The old jalopy took us back to the airport without a problem. It coughed and spluttered, and with us sighed with relief as we pulled into the designated spot outside the relatively small building. We took our suitcase from the back, packed the trusty towel and swimsuits that had been drying on the back seat (they had not dried overnight in the room) and when we had made sure that every last piece of evidence to link us with the vehicle (maps, leaflets, seashells!) had been removed, I closed the driver's door and pressed the little button on the key that showed a picture of a closed padlock! The car beeped and we walked around to the office to return the key. The young lady that had been so keen to offer me an abundance of 'extras' three days previously, was sitting at her desk, somewhat less harassed than she was on Thursday! "How did the car work for you?" she asked, in a voice that indicated this is the usual greeting when returning vehicles. I told her that it had got us to where we needed to go, but was probably in need of some sort of maintenance overhaul, as it didn't like mornings, afternoons, evenings, hills, dales or roads of any kind. In general it seemed to be rather agoraphobic! She laughed and explained that the "little cars are a bit like that". I then explained that there were several bumps, dents, scratches and general cosmetic anomalies that would have made it feel quite at home in a 'demolition derby' race, which we had catalogued and reported to a young boy when we collected the vehicle. Her response to this was also laughter and the statement, "Our guys know these cars. They know every dent and scratch. Don't worry about it". Reminding her that three days previously, she was trying to get me to buy added insurance for these very injuries, appeared to be redundant! I recalled returning a hire car in England, and the thorough inspection it underwent. I think I prefer the more laid back approach, but would have preferred to have been told it didn't like mornings, evenings, etc, and about its tendency to panic when out in open spaces!
We bid the giggling representative farewell and made our way across the path to the 'Departures' section of the airport. Our bag was weighed and placed on the conveyor belt behind the operative, and our tickets were reprinted for our outgoing flights. As we had about ninety minutes to spare, we went to the small restaurant that separated the runway from the 'pick up' point, and ordered some 'chips and dip'. The airport was somewhat bigger than that of Farmington, where we had landed two years ago, as it had room for two planes to land! It also housed around thirty light aircraft. However, compared to Austin, it was like a Lego equivalent!
Our flight was called, and the twenty or so people lined up, to go through security. There was no need to play 'musical chairs' with the seats as there appeared to be enough to go around, and we waited as passengers deplaned from the inbound flight, and their luggage was driven the few yards to the 'carousel'. Eventually they were ready for us to board. The first group of people to be called were those that needed extra assistance, and those whom were in military uniform. Two ladies who had difficulty walking, and their families, were led out of the small building and stood on the tarmac. The next group were those who had the number '2' on their ticket. This appeared to be the two ladies who had driven the agoraphobic ford fiesta! No one else was in our group, and we headed out, overtaking those who were called first as they needed more time boarding! The remaining groups then exited the airport building and once we were all seated, the two ladies, who required extra time, were somehow 'lifted' to the small door, where they were helped by the crew member, their families having already settled into their respective chairs. I did not question the arrangement!
We rattled along the runway and eventually left the ground in the sardine tin which flew across the bay towards the City of Angels. The view was spectacular and we could see the dolphins (with the possibility of a few whales) leaping and diving up and down in the ocean. The only advantage that I can appreciate in flying in a plane that is run on propellers, is that it flies lower than the regular jet, and we are nearer to the ground, or in this case the ocean, and the view is somewhat clearer! However, twenty minutes seems like a life time when cooped inside a small can, and I was quite delighted when we touched down at LAX. We climbed the same ramp along which we had descended three days previously, and entered the main terminal very quickly. Our connecting flight appeared to be on time and we found our departure gate with ease. About twenty minutes before boarding, we ordered our dinner, which we planned to take on-board and enjoy while watching a film. A very delicious hamburger and home-made chips with a side of coleslaw, was placed inside a take out container, along with the necessary plastic cutlery and a bottle of water. We waited at the gate for 'group 2' to be called, and we all listened to the gentleman next to us discuss his previous weekend, and optimism for the forthcoming weekend, with enthusiasm and in great volume!
