Two posts in one night…rare lately. But Ruth requested the trip home, and I’m feeling up to it.
Let me just say first that I’ve traveled quite a bit, with some eventful trips, even a very nasty arrival into Haiti a few summers ago. But never, NEVER, have I had a trip as bad as coming home from the Cayman Islands. My family all agrees that it sort of overshadows the awesome trip it was.
We’re going to have to organize this into days..
We knew at the beginning it would be a long day, arriving into Sioux Falls around 11:30pm. So we planned well. The babies got naps early, we ate dinner quickly, and even loaded the van in just a few minutes. All was well.
My dad dropped us off at the airport, and trained like the traveling family we are, we very efficiently hauled the luggage in and staked out a bench for the boys to climb on and roll around under. No more than 15 minutes passed, and my dad was back from the rental car place.
And then it all began to unravel. My youngest brother realized he left a suitcase at the hotel. I know…I guess it happens. After some discussion and a very long taxi lane, my brother ended up in the back of a pick-up truck on his way to the hotel. We decided that at least some of us should go through security. The woman who checked us in was totally incompetent, but eventually figured out how to do her job. Just as we headed off to security my brother came back with the suitcase, and all seemed to be well.
And then it got closer and closer to 4pm, when the flight was supposed to leave. And 4pm came and went and I got very nervous. Without any warning, there was an announcement….the flight was canceled.
Now, if you have never met my dad or traveled with my family this next part might be tough to understand. He took off, at a sprint, and as he passed us, eyes focused straight ahead, said “Front Desk!!!!” Dutiful family we are, kids were scooped up, blankets grabbed and we ran.
The Customs people had other ideas. The crowd had dashed with us, and so we were all jammed into the customs area…with my dad in the very front. I couldn’t really hear what was going on, but I could see his arms moving and the vein on his forehead popping out. There was some sort of commotion, and he left. Eventually we realized that the Customs agents intended to go through our exit tickets 1 by 1, calling each of the 200 people’s name individually to claim their ticket. I only found out later that what my dad was doing was telling them that was the WRONG way to do it, and grabbing his ticket.
Half hour or so later, my brothers, their families and I all got to the front counter. Or rather, a bench near the front counter. My dad and mom had been holding down the ticket counter for a while already. While they stood there, not being attended to, my brother and I went outside to get the luggage.
Aha, not so simple though. You couldn’t just get your luggage, you had to take the ticket off of your bag, match it with a claim check, and present it to the luggage handlers. This was no small task with our large group, and was almost blown when we realized we were one claim check short.
Eventually, probably around 7pm, there was a shuttle to a hotel for a night. Great. Another night in the Caribbean is awesome, right? Well, here’s the catch…the word from the airline was that when the plane flew down, a part broke. And, there was not another part on the island. Actually, nowhere in the Caribbean was there another part. We alternately heard the part would be flown from Miami by a private jet, a Leer jet, and American Airlines. Regardless of how it got there, we were told they would keep the hotel updated, and we should be ready to leave at anytime.
Sheesh….that’s only day 1.
If you’re still reading, here’s day 2:
Day 2 started with a crappy breakfast buffet, before which my dad was on the phone for 2 hours, trying to plot a way off the island. He had to catch a flight to Europe the next day, one that could not easily be rebooked.
It came up that there may be another route, 3 flights, spread out seats for all 7 adults, 2 babies, and 11 bags. However, that option did not sound so good to the baby mamas, seeing as how they would be in charge of all things having to do with child entertainment and appeasement. We decided to wait for our original flight.
Around 1pm we were hanging out by the pool (in our clothes, in case we had to leave), when my dad came speed-walking by and said we were flying to Houston immediately. We ran upstairs, threw things together, and hit the lobby.
2 van cabs later, and we’re back at the airport. Only there’s some issue with paying the cabbies. It was ugly, and I don’t really know what happened, but it ended with my dad throwing money on the ground. Actually, that wasn’t the end…the end was when the cabbie came back to the Northwest counter with a cop to talk to my dad. I was sure an arrest was imminent.
Possible arrest behind us, he started working his magic, negotiating for flights out. Somehow, he found a flight for himself which required some sort of traversing of the United States, and he ran off to the gate, handing off our passports.
This sort of left me in charge…only because I like being in charge I think. So I took over standing in the front of the line….soon others from the hotel, unfooled by the airline’s policy of wait and see, started arriving and standing in line with me.
After a few hours, maybe by 3pm, Jayson, your friendly Northwest agent, came out and told us well, the part had not arrived, and the flight would be cancelled. Rick, a man who stays at the Ritz and has a wife who wears heels and a long, slinky dress to travel, told Jayson that was not good enough. Apparently convinced, Jayson got back on the phone, and miraculously we had a flight out…at 9pm.
I was starting to get a panicky feeling, like I have at the Port-au-Prince airport, like you know that at least if the plane takes off, everything will be okay.
So we sat in the secure area all day, buying sodas out of a machine and having hot dogs for dinner. After all the other flights were gone, around 7pm or so, the part finally arrived. There was much rejoicing. There was also rejoicing because the hot dog/bar man left the tv set on to the Packers game. There were many fans.
We boarded the plane around 10pm or so, and took off at 10:30. There was no milk for babies, as it had been sitting for 3 days in the plane. So screaming babies and the rest of us got to Minneapolis about 2:30am.
But for us, it was not over. There was day 3.
We did get a hotel voucher for Minneapolis, but somehow the idea of moving 6 adults, 2 babies, and 8 bags from the airport to the hotel through the sub-zero temperatures, most of us coatless, for approximately 2 hours of sleep before we had to be back at the airport, didn’t really sound all that great. So we hung out. Tried to sleep….I listened to a few podcasts to pass the time.
4:30 am we checked in for our next flight, and lo and behold, can you guess who got picked for extra security?? You’re right! It was us…me, my mom, my brother and sister-in-law and their baby sleeping in his stroller. Now this baby does not really sleep anywhere except in his crib. Despite the miracle of him sleeping in the stroller, he had to be removed for security reasons. They also had to dig through all of our stuff, pat us down, wand us, all while trying to make pleasant conversation and small talk. We were not so into it.
We also had food vouchers, which none of us really felt like using after being up all night. But, being the good Dutchmen we are, we didn’t want to waste free money. We stocked up on scones and muffins at Starbucks, and headed for the gate. Landing nearly an hour after our scheduled time, we finally got home about 10am, on Day 3.
I would say let this be a cautionary tail about Northwest, but if you live in the Midwest, you have no choice. And frankly, I have never had a trip this bad, so I assume it can never happen again.