Photo by Chris Card Fuller © 2007
All good things must come to an end, but do you want to end your trip to Paris sleeping on an airport floor? It shouldn’t end this way, you say . . . but in the sum, sum, summertime … here we are direct from CDG airport to Newark International, camping out with blankets and pillows, compliments of Continental Airlines.
Photo by Chris Card Fuller
First, let me start by saying some warm and cuddly things about the Continental crew and land staff – they couldn’t be nicer – and they seem to be genuinely baffled and embarrassed about last night, about how the Continental service desk in the C wing at Newark sponsored the biggest pajama party I’ve ever attended – that is, if I leave out the Toronto blues festival.
It seems like aeons ago, early yesterday morning when I was sitting in the CDG terminal A, stoking up on croissants and saying to Chris, “If Sarkozy REALLY wants to think about a monument for Paris, he should build a monumental airport from scratch rather than inaugurate new terminals – he’s taking the JFK ‘mix and match’ approach – except no two terminals ever seem to match. But that was June 27th in the morning, this is June 28th in the afternoon and I feel like we’ve lived and voyaged several light years.
Make no mistake. There’s nothing to reproach about the Continental flight from CDG to Newark. Not the slightest hint of a toilet back-up (as had been recently reported in one newspaper). No, the Continental crew was ‘impecc’. Our vegetarian meals arrived in a hurry. Yes, there’s no way around it – the Continental fleet is aging in spite of the ‘spiel’ about Continental having the youngest crew?? (in the USA maybe) – and the aircraft is cramped – but if you prefer medium sized over jumbo jets, this is the airline for you.
The problems began with that nasty C-word “Connection”.
You’ve all been there – and yet no matter how many times we get shafted at connection time, we are the eternal idealists. I know that everyone standing or lying in the Service Center LIne last night had their own personal horror story – so mine is nothing special – except that I really thought we MIGHT, POSSIBLY beat Jet Blue’s 10 hour tarmac wait. We didn’t. Five hours didn’t even rate any mention by CNN (which we listened to incessantly blathering away about not Paris, the city, the other Paris).
Meanwhile, about four am I wandered around the airport, an infant sat on the floor beside her mother who slept. The child had upended the remains of a bag of potato chips. She swirled the potato chip crumbs in circles on the airport carpeted floor(she couldn’t have been more than two, but knew well enough not to consider eating the chips.
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Time gets blurry – even computer screens become too assaulting to consider writing at this hour. I was trying to remember the short-lived euphoria of boarding our connecting flight for Rochester – thinking ‘ Ahhh we’re the lucky ones – we’re gonna get out of here- THIS flight hasn’t been canceled. (Of course all these cancellations were due to ‘bad weather’ somewhere, even though there wasn’t a speck of rain in Newark – it was all those weather patterns hovering, waiting to attack.
We taxiied out to the runway. We waited. According to our pilot, we had a route, a low-fly route, but apparently every other plane flying out of Newark had the same route. We waited some more -the pilot turned off the engine – and turned it on again and we waited some more. Four hours later, the pilot said, we’re cleared for take off. Those magic words. A loud cheer and clapping. And before the clapping could end, the pilot broke in to say, “But we need to go back to the gate – we don’t have enough gas.” “But the gates are all taken.” So he cajoled a petrol truck to come to us. We are into our fifth hour. We have a full tank of gas. We have a free runway ahead of us. Air traffic control has decided to cancel the flight. Someone saw lightening. We crawl back toward the gate, but before we can reach the gate, torrents of water shower cross the tarmac, the ground crew scurries for cover. “We have to wait out the storm, it’s too dangerous for the crew to be outside if there’s lightening. The storm subsided as quickly as it had begun.
The smart people on this plane had already booked rental cars before they exited from the plane – some had booked on other airlines – the lucky few who lived in New Jersey, simply drove back home.
If you are returning to the US on an international flight, the airline is normally required to provide you with hotel lodging. That is, of course, if the hotels are not completely booked. And in that case, you get pillows and blankets. There is an upside to this – you don’t have to go through the security check the following morning.
We met some very nice people in the last 48 hours, one was an off duty Continental flight attendant who didn’t hesitate to answer questions – and help out on the five hour land-bound trip to the runway and back again. We had unlimited pretzels and ice water.
People didn’t yell or scream – maybe it’s because we all know after Katrina, and with Iraq, that several hours of discomfort is a blip in the big picture of malaise – but the question is unavoidable.
What’s going on? To quote one of the land crew members: “This shouldn’t be happening!”
Tips for the way home:
1. Bring everything that you cherish in carry on. If you can do without check-in bags, that’s better.
2. Think around the crowd. If you’re two people, send one person to stock up on food and water while the other person waits in line or gathers information. Talk, constantly ask questions. Ask as many people for help as you can. One person may not have the answer, another person may. Try not to complain and keep smiling, no matter how bad things get.
3. Make sure you know all your options. Under what conditions do you qualify for meal vouchers, hotel, etc.
4. Most important: Allow yourself at least a one-day buffer zone in case you do miss an evening flight.