Thursday, February 21, 2019

Final Destination

You could not make this up if you tried.

This story is based on factual events and no details have been changed for additional dramatization.  To the best of my memory, these are the chronological events that took place beginning on Wednesday, February 20, 2019.



12:40 pm central time - After business meeting concludes, I ate tacos for lunch with fellow traveler and colleague Mike Baker.  Unbeknownst to us, this would be our last meal of the day.

1:22 pm - Delta Alert for delayed flight due to weather, moving the original 3:36 pm departure time back an hour to 4:35 pm.

1:40 pm - While attempting to refuel rental car, first gas station attempted had all pumps closed, so we had to find an alternative.

2:01 pm - Arrive at airport

4:15 pm - Boarded flight at Austin Airport enroute to Atlanta.  As it stands, we have 2 hour layover in Atlanta before leaving for our final destination of Huntsville at 9:22 pm.

5:01 pm - Boarding doors are closed and captain announces that due to weather, there is a ground stop of all air traffic into Atlanta.  Updates from dispatch indicates the ground stop will last 1 hour.

5:03 pm - I phone Delta and get on standby list for the 11:48pm flight from Atlanta to Huntsville as an extreme backup, should we not make our connection

6:01 pm - Captain informs us that the ground stop will continue until 7:01 pm.

6:22 pm - There is a mechanical problem on board the plane; the 1st class bathroom is out of order.  Maintenance is required to check it out before we can proceed.

6:30 pm - I phone Delta and confirm standby seat for the 11:48 pm flight from Atlanta to Huntsville since making the connection for the original flight is no longer humanly possible.

7:01 pm - Ground stop is lifted, but Austin maintenance still has not arrived.  Captain has talked to Delta maintenance in Atlanta and they are talking to Austin trying to get them to review the problem.

7:42 pm - Maintenance problem has been reviewed and all paperwork is complete.

7:43 pm - Delta Alert that 11:48 pm flight to Huntsville is delayed until 12:50 am.

7:44 pm - Flight departs Austin for Atlanta, which is normally an hour and 40 minute flight wheels up to wheels down.  ETA on arrival is 10:32 pm eastern.

8:47 pm - Somewhere north east of New Orleans we begin to fly into the weather pattern

9:22 pm - We begin circling around Montgomery in a holding pattern as the weather is too bad to land in Atlanta.



9:39 pm (now 10:39 pm eastern time) - We fly further east, then begin circling around Columbus Georgia.

11:24 pm - We finally land in Atlanta, having been on board the plane for just over 6 hours.

11:31 pm - Deplane.  All restaurants and shops are closed, Mike Baker has a vending machine dinner of cheese crackers and Vitamin Water.

11:40 pm - Delta Alert that our 11:48 pm flight which was delayed until 12:50 am is now delayed until 1:30 am.

11:58 pm - After walking from T terminal, we arrive at gate B27.

12:45 am - Inbound flight from Chicago lands and passengers deplane.  Only about a dozen flights remain yet to depart with most others having been cancelled.

12:51 am - Panic spreads as the monitors change the departure time from 1:30 am to 6:30 am, which means the flight has been cancelled.  Delta gate agents goes to talk to the pilot.

1:15 am - Delta gate agent returns and indicates that the time posted is correct and even though they are laboring to find another crew, it is highly unlikely that the time will change.  He indicates that all hotel vouchers have been given out for the day, and there are not hotels in the area that have any vacancy.  Most passengers will sleep at the gate and wait for the morning flight.

1:16 am - Phone the after hours travel agency and after they go through 4 rental car carries, finally find one that will honor a one-way rental from Atlanta to Huntsville.

1:19 am - While on the phone with travel, I mistakenly get off the train at T terminal, while Mike Baker continues on the the correct baggage claim area.  Trains have reduced service, so it takes 9 minutes for the next train to arrive versus the normal 90 seconds.

1:29 am - Make Baker and I walk over to tram entrance, leaving the airport for the rental car center.

1:31 am - I realize that not only do I not have my wallet, but in my groggy state, I have left my backpack at gate B27.  I leave Mike and head back into the airport.

1:49 am - TSA will not allow me to re-enter the terminal without a valid picture ID, which is in my wallet, which is in my backpack, which is HOPEFULLY, still at gate B27.  My cell phone battery life is down to 8%.

1:52 am - I go to Delta baggage service and talk with a nice gentlemen who calls "someone" at Delta, who finds a lady named Mona who will look for my bag.  His eyes are as bloodshot as mine, both going on very little sleep.

1:54 am - A random stranger comes up to me and asks if I am going to Huntsville, indicating he saw me at the gate.  He is not a frequent traveler, but trying to get home to surprise his daughter for her birthday after leaving a work meeting in Dallas.  I offer him the backseat and Will who owns a pest control business in Madison, becomes a band of our weary travelers.

1:57 am - I call Mona and she has my bag and will return it to me at the top of the escalator at the security checkpoint.  She describes herself as 5'5" with dark hair and wearing a Delta flight attendant uniform and I take note.

2:19 am - I realize that to my tired eyes, every flight attendant coming up the escalator is 5'5" with dark hair and wearing a Delta uniform, so I text her a picture of myself.  Seeing my face I realize that I look like death warmed over.  Phone battery life now 2%.



2:32 am - I finally see Mona and she hands over my bag.  I ask her if it would be ok to give her a hug since she literally has saved my life.  I could not get back into the airport or back home without it.

2:37 am - Will, Mike and I head over to the rental car center.

2:42 am - The National stand refers us to the Alamo stand.  They indicate that they have no cars and their system has mistakenly issued a rental agreement to me for a one way rental that they can not support.  I manage to talk with the agent and finally we have a car.

2:57 am - We load our luggage into the car and approach the car rental exit.  The National attendant can find no record of a car rental in the name of Eric Charette.  However they can find one for Christopher Charette of Salt Lake City Utah.

2:59 am - After backing out of the exit line, I call our work after hours travel.  Since they support multiple companies, they made the reservation for the wrong person.  I try to convince Hope that she should just change the name on the reservation, since we are sitting in the car, and there are no other cars left.

3:11 am - Hope issues a new rental contract in my name and we exit the airport.

3:12 am - We proceed to battle torrential rain and head west on I-20 toward Birmingham.

5:10 am (now 4:10 am central time) - We arrive in Birmingham where I-20 westbound is closed for construction, so we detour through the city, getting lost a little.

4:12 am -  I now have been awake for 24 straight hours.

4:14 am - We get back on I-65 heading north.  After we get under a hundred miles to go, Mike reads off the distance every 5 miles to keep us awake.  Until we get north of Cullman, visibility is near zero as the rain intensifies.

5:52 am - We finally arrive at Huntsville airport.  Mike agrees to return the car, which is now almost empty of fuel so that I can start my 30 minute drive to south east Huntsville.

6:31 am - I finally pull up to my house, 17 hours after arriving at the airport in Austin, having flown for 6 hours, driven for 4 hours, not eating since lunch the day before.

6:31:07 am - I have no recollection of getting into bed, but I fall asleep.