Paying respects to the hometown should be easier

Trip Start Mar 18, 2003
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Trip End Apr 08, 2007


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Flag of United States  , Oklahoma
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Let's start this entry by stating the obvious: airline companies in the United States are almost universally known for being sub-par. Among these though, there's one major airline that regularly comes scraping in at the bottom of the pack: Northwest. Some people may swear by their rewards program and all, but with the shockingly frequent 'service with a snarl' and their all-too-eager tendency to shirk responsibility when things go wrong, they kind of earn their lousy rep. Throw a bit of bad weather in the mix and the results will be almost invariably ugly. There's a good reason why many people hate holiday travel.

There's no question that in order to get to Oklahoma from Nagoya, Japan, you've got a limited number of options. Unless you've got plenty of time, money and patience, you're pretty much stuck with flying Northwest to Detroit and then down on a little puddle-jumper for the second leg. Surprisingly, the ticket home wasn't too outrageous price-wise, but I was suspicious from the beginning about what kind of climatic conditions I was going to encounter. Michigan is not exactly known for its balmy winters. Thus, when my flight in on the 23rd descended below a seemingly endless wall of cloud, I really shouldn't have been shocked by the heavy snow being blast across the runway and surrounding landscape. It definitely wasn't a good sign.

The surprise then was that, once I had cleared immigration and customs, my flight onwards to Tulsa seemed to be perfectly on time according to the video screens. Numerous other flights were delayed or even canceled due to the weather, but Tulsa was apparently a go. Happy in this knowledge, I made my way to the gate, anticipating a smooth lift-off into the air around 3pm. I should have stayed prepared for the inevitable. While waiting outside of the haphazard gate (completely devoid of seats), I was informed - along with the other passengers - that the flight was delayed due to technical issues. The same message explicitly stated, however, that we should remain near the gate since boarding was expecting to begin "soon."

The reader at this point can probably predict the events to follow. "Technical problems" changed to "waiting on flight crew", with repeated requests to remain patient, but still near the gate and ready to board (i.e. don't wander off and get food, even if you are bloody hungry!!). Various assorted Northwest employees and airport staff would repeat the standard fare when questioned over the next few hours. According to several, our plane was outside, the luggage was loaded and we were essentially waiting on enough crew members so we could take off. Then, somewhere around 6 or 7pm, the announcements dropped off. Some twenty to thirty of us were still hanging around in the immediate area, and all the information we'd get from people would just reconfirm what we'd already heard. At one point another pilot came up for a Florida-bound flight and tried to get his passengers on "our" plane. A while later, he came back out, saying the flight plan for Tulsa was already programmed in, so he couldn't do anything to change it.

By this time we were all getting a bit delirious from the boredom, frustration and hunger. The junk food (some snack mix and a soda) that I'd picked up at a nearby convenience store was doing little to tide me over well. Hours continued to tick by, with still no one really in the know about what was going on with our flight (save that it "wasn't cancelled"). Finally at about 11pm, someone came up and asked "where are you all waiting to fly to?" When we let him know, he was surprised and said "that flight was cancelled hours ago!"

Brilliant.

The Northwest counters in the main hall were swarmed with angry and exhausted travelers. The main supervisor finally stood up and announced to everyone that all the hotels were full, so they wouldn't be able to put anyone else up anywhere. Nevermind that his completely brainless company had no clue what was going on with its planes, leaving people in the dark for up to 12 hours! He oh-so-compassionately had his staff procure some extra pillows and blankets for people, which rather typically didn't prove enough for the sheer numbers of stranded passengers (including myself). When I finally got up to the guy to see what Northwest was going to do to help me get home for the holidays, he told me that I could probably fly home on the 25th or 26th. Um . . . say what??

So, I called my mom's house to give everyone the update. My sister-in-law was livid, and told me not to tolerate them jerking me around. When it was clear that they were only going to let people fly out on Northwest flights or those of their partnership airlines, I just about lost it. Meanwhile there was an American Airlines flight going out of Chicago for Tulsa the next day with plenty of seats still available on it! I talked to my sister-in-law again and she demanded to speak to the supervisor. Using her (actually former) ties to 3M - a company with a tight relationship with Northwest - she basically made it clear that she expected him to get the situation taken care appropriately. Ok, so her senior position in 3M had ceased to exist years previous when she quit the company, but who was he to know?

Anyhow, it worked. I was put on a NW flight to Chicago departing the following afternoon, to connect with a Tulsa-bound flight on American in the evening. The "compensation" for my inconvenience? $25 worth of airport certificates and a couple drinks (of the non-alcoholic kind, unfortunately). Gee . . . how generous! But at least I would be getting home on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day (or, worse, after). Yet the rough ride was not quite over. After an inadequate and uncomfortable sleep, I wound up getting sick with some stomach bug that had me puking and hitting the toilet from about halfway into the Chicago flight. The connecting flight ended up delayed about an hour, with me feeling nauseous, somewhat feverish, and more than sick of waiting to get on a flight home. My brother and sister-in-law picked me up at Tulsa airport, astonished by the hell I'd just been through.

Whatever it was I picked up ended up putting a serious dent in my appetite for my first few days home. I basically nibbled at Christmas dinner and could hardly manage to put down the steak my dad fixed when I went to his house with my brother and his family. I've only fully recovered as of about today. That aside, it's been nice seeing my brother Chris and his family; in fact, it was only the second time for me to see my nephew, Zack, since he was born. He went absolutely zany from all the presents on Christmas morning, which was a big hoot to watch. Unfortunately, their visit was ever so brief - they returned home yesterday morning, after only a few days in town.

I got to catch up with my good friends Steve and Kieth on a night out on the town yesterday evening. The plan for sushi somehow got shelved though, and we ended up going to a rather snobby, quasi-Euro restaurant down on Tulsa's nightlife strip of Brookside. Despite all intentions to do some serious drinking together, I the jet lag started clubbing me hard after dinner and I was pretty much cashed by 11pm or so. Steve unfortunately has to return to Colorado, so further nights out on the town with him will have to wait 'til another date, but Kieth and I will be making up for it come New Year's Eve (in three days).

Other than that, I did a bit of cruising around town today so I could take some photographs, a few of which I've included in this entry's album. The weather wasn't completely ideal, but at least it's a glimpse of the town that I grew up in. My girlfriend Mayu, meanwhile, is enjoying 80F weather in Honolulu. If I could be so lucky. . .

Anyhow, that's the wrap from here.
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