Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When the pilot says "We'll get you as close to Honolulu as we can."

Sunday, departure day, began very early. Like 4:15AM early, but we figured that we should get to the airport as early as possible. By 5:00, we were in the hotel shuttle and on our way. So long to the snow that continued to fall. Bye-bye icy roads. Ta-ta Winter Wonderland!

Standing in line at the Hawaiian Air counter, a guy behind us mentioned that he'd checked the web and our flight's 8:05AM departure had been delayed until 6:20PM. Oh, well, we thought. We can sit around the airport for 10 hours. Briggs and Tina decided to take Max back to the hotel, Mom and Dad had arrived by hotel shuttle and decided to stay at the airport with us. Julie and Karen had rented a car and were lost in the wilds of the City of Sea-Tac. They eventually found their hotel and hunkered down until checkout time.

The morning passed relatively uneventfully. Plane-free, but uneventful. The plane was rumoured to be enroute from Oakland, where for some inexplicable reason, it had spent the night. Every hour or so, some member of the Hawaiian Air staff would make an announcement, "The plane is in the air and should be here soon. When it does get here, it will take about an hour to get it cleaned and ready for your flight to Honolulu. We thank you for your patience. Mahalo." Around 11, they announced that they had breakfast vouchers for us that could be used at any of the fine eateries in the airport. Hmm. That should have been a red flag to us, but gullible souls that we are, we just figured it was the airline trying to be nice. A couple of hours later, they announced lunch vouchers, too, and that both could be combined if we wished. Hmm. That should have been another red flag.

At 5:30, the airline staff announced that because we likely would be arriving in Honolulu after the last of the shuttles for Kona had left, we were to meet the agents at the gate in Honolulu and they would rearrange flights for those of us continuing on and they would be putting us up in a hotel. Fine, we thought. As long as we got out of Seattle, we didn't care. The snow, which had been steadily piling up all day began to come down much faster and in big, fat flakes. It was as if we were looking at an airport snow globe.

Have I mentioned the entertainment provided by the Port of Seattle? They apparently calculated that the best way to lure the 3,000 stranded passengers that were their guests into a false sense of holiday complacency was to provide seasonal entertainment. The entertainment included four Victorian-costumed carolers who strolled throughout the terminal singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen "ad nauseum, two costumed folk driving a golf cart around and using a bullhorn to sing "Santa Claus is Coming" off-key, and the piece de resistance: a bell-wearing elf on a unicycle. I swear I did not make that last one up. When she wasn't riding the unicycle, she was doing some bizarre elf dance while towing a boom box on a rolling luggage cart. Oh, and the period cosutmed carolers were texting on their cell phones when they weren't annoying the hell out of the crowd with the one song they all knew the harmonies to. Good times.

About the time the hotel announcement was made, the Dance of the Snowplows began on the runways. There must have been about a dozen of them. Wait. There were a dozen of them. We counted them. Several times. The plows lined up on one end of the runway, and plowed up and down the length of the runway. Up and down. Up and down. It actually was kind of fun to watch this very intricately choreographed dance. For the first hour. Then, a small truck with a blade on the front began plowing the tarmac at our gate. Hope! For more than an hour this truck just pushed the same pile of snow around. We finally concluded that the driver just liked playing with the snowplow.

And, then there was the fire...Just about the same time the Dance of the Snowplows began, we noticed a whole lot of emergency vehicles rushing to our end of the concourse. A few minutes later, a bunch of police officers asked everyone to evacuate. It seems there was a fire in one of the cafes down the concourse, so they wanted us to move, literally, 100' up the concourse. Not sure how that would have made any difference, but when an armed policeman tells you to move a hundred feet, you move.

Around 6, a plane arrived. (It is an airport, after all!). The airline staff at our gate took off for the other gate. Apparently, they were concerned that our plane had pulled into the wrong gate, but no, it actually was where it was supposed to be. Then, at 6:30, they announced that our plane was here and had been on the ground for a half hour waiting for instructions. They mentioned something about a traffic jam on the jet way, but there had only been maybe a half-dozen planes to land in the last two hours so it is difficult to imagine how there could have been a traffic jam!

Oh, happiness! The plane pulled up and whole bunch of very grumpy-looking people deplaned to a gate full of very grumpy people. "We'll be ready to get you on your way in just about an hour, as soon as we can get the plane cleaned and fueled," those hilarious yarn-spinning Hawaiian Airlines staff told us. Screw that. As long as there wasn't vomit on our seats, the 11 of us were perfectly content with a dirty plane. I'm pretty sure that the other 289 people sharing the magic of the day with us agreed.

By this time, it was 9PM, three hours after our rescheduled departure. Several of the other airlines had cancelled all their remaining flights. It's snowing like crazy and has been for hours. The roads are in terrible shape, but Alaska thought it wise to advise people that if they were from Seattle, they should go home and call customer services to reschedule their flights. Huh? How the heck were they supposed to do that, when the Port can barely land a plane because of the crappy weather?

