"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We've learned that there's bad weather in Atlanta right now so we're just going to hang out in the air for a little bit to see if it'll pass by." We were 3.5 hours in on our 4 hour flight. I looked over at Doc with worry in my eyes.
"They better not keep me from getting to my baby girl."
It had been five days since I'd seen her. Five looong days. Good days, but still heart wrenching to hear about all her new tricks - sitting up, holding her bottle, humming - and not be able to see them in person. I missed her and had been counting down til she was back in my arms. It would be later in the evening, her bedtime, but she was going to stay up late to welcome us home.
Thirty minutes passed.
"Folks, this is the captain speaking again. The Atlanta airport has been closed due to weather. We have been diverted to Jacksonville, Florida. We are going to continue on to Florida and I should have us on the ground within the next thirty minutes."
I turned to Doc. "What does that mean? In Jacksonville, will we just get on another flight straight to Memphis so we can go home?"
A seasoned flyer, he already knew what we were in for. We were sitting on a Delta plane headed to an airport without a Delta hub, along with who knows how many other diverted planes. "There's not a direct flight home from there," he said.
We landed quickly in Jacksonville. We were fourth in line of the 8 flights diverted there. But with no gate for our large plane available, there was nothing to do but park on the tarmac. Doc pulled out a pack of cards from his backpack and we began to play gin rummy. Anything to pass the time.
An hour and a half into our wait, the flight attendants asked if there were any passengers that had Jacksonville, FL as their final destination and, if so, would they like to get off the plane if possible. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind.
"Oh my gosh, there are people who were getting off here. Why are they stuck sitting here with us??"
"There are no stairs for anyone to get out," Doc told me. Good point. I guess they couldn't just jump off.
Another hour passed. The captain came back on the overhead speaker to tell us we were next in line for the fuel truck and the stairs. That was a good sign. We knew we needed fuel before we could leave again, whenever that would be.
When the stairs arrived, the Jacksonville, FL passengers were able to get off. Their luggage had to stay.
We were originally supposed to land in Atlanta at 6:25pm. Shortly after 9:30pm, the pilot told us we were cleared to get ready for takeoff. Finally!
When diverted to Jacksonville, it took us about 30 minutes to get there from Atlanta. Because of the bad weather, we had to go the long way back...around all the storms and then back to the airport from the opposite side of Atlanta. This would be a longer flight, the pilot told us.
As we approached Atlanta, we heard the all too familiar ding of the pilot's speaker coming back on. "Folks, unfortunately we've arrived in Atlanta at the same time as all the other planes that are returning. We're going to have to wait up here until we're cleared to land."
I looked out my window and could see the other planes in a single file line like kindergartners headed to the cafeteria. I tapped Doc, "Look how many planes are out there!"
The flight attendants had run the drink service once during the original flight and that was it. Doc and I had each had one drink and a tiny bag of peanuts. Hunger and restlessness were setting in. I was so relieved to hear the plane wheels touch down on the runway. We'd made it to Atlanta!
And then the speaker came back on.
"Well, guys, to add to the excitement of the day, we don't have a gate to pull up to so we're going to be sitting here for a while."
Doc was frustrated. "I don't understand why he doesn't have any sense of urgency at all!" I tried to be the positive one. "Well, at least he got us here safe! And we're here now! Now we can get on our other plane and go home!"
I knew I had already missed my chance to see my baby girl that night. Now I was counting on being the first person she saw when she woke up the next morning.
After an hour of sitting and waiting, we finally pulled up to a gate. Total time in seats 23 A and B: eleven hours.
We walked off the flight to an airport full of disgruntled passengers. It was after midnight and nobody wanted to be there. We rushed to the flight board and I tried to stop to read as Doc continued walking. "Hey," I yelled after him. "Don't we need to look to see when our next flight is?"
"It's not on there," he replied. "It's been cancelled."
Oh. I'd heard many horror stories of cancelled flights and sleeping in airports, niether of which had ever happened to me. This did not look good.
By the time I caught up to Doc he was already in a line to get our flight rebooked. I glanced to the front of the line and estimated at least 80 people in front of us and only one person working the desk. This really did not look good.
"Can we get it rebooked online?" I asked him. He looked down at his phone. Dead. We'd used up all the juice during our 11 hour flight and now it wouldn't even turn on. I dismissed the "20% Power Remaining" warning on mine and handed it over. "Here, use mine."