Our seats were very comfortable and after the safety talk, and subsequent message to the crew members to 'be seated', we took off and were soon waving goodbye to the coast of California, heading southeast towards Texas. Samantha set up her computer, loaded the film and we sat back and watched, as we ate our very hearty hamburger and home-made chips, with the sides of coleslaw. A beverage service was offered, and accepted and the three hour journey seemed to be over much sooner than the twenty minutes that we had endured in the tiny flying machine that we had taken previously! The seat belt signs came back on, and we were asked to help the crew with the 'clearing up' of the cabin, by passing any unwanted 'trash' to them, and we would soon be on the ground. We were twenty minutes away from our scheduled landing in our adoptive city of Austin. Or so we thought! After we had all dutifully made sure our areas were clear of unwanted extras, the captain decided to come clean! "I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news", he started. It appeared that there was fog over Austin and we had been diverted to San Antonio. A sigh of relief went through the plane, as we were all holding our breath as to what was the full extent of 'bad news', but then began to wonder, "How are we going to get home? And when?"
I am fully aware that a diversion of any sort is, normally, to ensure the safety of the passengers, and crew. I realise that these things happen, and am often filled with awe at the way the aviation sector manages to operate. With all the planes in the sky at any one time, it is truly a marvel to me, and delays and diversions are bound to happen. However, I would rather be told the truth than be kept in the dark! We landed, and were told to deplane, and that was it! When I questioned our next step, the crew member, rather abruptly, told me to "get off the plane, and the ground staff will tell you!" The ground staff was non-existent! The security guard that was shuffling us through the 'exit' door, explained that there was no one around, and they were closing the area down for the night. We descended to the baggage claim area, and within minutes our bags appeared on the average sized carousel. There were no ticket agents, nor representatives. The only humans who bore the emblem of the airline, or indeed who were present, were two baggage handlers, who were unaware as to our plight. I called the airline, on the designated number I have for 'elite' passengers. I am rather afraid to think how they speak to those who are of non-elite status, as the female (lady is not a term I would use, not even loosely) to whom I was connected, could not understand why I was calling as the plane, upon which I should have been, was due to take off at nine minutes past midnight. I was very polite, despite being somewhat frustrated, and asked which plane this might be, and how was I supposed to get to it, as we had been informed that the airport was now 'closed' for the night. She told me that we would be told what to do in due course, and that was the end of that conversation.
Unfortunately, the baggage handlers were not very well equipped to handle the situation. They were not particularly articulate, and some of the passengers were starting to get a little bit upset. I was not too concerned, other than the fact that Dana was sitting in the 'cell-phone' park, in Austin, waiting for me, as he had failed to check the status of the flight before leaving home. I just wanted to know what was going to happen from this point onward. The baggage handlers ignored the questions. I called the airline 'elite' line, again. I was informed that we were to take off at nine minutes past midnight. Explaining that this was now only five minutes away, and our luggage had been deplaned with us, the male (gentleman is not a term I would use, not even loosely) told me, quite categorically, that the luggage would not, under any circumstances, be removed from the plane. It was only when I told him that I was standing in the baggage area, with my checked bag, did his attitude change, albeit for a short period. He suggested I go and find a ticket clerk, and she would issue a ticket for the next flight. Perhaps I had not made myself crystal clear about the fact that the only people, other than the passengers, within the area, were two uninformed baggage attendants. The ticketing area was closed and everyone had gone home to bed! It was his next comment that caused my polite and congenial manner to be upgraded to a more positive, firmer one. "Perhaps you should listen to what you are being told and follow those instructions!" Unaccustomed as I am to using foul language, I could have strung out a sentence that contained many naughty words, that would have made even the most depraved of man to blush! I resisted, and chose instead to speak in the very best Queen's English. "Perhaps if you had listened, sir, (I added the 'title' for effect,) this is the reason for my call. No one is giving us any instruction. We are standing, with our bags, with two men baggage handlers who refuse to talk to us, and wondering what we are supposed to do when they turn out the lights, and lock the doors!" Silence was never more deafening! Apologies were eventually pouring down the line, but a resolution was still not forthcoming. I decided to end the call.
