Miles to Go before I Sleep…Travel Tales from a Broad

The Long Journey Home

Sometimes, when your trip has ended and the rush of excitement is gone, and your money is spent, and you have already disconnected from vacation mode…all you want is to just be home already. And the quicker, the better (if only we could just teleport home!). But sometimes, things don’t go as smoothly as we’d like.

Case in point, our recent trip home from Costa Rica. Because our flight was departing at 5:40 in the morning, we had to get up at the crack of stupid. We arrived at the airport way too early and stood around still half asleep and blurry-eyed waiting for ages because the check-in counters weren’t even open yet.

Our first flight (from San Jose to San Salvador) was late leaving, which meant that we were almost late for our connecting flight (fortunately, our connecting flight—San Salvador to Toronto—was also delayed). There was a mad dash to the bathroom and through security again before proceeding to the gate.

We relaxed once on the plane and up in the air. I stayed awake long enough to have some breakfast and then I nodded on and off during the next few hours. So, I didn’t notice when the power shut off and the TV screens disappeared shortly after the start of the second movie. Fortunately, I didn’t even notice the smell of smoke that some passengers near the back of the plane noticed. So, I was surprised when the Captain came on the P.A. system to explain that we’d be landing in Washington D.C. There had been an issue. They located the source and had the problem under control but thought it best to take the detour just to make sure.

I didn’t hear or see any signs of panic, so I felt calm. James was disappointed about the detour, but only because he thought it would mean another change of planes and another issue with our assigned seats (he desperately wanted a window seat so he could get more footage for his travel vlogs).

James enjoyed filming the various take-offs and landings for his Nexus Fire vlogs.

Half an hour later, we landed at Dulles International Airport. Four emergency vehicles approached the plane once we were off the runway. Again, no panic. All was quiet on the plane. I just assumed this was standard protocol when making an unplanned landing.

We stayed in our seats while customs officers came on board to check everyone’s passports. Outside we could see fire fighters leaving the air craft and climbing back into emergency trucks.

One of the emergency vehicles carrying firefighters who checked out the plane while we waited patiently inside.

An hour or so passed. Finally, officials decided to deplane and take us to a more comfortable holding area. We were loaded onto the funniest looking buses. We had never seen them before, but suddenly they were everywhere around the airport. They were like subway cars on wheels—long, rectangular boxes with little windows. And they had two fin-like structures jutting out of the top. We surmised that these protrusions were likely housing the mechanisms that raise and lower the body so that passengers can get on and off the plane.

Liam snapped this shot as two of the “crazy buses” trundled past us.

At first it was easy to stay positive. We found humour in the buses; we knew we still had lots of time to get home (the benefit of a super early flight); and because we used Park ‘n Fly, we didn’t have anyone waiting to pick us up at a specific time. We were content to sit and wait. There were washrooms, comfortable seats, WiFi, and outlets to charge devices. People’s questions were answered. Apparently, a fan had stopped working, which caused some other instruments to overheat and start smoking. The plan was to repair the damage and then re-board and continue our flight to Toronto.

I viewed the situation only as a minor inconvenience. Sure, I would rather be home, but safety trumps everything. I would rather be late and arrive in one piece than not arrive home at all. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if the plane had burst into flames while we were up in the air. The panic and chaos would have been crazy. No, this was great, considering the alternative. This was calm and civilized.

Another hour or so passed. Then came the news that the flight was cancelled and we wouldn’t be leaving until 7:00 the following morning. Suddenly it became a bigger inconvenience.  Now, there were calls to be made. Josh would either have to cancel his Monday morning and afternoon lecture and labs or find someone who could fill in last minute. I was supposed to be taking Liam to an endodontist appointment in Peterborough at 11:30 am. There was no way we could be certain that we would make it. But I couldn’t reach the office on a Sunday evening, all I could do was leave a message. We also had to leave messages with the boys’ schools to let them know they’d be away another day. And of course, we had to touch base with Josh’s step father to let him know that we wouldn’t be picking up our beloved dog, Frodo, until the following day.

We were herded though customs, had to wait for our baggage, then had to wait for shuttles to take us to the hotel.

