Day 0 of #NAPC2014 – Travel Woes

The North American Paleontological Convention began today in Gainesville, Florida. Having a meeting in February in Florida seemed like a brilliant idea. I was excited about traveling south and being warm for a few days.

What the planners of the convention forgot about, especially in the light of a series of relatively mild winters, that anyone traveling to Florida in February would have to make connections at northern airports.

Winter Storm Pax hit the northeaster United States at the exact time when most NAPC participants were traveling, resulting in measurable snow as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, through which many flights to Gainesville must connect.

Suffice it to say, many folks haven’t made it yet. There will be a special “Blizzard Session” on Tuesday for those who missed talks earlier in the meeting.

I was delayed yesterday while I was making my way south as well. While sitting on the tarmac in Rochester, I found the inspiration I needed for a story to enter into RocNaNo’s February 1667 words contest.

This is a true story:

Write a short story where your protagonist finds himself trapped in a situation he can’t escape. No matter what happens, things reset and he finds himself back at the beginning. Or he’s in a situation that seems strangely familiar, and tries something new.

 —

 Aircraft Delays

 I arrived at the airport a half hour earlier than I had expected. I had planned for snow-covered roads and treacherous driving, but as it was, the slow-downs were minor. I arrived at the airport with more than an hour before my 6:00 AM flight, which for this airport, meant that I was early. Really early.

Despite all the snow and storm warnings, my flight was listed as “on time.” I was pretty happy about that. If this flight was on time, all of my connections would be on time as well. I’d be in Florida before sun-down and could enjoy the warmth for a bit before turning in for the night.

“We have a bit of a mechanical issue this morning.” The Captain’s voice crackled over aircraft’s PA system. “No big deal. It’ll take the crews ten or fifteen minutes to fix, then we’ll be on our way. Thanks for boarding the plane so expeditiously.”

I looked at my watch. 6:00. The scheduled departure time. Everyone was on board, on time, seated, comfortable. We were in good shape for making my connection on time. Even with this short delay, I’d have plenty of time to stroll through the airport to make my 9:00 connection.

Good news.

“It’s taken a little longer than expected, but soon the ground manager will sign off on the work and we can be on our way. Thanks for your patience everyone.”

6:25 AM. Still in good shape. I wasn’t worried.

6:30 AM.

The Captain’s voice vibrated in the cabin. “A bit of bad news. There’s a ground hold at our destination. We’ll know more in about ten minutes.”

Groans resonated in the cabin. Many people had tight connections that they’d probably already missed. Others were going to miss theirs.

“That’s not really a problem for us,” the Captain continued. “It works in our favor, you see. Since we have to de-ice – which’ll take about 30 minutes – we should be ready to go as soon as the ground hold is lifted. We should get there before any of your connections leave.”

OK, I thought. My flight will be delayed for sure. I’ll make it. No worries.

At 7:00, we were still sitting at the gate. The PA came to life again. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” said the Captain, “but now there’s a two hour ground delay at our destination, so we can’t close the door and push back. The good news is that everyone is delayed a couple of hours, so you should still be just fine.”

I looked skeptically at my watch. I’d heard this before. It wasn’t true.

“But if we left right now,” the Captain went on, “we’d touch down right on time. So we’re not really late. It’s all working in our favor.”

The gate agent walked aboard and took the PA. “I have some information about cancellations and delays for you. If your connecting flight is canceled, you’re probably not going to get where you want to go today. Or tomorrow. Sorry.”

It was 7:30 AM.

She commenced to read off the names of various connection cities. I wasn’t paying attention. My flight would be delayed and I’d have no problem. Maybe I should have listened more closely.

“By the way,” added the head flight attendant, after taking the mic from the gate agent, “the lavatories are broken right now. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

The head flight attendant took the PA. “We have been cleared to close the door and push back. If you want to get off the plane, you should get off now.”

I checked my watch again. 8:00 AM.

If the plane took off right now, I’d still make my connection. Add in the delay that I assumed had already happened, I was especially confident that I’d have no trouble making it.

I stayed on.

8:15 AM.

“We’ll be de-icing in about 5 minutes, then be on our way,” came the Captain’s voice over the speakers. “Flight time will be about 45 minutes once we’re up.”

I checked on my connecting flight using an app on my phone. It was boarding. On-time.

I realized I’d made a mistake.

9:00 AM.

Wheels up.

“Thanks for your patience everyone,” said the Captain.

My connecting flight was also in the air. Long gone. How would I get to Florida?

Patience was right. I was going to need a lot more patience this afternoon. I took a deep breath and leaned my head back. I needed to rest. It was going to be a long day…

 —

I did totally miss my flight. However, I got a much better one (first class baby!), and still made it to my destination that day, albeit a few hours later than originally planned. Rather than flying directly to Gainesville (which I couldn’t have done until Sunday), I flew to Orlando and drove a car up.

I was there before dark. I made it to the NAPC icebreaker. And, I have a car, which I didn’t expect to have.

AND, I won’t miss any part of the meeting.

All told, it all ended well.

If you’re interested in following the proceedings of the NAPC meeting, check out what’s being posted on Twitter by clicking here.

 

Oh! And if you like my story, please head over to the RocNaNo site and vote for it by giving it a star rating!

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