Decenber 31, 2015...
I had waved goodbye to my Dad and Stepmother at the boarding gate, squished into my economy seat, and ignored several requests from the person in the middle seat to switch.
Over my dead body, mate! The middle seat is purgatory, and nothing will change my mind on that.
In a more skeptical person, the ease of the first leg, San Diego to San Francisco, followed by an unusually-fast trip through customs, with time for a late dinner before boarding my plane back to Australia, might have been taken as a warning.
Approximately 1:30 AM, January 1st, 2016...
The in-flight map has us somewhere over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, past Hawai'i but not yet within range of Polynesia.
I'm drifting in and out of sleep, doing my best to ignore Ms Middle Seat, who moved to the empty row behind me, but is failing to read the cabin and realize that no-one wants to engage in conversation at this hour. I am about to doze off again when the Captain makes an emergency announcement, and a jolt of adreniline kills any hope of going back to sleep.
"Attention Passengers: we are experiencing engine trouble. We are diverting to Hawai'i and expect to land in two hours. Please stand by for emergency evacuation announcements."
Why, hello, 90 minutes of Panic and Anxiety. I confess, I was not expecting you on this flight...
We are a large international jet, and there is only one airport in Hawai'i that can fit us. This involves an emergency call to a military base, who call the airport emergency line, who get someone up to Air Control in time to direct us down. The airport will not be open or staffed for two or three hours after our landing, if we make it that far.
Context: I am a History Nerd, with a passion for Ancient Mythology, and had spent the past 30-ish years hovering between Agnostic (doesn't believe, but doesn't disbelieve) and Skeptic (Actively disbelief of anything involving Omnipotent Imaginary Friends). I was also pragmatic enough to hedge my bets.
I see people in Middle-Eastern clothing. A man two rows ahead wears a turban. The woman across the aisle is clutching a crucifix and reciting what sounds like Ave Maria and the Lord's Prayer. At least one of the disgruntled passengers moved back from Business Class is wearing a Star of David.
I decide that the major religions are adequately represented and pick a more obscure one.
For the second time in about twelve years, I bow my head and pray:
"Zeus, Loud Thunderer, blowjob if we land safely."
Yes, yes, I know, not the most conventional prayer, but given the pantheon and deity in question, I figured it was the most likely way to get His hypothetical attention. I'm practical like that.
Zeus never showed up to collect on that promise, but we did land safely.
January 1st, 2016. Hawai'i International Airport, about 4:30 AM...
The airport won't open until 6am, and we've just been informed that every hotel, motel and caravan park on the island - and possibly the other three as well - is booked solid. Oh, and the plane won't be going anywhere for at least 18 hours, even if the engine trouble does turn out to be a false alarm. Aviation law requires flight attendants to have 18 hours of downtime between flights, even interrupted flights.
For now, everyone cram into the single gate lounge, and once the airport opens we'll have your bags unloaded and see what our options are.
One flight attendant brings out a few cases of mini water bottles. It's appreciated, but we probably would have appreciated being allowed to bring the blankets and pillows off the plane more. The adreniline crash is hitting hard, and the crying or fussy kids aren't the only ones suffering from sleep deprivation and frayed emotions.
January 1st, 2016, 6:30 AM, still in Hawai'i...
I've taken the opportunity to email my parents (and delete the goodbye text I composed in flight, on the off-chance that we went down and my phone was eventually found) with a status update and the reassurance that I was alive, but wasn't sure what was happening yet.
The woman beside me has just fired off a similar, though likely less personal, email to her boss, and we get to casually chatting and grumbling that we're still being told to sit tight and wait to hear from an airline representitive. She asks if I have something better to read that the book she picked up in the airport bookstore, and can she borrow it for an hour or two.
I've been reading from my Kindle, most of my books packed in my suitcase. Airport staff walk past for the tenth time in an hour, pointedly ignoring our attempts to ask questions. I offer my YA paperback anyway, and peek at the book she has.
It's "Fifty Shades of Grey". The placement of a bookmark suggests that she's only made it a few chapters in.
I sympathise with her desire to read literally anything else.
My Tired-Brain has a tendency to come up with ideas that sound great at the time, but make me cringe when I look back on them. It's a well-known fact that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and since polite inquirines are failing, perhaps a disruption will get their attention. Also, I have two hours before I can take advantage of the Business Class Lounge voucher that my dad gave me, so at this point I am prepared to fight God and about half his Archangels.
I flip through Fifty Shades to find a particularly cringy scene, and suggest doing a dramatic reading. A few other nearby passengers, equally fed up with being ignored, offer to join us. More look slightly more awake as they prepare to be entertained (I suspect they have had similar experiences as the first lady).
It takes less than ten minutes for a manager to be called, food and drink vouchers to be handed out (about $15 per person), and an announcement that we can transfer our flight to the any partner airline that has an availability.
I find the United Airlines help-desk, and my unloaded checked luggage, and get myself re-booked on a flight with Hawaiian Air. (It helps that my dad, who booked the original flight, is a Very Important Frequent Flyer that they do not want to switch preferred airlines. I am not above name-dropping if it gets me home faster.)
Of course Check-In is at the other end of the airport to the United Desk.
I still have three hours before the flight leaves, so I check into the gate lounge. After some comfort food, a drink, and re-charging my phone, I check my messages. Dad replied first, glad to hear that I'm allright and to let him know if he needs to pay for an additional flight. Mum's message is shorter, a request to let her know when my new arrival time is. I message back that I should be arriving at 8:00 PM on the 2nd (time zones mean I'll skip a day in-transit), barring any further mishaps.
I message Dad with an update, and check social media. There's news of Alan Rickman in hospital, but I don't read it. I don't need more things to be upset about.
I have a row to myself on my new flight, but I'm still too keyed up to sleep.
Fortunately, I have a shortcut: I'm a ridiculous lightweight when it comes to alcohol. I order a small bottle of red and drink it as fast as I can stand. (I've definitely tasted better, but at this point I'm not picky.)
I stretch out over three seats and pass out. A flight attendant wakes me as we're about to make our descent into Sydney, which means everyone needs to be sitting up.
When I fly again, (Domestic to Brisbane, over land the entire time) eleven months later, I take a stress ball, and don't relax until I land safely on the ground.
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