After making that "one hour" announcement a couple of times, the agents must have gone to the captain and told him that the next announcement would be made by him, not them. He finally got on the PA system and gave it to us honestly: We were waiting for deicing equipment to arrive and then we would load and they would get us "as close to Honolulu as possible." Hmm. Considering the geography of the Pacific, that didn't sound too encouraging. Oh, and they would be putting us up in a hotel in Honolulu when we did get there.

The second announcement made by El Capitan came at 10: we would not be leaving until sometime between midnight and 2AM because we were waiting for their contractor (Delta) to deice the plane and they were busy. Looking at our watches, we realized it was time for a drink. Julie and I set off to the nearest bar, where the bartender was just announcing last call. At 10PM in an airport crammed to the rafters with stranded travellers. The least they could have done was open all the bars! We did manage to get a martini and slurp it down before they kicked us out, so the trek wasn't totally in vain.

As soon as we got back to the gate, they announced dinner vouchers were being handed out. At 10:15PM. As all of the restaurants were closing. Brilliant!

Realizing that we were going to be there for a while and that Dad was getting sleepy, Rob and I set off to find a blanket for him. There were people trying to sleep everywhere. It looked like a scene from some Apocalypse movie. Bodies draped over almost every surface, some covered, some not.

At 12:30AM, (some 19 hours into this holiday happiness) the airline staff announced that our flight had been delayed until 10:30AM. Imagine the spontaneous showing of joy and rapture that erupted! Smiles were on every face and sincere wishes for holiday peace and love were extended to them and theirs. Yes, it was a truly magical moment for all of us and one we really hated to end.

To make a long story short, (like, when have I ever been able to do that?) we spent the remainder of the night in a hotel as the snow continued to smother the Pacific Northwest. By the time we got back to our Home Away From Home, Hawaiian had cancelled our flight. More heartfelt holiday wishes were extended to Hawaiian Airlines for their honest and efficient handling of the situation.

So, now, we are scrambling around trying to create a Christmas where none was planned. I had thought I was going to get most of my stocking stuffers at Hilo Hatties but I guess that won't be happening. Given that we are supposed to get 3-5" more snow tonight and then it will turn to rain over the weekend we will be looking for the extra sump pump and making sure that there is gas for the generator it might actually be for the best that we are here.

A word about the beleagured Hawaiian Air staff. There were three of them. They started their shift at the same time we checked in at 5:30AM and were still on duty at 10AM the next day. No supervisor could be found to sign off on meal vouchers because no supervisor was on duty. The situation was completely out of their control and yet they worked 20 hours straight with good humor and much grace. Kudos to them for their warmth and professionalism. Believe me, when the letter gets written about this, they will be highly praised. They were rock stars.

Mele kalifrickinmaka!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Auspicious Beginning

Departing on our bi-annual Willoughby Assault on Hawaii is always an adventure. Traveling with a group of 11 is much like I would guess moving a circus is like. Most of the group goes one way while a few didn't get the memo and are off doing their own thing. We always have a great time and eagerly anticipate the next trip.

This year has begun in the manner of the last trip, in 2006: with a major weather event. In '06, it was the Great Blackout. This year, it is the SNOWSTORM OF THE EPOCH. Okay, to be fair, the SOTE is a real event. We had snow a couple of days ago, something that sends Seattle into complete paralysis, and it did. They began predicting SOTE last weekend, and they were right. It started snowing about 4pm and and by the time we left the house at 4:50, the roads had turned to complete crap. Rob had the chains on the car, and it still took us an hour and a half of sliding and creeping down I-5 at 20 mph to get to our hotel. On any other bad day, that's a 45 minute trip. We had decided that if the roads were going to be bad, better that we are close to the airport than fighting them at 4AM.

Briggs, Tina and Max are staying in the same hotel so we decided to find some dinner together. The "Ginger Kitchen," the cafe in the hotel was packed. In our wisdom, we decided to walk a couple of blocks to...Denny's. Yum. It, too, was packed but we decided to wait it out. They were shorthanded, so the wait was far longer than the predicted 15 minutes. No sooner had our food been served, and Max projectile puked on Alena. Sort of takes the delight out of a Denny's New York steak. Oh. Wait. That steak was pretty awful on its own. About the texture of an old tennis shoe left to tenderize in the middle lane of I-5 on a snowy day. I'm pretty sure the remnants of someone's chains were still lodged in the gristle. I

Leaving Denny's was an adventure, too. It looked just like something out of "Dr. Zhivago." They are prediciting high winds and snow for the rest of the night and the snow was blowing by pretty darn hard.

Hmm. The whole Wolotira branch of the family is watching "Sweeney Todd" right now.

Next: The clan descends upon Sea-Tac. Will they get out on time?