In planning a special trip flying across the country, one would expect that advance reservations would be required and that the airlines would be able to accommodate a family who would have made these reservations a full six months in advance. Thus, the night before, we assembled our luggage -- my sister, my parents, and myself -- and once again we read over every last bit of information on the tickets Mom had reserved and purchased. Our flight would leave from Portland, Oregon at 6:00 AM and, after a stop in Salt Lake City and another in Atlanta, would arrive in Montgomery, Alabama at 7:58 PM. Mom had already ordered the taxi to pick us up early in the morning and had made wheelchair arrangements so we could whisk Dad through security and to each gate without wearing him out. We all would arrive at the reunion of the World War II, Fifth Bomb Group, Air Force reunion in Montgomery, ready to meet and greet.
All alarms woke us at 3:00 AM on the morning of the flight. We dressed and carried all luggage out onto the driveway. Dad had his walker and was ready to fold it up and go. At 3:30, when the cab had not arrived, Mom called them. A whiny woman's voice on the other end informed Mom that they were still looking for a van. A slightly sinking feeling started to happen to all of us. At 3:35, Delta called to inform us that our flight out of Salt Lake City had been rescheduled for half an hour later. No problem, we said. We had plenty of layover time.
At 3:45, Mom called the cab company again and asked them if they had found that van. "No," the woman whined. Mom cancelled the cab, and called another company. They could accommodate us, and they arrived at 4:10. With all four suitcases jammed into the trunk, Dad in the front with the driver, Mom, Janet and I in the back seat, and Dad's folded walker squished across the our laps and smashed against the ceiling of the cab, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time and still chuckling. It was beginning to feel a little like an episode of "I Love Lucy," but we were happy to have made it.
We headed for the automatic check-in kiosks, but they were all closed because we were too early. Eventually we got checked in, put our luggage in, met the fellow with the wheelchair for Dad, and got through security with relatively little trouble. We watched the reader boards, our plane was going to fly out on time, and we were excited.
When the boarding time came and went without an announcement, we began to worry. Then, we were told that we would board and take off 30 minutes late because the plane had been over-filled with fuel and some had to be removed. We were all in disbelief, but everything went as they had told us. We were in the air and actually arrived in Salt Lake City on time.
But something was wrong with the next airplane. A crew was outside working on it when we arrived at our departure gate. Our time of departure started out at 30 minutes late and soon stretched into three hours late. But the plane got off the ground eventually, and we arrived in Atlanta three hours late and with 20 minutes to connect with our next flight.
Twenty minutes. We were in Terminal T at the far end and needed to be in Terminal D at the other end. This was a full concourse, a train ride and another full concourse away. Twenty minutes. As the plane door opened, Janet dashed up the corridor to find the wheelchair person for Dad. Mom and I waited for the walker to be unloaded from the plane. We got Dad into the walker, and followed him up the corridor to the waiting wheelchair. Seventeen minutes.
The soft-spoken, slow-talking sweet lady in charge of the wheelchair let us know right up front that we could not arrive at that far gate in time to board the plane for the 6:52 PM flight. At that point, my sister grabbed the wheelchair out of her hands and started doing the Indy 500 down the T concourse with Mom and the walker and myself following her. Dad was yelling "Beep, beep!!" and Janet was dodging passengers.
She made the corner toward the elevator and escalators and screeched to a halt just as the elevator door opened. Explaining that we really needed the elevator because we had to hurry, all of the other folks deferred to us -- except another airport employee who decided that this elevator car would hold herself, her empty wheelchair, Janet, Dad in the wheelchair, Mom with the walker, and myself. Of course, the door kept trying to slide closed as we arranged and rearranged this tangle of humans and medical devices within the limited space of the elevator car. Miraculously, the door finally closed; and down we headed.
