|That's me on the left. The guy on the right? That's the weather. Source|
In my defense, I had a rough trip to the Gulf Coast this week, and being tired is guaranteed when I’m supposed to leave on Sunday afternoon, but don’t arrive until Tuesday at 10 AM. I was heading for Miramar Beach Florida to brief at a conference, flying into Ft. Walton Beach (VPS). I had the 1:09 PM United Flight from San Diego (SAN) to Houston (IAH), but we had trouble finding keys. My wife long ago misplaced her key to my car, (I still hold out hope that it’s not lost forever) and the teenangster, now licensed to drive, took my set to drive my wife’s car. Once the valet key was found, we rushed to the airport and I arrived about 45 minutes before launch. Normally that’s fine since I was traveling on business, and I’m always given TSA Pre-Check. Since I was one of the presenters though, and it’s a somewhat formal conference, I had a large roller suit bag that needed to be checked. However, I learned that the cut-off for bags was 45 minutes prior and I was 43 minutes from push. At that point my options were very limited- either leave the bag with someone, or miss my flight. I figured I could pull my suit out and shove it in my backpack as my only choice, so I called my wife back to come get the bag. However, her phone has 3 modes- off, silent, or dead. I didn't dare call my daughter as we've threatened her with all sorts of angst-causing repercussions if she ever uses her cell while driving. She has never driven to the airport anyway so that option was moot.
Next call was to the house to ask the minnow to have mom call me. I called that co-worker who was already at the gate and she recommended just take it through security and have them gate-check it. Sounded like a great idea to me, so I hustled down to the short TSA-Pre-Check line only to be embarrassed when I found out that I was NOT in that category. The regular line was 20 or 30 deep by now and there was no way I’d make it. I resigned myself to missing the flight and my Monday morning brief slot as there was no later flight. In hindsight I should have asked about flying into Panama City Beach (ECP) as that’s less than an hour away, but I was stressed and didn't think of it.
I made my way back to the ticket agent who took pity on me and booked me on the same flight the next day- the earlier flight being full. I asked about standby and he said to show up at 5 AM for the 6:50 flight. I set 2 alarms, but still woke up before I needed, subconsciously worried that I’d miss that window. Made it on time and was put on standby for both legs. At the gate I was at the top of the standby list, but the flight had checked in full. I'm no quitter though and stayed in the boarding area. I chatted up a newly hired pilot sitting next to me at the gate, heading to Houston for training. He had just retired from the Navy a month or two earlier and was a former F-18 Squadron Skipper. His check-out was with his boss who was relieved later that day when some uh, inappropriate material was found on his work computer. You might have read about it in Navy
In Houston, the next leg at 12:25 was full as well, but I’d been lucky so far. There were 3 or 4 of us waiting, including a dead-heading pilot trying to get home. As it turned out, none of us got on. There was one open seat, but the CR-J was at the limits of weight and balance with the cargo and luggage.
Next flight? 7:27 PM. Ugh. Fortunately, I had a confirmed seat on that one. Off to the USO I went.
|USO at George Bush Intercontinental Airport|
After conversing with the great Americans working there, rehearsing my now-rescheduled presentation, and a brief and very unsatisfying nap, it was about time to head to my gate. Once I arrived there however, I noticed that next to the flight number the departure time had been replaced with the word CANCELED. Fog had rolled in and closed the runway at VPS.
Chances are, I’d miss my new morning brief slot now as well. Considering whether to just abort the trip and catch the 9 PM back to San Diego, I got in line at the United Airlines service desk to see what my options were. An agent asked if anyone wanted to fly to Panama City and my hope was restored. That was only open to people with carry-on luggage though, and I had checked my bag. I hoped it had made it on the earlier flight and asked about it. After his quick check, he found it in Ft. Walton so I was clear for that flight at 9:15 PM.
I was exhausted by now and fell asleep shortly after takeoff. The flight attendant woke me as we began our descent only to tell me that we were landing back in Houston, barely 30 minutes after we launched. Since ECP and VPS are only about an hour’s drive apart, the fog was all along the Gulf Coast. Before I landed, United had rebooked me to ECP at 7 AM.
