I like to travel on Christmas Day to see my grandchildren, when nobody’s in the airport except for skeletal crews.
As spring approaches, Christmas 2016 is finally over for me and American Eagle airlines. That would be American’s regional partner, Mesa Airlines, which is the only way to get to Lexington, Kentucky. Period. Zero competition. It’s cheaper to fly to New York or L.A. than to fly “the Eagle” to this small city on one of its two daily offerings.
The day dawned gorgeous with all the blizzards and extreme weather on the coasts, not in the middle of the country. As expected, the plane was not full so I was upgraded, and it was only running 25 minutes late. I was anticipating a Christmas feast so I hadn’t brought food, although through the two and a half hours plus time change you only get pretzels, even in first class. Just as we were descending in a mid-afternoon fog, wheels down about to touch down, I sneaked on my phone to see a text from my parked daughter: “Where U? Peeps coming out w bags. Baby crying.”
As I was about to respond, suddenly the plane started ascending steeply and alarmingly fast. Cell phones went on all over the plane with zero announcements from the cockpit. By now, the entire plane knew that despite fog, both pilots on United and Delta flights to Lexington had just landed. We were finally informed from the cockpit that we were going two hundred miles north to Columbus, Ohio due to poor visibility. We would refuel and return, on a now four-hour flight at night, to DFW Airport. Chaos erupted. I joined the mutineers who refused to fly anywhere else with a guy who spoke broken English and an ashen co-pilot who looked maybe 14. Either these guys must not have been instrument-rated or it was their first flight on a slow air-traffic day to a sleepy airport.
Long story longer: we refused to spend Christmas night at a cheap airport hotel in Columbus to face a 5 a.m. flight through Charlotte the next morning. So after two hours of arguing, the harassed gate agent put 18 of us in cabs to Cincinnati, which was an hour from Lexington. I was appointed den mother to a college kid and a beleaguered woman from India who spoke no English and couldn’t get her cell phone to work. As I was calling my family who were trying to get me a room in Cincinnati, our cabbie took a detour to the Xavier college dorm; the kid had bribed him on the side.
Finally, after reuniting my new friend with her husband, I crawled into the last Uber in America still up at 9:30 p.m. on Christmas night, procured by my miraculous family. He was from the Church of the Holy Ghost and witnessed to me for the last leg of this Odyssey. I was now desperate for an adult beverage, never mind the food.
I reached my family’s darkened drive close to 11 p.m., nearly 12 hours since I had arrived at DFW; about the time it would have taken me to drive to St. Louis from Dallas. My back was killing me and I only wanted my nightgown... which I couldn’t get. The airline had broken the zipper on the bag.
Three months and many phone calls and letters later, my new suitcase arrived. I would not settle for the $63 Chris from customer relations told me American Eagle would be happy to refund me, a valued customer, for the portion of my flight that had been diverted. Then the customer relations got mixed up and wrote a letter saying they were sorry they couldn’t give me funds for my (non-existent) son’s broken headphones. For all of this I finally got 25,000 miles, which I’m using now to book on American Eagle for a summer trip back to Kentucky.
This time, I will show up at the airport with food, lots of books, a little pillow, and low expectations.