Fortunately, one of the baggage handlers had taken it upon himself to call the 'main office' and find a solution. He was making calls to bus companies, and taxi firms, in order to ensure our trip back to Austin that evening. If this was not possible, he was going to call some hotels, and arrange an overnight stay, and then attempt to issue some tickets for a flight in the morning. I had managed to dissuade Dana from driving to collect us, as a three hour round trip was not really necessary. If we were to be housed overnight in San Antonio, we would find a way of getting to the office, from the airport, once flown in in the morning, but we could worry about that when, and if, the need arose! A very nice couple of gentleman (I use the term strongly!) had offered to give us a ride, as they had organised a hire car, but we declined. Old habits die hard, and although I am certain they meant well, getting in a car with strangers is still a no-no!
Eventually the solution was at hand! Six taxi's had been ordered, and vouchers were being printed to ensure payment would be made. We headed out to the taxi rank! We were in the third cab. Although we were listed as 'Group 1' this time, a dozen people had chosen not to wait for their vouchers, and secured their seats in the front two vehicles. However, they were not going anywhere until they had the piece of paper assuring the driver of payment. Unfortunately, our driver had no idea of the route, despite six people in his taxi advising him that it was very straight, and we could direct him. If we were in the playground, our driver would be the child on the bench, waiting to be picked for the game, but never really being sure that the opportunity would arise. He stood back from the first two, who appeared to be quite delighted at the prospect of the job! I called Dana to let him know what was happening and he said that he would have a nap in the car, rather than go home and come back out again in an hour's time!
The convoy of yellow cabs headed from the San Antonio airport towards Bergstrom International! (I still use that term loosely) At first, the chatter was prolific, but gradually we all settled down and relaxed. Anyone who had drifted off to sleep was woken suddenly as the driver turned on the radio, and country music blared not only the through cab, but probably through a thirty mile radius. Our shock turned to laughter, and soon the entire passenger congregation was giggling uncontrollably. It was the perfect end to a less than perfect evening!
As the roads were empty, the journey took just under the ninety minutes. Our driver took our bags out of the car very quickly, and jumped back behind the wheel before I had time to give him the gratuity that is customary (after all, it wasn't his fault that we were in this situation) as he was obviously concerned that the two taxis in front were going to head back south without him in tow. Those behind had not yet made it to the terminal, and he apparently was not going to wait until they did! Everyone had means of getting to their final destination, and Dana could be seen driving down from the ramp within minutes. We loaded up the car, drove home, and
Edward arrived at our house shortly after us, to take Samantha and the puppy back to their abode!
The email I received from the airline, after I had suggested they be honest when matters such as this arise, was as inadequate as the ability of the baggage handlers to deal with the situation and our jalopy to deal with roads! The representative whom replied, apologised for the diversion and explained the reasoning. I sent another email suggesting that they read the first one, and indicating that I was aware of safety issues, and was in full agreement with measures taken. My telephone rang, and I was voice to voice with customer services. It appeared that the more mature adult did understand my grievance. She understood that the majority of people would rather be told, "We are unsure as to what is going on, but will let you know as soon as we do, and we will keep you informed of our progress....even if we have no news". Honesty is the ONLY policy! She understood that the representatives on the 'elite' desk handled the situation poorly, and that the pilot was obviously aware that he was not going to fly out of the airport any time soon! I doubt that a change in policy will occur, but getting someone to understand was enough for the time being!
The holiday was great fun. Samantha and I have some great pictures and memories. The trip was not marred by the final events, and it made for a good conversational piece! We settled back into work on the Monday morning, and can now look forward to some more adventures that I can relay in ............. another story!