You know all the recent stories in the media about how this might be one of the worst travel summers in history? Like this one from CNN, or this one from the New York Times? Well, they're right. And how do I know they're right? Because I'm writing this post from the comfort of my office in Lawrence, Kan., and not from the maintenance facility at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, which is where I'm supposed to be right now.
Thanks to Mother Nature and the hard-working folks at the Federal Aviation Administration, my flight to the Windy City was a weather casualty yesterday, a development which, in turn, scuttled my visit with Medinah CGCS Tom Lively for a preview of this summer's PGA Championship. Of course, that cancellation didn't come until after I'd spent nearly eight hours (but really, who's counting?) at Kansas City International airport (shown below), toggling between Starbucks, my gate, the United ticket counter and, eventually, the tarmac, where we spent about an hour tucked into our seats, full of false hope that the flight might somehow, at some point, leave Kansas City. It never did.
I should have known better. When I talked with Tom mid-afternoon yesterday, he sounded an ominous warning about the weather. "We've got storms all around us right now," he told me. "It doesn't look real good." Of course, the editor/writer in me took that information and applied it only to how it would impact my ability to conduct interviews and shoot photographs the next day. I didn't give it a moment's thought about how it might more immediately impact my ability to get from Point A to Point B. After yesterday's experiences, I'll probably remember to do that in the future.
I won't bore you with all the details of my day, but here's what I encountered upon entering my gate area, which serviced four different gates. Of those four gates, two had United flights to Chicago being delayed by weather. The third had a United flight to Denver (originating in Chicago) that had been delayed not once, but twice -- first in Chicago because of mechanical reasons and then, once those were resolved, again in the Windy City by the weather. The fourth had a Air Canada flight to Toronto that had been canceled altogether because of mechanical reasons. So in an extremely confined area, these two airlines had managed to squeeze about 500 people, all of whom were having their travel plans torn asunder by some kind of calamity or another. Simple bad luck for them -- you can't blame the airlines for the weather and I'm sure any traveler would prefer a fully operational plane over one with real, live mechanical problems -- but that knowledge did little for the mood of the group.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 5:45 p.m. That soon became 7 p.m. Then 7:30 p.m. Then 8, followed shortly by 8:30. Then, suddenly, we were told to board the plane so it could pull away from the gate and park on the tarmac, ready to take off at a moment's notice. We were told that moment would be at 9:15, when the FAA anticipated a brief window in the weather. And sure enough, at just about 9:15, there was a palpable buzz among the passengers when the flight attendants moved through the cabin to check seat belts, the plane's engines fired up and we began moving ... right back toward the gate. "Folks, this is your captain," said a dejected voice over the intercom. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you ..."
It could have been worse. Many of my fellow travelers call Chicago home, and were essentially stranded at the airport with nowhere to go. At least I could hop back in my car and drive home, safe in my own bed for the night. And I did get a fair amount of work done while sitting around Gate 11 in Terminal A at KCI, at least until the battery on my laptop checked out.
So at least for awhile, my reports from Medinah will have to wait. We're checking schedules (and weather forecasts -- don't forget weather forecasts) for next week, so stay tuned.