Tampa to Philadelphia: 5 Hours on the Ground

flight-delayedI recently took a flight from Tampa to Philadelphia to visit my family.  I rely on my siblings to take me to and from the airport; I feel as though it’s an imposition on their lives and schedules, but when I suggest that I should take car service, they all protest. I try to accommodate them when booking flights.  One sister works full-time and can only drive me in the evening, so  I made arrangements to depart Tampa at 6:05p.m. and arrive in Philly at 8:30p.m.  Perfect for her to get me after work.

We’ve been having full-blown summer weather here in Tampa since April–hot and humid, except for the rain.  Our rainy months are usually during the summer, when the heat of the day builds up and causes intense afternoon thunderstorms.  Recently, however, as hot as it has been, the storms have been sporadic; they have also eluded my house and so we’ve been doing the rain dance (the one I used to do when the kids were little and I didn’t feel like spending another evening on the baseball/softball field) because even with the lawn sprinklers, the grass is drying out. The day I’m to leave for Philadelphia is another sizzler.  My husband drops me off at the airport, I wiz through security, get to the gate and board the plane on time. Up until now, there has been nothing but glorious Florida sunshine. As we are sitting on the plane finishing the boarding process, it begins to rain.  Just a few drops on the windows at first, then a little heavier, wetting the ground. We are scheduled to leave in five minutes, so I’m hoping we just get above the clouds without too much turbulence.  At this point, I’m watching the last of the boarding passengers and thinking, “Get your butts in your seats and lets go.” Seriously, I cannot understand what takes people so long to put their carry-ons in the overhead bins, and sit the hell down! I could never be a flight attendant as I would probably end up yelling at passengers!

In a matter of minutes, the skies open up and we are sitting in a torrential downpour. Crap. But, I’m a Floridian now; I know these storms pass as quickly as they pop up, however, the wind picks up, and the lightning and thunder are putting on a show. The pilot announces that we have to wait for the storm to pass, and everyone seems relieved that we won’t be taking off in this violent weather. I’m content to sit here with my Kindle for a little longer.  My only concern is that my sister is aware of the delay, so I send her a text so she knows to wait before making the hour-long drive to the airport.

Not long after, the rain lets up and it appears brighter outside.  Moments later a Flight Attendant announces that that there is still lightning in the area and, therefore, we must continue to wait: “If there is lightning in a three mile radius the grounds crew are not allowed on the tarmac, and we don’t want anyone to get killed.”  Did she actually feel the need to say that? Did she think that some of the passengers would say, “F**k the grounds crew! Let’s go!”?

It’s beginning to get warm on the plane–there just isn’t enough air coming out of those little twisty things above.  Unfortunately, I’m wearing heavy denim pants because I was expecting cooler weather in Philadelphia. I start to feel perspiration dripping down the side of my face and neck, and my shirt is now sticking to me and the back of my seat.  People around me are starting to complain.  Not that there is anything we can do–weather is weather and we have to deal with it; we are all uncomfortable. I’m beginning to think about how I could covertly slip off my bra, which is soaked in sweat, but I’m not desperate yet.

It’s strange when you think about how there’s this large group of strangers who barely look at one another before getting on the plane, but who are now part of an experience that makes them somehow connected.  Before getting on the plane we all have our own identities, our own itineraries, our own agendas, but once on that plane we become a part of a group of passengers of flight 1494. We are in it together. Like it or not.

“It’s too hot.”

“There’s no air.”

“Can’t we get off?”

Let the pissing and moaning begin. Believe me, I get annoyed just as quickly as the next person, but it irritates me when people vocalize their displeasure when there is nothing that anyone can do about it. We all know those people that just like to hear themselves whine.  I just want to scream, “Shut the F**k up!”  Really, we’re stuck on this plane together, in close quarters, have you given any thought to how tedious it is for others to listen to your bellyaching?  There were several small children on the flight and there was some crying–this I can understand, but when an adult continuously lets out loud, irritated breaths it makes me want to slap him!  One little girl was enjoying just walking up and down the aisle saying “Hi” to everyone, having a great time entertaining herself.  I wish I could say the same for some of the adults on that plane.

