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Story 8: 48 Hours to Burlington


Moral of the story:  Always expect delays when you are traveling and make contingency plans. But, sometimes you can’t plan for it. Sometimes you have no control and you have to just buckle up and hope for the best.

To go from San Antonio, Texas to Burlington, Vermont, direct by plane, is four hours. With a layover, it’s approximately 5-1/2 hours. But again, that depends. . .

I’ve had a few wild experiences dealing with plans and flights and airports and all of it. I flew over 75,000 miles a year for about 18 years, but this story takes the cake.

Normally I give myself a lot of wiggle room in order to get to gigs on time. But I had a standing job in San Antonio, Texas that I did every year for many years that I wouldn’t miss for the world. I was also given the opportunity to work with someone I had wanted to work with for years. That person was in Vermont and that gig came up right after the San Antonio session. It was a squeaker to get to Vermont in enough time to relax a bit and get with the planning team.

My route to Vermont had a connection through Chicago. We left San Antonio on time. I was on an afternoon flight, around 3 pm on a Monday. I wouldn’t get into Burlington until after dinner.

It’s about a 2-1/2 hour flight from San Antonio to Chicago. We were about 45 minutes out from Chicago and the pilot came on to say that there had been some kind of terrible weather situation or event that happened at O’Hare Airport. I actually can’t remember why, but we were diverted to St. Louis, Missouri. A collective groan went up in the plane. But at that point, we didn’t know the half of it.

We were on a United Airlines flight. The weather event, or whatever it was, was causing havoc in the whole region, so 19 United planes were diverted St. Louis. We could see them all lined up on the tarmac when we pulled in. For whatever reason, United only had ONE available gate at the time to process 19 planeloads of people. Think of it, 19 planes and one gate. That was the situation. The gate accommodated the unloading of each plane in the order that it had arrived. Unfortunately, we were around number 18.

So for the next 9 hours, we sat on the tarmac. For a while, we were in total disbelief about what we were about to go through. We knew it would be a long time but we had no idea it would be 9 hours. The pilot came on periodically to cheer us up. After a while, we settled in and faced our reality.

The flight attendants did everything in their power to make us more comfortable. They fed us; they passed out drinks left and right. We could get up and move all around the cabin They played guessing games with the passengers and passed out bottles of wine to the winners. People slept. Some got up to brush their teeth and throw cold water on their face to refresh.

Then the food ran out. Everybody drank the bar dry. And, the toilets stopped up. Fortunately, we were only in the no bathroom situation for about an hour. Finally, we got to the gate and were processed into the terminal. That was probably around 2 am Tuesday. No flights were going out that night so most people slept on the floor in the airport.

Tuesday had dawned but we were not processed to go to Chicago until around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We ran to stand in line for two hours to get this to happen because it was first come, first served. We finally got to Chicago, only to find that problems were still happening and the airport was cancelling all flights for the night. So for the second night I slept on the airport floor.

FINALLY the next morning I got on a plan bound for Burlington, a 2 hour and 15 minutes flight. We actually landed without incident. I arrived for lunch on Wednesday in just enough time for the kick off. The kicker, though, is that my luggage didn’t make it. So I had no tools or no clothes, or toiletries after two days on the floor. Fortunately, the woman coordinator knew graphic recording and in her efficiency had brought a lot of extra paper and other tools for backup just in case and she supplied my personal needs.

By the way, I got my luggage delivered from the airport the next day. The whole three day gathering was fantastic and worthwhile once I was there but I am sure, I will never go through what I did to get there, ever again, as long as I live.