Yesterday, we arose at 5 a.m. to fly to my husband’s Florida hometown for our first extended vacation in a year. I realize that many people never get away. We, ourselves, have lately put off travel because of the expense and because it’s so excruciating to get anywhere with three young children. But after a bitter winter and so many months without a change of scenery, finding sunnier climes was becoming a mental health issue for our family. And so my husband charged his credit card for five spring break tickets to Vero Beach.
Fantasizing about this vacation became our twin 6-year-olds’ favorite pastime. “Let’s talk about Florida,” they would say. We’d describe the sand we’d squish between our toes, the water we’d feel on our backs, the parks we’d visit, the ice cream we’d relish. And finally the day of the trip arrived.
“I wanna relax,” Jane, 2, said with a purr from her car seat on our way to the airport at 6:33 a.m.
“We all want to relax,” my husband said.
“Do we have everything?” Griffin asked.
By “everything” he meant two oversize duffle bags, one roller suitcase, three kids’ carry-on bags, my backpack, my husband’s backpack, my purse, a stroller, two booster seats, a car seat, and my cowboy hat.
“Did you bring my Hello Kitty Build-A-Bear?” Jane queried. “Did you bring my bathing suits and my skirts?”
“What are we going to do when we get there?”
“I don’t know, Griffin,” my husband said. “That’s about 12 hours from now.”
“What’s a chameleon?” Jane asked.
“A little lizard,” Griffin answered.
“They’re actually skunks,” Jane said.
“You mean ‘skinks,’” Griffin retorted.
“Georgia, catch your cough,” Jeff said.
“Are we at Florida?” Jane asked, as we pulled into the long-term parking lot at 6:47 a.m.
We curb-checked our large bags, and after shedding our shoes and sweatshirts, removing our cell phones and laptops from our backpacks, and shoving the stroller, the carry-ons and the children through security, we arrived at Gate E9 by 7:33 a.m. Our flight didn’t leave for more than two hours.
Our twins wrestled on the soiled carpet with a classmate we bumped into.
“Stop touching the garbage can!” I told Jane.
“Is it time yet?” Georgia asked.
I suggested my husband take our children to the bathroom.
While they were gone, an announcement piped over the loudspeaker. “The flight to West Palm is oversold. If you could volunteer to give up your seat, we could put you on a flight tomorrow and compensate you $300, plus the price you paid for your ticket.” I was turning toward the counter when Jeff headed me off with the kids.
People were pushing and shoving Southwest Airlines’ style as we queued to enter the plane. Jeff kept telling me to go first with Jane, and I rejoined that I couldn’t because they would give me a hard time since, while the rest of our family had “A” boarding passes, our 2-year-old had somehow wound up in the “C” group. “Stop fighting!” Georgia cried. By the time we reached two empty rows near the rear, Jane refused to sit in her $400 spot. “Get in your seat, or you’re not going to Florida,” Jeff, sandwiched between the twins in front of us, commanded.
As I deflected Jane’s snack demands and tried to read about Katy Perry and John Mayer’s “love gone bad” in “People” magazine, over the shoulder of the woman sitting across from me, the pilot told us that air traffic control was expecting some “lengthy” delays. “They’re saying they’ll get back to us in 50, that’s 5-0, minutes,” he announced to a chorus of groans.
“Is it going to be OK?” Griffin cried.
We felt the engines shut down.
“This is unbelievable,” Jeff muttered through the gap in the seats.
“Other planes are going,” Griffin wailed. “Why can’t we?”
“Look at that girl!” Jane exclaimed as the toddler behind us yanked on my seat and pulled herself up for a view.
Georgia hacked away in front of us. I passed Jeff her inhaler. “Put Vaseline inside your nose!” a nearby anxious mother commanded her son. “Put it in your nose! That way you won’t get germs!”
The temperature steadily rose, as did our children’s complaints. My sneakers started to feel snug. Someone within our proximity farted.
“That happened to me at Victoria’s Secret!” a lady several rows in front of us shouted into her cell phone, for the benefit of the entire plane. Jane flung out her marker sideways and tagged the elbow of the fellow imprisoned next to us by the window. As I was apologizing, the toddler behind clambered down from her seat and up the aisle, barefoot. “I want to go!” Georgia groused.
Then the engines powered up again. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the flight attendant sang out, “we have been cleared for departure!” We cheered what we soon realized was just a false alarm.
“I do apologize,” the pilot came back on and said. “We should be taking off in about 10 minutes. The only explanation we got was ‘spring break traffic.’”
‘And the sequester and incompetence,’ I told myself.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” the pilot confessed again over the loudspeaker. “But they’re telling us there’s congestion in Florida, and we’re 17th in line for take off. The problem is that we don’t have enough fuel, so we’re taxiing back to the gate to gas up.”
“If I ran my business like this, I’d be out of business,” the woman across from me said.
“Are we at Florida?” Jane asked when we parked back at the gate. A baby howled. One of the stewardesses gave a confusing speech about how we could quickly disembark to go to the bathroom, as long as we immediately returned so we could pull out and get back in line on the tarmac. “Don’t let anybody off!” someone yelled from the back of the plane. Nonetheless, it soon emptied by dribs and drabs. I sent Jeff off again with the kids.
“It kills me that they’re not going to even give us lunch,” the woman across from me said.
“Not even a waffle,” remarked her husband.
Travelers trickled back into the plane, carrying reeking McDonald’s bags and packages of Twizzlers.
“Someone said Obama and Air Force One were causing the delay,” one man reported.
“I thought Obama was in Israel,” someone else said.
“Yeah, he’s in Israel,” called a woman from behind.
“If you have an empty seat next to you, push your call button!” the flight attendant started barking. “Get your butts in a seat so we can go!”
We had been scheduled to depart at 9:40 a.m. I glanced at my watch. It read 12:17 p.m. Minutes before we finally lifted off, the stewardess sang out, “Enjoy your flight!”—taking great liberties, I thought, with the phrase.
When the plane touched down in West Palm Beach two-and-a-half hours later, the same flight attendant reported that unbeknownst to us, we’d had a “special” traveler in our midst throughout the ordeal. “He’s 95, and he’s my dad—and it’s his first time flying.”
‘And probably,’ I thought, ‘his last.’