Thirteen minutes to go. The elevator came to a halt, but the door behind me did not open. Instead, the door directly opposite slid slowly open. Janet attempted to roll Dad out of the elevator car, but his wheelchair was hopelessly hooked on the empty wheelchair. She couldn't push the chair forward into the car because I was wedged between Dad's wheelchair and the closed slider. Mom and the walker couldn't move at all. Janet was frantically trying to unscramble the two wheelchairs and move out when a lady actually tried to enter the elevator car with all of us. Just as she was coming in, Janet was able to free the wheelchairs; and we all burst out of the elevator walking, jogging and rolling for the train which had just arrived at the T concourse.
As the train doors slid open, we rushed inside the last car of the train and found a place to brace ourselves for the ride. When the train jerked into motion, we discovered that we were not in the last train car moving forward but instead were in the first car hurtling backward. We caught ourselves as we all lunged forward toward the back of the train. But we collected ourselves as the train stopped first at the A concourse, then the B, then the C, and finally the D.
We boiled out of the train, turned right, Janet pushing Dad, Mom pushing the walker, and me bringing up the rear. It only took us a few seconds to realize that we were racing exactly the wrong way. We arrived at the E stop just before the airport train -- the one we had just been riding. So we turned around, retraced our steps and arrived at the elevator. As we waited for the car to arrive, we realized that we had exactly seven minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave the ground. We weren't going to make it. Or were we?
We piled into the elevator and waited for the door to slide closed. It would start to close and then open again. After two of these episodes, we realized that Mom was waving to people outside the car and triggering the electronic safety closure. Finally, we arrived at the D concourse and I asked Janet if she could run (She's 55 and I'm 61 -- I thought it was a fair question!). She thought about it for a split second before she started barreling down the concourse. Mom tore after her pushing the walker, and I followed pushing Dad (who was saying "Beep Beep") in the wheelchair. It was absolutely hilarious watching Janet dodging around the other travelers and Mom rocketing along behind her. People were literally jumping out of the way and then smiling as they watched this little 84-year-old white-haired lady zooming along with what they assumed was HER walker.
Janet reached the gate D31 right on time: 6:52 PM. She was letting the employee behind the counter know that we were all there and most anxious to board our plane. It was at that point the fellow informed her the flight had been delayed until 8:30 PM and would be departing from back at gate D26. We all whirled around and went back to check in at that gate. We had made it for the last flight to Montgomery.
We were laughing so hard as we ordered a burger and some ice cream for a small dinner. But our laughter turned to exhaustion as they announced that there would be an additional delay while they tried to fix the plane. At 9:00 PM, we were informed that they had decided to send us on a different plane which would pick us up at Gate D33. Off we went and lined up.
At 9:15 PM, they began to load the new plane. Instead of taking the wheelchair passenger first as everyone before them had, they just had Dad wait to go down the elevator to the tarmac level. Janet stayed with Dad, and Mom and the walker and I headed for the two flights of stairs down to the tarmac. An airline employee spontaneously assisted us by carrying the walker down the stairs for us, installing Mom back behind it and leaving us to go out to the plane. I picked up my bags, turned around and found that Mom and the walker had followed the employee and was headed out across the tarmac followed by several other passengers. I yelled and got that parade turned around and headed back down the portable corridor. Janet arrived and refused to get on the plane until Dad arrived. We had to take the walker back off the plane so it could be loaded with the other luggage. We were so relieved when the plane was finally off the ground and headed for Montgomery.
Our arrival was easy and peaceful. We walked a short distance to the baggage claim and waited for our luggage. It was with dismay that we watched the final piece of luggage come around the carousel but only one of our suitcases had arrived. One. Three had not arrived. Off we went to find the Lost Luggage office in this very small airport. No one would answer any of the doors on which we knocked. But eventually, someone came to help, unlocked just the right door, and lo and behold, there were the other three suitcases.
The shuttle arrived on time.
We arrived in our rooms at the Embassy Suites at 10:48 PM.
We are still laughing about it tonight. It was most definitely our family's finest and most patient time. We did it. We persevered. They threw everything at us and we threw it right back.
Sometimes you just have to keep laughing and remember Lucy.