I pulled a charging cord out of our carry on and took his phone to find some power. People were on the outlets like bugs on a light coated in sugar. I finally found an open plug-in. Something green had been spilled on the floor right under in, so I carefully reached over to plug in my cord and then stood with my arm stretched out over the mess to hold the phone.
I could see Doc and watched as he kept making calls. I couldn't tell if he was getting good news or not. Finally I gave up, unplugged, and went to check in with him.
"Were you able to get through?"
"I got a call back scheduled, who knows how long that will take. I tried to log in to my account and it kept picking up the ambient background noise. Now I'm locked out."
UGH. I saw an open space on a charging station and told him I was going to try to get power on his phone. There was a man sleeping in the chair between me and the plug-in. I carefully tried to climb over him, but he opened his eyes about the time I was mid-straddle.
"Sorry. I just need to plug in my phone."
I sat in the middle of three sleeping passengers and one cuddling couple while holding my charging phone. This was awful. A few minutes passed before I saw Doc waving me to come over. I hesitantly unplugged his phone and climbed back out with a look on my face that told him he better have a good idea because I'm not climbing back into this spot again.
"I think we should go out past security to the main ticket desk and just try to rebook there. The hotels they're using are already full."
It felt like a good plan so we took off. Planes were still unboarding so crowds of people were heading in the same direction as us; Atlanta residents who had made it home, I assume. The tram was no longer running so we were going to have to make it to the front of the airport on foot. It became a game for me; every person passed was one less that could possibly get ahead of us in line. I told Doc to "Keep up!"
We made it to the front lobby huffing and puffing and skidded up the Delta counter just as another group was leaving. "Can I help you?" "We need to rebook our flight." The lady smiled politely and pointed across the room. "You'll need to get in line there."
More than 200 people had already had this same idea. We were screwed. It would take hours to get through that line and even if we did, there was no confirmation that we'd get on the first flight out to Memphis. I was through trying to be the positive one.
"We could rent a car," Doc said. It was an idea he'd mentioned earlier that I'd dismissed. Unless we wanted to spend the night and the whole next day hanging out in the Atlanta airport, it sounded like the only good idea left.
We ran across the room and out the doors. There was the taxi line. Where were the rental cars?? Doc guessed they were downstairs.
"Give me your phone, I'm going to try to call and see if we can get one," he said. I looked down at my phone. 10% power remaining. I handed it over and returned to my outlet search. I needed as much juice as I could get in his phone because it still wasn't turning on.
After a few more minutes of charging, he came back to get me. "Come on, let's go downstairs." We raced through the airport again, this time to a tram that was still running and hopped on. Destination: rental cars.
We ran passed Hertz, Rent-A-Car, and others. Where were we going? Doc finally turned into the line at Alamo. Two others were waiting in front of us when the lady at the counter looked past the customer she was helping to announce to us in line, "I'm sorry. If you don't have a reservation, we're out of cars."
The two people in front of us hung their heads and left. The counter lady and I both turned our heads to Doc at the same time. "We have a reservation." The sweetest words I heard all night.
It was 2:15am when we closed the doors to our rental car. With 2 dead cell phones, growling stomachs, and a six hour drive ahead of us, we were finally getting to leave Atlanta!
Before getting too far into the drive, we tried to stop at a McDonalds. I was dreaming of a cheeseburger. I walked up the door. Locked. Closed. We crossed the parking lot to a gas station for snacks, drinks, and a bathroom break. Two seconds inside the doors and we remembered it was 2:30am and we were in Atlanta. "We've got to get out of here," I whispered to Doc while trying to avoid making eye contact with the four guys hanging out in the corner. He paid as fast as he could and we ran out - bathrooms be damned! The side of the road would be just fine if it came to that.
Ten more miles down the road and we found another gas station, this time with decent bathrooms and a dual phone charger. We didn't care how much it cost, we weren't leaving without it!
With only one other stop for another bathroom break and to switch drivers, we made excellent timing. We pulled into our driveway at 7:20am (gained an hour in the time change) and could see our butterball little girl waving from the kitchen window (along with her Lala and Poppa).
I didn't even care that I wasn't the first person she saw when she woke up. I scooped her into my arms and kissed her a million times!!! She was all I needed. Who cares if I didn't have any luggage...