Well, That Was a Bit Disappointing

An adventure, someone once told me, is an experience you hated while it was happening, but makes a great dinner party story. Yeah, we had that.

Everything was going so well, at first. We got on an airport bus in Boulder that was just needing to be moved to the airport, so it made no stops, took the always-empty toll road, and got us to the airport 20 minutes before we had expected to arrive. Terrific. They say to get to the airport 3 hours before an international flight, and we’re at T-3h20m, so we’ve got plenty of padding for checking our luggage and getting through security and getting a bite to eat. Fantastic.

And DIA is practically empty. We wait in line to check luggage at the BA counter for about 30 seconds. Luggage away, we head to the usually packed TSA checkpoint. No line. Boom, we’re through.

It’s now T-2h45m, so we take the train out to Terminal C for a sit down meal at the satellite outlet of a trendy Denver restaurant that Eliana likes, even though our flight leaves from Terminal A. We have plenty of time. Dinner is pricey, but excellent.

And then the rain that’s been falling all day turns to snow. Wet, heavy, Colorado Spring snow. Uh-oh.

At T-2h, we are at the gate, and the flight is still showing on time. In fact, the 747 arrives shortly after we do. That’s good. They have plenty of time to turn it around.

Boarding is supposed to start around T-45m. The plane is a 747, so you can’t do the board-everyone-in-30-minutes gig. Thing is HUGE. We get a little hint of issues when boarding gets pushed back to T-20m because the ground crew isn’t finished cleaning up, and the flight crew hasn’t gotten on board to do security checks. Fine. We’ll be 30 minutes or an hour late. We’ve got a 10 hour layover scheduled in London. Still penty of time to go into the city and check out a few sights.

We pre-board, using my magical blind-guy cane. The crew is chipper and friendly as we board. Couldn’t be nicer. We are seated, as comfortably as possible in coach, pretty close to the time we’re supposed to push back from the gate. Running a little late, but not so bad.

We finally pull back from the gate at around T+1h, taxiing pretty slowly towards the runways, then stopping. Here’s where things start to get slightly annoying. Nobody says anything about the delay for too long. Seems obvious it’s weather, but communication is a little slow in coming. Eventually, Captain McNamara comes on the PA to tell us that only two runways are available due to the weather. Because we are are a heavy 747, we can only use the longer one. The longer one is being plowed. We need to be deiced. We must take off almost immediately after deicing, so we can’t start the process until the plowing is done. There are only four deicing stations, a lot of traffic, and we are so big we need two of the four stations (adjacent ones, obviously). Sigh.

At T+2h, we finally get our slot for deicing. Initially, the co-pilot tells us it will take 25-30 minutes. Fine. Starting to look like we may miss our afternoon/evening in London, but there’s still plenty of time to make the connection to Tel Aviv. London was always a bonus part of the trip, anyway. More than an hour later, we are told the good news that “the first phase of deicing is done.” Huh? We are so big, and there was so much snow and ice already on the plane, that it took that long to just get the plane ice-free enough to apply the antifreeze coating that keeps the ice off for enough time to take off. We are told this will take 15-20 minutes, but it’s more like 30. T+3h45m.

[Oh, did I mention that during the deicing, the engines need to be turned off? No air conditioning. So what? It’s 29 degrees Fahrenheit and dark outside. We’d need heat, right? Did it ever occur to you (it hadn’t to me) that the passenger compartment of an airplane is basically constructed like a Thermos bottle? Planes fly in air that’s 50 below. They’re insulated. And there are several hundred people sealed in the bottle. I can hear the auxiliary motor that keeps the lights on and minimal air circulation, but the temperature is climbing. Fast. That just added to the usual comfort of modern air travel.]

Deicing complete, we move towards the runway. Slowly. This is bad. The plane is supposed to go straight from deicing to take off. So the co-pilot, then the pilot, come to check the wings. Icicles. Damn. Back to the deicing pad, this time via a long route down the runway and back along the few taxiways that have been cleared of snow. We are warned that we are now running into crew work hour constraints, and BA Operations are being consulted. The captain also mentions that we have now exceeded the U.S. limit on holding passengers in a plane on the ground. He says that any passenger may request to be let off the plane. If that happens, we will have to return to the gate and that will definitely put the crew over time, thus canceling the flight. He was perfectly cheerful about it, but his implication was clear: If you ask for this, your fellow passengers will do something awful to you, and good luck finding witnesses for the prosecution.

We’re now at T+5h, and it’s over. They can’t find an intermediate airport to stop for a fresh crew, we don’t really have enough fuel for that anyway, and it’s 2 in the morning. Back to the gate we go, when the cabin crew asks if there’s a medical doctor on board. Just what you want to hear. Then we need to stay in our seats for a few extra minutes while the paramedics come onboard to take care of the passenger. Turns out he’s basically ok–a little bit of exhaustion and dehydration made him feel badly, but he got off the plane on his own steam.

The BA ground staff worked hard to communicate with everyone about rebooking and options. The crew was extremely solicitous and kind to us. But at 3AM, DIA is basically shut down. There were no hotels available, no ground transportation, and no food. Also no baggage handlers, so our bags had to stay on the plane for the night. According to the staff and the BA website, our flight would now depart at 5PM Sunday, a mere 20 hours late.

We are lucky to live relatively nearby, but we still had to wait until 4:30AM for a bus back to Boulder. We took care when we finally arrived home not to frighten Bonnie and Daniel, who’d been asleep before most of the delays happened. I crashed for 4 hours and woke up to texts and email from BA that our flight would now leave at 11PM, 26 hours after we meant to leave. We’ll get to Israel a day later than planned, but still in time for the Ramah Trip.

See you from Israel on Tuesday, kein eina hara.

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