Not long ago, there was talk of allowing passengers to use cell phones during flights.  After spending five hours on the ground where everyone was using their cell phones, I can tell you that it would be a horrible idea. I’m sure the incidents of passenger rage would dramatically increase. For instance, one man in front of me kept getting phone calls (it appeared from the same person) because he would answer his blaringly obnoxious ringtone (Theme from Rocky) with, “Hey” and “Yep, we’re still here, nope, don’t know nothing yet…I’ll let you know.”  Ten minutes later it was the same conversation.  I wanted to reach over the seat to grab his phone and turn it off!  I was sitting in an aisle seat. The woman across the aisle from me was sitting across from her husband, who was behind me.  They just chatted back and forth about what they had to do when they got home and how they needed to get ready to go to the shore this weekend. Did they not see that I was trying to read?  They were on this plane before me–they chose to sit this way, so why do I have to deal with them? Have you ever tried to read with five conversations going on around you?  This would have been fine if not for the conversation of the woman next to him, talking to the man next to her.  She’s talking about why she came to Tampa (business) and all of us within earshot learn all about her illustrious career.  Humph-we’re so impressed. The couple next to me are mostly unremarkable, until she gets on the phone with grandchildren talking about how great it was going to be to spend time with them and what they might do together. After Gram is done babbling on I hear, “Do you want to speak with Poppy?” and she hands the phone to her husband, who then goes about talking in a high-pitched little girly voice as if he might be speaking to a three-year old.  I hope that was the case.

The man sitting across the aisle and one row up made the biggest faux-pas of all: he pulls out a tossed salad that reeks of chicken, raw onions and, I think, hummus.  Really?  We are all stuffed in here with little air, it’s hot as hell, and now you have to bring out food that smells so strongly that it permeates the entire cabin?  The only thing worse would have been if he pulled out some putrid limburger cheese.  My God, man, did you even think about the rest of us?

Finally, they announce that we can leave the plane if we would like, but we must stay in the terminal.  I’m tempted, but I only have a carry-on luggage with me and a large tote.  I don’t want to leave these on the plane unattended, but I don’t want to drag these items out to the terminal either.  I decide to sit it out for a while longer. At least with the cabin door open it is a little less hot–not cooler–less hot. With three-quarters of the passengers off the plane now, I head to the bathroom.  Big mistake. I’ve been in cleaner Port-A-Johns at county fairs–it smells of urine and is sticky and foul.  I hold my breath as best I can and escape as quickly as possible.

Fifteen minutes later, people start coming back–an announcement was made asking passengers to return to the plane! Maybe we will finally be taking off!

People are bringing food on the plane and it is beginning to smell like Chili’s.  The distinct smell of spicy burritos and guacamole fills the cabin, mixed with the sour scent of body odor, and I still have that urine smell from the lavatory stuck in my nostrils. I can also smell cigarette smoke and alcohol on the returning passengers. I usually have problems with perfumes because my olfactory sense is very sensitive, but right now I’d give anything for a whiff of Eau de Puppy Breath. We continue to sit for a while longer and it’s obvious that the storms just keep popping up. Now I’m wondering why I ever thought it was a good idea to book an evening flight this time of year.  I should know better! All I can think about is my poor sister.  She worked all day, and has to work tomorrow.  At this point, I might get in to Philly around 11:00, and by the time we get home it will be after 12:00: she’s going to be exhausted.

We sit for another long period of nauseating smells, insufferable cell phone rings, and aggravating conversations, until we are told that we should get off the plane, that it will be at least another hour!  Slowly, everybody files out, and aaah the air is so much cooler in the terminal…and we sit and wait there.  I am happy to see that every scheduled flight is delayed; human nature, or maybe pure bitchiness. The terminal is packed, but I decide to stand on line at Starbucks and get myself an iced coffee–the first thing I’ve had to drink since boarding the plane.  I can see the wisdom of the airline choosing not to sell alcoholic drinks during a delay–who wants to deal with the obnoxious-had-too-much-to-drink guy while stuck for God only knows how long.  But they could have offered us WATER!  An hour or so later we are called back on the plane and asked to show an I.D. Why? Do they have all our names memorized or something?  It’s not like the attendant is scanning them electronically. It seems like a false sense of security–a Lewis Black type of woo-woo-woo (picture a TSA employee  waving a magic wand around you) just to give us the impression we are safe. Anybody could have boarded that plane at this point!

Finally, we are all on the plane, the plane begins to pull away from the gate and everybody cheers!  Within ten minutes we are in the air–It’s 11:05–five hours late. We won’t land until 1:30ish.  The lights go out, and everyone seems to drift off to sleep–no phones, no conversations, no odor. When we do land, we all head in our respective directions, no longer part of the miserable group with which we shared the last eight hours.

When I get to the curb, my sister is waiting for me with a smile on her face.  Poor thing–she’ll be up all night.

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