We were ready. Trimmed, buffed and pretty as possible. I had my new tan tropical suit perfect for Florida weather while Nancy got out her sexy shoes (not much use for them most of the time). Packed everything that would possibly needed while carefully choosing carry-on items. N. even had a new book to read. I packed two pairs of glasses (one lesson learned from experience). We could almost hear the Blues Brothers saying, "Hit it!"
Destination: our nephew's grand wedding in Tampa and a chance to see family normally scattered over the country and meet some nice new relatives-by-marriage. A lot of planning had obviously gone into this weekend event: the wedding itself in a beautiful neighborhood, a fun rehearsal dinner, then a reception at the Art Museum with outdoor cocktail hour. How could we miss all this?
Well, we did, thanks to the wonderful airline industry. And a fatal flaw in our own planning, I'll have to admit.
We thought taking an extremely early flight out of Harrisburg with plenty of time to make the connection at Dulles Airport in Virginia would give us a whole afternoon in Tampa to relax, get ready, and meet up with family already there. Thinking of traveling on the day of an event is just foolish. It never works. In this case, just as we were ready to board in the dark Harrisburg a.m., the pilot returned to tell the gate agent that he had found fuel puddled under the rear of the plane (not good, right?). A mechanic proved hard to find at that hour, and when he was done looking around, it seemed the parts place was still not open anyway. Finally we took off with just minutes to make our connection, which was in the same terminal, so it was doable.
Nope. It took off just as we arrived in said Dulles terminal. Most of our flight was bound for that one, and it would have only delayed their takeoff by minutes, but there it was. After snaking through the predictably long line at Customer Service, we were fortunate to talk to the senior agent, who really seemed to be knowledgeable -- instead of a string of "no," she looked hard to find a way to get us to Tampa. It was still early, so we took her advice to wait standby for an Orlando flight (plenty of overpriced rental cars there, we were certain). With the big winter storm closing down the Midwestern north and the Northeast, we figured there would be a number of non-arrivals and thus a few empty seats.
This proved to be an illusion, for whatever reason I still cannot figure out. Florida flights are all full this time of year, and we all know the airlines overbook routinely anyway. To make a very long story a little shorter, we waited at four gates for flights to Tampa or Orlando over the next 12 hours, and in each case the standbys (26 of us waiting hopefully for one of these) got nowhere. The thing that started us on a slow burn was that in each case they held the flight for late arrivals. Every single one. We saw the same increasingly weary faces tramp from Customer Service to gate after gate, and even commiserated together after a while.
I won't even go into airport food. It's always expensive but not always bad (Pittsburgh, Tampa and Charlotte have a lot of good choices), but in this case it felt like carrying a brick in your stomach. Around 9 p.m., we gave up and after Nancy negotiated a voucher for a hotel stay, we caught a shuttle bus in the cold and found ourselves at -- believe it or not -- a resort in Leesburg, VA. It's too bad we were in no shape to enjoy it, because the place (Landsdowne) looked terrific. Normally we would have planted ourselves in front of the giant fireplace in the Stonewall Lounge and done some martini research, but physically and mentally we had nothing left.
Next day, after communicating updates to the partiers in Tampa (all enjoying perfect weather and visits to places like craft brewpubs and Ybor City), we called Enterprise who quickly picked us up and put us in a new car. The office was right by Route 15, so we made two right turns and headed toward Gettysburg and then home.
Story not over. Our luggage was in Orlando (we were sure we'd get on that first standby flight). It's a good thing we've learned to save every bit of official paper, because it took a whole lot of work on iPhone, computer and in person at United baggage offices to get them back here, nudging them step by step to Dulles and then to Harrisburg. When they failed to ever deliver them after promising three times to do just that, we drove to Harrisburg airport and retrieved them ourselves.
Now we're unpacked, still trying to get the last of the refunds (you could balance a hippo on your hands more easily), are doing the laundry, saw no one except strangers and United employees in various states of mental duress, and don't have tans.
There's a lesson to be learned other than not departing on the day of an event. Don't ever take another connecting flight! Next time (and it will be a while), we drive to that great resort in Leesburg (or similar place near Baltimore or Philly), spend the night, and take a direct flight to wherever.
By the time you learn all your life lessons, though, you'll be too old to go anywhere anyhow.