Three nights ago we watched, for the umpteenth time, the great film “Groundhog Day” on one of the hundreds of TV channels available on cable in the US. If you haven’t seen the film it tells the story of a TV Weatherman played by Bill Murray who is sent to cover the annual appearance of the weather forecasting Punxsutawney Groundhog. Our hero finds himself stuck in a loop, waking up every morning to find himself still in Punxsutawney on the same day, February 2nd, and waiting for the Groundhog to make it’s predictions. For “Punxsutawney” read “Hutchinson, Kansas” and for the “Groundhog” read “American Airlines”.
Last night, just before midnight as we were heading for bed, two emails arrived from the Groundhog (American Airlines). One predicted (confirmed) our journey for today via Dallas and one predicted (confirmed) our journey for tomorrow via Chicago!! So much for the Groundhogs abilty to forecast accurately. So it was back onto the telephone and the obligatory 35 minute wait for the call to be answered. The agent said our flights via Dallas were still OK and that he had no idea where the ‘Chicago’ email had come from. So a worry free sleep could be had by all – and I don’t think.
Just a handy tip for anyone who has to contact American Airlines by phone and gets the message :-
“All our agents are busy, hold the line for the automated service or call back later”,
go ahead and don’t be put off by the word ‘automated’. Persevere and, when asked, chose the option for ‘assisted travel‘. Although this is meant for people who need physical assistance, all it does is to transfer you directly to the general sales line which will eventually get you to an agent. Why they make it so difficult is anyones guess.
Our day starts with a slightly more controlled school run for Henry and an earlier school run for Beatrix. Once again it’s lots of farewell hugs and kisses tinged with a fair degree of cynicism from H. Groundhog Day is underway and, just like in the film, some bits are a little different from one day to the next.
Being naturally a bit of a checker and double checker, it’s now time for a quick look at the airline and airport websites. Surprise, surprise – our 6.15 pm flight from Wichita to DFW is listed as ‘cancelled’. So back on the phone to the Groundhog and after another 35 minute wait, the Groundhog says that the flight had been cancelled but has just been re-instated.
We decide that the more options we have the better and a good start would be to get to Wichita Airport so that face-to-face negotiations can take place if necessary. So it’s farewell to the house and farewell by telephone to Katie who is now at work, pack the cases into the car and out onto the road. Will we be returning – who knows, certainly we haven’t a clue.
The 50 mile drive to the airport is uneventful on near empty roads. On the way we listen to radio reports about the aftermath of the storms. In Kansas, which is right in the tornado belt – remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was a Kansas girl – most houses have a basement specifically to provide a storm shelter. In Texas they do things differently. The official guidance when the tornado warning is sounded, is to get all your family into the bath – everything is bigger in Texas – and pull a mattress over your heads. That conjures up some interesting visions but I won’t dwell further on that line of thinking.
We are driving Oliver’s car, the plan being that it is left in the long-term parking with the keys and ticket in the trunk – ‘boot’ – awaiting his return from Minneapolis tomorrow night. As you ask, he is carrying another set of keys.
At check-in, with 5 hours to spare, we are told that both the flight to Dallas Fort Worth and the onward flight to Heathrow are operating to schedule. Oh dear, we’re in for a bit of a wait. But just to add an air of uncertainty, the airport indicator boards are still showing the Dallas flight as ‘cancelled’.
The airport bar and lounge beckons and lunch seems a good idea. The menu is fairly ordinary and at airport style prices but better to have some food and a place where we can settle down for an hour or three. A bonus turns out to be free wifi with no strings attached – sorry for the unintended pun – and a nearby socket to recharge the netbook’s battery ready for the long time that will be spent in the air.
When complete boredom has set in, after about two hours, it’s time to settle the bill and do a bit of leg stretching. There is no security on landside at Wichita so there is complete freedom to walk in and out of the terminal. Outside seems a good idea as it is now a lovely sunny day and quite warm. There are a few areas of grass but not a seat to be found. Lying on the grass is tempting but no doubt that is against the rules. At last we spot some benches in front of the terminal and grab the only one that isn’t being used by airport staff.
