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Rachel Dickinson

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Terminal Velocity: Stranded By Hurricane Hysteria

Posted: 08/26/11 11:18 AM ET

By yesterday afternoon I was to be in Sept-Iles, Quebec, one of those you-can't-get-there-from-here kind of places. By this morning I should have been out on the cold, wild water at the mouth of the St. Lawrence looking for whales. Instead, I'm at home, exactly where I should have stayed.

Hurricane Irene hasn't even hit yet, but I've already become a victim of pre-storm hysteria.

It's not because I didn't try. Really. I did. I woke at 4:00 a.m. and made the hour and fifteen drive to Syracuse to get on a plane to Toronto. The plane to Toronto was cancelled. I should have driven home at that point but instead sat on the phone and listened to the entire score from Les Miserables while on hold with Air Canada because for some reason the Syracuse gate agents weren't allowed to change flights.

I should have driven home at that point but I didn't because I was thinking about those whales -- I could possibly see 13 different species including the highly endangered Northern Right Whale and the Blue Whale, the largest whale on earth.

I ended up on a US Air flight to Philadelphia, with connections to Quebec City and then Sept-Iles. It's always tough to go in the opposite direction of your destination, but the promise of the cool Quebec evenings kept me going.

I wandered around Terminal A in Philadelphia, killing time before my flight to Quebec. I found a seat in front of a window and watched a flock of pigeons wheel and turn above some sleek jets parked on the tarmac. Then the Quebec City flight was cancelled. I bought some Rolo's (chocolate-covered caramels) and ate them before calling USAir. When I got through to a person, I cried on the phone and said I was going to miss the whale watch and just wanted to get back home. The agent paused and said, "So this is a trip in vain?" I said yes, at which point she made notes on my record and told me to go to the service center and they would get me home.

One hundred people later, I finally got to a customer service person that spent half an hour trying to get me home. Now, mid-afternoon, flights were falling left and right. The Departure Board was starting to look like a Christmas Tree -- not a good sign -- with yellow delayed signs and the dreaded "cancelled" in red. I ended up in Terminal F, which is under construction and filled with people trying to get on regional flights.

Weather systems were rolling through, sending pounding rain then little bursts of sun onto the tarmac.

We were like the great unwashed, refugees banding together with a single purpose -- getting the hell out. Everyone had a story. I sat between a pharmaceutical rep from Akron and a woman from Simi Valley. The pharma rep was trying to get home and the California women was on her way to Scranton to the funeral of her best friend from high school. We were all booked standby on flights that kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed. We were within site of the departure board and for entertainment we watched people stand and stare at the board for minutes -- it was like if you stared long enough you could will your flight to be on-time -- a game for losers.

Some of the gate agents couldn't handle the pressure and hid or sent passengers to the hell known as customer service. Others took on the challenge and got creative and double and triple-booked passengers. If nothing else, it gave people hope they'd get out of Terminal F.

Twelve hours after I landed in Philadelphia I got out again. I didn't get to see whales. I didn't even get back to the same airport where I started. When my husband picked me up around midnight he said, "I hope you enjoyed your vacation."

 
 
 

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