Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Miracles for Christmas

We began the trip in a way customary for us; that is, I was in a traumatized frenzy with my heart beating, hands shaking, nausea rising, feeling like I was going to faint, have a heart attack, and then throw up and have diarrhea. When I am like this, I am not tactful, nor am I always rational, and people feel that they are being yelled at (which they probably are, albeit not vindictively). So there is always a certain amount of pain that accompanies getting out the door while I try to wipe the counters and otherwise mop up behind us, in hopes of arriving home to a clean and organized environment.

We arrived at the airport in good time, thanks to a wonderful friend who drove us over. It was a clear day, unlike the previous day (Dec. 22), when it had snowed hard for approximately 36 hours straight. Although it was clear in Syracuse, it was apparently not clear in Detroit. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 4:17 p.m., but at 3:45, instead of a plane arriving at the gate, there was a switch in the schedule and the flight was pushed back to 5:25 p.m. This was not good, as our connection in Detroit was scheduled to board at 6:45, and it is a 90 minute flight from Syracuse to Detroit.

I asked the gate attendant if she thought we would get there in time. Unfortunately, she was over-worked, over-tired, and sick of passengers. The previous day had been a total fiasco, and on our day to fly, there were still many people who had not been able to get out the day before, trying hard to get on planes. Everybody seemed short tempered and tense. She said, “You have a chance. Your connection isn’t delayed, but you might get there in time. Also, there is another plane leaving Detroit about a half hour later.”

I asked, “Can you book us on that one?”

She looked at me as though I were crazy, “No. It’s completely full.”

I stood there, wondering, “If it is completely full, and we are going to miss our scheduled flight, then why would I go to Detroit? Should we not return to our home?

She looked at my silent face and said, “If you don’t get on this plane, you won’t get out of Syracuse for three days.”

So I just sat down. With my family. I have been trained not to ask the tough questions.

We finally got on the plane (it had simply arrived late from, I believe, Detroit). I told my family, “We will probably have to spend the night in Detroit. I don’t think we are going to make our flight.” They told me not to be negative and pessimistic and all that. I told them I was just trying to be prepared so I would not be devastated when it happened.

The pilot told us that most of the flights out of Detroit were being delayed, so not to worry about missing connections.

I prayed all the way to Detroit. I just beseeched God to help us. I told Him, “It would not be hard for you at all… all You have to do is delay that connection. That’s so easy for You, You would hardly have to even pay any attention…”

They had nothing but water and orange juice on that flight, and very crabby people.

The flight was slow: slow getting off the ground, slow landing, slow getting to the gate. We touched down on the Detroit tarmac at 7:14 p.m. Shawn immediately powered up his Blackberry… only to learn that our connection had already taken off. It was gone. I felt the adrenaline drain from my body. We would not have to run to try to make it. It was gone.

Inside the airport, at the gate, we got in line to talk to an airline representative. The man in front of us was small, tattooed, and extremely angry. He shouted at the gate attendant, and she bit her lips, responding politely but completely unhelpfully. He finally stormed off.

We approached her with trepidation. Shawn is the master of charm, but I was just terrified that the desperation in my eyes would irritate her. She looked at me rather than Shawn, so I said, as politely as possible, “We just arrived, and we have missed our connection… there are six of us, trying to get to Minneapolis. Is there anything you can do?”

Surprisingly, she did not respond with passive-aggressive hostility. She checked some things on her computer monitor. “Well,” she said, “Six is a lot, but there’s a flight departing from gate B12 in fifteen minutes, and only a few people have checked in for the flight. I’ll book you on it, but you’ll have to hurry.”

We were at gate A25. If you have never been to Detroit, you will not understand the distance we are talking here. Detroit has a tram service, but we were halfway between stops, and to backtrack to get to it would have hurt as much as it would have helped.

