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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, November 14, 2016


"Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting."  
                                                                   - author Joyce Meyer

We've all had bad days, many of which may take place at an airport. Let's face it: airports are ripe for bad-dayage in many ways. 

But maturity tends to bring a bit more patience and when we're confronted by a challenge we respond with more of a "okay, so how do we fix this" instead of the more youthful "it's YOUR fault and you need to fix it NOW!"

Most of us, that is.

A couple of years ago I was on my way from Long Beach to Las Vegas, and rather than drive I made the decision to fly. Time-wise it would take longer, but it would give me time to do a little work as well as not be concerned with spending nine hours (round trip) on the road. But fate can be a bitch when she wants to be, and the most convenient flight to Vegas wasn't a JetBlue direct flight, but a USAir (*now American) indirect flight through Phoenix.

Phoenix is not, for the record, my favorite airport, and I've learned to navigate it pretty well and never missed a connection. Sky Harbor is a leviathan of an airport, and gates are often ten or fifteen minutes apart, depending upon the crowd you encounter upon arrival.

Phoenix International
I arrive in Phoenix and it's a mess. Rush hour and tens of thousands of people thronging their way through the walkways between gates. I make my way to my connecting gate well ahead of time and start looking around for a place to sit. That's when I notice the very long line at the gate counter, and I look up at the flight information to note that my flight is delayed by a couple of hours.

It happens, but it's never a fun thing. As I'm settling in for the long run I overhear that another flight to Las Vegas has been canceled,  and they're trying to rebook as many passengers as possible on this flight. Again, it happens, but it's never a fun thing. At least the flight is a short one and the compressed cabin will be only a brief test of passenger endurance.

The ZEN of Flying...and waiting
I note, however, that the additional delay has not gone over well with a handful of the people from the earlier canceled flight. One man, in particular, seems very agitated. He and a couple of other passengers grumble loudly and head off "to the bar".

Two hours later we get additional bad news.

The aircraft we expected to board has been  pulled for maintenance. The air conditioning isn't functioning correctly and the inside of the jet is over 100F. Ouch.

(Now, I will say up front and freely that if an airline wants to pull an aircraft for maintenance they have my FULL and unwavering support. If they're not comfortable with putting it in the air, I'm not comfortable boarding. Delays are no problem, provided we work together to get me where I need to go.)

The expected time for them to get another aircraft adds another hour to our delay. Ugh. Three hours total. Luckily I don't have any appointments in Vegas that afternoon, though this means we'll be arriving at around 6pm instead of the expected 3.

The promised land
Oh. And we're moving gates from the very end of one PHX terminal, to one about halfway up the adjacent terminal wing. Only about a five minute walk. As a large group. Lots of grumbling and unhappiness, and I note the agitated guy is nowhere to be seen. Likely still in the bar, which is not good news.

We get to the gate and at this point I've started talking to some of the other passengers who are themselves frequent flyers. (Frequent flyers kinda recognize each other. It's a weird experience, but you can see them in the way they stand and the way they respond to the terminal around them. Can't really explain.) (Well, that and we tend to have the smaller carry-on bags.)

We buckle down at the new gate, and it turns out several people noted Mr Agitation. And we're all wondering what will happen when he gets back to the gate to discover we've all left without him. There have been numerous announcements of the gate change, so maybe he heard it from the overhead.

No such luck. Twenty minutes or so later he appears at the desk, yelling at the gate crew about the changes and delays. No amount of explanation is going to help, and the fact that everything is out of their control means nothing to him. He leaves, loudly, and is still angrily talking up a storm as he sits down.

A few minutes later an aircraft we are told is from the maintenance area pulls into the gate. The flight crew will go on board to check the systems and begin readying the aircraft for flight. A half-hearted cheer goes up.

And then it happens. You can see nobody at the counter wants to make the announcement. Finally the senior person gets on the overhead to let us know that, ahem, the aircraft isn't fueled and we'll need to wait until the jet fuel company can bring over a tanker truck and fill 'er up.

Just say "no"
Predictably there are more comments from Mr Agitation. He departs again "for the bar".

(Side note: you can see where this is going. Strong recommendation from anyone who flies regularly is "if things get hairy, DO NOT drink alcohol". Just sayin'.)

The truck and Mr Agitation arrive back at the gate at around the same time, and we're told, via overhead, that it will take about ten minutes to compete the refueling and we would probably start to board. This is too much for Mr A, and he storms the desk, screaming and cursing in a way that would embarrass even a sailor.

The gate personnel try desperately to cool the situation, but it's not working. He retreats but then reconfronts the staff. Eventually -- all this occurring as the other passengers watch the entertainment wishing we had popcorn -- security is summoned and he is questioned. Voices are lowered. He realizes the very thin ice he's on, and he agrees to calm down. Security hangs around just in case.

Minutes later, to an honest cheer and clap, we're told we're boarding, and my group is called first (the benefits of frequent flying..). The two guys I've been talking to also queue up and we're passed through to take our seats. The rest of the process is going relatively smoothly, when Mr A boards and loudly announces "It's about fucking time!", apparently assuming the rest of us are on his side.

No need to be like that
Personal Note: 

"Dear Mr. A,

Not on your side.

The Passengers"

Mr A disappears into the rows behind me, dragging a larger-than-permitted "carryon".

We wait for it. Amused glances from several of us who have bonded over Mr. A's tribulations. 

It takes just a moment. Then, from the back: "Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!" 

And boom, there he goes.

Voices, and finally calm. Mr A seems mollified. The flight attendance all are exchanging glances which tell us the story isn't finished.

Las Vegas
The last of the passengers board and the usual announcements are made. The head flight attendant keeps looking out up the jetway, and sure enough she gets on the overhead to announce one more brief delay. A slight second later two security officers board the plane and escort Mr A off to a fair round of applause.

The doors are closed and we finally taxi and lift off to Las Vegas. 

We arrive three and a half hours late, directly into the middle of a raging storm.

But that's a story for another time.

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