Welcome Aboard!

September 10, 2008 | By | Comments (6)


Yahoo, Grumpians! It’s answer & question time! See if you can guess the question to the following answer and win the magic turtle!

Answer – Chez Chernobyl, the luxury golf resort next to the Soviet nuclear plant that exploded and poisoned the Ukraine in 1986.

Question – Name the only business enterprise in history that’s a bigger disaster than the airlines.

Did you guess correctly? You probably did. I know this because, chances are, you have flown during the last five years. This means you’ve missed flights, missed vacations, lost luggage, and lost your mind in the process.

Let me tell you of my latest airline fiasco that has me sitting in a lounge drinking a Sam Adams beer (the only thing keeping me from stroking out and spurting blood from my ears) at the Atlanta airport, the modern equivalent of Dante’s Inferno.

What a Dope Am I
A little background. Some weeks ago, I planned on scouting some gardens around the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area of North Carolina. Raleigh is about a 7-hour drive from my home in Birmingham, Alabama, so like an idiot I decided to fly. I booked a flight for a very good price on what used to be my favorite airline, but what is now a bigger pain in the backside than my annual prostate exam. In order to avoid a lawsuit, while cleverly letting you know exactly who I’m talking about, let’s just say I decided to fly “Smelta.”

In order to fly anywhere in the world on Smelta, you must first fly through Atlanta. That’s like giving a friend a brand new Ferrari on the condition that he have his lips removed.

But I gritted my teeth, held my nose, and made the reservation. My flight would depart Birmingham at 9:24 AM, arrive at the Inferno at 11:23 AM, depart the Inferno at 1:10 PM, and arrive in Raleigh-Durham at 2:26 PM.

The weather was perfect, I had no close connections, so what could go wrong?

You’re way ahead of me, Grumpians. You already know the answer.

I was, after all, dealing with Smelta. And Smelta knows wrong like Larry Craig knows the stalls at the Minneapolis airport’s men’s room.

The Longest Day
On the morning of my flight, I arrive at the gate in Birmingham around 8 AM (I’m a good boy, I always get there early in case TSA wants to confiscate a golf tee or other serious weapon I forgot to check). I notice there’s a big line. I ask and find out that the plane designated to carry Smelta’s early flight to the Inferno is broken. All its passengers are trying to rebook on later flights. But I’m not worried. I have a confirmed reservation on the 9:24 AM flight and my plane isn’t broken.

Well, it’s not broken at 8 AM. By 9 AM, however, it is. Of course. Like you expect to fly Smelta on a plane that’s not broken?

One thing you have to know about flying from Birmingham is except for a 1951 Cessna crop duster, no flight ever originates in Birmingham. All planes, even those leaving at 6 AM, come from somewhere else. So when one of them breaks on the way here, we’re screwed.

The woman at the gate tells us the bad news, but naturally has no idea when the replacement plane will be available to take us to the Inferno. She only works for Smelta, you know. It’s not like she runs the business.

Our plane isn’t leaving at 9:24 AM. What time will it leave? I don’t know, because I am only a menial paying passenger. The way airlines see it, information is like bread crumbs doled out to goldfish. “Don’t give them too much, dearie. They might get sick.”

I hear a rumor that our plane might be arriving at 10:40 AM. Next, I hear it might arrive at 11 AM. I call Smelta and they tell me it will be here at 11:20 AM.

That means only one thing. There’s no way it’s getting here before noon.

A Sign from Above
An hour-and-a-half later, a miracle! The plane from Atlanta is actually in the air! It’s coming for us! It arrives in Birmingham only 2-1/2 hours late. We are blessed.

Two minutes after we board and get settled, we are informed by our helpful Smelta attendants that air traffic control at the Inferno has imposed a traffic stop in the hope that we will give the captain an atomic wedgie, get thrown in jail, and thereby reduce future air traffic.

Have you heard of “the Smelta Connection?” This trademarked term refers to those legions of passengers who, like me, have no prayer of getting where they’re going on time. Heck, even going is more than they dare hope for.

Anyway, after a 30-minute traffic stop – the only other purpose of which is to make certain I miss not only my 1:10 PM connection, but the 2:20 PM and 3:20 PM connections as well, I manage to secure a seat on the 4:20 PM flight to Raleigh. They say it will get me there by 5:30 PM.

Thank God It Missed the Plane
OK, I’m aboard my connection to Raleigh. This would seem to be a positive development, only now a severe thunderstorm targets our plane on the tarmac. I see what appears to be a Black Angus cow fly through the air in front of the plane from right to left. A minute later, the cow is back, only now flying in the opposite direction. I have no doubt the captain will decide this is the perfect time to take off.

Fortunately, he is still struggling with his wedgie and can’t get back into the cockpit. So we sit there for a few more minutes and, as quick as it came, the storm vanishes. Then something totally unexpected happens.

We take off.

The Miracle of Flight
The flight to Raleigh is pretty uneventful. Smelta upgrades me to first-class, which is a nice way of asking, “Can we bribe you into forgetting this?” I order a gin-and-tonic. We touch down at 5:40 PM – exactly 10 hours after I arrived at the Birmingham airport that morning.

