking out the window to admire the cloudy, rainy day (not many of those in the sand box). Having had an icy cold beverage on the plane, I decided not to seek further liquid refreshment during my layover.

We boarded the plane, along with new passengers flying Space-A (space available) back to the states. Many of them had children with them. I returned to my middle seat between two new guys. These guys were smaller, but hot and sweaty, nonetheless. I was hot and sweaty too, so I fit right in. Not comfortably, though.

Being seated near the bathroom, I got to see each child on the flight approximately forty times, figuring five trips per hour for an eight hour flight. Children seem to use the bathroom more than adults (I'm a dad, trust me on this). Traveling children need to use it even more. When you factor in the fact that bathroom has a folding door that you need to SLAM when you close it, you come up with a place that that sits midway between McDonalds Playland and Disney World on the average kid's fun-o-meter. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep on this leg of my trip.

I arrived at the airport in the US (we all cheered when it touched down on our native sod) tired, but happy. After an interminable period of baggage claim and Customs checking, I carted my gear to the ticket counter for my next flight. As it turns out, two of my bags were too heavy. Apparently the seventy pound per bag limit given to me by the military does not apply with Continental Airlines on domestic flights. I spent the next few minutes playing musical bags with my gear, trying to find the right mix.

Once checked in, I rushed to the security checkpoint so I could board in time. I got into line behind millions (ok, it was probably really only a couple hundred) of people to be screened by TSA personnel, who look suspiciously like the contract security personnel who used to do the screening, but with cooler uniforms. After I was thoroughly screened, I ran to my gate as my flight was already scheduled to be boarding.

When I arrived at the gate, I was told that the flight was delayed another hour. Another hour? How would I make my connecting flight?

My connecting flight was cancelled. Sorry, no more flights until tomorrow. WRONG ANSWER!!!!

The lady at the Continental desk called around until she found a flight with another airline that had a connection to my final destination. She got me the last seat on the flight. She then graciously called to make sure my bags would be transferred. (Note to Continental: Brianna at BWI is top shelf). My new arrival time was now three hours later than originally scheduled. I called my wife to let her know when to pick me up.

The plane, a twin engine turboprop, arrived late. We boarded late and took off late. I had a window seat with no one in the seat next to me. There was no icy cold refreshing beverage, but a good flight nevertheless. As long as I didn't miss my connection, that is.

As we were landing at LaGuardia, my boarding time for the next flight came...and went. We taxied around the airport forever. OK, it wasn't really forever, but the taxiing did last as long as our flight.

I got off the plane as my next flight was supposed to be taking off. I went to the desk at the gate and asked if I was too late. Nope. The plane wasn't even there yet. At last a delay that worked in my favor.

I boarded the plane (a puddle jumper, even smaller than the previous plane) and took my seat. We taxied out toward the runway. The pilot announced over the PA that there would be a delay, as we were sixteenth in line to take off. The cockpit door was open, allowing us to see out the aircraft's front window. Fifteen planes looks like a lot when they are all lined up in front of you. The line looked as long as the security checkpoint line I had gone through earlier.

Eventually it was our turn. The pilots wound up the rubber bands as tight as they would go and released the propellers. We took off and headed north. An hour later, we touched down.

My wife and oldest daughter were there to meet me. Our youngest was at a sleepover. We claimed my bags, which (surprisingly)arrived, undamaged no less. We hit the Wendy's drive through and got some homestyle chicken strips (with the southwestern sauce, of course). After eating, I hit the sack. In my own bed. It was all good.

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