NASELLE - The last time that I wrote a theme on the topic "What I did on my summer vacation," I was in the fifth- or sixth-grade. And, believe me, that was more than a year or three ago.
While there were no events of earthshaking significance on our (late) summer vacation this year to the east coast in early to mid-October, I feel compelled to share some of the events with those who feel inclined to read this missive.
In preparation, we had gone on to the Internet, finally settling on Expedia.com to plan our itinerary from Naselle to Olean, N.Y., where my wife Anita's cousin Jane lives. The Expedia computers gasped and wheezed and came out with several alternative airlines and flights ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime as far as prices and travel times were concerned.
Many hours of decision and indecision later, we opted for a well-known national airline which would whisk us from Portland to Buffalo, N.Y., in a relatively short period of time at a price that seemed fair compared to what some of the other alternatives which were showing on our computer.
We then made our decision which also was our first mistake. We settled on a package that would leave early one Friday morning from Portland (PDX in airline vernacular) to Chicago's O'Hare International (ORD) for a change of planes, and on to Buffalo (BUF).
But here lies our mistake: the computers only gave us a half hour between planes at O'Hare. That even raised a red-flag with this non-seasoned traveler who views trips to Portland, and especially to Seattle, as being akin to overseas expeditions. But feeling reckless, and somewhat daring in my advancing years, I figured what the hay - might as well give it a go. And we did.
I don't believe that I need to say that the half-hour layover in Chicago was a figment of some computer programmer's/travel arranger's imagination.
The trip began like clockwork, until we got on the plane. Cousin Don, who lives 10 minutes away from PDX, drove us to the terminal and was to keep our car safely - and cheaply - stored while we were on our trip.
Anita and I, with our bags and a "Flight E-Ticket Confirmed" sheet of 9x12 paper printed on our home computer printer, got hesitantly into the confirmed ticket line wondering whether that slip of paper was really going to work as two paid round-trip cross country tickets. No problem.
The courteous airline counter attendant said, "Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Raistakka, just show me your picture ID and you are on on your way." We did and we were. After checking through three bags to BUF and each of us taking a carryon bag, we were ready to face the security check.
We have been at airports and have done enough traveling since 9/11 to make us aware of what some of the do's and don'ts are in clearing the security check in this day of terrorist-alert travel. We both wore shoes that could be slipped on and off easily and made sure all of our fingernail clippers, small pocket knives and so forth were packed in our bags which had been checked in.
But even with all of that, PDX security had all male passengers remove their belts (suspenders?) if they were wearing one. The other two airports we went through did not have this as a requirement and also had varying shoe-removal policies. Whatever the policies, they are a small price to pay for better security, if they are doing what they purport to do.
Clearing security in plenty of time for a cup of java before boarding, we felt very good about the beginnings of another "great adventure."
We boarded the Airbus A320, in plenty of time for our slated 9:24 a.m. departure. I had noticed that a small footnote on our e-mail ticket stated that the Airbus was on time 90 percent of the time. "Hmmm," I thought.
Our plane, which was filled almost to capacity, taxied out from the concourse well before our departure time and there we sat on the apron. After nearly a 20-minute wait, the pilot announced that we were being delayed until 9:45 a.m. by traffic control because of rainy weather in Chicago. Nine forty-five came and went, and still we sat, while our half-hour of connection time in Chicago continued to dissolve.
While we sat on the airfield apron, the strangest sounds of banging, popping, and metal scraping emanated from the bowels of our plane, seemingly from under our feet. Finally, the pilot came back on the intercom and she said that they had not been able to close a fuel valve on one of the engines after refueling. They would have to go back to the concourse to see if it could be repaired, and there was a chance that we might have to change planes. So, back we went.
Several more minutes of repair work elapsed while mechanics labored under our feet and on one of the engines to repair or replace the sticky fuel valve. Finally, the captain said we would depart from PDX at 10:24 a.m., exactly one hour late and too late to make our connecting flight in Chicago.
The 1,745-mile flight went very smoothly, with the captain catching a boost from the jet stream, arriving at O'Hare at 2 p.m. (4 p.m. Central Daylight Time). The tarmac and surrounding area of the field had very little evidence of any rainy weather. Since our connecting flight had left at least a half hour earlier, we scrambled to find what other connecting flights awaited us.
There on the departure board was a flight leaving at 5 p.m. Not too long of a wait, we thought. But when we went to the ticket counter, we were told that flight was booked solid and we were scheduled for the next available flight - leaving O'Hare at 9 p.m. to arrive in Buffalo at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time or 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time. (We originally had been scheduled to arrive in Buffalo at 3:24 p.m. our time after a total travel time of six hours, including that phantom half-hour connection time.)
With nothing to do but kill time for almost five hours, we inquired where our next plane would be located. We were told that the connecting flight, on a regional subsidiary airline, would not only leave from a different concourse, but also from a different terminal, a mile and a half away! At O'Hare, when they say different terminals, they mean different terminals.
After finally locating the new terminal/airline/departure gate, we began our wait.
After waiting for almost five hours, the scheduled departure time was suddenly moved ahead to 10 p.m. When asked why, the airline personnel could only offer that the plane had not yet arrived from its previous flight.
Thank heaven for cell phones. We were able to advise Jane not to begin her almost two-hour drive to Buffalo until we knew for sure when we would be on the last flight. For the last hour of the wait, the gate personnel kept looking out on the tarmac for the missing plane. We thought, "Surely they couldn't have misplaced a plane, could they?"
With the plane apparently on the way, the departure time was moved back to 9:45, but there was still no plane. Finally, a small regional jet arrived, most of us were able to crowd into the plane, and we departed O'Hare at 10 p.m. The plane's crew said that they had been held for over an hour in Indianapolis because of that mysterious rainy weather in Chicago, as the reason for the last delay.
The captain of the commuter airline plane made up for lost time in covering the 466 miles and we arrived in Buffalo at 12:10 a.m. (Eastern Time) in the middle of a lakes-effect storm that was the equal of a southwest squall that we get in our part of the country. We had left warm, dry Naselle several hours earlier and here we were in the middle of a good old sou'wester coming off the Great Lakes.
Remember our checked luggage? We had been told and assured that it would be with us on the plane we took to Buffalo. Uh-uh. Our three bags were no where to be seen with the baggage coming off that plane. As the three of us wandered around the terminal, there off in a corner were our three bags sitting there after apparently arriving on the earlier flight which we had not been able to fit on.
Finally, leaving Buffalo at nearly 12:30 a.m., six hours after our scheduled arrival, Jane was able to drive us to Olean through a "good ol' sou'wester," arriving at her home at 1:45 in the morning.
We had flown the friendly skies, united in our belief that we would eventually reach our destination, and we were now ready for the next step in our great adventure.