Did I mention I was tired? Fortunately there was a Marriott Hotel in the Airport so I stayed there for what was now going to be a short night. I had my shaving stuff, but no change of clothes other than a polo-shirt crammed into my backpack. Since I might be briefing immediately upon arrival at the conference if (had I made the noon flight), I was wearing a blazer with a shirt and tie. After a long day of travel, the shirt was wrinkled and none too fresh. So I added another hour to what was already an 18 hour day to wash my shirt, socks and fruit of the looms in the hotel laundry, going commando for the time being, if you really must know. While I waited, I updated my co-worker on my schedule and called SATO (Govt Travel Office) to rebook my rental car.
No further problem in Houston the next morning and we landed about 8:20. No bag at ECP of course so I headed straight for the rental counter. Yes, I had a confirmation, but they HAD NO CARS! I asked the 4 or 5 other agencies and due to the weather problems, cars either hadn't been returned or had been scarfed up by other redirected passengers. At the end of the row, Avis had one that had just come in- unwashed and lacking a full tank, but that was fine with me. A higher class of car, they wouldn't give it to me at the compact rate I was authorized, but I didn't really have a choice and the travel Nazis back at the office would have to suck it up when I filed my claim upon RTB.
|My route from ECP to VPS and my conference. Notice the "Broken Wings" tab? If you haven't read it, please do.|
I didn't know exactly when my brief was so I wasn't sure if I had time to recover my bag and backtrack to the conference site at the Sandestin Beach Resort. It turns out I did, as my slot was just after lunch when they were almost sure I'd be there. Lunch options included sit down service in a café and a grab-and-go buffet. Both were as quick as could be expected, but feeding 200 people takes a while. Briefs were scheduled every 15 minutes and the speakers are mostly super-smart scientists, engineers, and physicists. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking- "What the hell is Tuna doing there?!" I was just there as a palate cleanser I suppose- just to brief our future goals for Mine Warfare. Anyway, the speakers are somewhat kept on schedule through the use of a green light- 1-12 minutes, yellow light 12-15 minutes, and a red one at the end of their time which flashes red at 30 seconds over. A friend who works for the Office of Naval Research which hosts the event said that they all have Aspergers and might keep talking for days if they weren't given the hook. That might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but as the father of an aspie, there's a lot of truth to it. They're smart as hell, but socially inept to some extent, at least when it comes to public speaking. The morning session ran 10 minutes long so the attendees were slow in getting back to the room. The afternoon session started promptly at 12:30 though so I briefed to less than 50 of them. A lot of trouble to pass on some important info to so few folks, but at least some of them got it.
The one bright spot was that upgraded rental car…
Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that I had to rent a convertible, but I tried to make the most of it. What kind of ragtop was it you might ask?
No, not the best picture, but the fastback looked great and was fast as heck. I've always loved Mustangs, but have never owned one. The closest I ever came was the '67 convertible that my mom bought new. It was Lime Gold (yes, that's really a color), had the center console like in the picture below, and I loved it.
Maybe I've mentioned it here before, but I never had a chance to drive it as my folks sold it the day before I got my learner's permit. They must have predicted that'd I'd wreck two cars by age 18, which I did. After renting the car last year and telling my wife just how much fun I had, she blew my mind by saying I should get one for my next car. How awesome of a wife is that? Telling me I should do something completely impractical! The teenangster goes off to college next year and thanks to some scholarships and the G.I. Bill, it won't be much of a stretch. After we figure out just how much stretching is required, I'm thinking it'll be time to turn in my 10 year old Toyota Tacoma. We don't do any Boy Scout camping now anyway so now that vehicle, at 16 mpg, is really the impractical one. Now on the other hand, I have had a history with skin cancer, so just don't tell my Dermatologist.
So what did I learn from all this? A bunch of lessons I already forgot from my time in Naval Aviation. First off, don't be late. There's a reason we brief 2 hours before launch, and we're on the flight deck an hour prior. If something goes wrong, you've got time to troubleshoot.
Second, alway have a divert. I've flown into all three airports on the Gulf Coast and know how close they all are. In addition, if going through flight school in Pensacola taught me anything, it's that weather in the area can come up in moments, and knowing where else you can land is vital to flight safety. It would have helped if I had just asked to be re-routed originally to ECP anyway, as fog was forecast at VPS.
Third is to never get complacent. They say that a senior aviator, the ones around 2000 hours (senior O-4s/O-5s) are the most prone to mishaps. Sure, the nugget is dangerous since he's clueless, but the older guys get complacent and over-confident. I guess that's where I was last Sunday- thinking that I'd be cleared for Pre-Check and would have enough time.
Enough for today. I better not get too complacent though, I've still got a fight with the bean-counting travel Nazis ahead of me.