Speaking of airplanes….

If you are ever in one of those dreaded social situations where you need a conversation starter, just bring up flying, for everyone has a story to tell.

I added a couple to my list this past week that I could have done without, all of which reminded me of one of my favorite sayings: “Anyone who still thinks flying is exciting hasn’t flown lately.”

My latest business excursion started innocently enough with a quick, fifteen-minute Sunday afternoon hop from Asheville down to Charlotte, one of the hubs for American Airlines which had bought up USAirways which had earlier bought up Piedmont Airlines. I always travel with my portable office: briefcase, laptop computer, cords, phone, spiral notebook, pens, file folders, and a book, so I settled in near my gate and waited for my connecting flight to LaGuardia.

A line of squalls sweeping across New Jersey and New York first prompted a delay, then the dreaded word: Cancelled. And the savvy travelers at the gate knew what that signaled: the start of a frantic race to see who could reach the Service Counter first for one of the few remaining seats on one of the few remaining flights out that day.

By the time I stuffed all my cords and computer and books back into my briefcase and stood in line for half an hour, the best I could get was a flight out of Charlotte the next morning, a voucher for a token hotel discount, and a phone number to call for their shuttle. I always try to make the best of these situations, so I found my hotel, set up my portable office in my room, and reserved a seat on the 5:10am van back to the airport.

After another connection and another delay, I finally arrived in New York just in time for a Monday afternoon conference call and prop meeting before Tuesday’s 13-hour video shoot. My tight schedule both days didn’t allow for any museum strolls or lunch with friends, so on Wednesday morning I was again in a cab at 5:15am and headed back to LaGuardia, hoping my TSA pre-check boarding pass would shorten the amount of time required to stand in line for security clearance.

By 6:45am I was settled into seat 10-B, silently negotiating with strangers on either side of me for armrest privileges. At seven-thirty we were still sitting, wondering why the plane had not yet moved, when the pilot made his first announcement: the overnight ground crew had filled the wrong fuel tank and now they were trying to figure out how to transfer 1200 pounds of fuel from one wing to the other so we could take off safely.

Twenty minutes later came a new warning that they were having problems with the fuel pump and that it would be at least another twenty minutes. Then, twenty minutes later, that announcement was repeated and it became obvious most of us were going to miss our connecting flights in Charlotte. The third time the pilot came back on the intercom, he emptied the plane, and we all made the familiar dash back to the Service Counter, where I stood in line for another half hour hoping for a chance to make it home that same day.

Four hours later and just minutes before I was to board my new fight to Charlotte, the gate manager announced that the fuel issue had been resolved, and that we now had the option of getting back on our original plane, which was still sitting at the gate. Of the 120 passengers who had been on that plane four hours earlier, only 18 of us were still there and willing to trust a repaired fuel pump.

After a rather nervous take-off and the first few minutes of climbing, we handed our fate over to the gods and a working fuel pump, while trying to relax for the ninety-minute flight. Obviously, we landed safely in Charlotte, where we congratulated each other for being brave enough to get back on the plane. Nevertheless, I still had to jog across the airport to catch my final fifteen-minute flight over to Asheville, getting to the gate just in time to hear the young woman behind the counter announce:

“The mechanics should be finished in just a few minutes….”

Until next Monday,

Think road trip.