My flight from Hell
Most of us have experienced a flight from hell. Some flights, such as those of 9/11 are truly flights from Hell – and flights to Hell for the perpetrators. Conventionally, however, the term “flight from Hell” isn’t used for flights that actually end in death in disaster. Rather, a flight from Hell is a flight that raises to the nth degree the aggravation and inconvenience of flying. Flights from Hell make stories that one shares with others. Here is mine.
At the time, quite some years ago, I lived in Boston. I had flown out to South Dakota to visit my mother. Having visited I headed back. My itinerary was a little involved (this was before the days of the hub and spoke system.) It involved three flights on three different planes. The first flight was a local flight from Pierre SD to Minneapolis MN. The second was a 45 minute puddle jump from Minneapolis MN to Chicago IL, and the third was from Chicago IL to Boston MA.
The flight from Pierre to Minneapolis was without incident. At least I suppose it was because I don’t remember anything about it. The flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, ah, that was a different matter.
As I said, it was supposed to be a 45 minute flight that gave us just enough time to get up to cruising altitude and then immediately begin our descent. The stewardesses (this was before the days of flight attendants) handed out soft drinks and peanuts. After about an hour the captain came on the intercom, saying “Greetings folks. We’ve got a bit of a delay. Chicago is socked in and we’re circling over Lower Podunk Falls Iowa.” These weren’t the exact words and that wasn’t the real name of the town, but it’s close enough.
Every so often the captain would come on the intercom and make some reassuring noises. The stewardesses dispensed soft drinks and peanuts until they were all gone. I entertained my seat mates by drawing cartoons about our situation. After an hour or so of this the captain came back on, saying, “Well folks, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we’re landing. The bad news is that we’re landing in Lower Podunk Falls, Iowa. We’re running a little low on fuel and we need to fuel up.”
The plane landed. We waited inside it while it was refueled. Once it but not us was refueled we took off so that we could continue flying around in little circles over Lower Podunk Falls, Iowa. Finally, about nine O’clock (we were supposed to have been in Chicago at 5:45) the captain came on and told us that we were going to land again at Lower Podunk Falls, Iowa, and be fed at the local airport coffee shop.
The plane landed and the passengers, some 200 plus of us, filtered out onto the tarmac. This was a small airport without umbilical tubes. How small became obvious when we got on the tarmac; our big jet was almost as large as the airport building. This consisted of two rooms, a small waiting room, and a coffee shop.
That little coffee shop probably did more business in the next hour than it had in the previous month. Booths were filled and packed. The counter was full. The whole room was wall to wall people, standing room only. The harried staff didn’t bother with taking orders. They just kept dishing out food until it was all gone.
Once we were all fed we straggled back onto the plane and took off into the darkened night. After a mere hour or so the captain came back on and told us that we were actually going to land in Chicago. As we flew into Chicago we looked out the window; the sky over Chicago was crowned with thunder clouds and lightning. We were impressed. This was the weather clearing up. Lord knows what it must have been like when Chicago was socked in.
We actually landed! It had taken us a mere eight hours to fly from Minneapolis to Chicago, only an hour or so longer than it would have taken to drive. We landed, but that isn’t the end of the story. I still had to get to Boston.
In the past few hours nobody else had landed in Chicago. Once the weather broke all of the flights that had been stacked up all landed, unloaded their passengers, took on new passengers, and made long over-due takeoffs for their final destinations. Passengers like me who were making a connecting flight had to get from one plane to another.
This was O’Hare International Airport. For those not familiar with the horror that is O’Hare, it was laid out by some mad genius who wanted to ensure that everyone got as much healthy aerobic exercise as possible. To this end he had arranged matters so that anyone making a connecting flight had to dash from one end of the airport to the other.
I made the mad dash to my connecting flight. They had just finished loading passengers and the umbilical tube was just crawling away from the plane. I pleaded and begged and they took pity. They reconnected the umbilical tube and let me walk into the airplane in solitary splendor. Once they had loaded their last errant passenger – me – the plane took off and flew from Chicago to Boston.
I recall very little about that final flight save this – we didn’t stop in Lower Podunk Falls, Iowa.
This page was last updated April 1, 2006.