Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Long Way Home

It was early Saturday morning when my brother dropped my mom and I off at the airport. I was scheduled to fly home to San Francisco with a layover in Denver and my mom was on her way to Las Vegas to see my sister, also with a layover in Denver. I had never flown with my mom before and was thankful for the extra time to be together.

Everything went really well on the first leg of the trip and in Denver we sat and talked and ate our lunch together before I boarded my plane just an hour before her.

About an hour into the flight, the stewardess announces that there was a plane crash at the SFO airport and we may be delayed but they didn't know any details at that point. (I think they wouldn't have thought to mention it at that point but some other passengers were watching the news on their in-flight TVs and were asking questions.)

The news struck me as sad and a little ironic since my brother was just telling me how rare plane crashes were. But I didn't really let the news sink in too deep and continued reading my book.

After a while, I tried to excuse myself from my window seat to use the bathroom and noticed my neighbor was watching the news, I caught quick glimpses of the plane and something hit me like a ton of bricks and I basically burst into tears. Thankful to be in the bathroom, I let myself poor out my tears of fear. I was scared. That could have easily been me. Seriously, finding out about a plane crash while you are thousands of feet above the earth is not in any way comforting. I tried to calm myself down knowing that I was okay. But as I made my way back to my seat, I couldn't help think about the fact that I just left home, saying goodbye to my parents and siblings, and I hadn't seen my husband in seven days . . . what would have happened if I never saw them again? Terror, panic and another emotional wave hit me again and I'm sure the thirteen year old boy sitting next to me thought I had lost my mind.

Not long after I sat down, the pilot announced that we would not be able to land in San Francisco as the airport had been closed and all flights were being redirected to the surrounding airports. We would be redirected to Las Vegas. I let a quick laugh escape my tear-streaked face as I thought of the irony of being "stranded" where my mom would be arriving shortly after I did.

I called my husband as soon as we landed, bursting into tears trying to tell him that yes, I was okay, but no I wouldn't get to see him soon.

They didn't know if we'd be able to get off the plane, and if we did, how long we would be staying at the airport. But we were able to deplane and get some food and rest for a while. As I was about to ask if I could leave the area to meet my mom at her gate and let her know what had happened, they announced that the plane would be returning to Denver as soon as everyone got on board. The crowd began to beg for more information: What would happen when we got to Denver? Could we choose to stay in Vegas? Can we get our luggage? Would accommodations be provided? How would we get to SF? The questions were never ending. And I had my own.

I described my situation to someone hoping they could give me advice. My mom would be arriving in just minutes and I'd have just a short window of time to get to her before she left the airport. I tried not to freak out . . . but really, I was. They wouldn't let me leave the terminal and come back. Once I left, it meant I was staying in Vegas. I called my husband and he thought it best to go with my mom and try to get another flight out of Vegas to a neighboring city in the next few days.

The situation from the airline looked like this: They were not suppose to be in Vegas at all, so they wouldn't allow us to have our luggage. They needed to be sent back to Denver because that was where the plane was suppose to be.  Apparently the TSA has very strict rules about these things. They would try to find us an available flight from Denver back to SFO as soon as the airport reopened but they could not fly us to any of the other airports in the area because this particular airline doesn't fly to those destinations, nor would they provide accommodations for any overnight stays. If we decided to stay in Las Vegas (leaving our luggage on the plane), we would be on our own as far as finding another way to SF, no guarantees of refunds or vouchers were made.

Overall, I didn't feel they were very helpful in the situation. Definitely not going out of their way to make sure we, as passengers were comfortable with our options. But I knew that I'd rather spend a few days with my sister (who is now 41 weeks pregnant) and my mom, than in Denver where I could probably have begged friends to take me in, but wasn't at all sure what that would have looked like. Having only ten minutes to decide, I stayed.

Chris booked me a flight for Monday afternoon before I had even left the airport. (He is an incredibly supportive husband, let me just state that clearly.) I found my mom and were shortly picked up by my sister. My dad had heard about the accident on the radio and called within minutes of me meeting up with my mom. I let my other siblings know I was okay and did a quick post to Facebook (just in case others actually had heard the news too).

I felt emotionally drained at this point. (I had been crying off-and-on all week as I needed to say goodbye to close friends and family during my visit.) I was shaken and tired. I knew everything was going to be okay and buying another ticket, although, not the most convenient thing, didn't break our bank. I had much to be thankful for. I was safe, I had a place to stay and I was with family.

I've never really had to deal with airport issues like this before, I've never even had to reschedule a flight. Being nearly 27 weeks pregnant and completely incapable of restraining my tears didn't help the days events. I'm not sure I could have handled this without my husband on the other end of the phone and my mom just a few minutes away.

I'm not home quite yet, but am scheduled to arrive sometime Monday afternoon. No signs of my niece being born yet. I have a sneaking suspicion that she'll arrive at the same time I need to board my plane. Just to keep this story interesting.

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