Here’s the kicker. It takes 7 hours to drive from Birmingham to Raleigh. It took me 10 hours to fly there.

I thought planes were faster than cars. I guess I’m just stupid.

Anybody out there like the airlines? Anybody? Come on now, don’t be shy. Anybody? Anybody?



  1. Grumpy

    If you look on page 125 of the Smelta Pilot Training Manual, you will see a section titled, “Things You Should Never Say to Passengers.” Number Six is, “I don’t know if I can stop the plane.”
    In case you’re interested, here are some other things pilots are discouraged from saying to passengers over the intercom.
    1. “Wow! That’s not supposed to happen!”
    2. “Does anyone know where the left wing went?”
    3. “In case of a water evacuation, your body will never be found.”
    4. “This is a very full flight. Someone will have to sit next to Nancy Grace.”

    September 25, 2008 at 3:26 pm
  2. Brenda

    Hi GG,
    Do I have one for you?!?!
    Smelta dealt me quite a low blow on a company trip last month, too. They were two hours fashionably late in “taking off,” which I’ve grown accustomed and actually that’s not too bad. However, fate quickly changed its course for this 150+ group of Smelta innocents when, in mid-air hovering near NYC, we were told that 1 of the 2 hydraulic systems had failed and we couldn’t land in La Guardia because the airstrip wasn’t long enough. Wasn’t long enough?!?! HOW LONG does it have to be?!? 1 of the 2 braking systems, so that means we still have one that’s fully operational, right?! I remember vividly the lady next to me nervously mumbling “It’s in God’s hands now. Oh Lord, it’s in God’s hands.”
    Oh boy! Our Captain was almost giddily forthcoming about the situation when he told us that he didn’t know if he could STOP the plane. He didn’t know if he could STOP the plane. Those words punched me and punched me hard. Visions of my past skiddings into things because I couldn’t stop my vehicle of choice (bike, car, motorcycle) came rushing back like it was yesterday. My mind was in full throttle. I was making a plan for when this big ‘ol jet airliner met dirt.
    Okay, here’s what I would do, and this is all I had. I would grab the life preserver that has lived under my seat for about 20 years and fly towards the nearest exit by following the tiny little lights on the floor, all the while protecting my head. (My Mom and Dad were fervent head protectors and, in times of crisis, often expressed with the same passion as Tony’s “Don’t touch the hair” in Saturday Night Fever. Don’t touch the head!) I’ve never understood how those life preservers came into play, but this was my chance to use it to my advantage. Somehow. And I. would. use it. to my advantage!!
    So it took what seemed like hours to prepare for landing. Nevermind the No Smoking sign. Nevermind the fact that we can’t stand up and move freely about the cabin. We were headed south, the crew was in passive panic mode and the innocents were gripping the armrests with hollow results. There was no turning back. And I’m still thinking of ways out of this mess, I mean don’t they install parachutes in the back of this jet like they do for drag racers? It may not be much, but every little bit helps.
    I think our innocents gave up life for about 2 minutes on that fateful trip. No one was breathing. And no one was in position to grab their goods from the overhead bins and bolt. Everyone was pretty much solidified in their seats. Glued and bracing for the jolt we were about to receive.
    Wobbly and uncontrollably our plane hit the long landing strip, and I do mean long. We were on the ground, but our fearless Captain could not steer the jet we learned later, which is why we glided down the strip for about three hundred Mississippi’s and a dozen emergency vehicles escorted us closer to JFK. We were exhausted from the drama and had to be towed in to the terminal, but we were alive. Smelta delivered again another set of weary, bleary-eyed passengers to their final destination. Little did we know that morning it could have been our ultimate final destination. Thanks, Smelta.

    September 23, 2008 at 10:14 pm
  3. Grumpy

    I probably didn’t notice the screaming brats because I was too busy trying to escape suffocation under the waves of blubber lapping up over my face from the 400 lb. guy sitting next to me. The Grump has noticed that when many (how shall I say this to appear senstive and diplomatic? I know!) incredibly fat people fly and discover that their seat is 21-inches wide and their torsos are 54-inches wide, they feel entitled the rest the excess on whoever is lucky enough to be sitting next to them. So listen up, blubber butts. If you can’t fit in the assigned seat, you need to buy two — one seat for each cheek. Yeah, that costs more, but look on the bright side. You’ll get double the frequent flyer miles.

    September 17, 2008 at 9:32 am
  4. Amy

    My fellow grumpian, what? You didn’t consider yourself lucky because the entire infant population of a large Southern city, all prone to earaches when flying, didn’t fly with you? Oh…how could they? They were on my flight from Dallas to New Orleans…also on Smelta

    September 17, 2008 at 12:20 am
  5. Grumpy

    I’m sure they like gin too.

    September 11, 2008 at 4:16 pm
  6. Holly

    Oh Grumpy. Call me next time, I’m in Enterprise, AL. I’ll come pick you up…. with a thermos of gin and tonic. How’s that? All better now?
    And thanks for the dandy advice you’ve given in the past. My hydrangeas are doing just fine!

    September 11, 2008 at 11:14 am

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