Snow Day at the Airport

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to pass a few moments of my hectic day contemplating the falling snow and daydreaming.  It was almost magical, watching as the crystalline drops drifted and fluttered determinedly past my window to coalesce into a unbroken alabaster desert on the far side of the glass.  Until the plows buried the foot of my driveway.  Again.

Before my snow removal work was increased tenfold by the city snowplows, I recalled a few random experiences where snow and aviation collided.  I remembered how, ages ago, when I eked out a living as a flight instructor, I was able to make earn more money clearing the runways with the owner’s decrepit, underpowered pickup truck rigged with an oversize plow blade and minimal heat than the way below poverty level income guaranteed me actually teaching.  Once, to save money, the owner decided to dig out his airport himself and it turned into an unpaid, compulsory two week vacation for me.  That’s how long it took him to get the airport unburied without assistance.  I think it was his way of cutting costs, but it seems to me that it would have been better to have at least a minimal revenue stream during those two weeks.  After all, even though he didn’t have to pay any of his staff, he still had utilities and other fixed expenses.  Either way, I was stuck at home eating Ramen Noodles.  Some vacation.  I didn’t even get a lousy tee-shirt.

Things changed significantly when I worked as a freight dog, though.  I actually did have one snow day during my 5 years of employment.  I was flying a route out of Midway airport that started around 4:00 p.m. and ended at midnight.  I arrived on time, despite the fact that the airport was closed and no one was going anywhere, to find the first of our 3 Beech Barons in the hangar awaiting a visit from maintenance.  The second was also parked in the hangar, which, as it turned out, could not be opened as the door had been blocked by drifting snow.  The third aircraft was almost completely buried outside on the ramp, with only a single propeller blade protruding from its cold shroud.

Dispatch insisted that I wait to see if the airport would open and I and my fellow pilots could simultaneously fly the single usable but trapped Baron to complete our routes.  We decided to pass the time with a snowball fight on the ramp.  After about 6 hours of goofing off in the snow with hourly calls to Dispatch begging to be allowed to go home, they finally relented and let me – and only me – go home an hour before my shift would have ended anyway.  It took 3 guys to push my car, encased in 6 hours of snowfall, out of its parking spot and out into the deserted street.

Ah…good times.   At least I’ll get a chance to go sledding tomorrow.

Stress, Anyone?

During my initial training as a freight pilot, one of the techniques used by the instructors to evaluate potential employees was to present an ever increasing set of challenges (weather conditions, aircraft malfunctions, elaborate instructions from “air traffic control,” interruptions from “dispatch,” etc. ) during a simulator session to determine how long you could manage the stress before you started making mistakes.  I have recently come to believe that the Universe has adopted this method of evaluating my mettle simply to amuse Itself.  I haven’t received the results in the mail, but I’m fairly certain I failed miserably.

After a long campaign against cancer and a very short skirmish with the additional hostilities of pneumonia, my father in law passed away last week.  Thus began the dwindling of my faculties and my eventual descent to rock bottom, at which I could be found weeping in a Phoenix Sky Harbor airport restroom stall.

As anyone who has met me can attest, I am a control freak.  I need a plan.  My husband’s family?  Not so much.  Combine this lackadaisical event planning style with poor communication skills and an overload of emotional baggage and you begin to see my growing dilemma.  Without my knowledge or consent, I had suddenly become a circus clown juggling seven chainsaws with a distracted assistant haphazardly lobbing flaming batons in my general direction at odd intervals.  And like the proverbial cherry on top, I was also suffering my normal PMS symptoms of exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, and emotional instability.  It was the Perfect Storm of Stress.  I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t maim anyone.

I began this little journey by completely screwing up our travel plans.  I discovered as I attempted to check my husband, two children and myself onto our flight at the ticket counter that the reason I couldn’t print out our boarding passes ahead of time is that the flight I booked wasn’t scheduled to depart for another three weeks.  Luckily, there was another flight within an hour of the one I thought I had booked that was non-stop with seats available and the fantastic women at the ticket counter were able to swap our tickets.

We arrived in Phoenix not knowing where we would be staying or where (or even when) the services would be taking place.  All I knew is that we needed to be back in Illinois on Wednesday for my son’s birthday party, with it’s nonrefundable deposit and invitations already distributed accordingly, on Thursday evening.  I did my best to keep calm and go with the flow while attempting to arrange our return trip with my husband waffling between staying longer to help out his mother and returning on Wednesday with me and the kids.

I was finally able to nail down our return flight standing outside the church immediately prior to the funeral mass on Tuesday.  I know, classy.  To my great surprise, when we arrived to check our bag on our Wednesday morning flight, it turns out that what I had thought was a 9:25 flight was actually a 9:05 flight and we could not check our luggage only 35 minutes before departure.  The next flight was at 6:40 p.m., which I naturally verified 78 times, and trying to figure out what I was going to do to occupy my 3 and 8 year old children for 10 hours at an airport sent me scurrying to the ladies room to blubber away my mascara.

We did finally arrive home at 1:00 a.m. Thursday morning.  I still haven’t recovered my sanity and I really need a vacation.  And a chocolate martini.  Please.