Suffice it to say that we took off running, in our heavy winter coats, each of us burdened with two pieces of carry-on luggage. We ran on the moving belts, puffing and trying to gently push past slower people while panting, “Excuse me please…” and “Pardon me, I’m sorry…” We ran between moving belts. We ran up escalators and down escalators. There is a big tunnel between the A concourse and the B concourse. It has a domed ceiling and special lighting effects. As we ran through, it changed from blue to a dusky color to glowing gold. The effect was emotional and hopeful. I prayed, “Please God, don’t raise my hopes only to dash them…”

After running for 10 minutes straight, we arrived at gate B12. I was sweating, my shoulders heaving and my lungs burning. David told me, “Mom, you really need to get in shape.”

There was a big line at the gate; I suspect it was all people like us, waiting for seating assignments. Shawn got in line to wait. The kids and I sat down. I remembered watching the news in years past, seeing people stuck in airports at holiday time, suffering weather delays. It occurred to me that I had made a pact with Shawn never to put ourselves in that situation. I thought, “What are we doing here???

After about 10 more minutes, Shawn had not moved in the line. I went to see if I could figure out what was happening. The lady trying to service the line put out a pager request for boarding pass paper. Shawn was on his cell phone with some Northwest Airlines office somewhere else. He hung up and told me, “Well, they say we’re booked on this flight…” He had an idea, and sent me to the line where they were trying to board the aircraft, but with my old boarding pass. He kept his place in the line he was in.

Very politely, I approached the lady (who was not boarding very many people), and said, “We missed our connection… this is my old boarding pass… they said we were booked on this flight, but we don’t have seat assignments yet…”

“Hmm...” she said to herself. Then she asked the lady who was waiting for boarding pass paper, “Are there any restrictions on seating assignments?” When the other woman replied in the negative, she said, “Righto. Here we go! Load ‘em on up!”

“Like a bunch of cows, huh?” I said to her, but I smiled. She looked surprised, but smiled back. I waved for my family to join me and we took her seat assignments and boarded the plane.

As we walked onto the plane, I was struck by how beautiful it was. It was a very new looking plane; the white parts were very white, and the seats were pale gray. Lots of white light glowed from above the baggage compartments. We were seated in the very back of the plane, all together, and wonder of wonders, the bathroom was out of order, so we would not have to deal with a line or the smells that emanate from an airplane lavatory. It seemed, well, heavenly. I don’t know when I have ever felt so overwhelmed with thanks to God.

We waited a long time. While we were waiting, freezing rain began to fall, and the plane was de-iced. At one point, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and told us, “Well, this flight did not exist two hours ago, but it has been created, and here we are… it will just be awhile while we wait for an ASMTJ assignment and an ASNPRF assignment.” (I am making up those acronyms, because I do not know what they really were, but I figured it meant we needed a runway assignment and a place in the line of planes waiting for take-off. That is just what I figured, but I think I was probably right.)

And then, oh miracle of miracles, then we took off. For Minneapolis. I continued praying, thanking God and saying, “Thank You so, so much. I don’t even care if we don’t have our luggage. Just thank You! This is more than enough. Thank You!”

Little did I know that I would find out about another miracle… a few minutes after we were up in the air, the pilot came back on the loudspeaker and told us, “Well, folks, we got out of Detroit just in time. They had closed two runways before we took off, and now they are moving toward closing down the whole airport.” I could not believe how God was taking care of us.

We had planned to eat dinner in Detroit during our layover. A number of us had not eaten lunch, and some had not even had any breakfast to speak of. Since we were famished, we were particularly glad that this plane had full beverage service. A ginger-ale helped my tummy considerably.

Anyway, to bring a long story to a close, we eventually arrived in Minneapolis, and our luggage was not there, but it was on the next flight (apparently at least one more plane got out of Detroit before they closed down…). My sister picked up Shannon, Laura, Jon and me, while Shawn and David stayed behind at the airport to wait for the luggage and to rent a car. By the time we went to bed at my parents’ house in Anoka, Minnesota, we were all together and even had our pajamas and toothbrushes. It was about 1 a.m., but we were thankful. God is good.


AmyC said...

Oh, how I hate flying. I do not know how people maintain their sanity who have to fly weekly for business. I have read somewhere that a gate attendant or airline employee is one of the most powerful people on the planet. When you are in the situation you were, it seems very, very true.

Ruth MacC said...

That is a well written story and I am glad you told it. It's good to praise God and talk about Him and what He does. Well done!