The hotel room, courtesy of Avianca (our airline), was lovely. Our dinner in the hotel restaurant, courtesy of Avianca, was also lovely. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all. But we really didn’t have a chance to enjoy the hotel room. We spent most of the evening in the restaurant…waiting for dinner. Staff was light so service was slow. I’ll bet management hadn’t been expecting a plane full of people to arrive all at once on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening. By the time dinner was done, we were barely hanging on. We had been awake since 1:30 that morning! There was just enough time for a glorious shower then into bed for a few hours sleep.

We were all exhausted. James was asleep before his head hit the pillow!

We needed to be at the airport by 5 am. The alarm was set for 4 am. I recall waking up around 1 am and checking the time, relieved that it still wasn’t time to get up yet. Next time I woke up and looked at my watch it was exactly 5 am (the time we were supposed to be at the airport!). Ahhh…instant panic! For some reason our alarm didn’t go off. What would happen if we missed this flight, I thought as I woke the others. Mental note for next time: set more than one alarm and ask for a “wake-up call!”

There was a mad scramble as the four of us got dressed and grabbed our nine assorted backpacks and carry-ons (good thing we didn’t really unpack anything but toothbrushes and pajamas). I didn’t even have a chance to do my final once-over when leaving to make sure there weren’t any forgotten items. I figured, as long as we had our passports, we were golden. We were down in the lobby in less than 10 minutes. I was relieved to see people from our flight still lined up for the shuttle buses to the airport. Maybe we would make it after all.

We bypassed the shuttle line and hopped into a taxi. Again, much relief when we arrived at the airport 10 or so minutes later and saw they had only started processing passengers and their luggage. We joined the long zig-zagging line up, lifting/dragging our bags a step or two every once in a while. The process seemed to take forever (as it often does), but I didn’t mind–because we had actually made it. And we weren’t even the last ones. More people kept joining the line. There was no way this flight was still leaving at 7:00 am, not at this rate! Once we finally had our boarding passes, it was off to the security lineups.

When we made it to the gate, a fellow passenger told us that Avianca was picking up the tab for breakfast items at the Starbucks we had just passed. The boys didn’t hesitate to run back to the Starbucks line up that stretched out of the store and spread all across the terminal hallway. But I hesitated. To wait in another long line seemed risky—after all this, we couldn’t very well miss our flight home trying to get some smoothies now, could we? I quickly assessed the situation, the flight attendants hadn’t called our section yet, there was still a bunch of people waiting at the gate, and there were still people getting their boarding tickets and going through security. So, while Josh stayed with our bags by the gate, I joined the boys in the Starbucks line. They were already talking about what they wanted to get. But the line crawled forward very slowly. More people were arriving at the gate now and departure time was getting closer…we might have to bail. I was just about to tell the boys that we need to abort this mission when it was our turn. We quickly grabbed some smoothies, bananas and muffins and ran back to the gate. Just in time.

Liam and James were happy with their breakfast treats. And when the boys are happy…I am happy!

We boarded. Finally relaxed. Had breakfast, and watched a couple of Modern Family episodes. Even though take off was an hour later than it was supposed to be, we landed in Toronto just after 9:00 am. As we waited for our luggage, I connected with the endodontist office. They had received my message last night and had already filled our original appointment at 11:30 am, but they could see Liam at 1:50 pm instead. Perfect. Josh had heard back from his colleagues and confirmed that his lecture and labs were covered for the day. No worries.

We collected our backpacks and headed to the Park ‘n Fly. I am always filled with immense relief when I see all of our luggage come out on those carousels!

With feet on the ground and bags on our backs, we headed to the Park ‘n Fly. One step closer to home!

Soon enough we were in our own car and on the road to Peterborough. Surprisingly, we actually arrived in Peterborough at 11:30 am, so we could have made it in time for that original appointment after all, but I wouldn’t have believed that possible.

We finally made it home a full day later than expected. We only lost a day, it could have been so much worse. The most important thing was that we made it home. Safe and sound. Not even our luggage was lost or damaged.

I am by no means a seasoned traveller, but I have flown many times and this is the first time that anything like this has ever happened to me. The airline handled everything professionally. They took care of us and they communicated adequately. I have no complaints. The experience, though inconvenient, has not deterred me from planning and booking my next trip! In June, I will be travelling to South Africa, which involves multiple flights! Can’t wait to see what kind of hassles will be in store for me next! Because although travelling can be full of challenges, I embrace them. Most of the time, the fun and rewards of travel far outweigh the annoyances…but that sounds like a post for another day!