erik lundegaard

Escape from Sea-Tac

You know that scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Han Solo and his Millennium Falcon crew run away from x-wing fighters and land inside a hollow meteor, which they soon realize, as it rumbles, is not a hollow meteor after all but some kind of space creature, and so they zip out to safety just as the thing snaps at them and nearly devours them? That's how Patricia and I felt Sunday getting out of Seattle. Just with a lot more downtime.

Merely getting to the airport was an adventure, and involved a friend's 1961 Land Rover, several steep hills that were supposedly "closed" but weren't blocked off and which we went down anyway, a broken windshield wiper and a broken cable. But we made it...

Except you heard about Sea-Tac that day, right? Waited in line an hour, checked luggage, through security, drink at that sad little African-themed bar that has nothing at all to do with Seattle, then to Gate A14. Which showed no signs of our flight. Departure board said A11 and we went there. Voila. Except another flight, to New York, was loading. Just as it was leaving we were told, "Go back to A14." But there was another flight there that wouldn't take off for another hour. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile all Alaska and Horizon flights were cancelled. Meanwhile our flight, which was "on time" and scheduled to leave at 4:10, disappeared completely from the Departure board because, I suppose, the flight was "on time" and it was now past 4:10.

Fun.

Finally we got the news: "Go back to A11." Where we were told that our plane, which had landed two hours earlier, would finally deplane at Gate A2, but we couldn't go there because that gate had no computer to check us in. Eventually it showed up, at A11, and, as snow swirled in the darkness outside, we boarded. About two and a half hours late.

Then we waited. And waited. For the de-icer. There were three planes ahead of us and two de-icers. (For the entire airport?) One broke. The second ran out of fluid. When they got the fluid, its pump broke. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile the plane kept getting hotter. Meanwhile our pilot informed us that if this process took longer than 90 minutes, federal regulations stipulated that this flight crew couldn't continue and would be forced to take a sleep break. Meaning the flight would be cancelled? That question was left unanswered. Meanwhile, according to the Seattle Times Web site, which I checked via my iPhone, all hotels in the area were booked.

And still it snowed.

About 45 minutes later, our plane was finally de-iced. Then we sat in the darkness for half an hour. No word, no nothing. Finally, without a word, our plane began to move. People applauded. At approximately 10 p.m., or six hours late, we were airborne.

The awful thing about the entire process, like everything these days, is the lack of accountability. Yes, the snow, and, yes, Seattle is unprepared for the snow, but why the constant stutter-steps with the gates? Why was our flight unable to find a gate? Why did they run out of de-icing fluid? Etc. But who to call? Sea-Tac? Port of Seattle? Our tickets were purchased online and the entire horrible process felt that way. Like there wasn't a person at the other end.

The punchline? Airborne now, the pilot came on and announced: "We will be arriving in Minneapolis at approximately 2:50 a.m. Current temperature there is...eight degrees below zero."

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Posted at 03:31 PM on Tue. Dec 23, 2008 in category Culture, Seattle  
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COMMENTS

Tim wrote:

I'm sitting at SeaTac right now!! Except today things seem to be moving along fairly smoothly, at least for those airlines that are flying. I'm supposed to board in about 45 minutes. There is, for the Xmas season, hardly anyone here.

All things being equal, I'd have welcomed another day of cancellations.
Comment posted on Tue. Dec 23, 2008 at 07:04 PM

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