It turns out to be a great place for people watching. The kerbside, for letting down passengers, is just a few feet in front of us. Without a word of exaggeration, the most common feature of arriving travellers is a cell phone – ‘mobile phone’ – stuck to the ear. Saying goodbye to the kind colleague, friend, partner who has acted as taxi driver, takes second place to continuing the phone conversation. One car with a young oriental driver, drops of presumably elderly parents, one on sticks, complete with assorted pieces of luggage and a large, heavy cardboard box – what could be in it??. A Skycap – airport porter – offers his services to get them to the airline check-in desk but this is declined. The son drives off to park the car and returns a few minutes later. They were last seen trying to negotiate an automatic revolving door into the terminal building. Kansas, indeed Hutchinson, has just played hosts to the National College Basketball Championships (NCAA) and the last passengers we see arriving are a pair of 10 feet tall, thin as rakes, black sportsmen in full players’ outfits. How they will ever fit into airline seats is anyone’s guess.
It is now time to head towards the gate. On re-entering the terminal it is a relief to see that the aiport flight indicator boards now acknowledge that AA826 will be flying tonight. The first thing is to get through the security screening to enter airside. This is often fraught with little difficulties but tonight the ‘difficulty’ was entirely of my own making. Before we left Hutchinson, Katie had asked us to take a beautiful set of baby/toddler dishes and cutlery that my mother had first given to their daughter Flora, tragically a victim of cot death, and which had been passed on from one grandchild to the next. Katie wanted us to give them to our daughter Kirsten whose first baby is due this month. To keep them safe and minimise the risk of damage in transit, they had been wrapped in bubble-wrap and carefully stowed in my carry-on bag.
As the carry-on bag comes out of the X-ray machine it is picked up by a security guy who proceeds to rummage through it. It gradually dawns on me that one of the items is a metal, toddlers, table knife. When it is discovered I start to tell him that it has great family sentimental value and the reason it is in the case is to be sure it doesn’t go astray during the journey. Amazingly he is very sympathetic, repacks the case and sends it back through the X-ray machine before handing it back to me complete with the offending knife. I think the expression is “phewwww” and a big Thank You to the staff of Wichita Airport security.
The flight down to Dallas Fort Worth is totally painless and arrives ahead of schedule. DFW is an extremely modern airport consisting of four large terminals each with up to 40 gates and each linked together by a light railway. Each train is made up of two pods. Stndig at the front, it is not unlike The Big Dipper at Blackpool. The train is driverless and travels at, what seems like, breakneck speeds, round bends, over bridges and right through buildings. Quite an experience. It deposits us very close to the departure gate.
Boarding the plane is very well organised with no stampeding crowds rushing to get on board. It all works so well that we push off from the stand about 5 minutes early. Things are really going right for us now.
The so called ‘dinner snack’ is, to say the least, a little uninspiring and turns out to be a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts. The choice for main dish is either chicken & rice or cheese pasta. It is served with a salad which consists of good crispy lettuce and inedible, dried-out tomato, a bread roll that is so dense that it needs a knife to cut off pieces, a chocolate brownie that is quite tasty and cheese & crackers which is acceptable. Going back to the main dish, our choice of the chicken can only be described as cr…p.
A good choice of basic drinks is offered including a drinkable red wine. It is a 2010 Californian ‘petite sirah’ which describes itself as “….the perfect wine….of amazing consistency…..varietally expressive (what does that mean??), but, the piece de resistance is “…food friendly….”!! Just think what the opposite would be, “not to be taken with food” or “makes you vomit”. Despite the flowery language a second bottle is asked for and provided. In the interests of accuracy, a “bottle” in this context is ¼ of a real bottle.
The second bottle does the trick. The cabin lights are turned out and it’s time for a bit of shuteye – if the party of Mexican schoolchildren in the nearby seats ever shuts up. Back in the morning.
Managed to get about 5 hours sleep, which isn’t too bad but it won’t make jetlag any easier. It may be an age factor but when we started to fly regularly across The Pond in the mid-90’s, jetlag used to take about 2 days to get over, now it’s more like 5 days. At this point it is something to look forward to with gloom.
Breakfast is served over Cornwall with less than an hour of the flight to go. It’s just coming up to mid-day BST which is 6am back in Kansas. It looks as though we will land on time. A quick phone call to Sam of Swan Cars will hopefully get a taxi waiting for us when we get out of the terminal, typically one hour after landing. As we’re on an American flight mobile phones – we’re back in the UK so I’ve reverted to English English speak – are allowed to be used from the moment the plane touches down. Why do other airlines not allow the use of phones until the seat signs belts have been switched off or you are in the terminal building? Just another of our many differences.
Getting through immigration, baggage collection and customs is remarkably fast and we are in the taxi within 35 mins of landing.
Time to sign off, one day later than planned, and desperate to get home. As the taxi enters Richmond I think we can safely say that Groundhog Day is a thing of the past.