January 5, 2023

The Joys of Winter Flying

This morning I got Wordle in 2! Here is Proof:
Wordle 564 2/6*

Since I won’t post this until tomorrow, I’ll tell you my first guess. It was DELAY. I know there are better words but my personal practice on wordle is to sit and think about my day for a few minutes and then try to come up with a good starting word that is somehow related to those thoughts. Sort of a Wordle meditation. I have rules, I’m not going to use double letters, its not going to be super obscure, or use letters that are too rare. Although QUEST would not be out of the question.

Now you may be wondering why DELAY was my word today. Well, it all started yesterday afternoon, in Minnesota, under a winter storm warning. I could see traffic on the I-35W bridge over the Missippi was slow from the window in our condo, then I couldn’t see the bridge at all. Not good. We were scheduled to fly back to Palm Springs at 6:07PM, so after some discussion we put on our backpacks at 2:40PM and headed for the light rail station near US Bank stadium, about 8 blocks or so. The going was slow and we didn’t know how the trains were doing but we were pretty sure it was a better option than Uber or Lyft. We got to the station at 3:07 and had about 10 minutes to wait for the Blue Line toward the Mall of America. Things were running much smoother than anticipated so we arrived at the airport way ahead of our typical 90 minutes before departure. We knew we needed some extra time to grab an early bite to eat since dinner time would come somewhere over Denver.

About halfway into our dinner the Flighty app told me that our flight had just been delayed. I was a little surprised because I had been following the progress of our plane and I knew it was already at the airport. Must be a crew issue I thought. So we stretched out our meal, watched the people for a while and then headed to our gate. Sure enough we were waiting for a crew that was now “flying around the weather.” That sort of flying continued for some time as small delay after small delay started to add up.

Finally, a crew was located, and we started the boarding process. After about 20 minutes on the plane we saw the captain and co-pilot arrive and they announced that there would be a bit more delay as they did their inspection and pre-flight paperwork. Then there was more waiting until an announcement was made that the ground crews could not keep up with the freezing rain and they were closing the airport! I’ve never seen this happen in Minnesota!! We are hearty, we don’t shut down our airports for mere rain and sleet and snow. That kind of behavior is reserved for wimpy east coast sorts. 🤪

It seems that as we were sitting on the plane another plane had slid off the end of the runway. Ok, that might be a pretty good indicator that its time to close up shop for a while. So we had to get off the plane again. The gate agent assured us that the airport would open again around 10 or 10:30 PM and that we would be underway as soon as possible. Ummm I wonder what that means? You can’t just shut down everything and then get 100’s of delayed flights through de-icing and on the runway in a few minutes.

We decided to bag it. Lets just get on the delta app and click on that nice little button that says reschedule. It really is not that big of an inconvenience for us to wait another day or two to escape the cold and snow. As I was talking to another passenger I said the hardest thing for me was that I had to cancel my tee time for tomorrow. Yeah, first world problems I know. Unfortunately the little button on the app didn’t work. Probably because we had already boarded… The app helpfully suggested an 800 number to call to straighten out the problem. Unfortunately the sole purpose of the voice on the 800 number is to convince you that using or the app on your phone is really by far the better option than waiting on what was a very long hold queue due to extremely high call volume. Delta if you are listening this is an area for improvement in what I must admit is quite a good app under most circumstances.

I went up to ask the gate agent what we could do? If we simply walk away now can we rebook later tonight? first thing tomorrow? Can you release us so that we can rebook ourselves? Instead she got on her terminal and rebooked us for this morning at 8:55. Thanks helpful gate agent! I wish I had caught your name. Next stop light rail station!

The path to the light rail station at MSP involves two fairly long escalators. At the bottom of the first we were intercepted by transit police. Crap, I thought they have closed the light rail and we are going to have to wait hours for a very expensive Uber in this weather. Nope, just a short delay due to a suspicious object on the tracks. Maybe no more than 5 minutes, unless it really is a bomb. Luckily the bomb dog was back up the escalator in no time apparently having no interest in said suspicious object. To make a long story short we were home and ready for bed before they reopened the airport!

At 6:40 AM we begin to retrace our steps to the airport once again. This morning the sidewalks are actually worse than they were 16 hours ago.

IMG 6854

Here we are on our way back to the light rail stations in the snow.

Back at the airport, we stop at the first kiosk we see to get new boarding passes which thankfully had our TSA PreCheck status on them! Then up to security. Man am I glad we have PreCheck! A stop at Caribou for some coffee and bagels and then down to the end of the G concourse. Flighty and Delta agree we are still on time, but it is snowing like crazy. We find some seats in the gate area and then realize that we are sitting next to someone we know! From Decorah Iowa! She and her husband are on their way to spend a month in Palm Springs. Chatting with them passes the time, and soon the agent announces pre-boarding – well it takes her a few tries as one of their mics makes them sound like the adults in the Charlie Brown TV shows – this is all looking too good to be true!

Soon enough we board but with all of the changes we have lost our nice aisle seats and are consigned to a middle and a window. The window is moderately interesting as we can see that about six inches of snow have accumulated on the wing! This is going to take some serious de-icing! As we are trying to get to our seats the nice lady on the aisle asks us to be careful as her cat is in a carrier under the seat! Hmmmm, I am extremely allergic to cats! The allergist at mayo said I am the most cat allergic patient he’s ever had. We have a short conversation about that and she is very needlessly apologetic (she didn’t know she would be seated next to me!). But she informs the flight attendant and they discuss an option of her moving across the aisle and up a row to a seat that hasn’t filled yet in an effort to put more distance between me and the cat. Although the flight is booked full it looks like there is definitely some room for maneuvering.

In an amazing stroke of luck, the flight attendant returns in a few minutes and asks if we would be willing to move back two rows and occupy exit row seats! Well that would certainly improve my odds of not finishing the flight with itchy eyes and wheezy lungs! And the nice cat lady gets a whole row to herself as a bonus.

After getting settled into our lovely exit row seats the pilot informs us there will be a short delay. We are waiting for a couple of connecting passengers, so please everybody stay in the seats you were assigned… Ummm, but the flight attendant said it was OK to move. A further delay was announced as the baggage carts are having a hard time getting around in the snow. Yes, indeed when you see one of the giant pushback tugs towing the baggage carts you know there are some real problems with traction.

Finally the boarding doors are closed, and we breath a big sigh of relief. We are warned that the waiting is not over, and de-icing and takeoff is still a ways in our future. In fact during the pushback process we apparently get stuck and we are rocked back and forth a few times before we finally get back far enough to fire up the engines. De-icing does take a lot of time! It turns out we had two coats, one to remove the ice and another to prevent more ice which turns the wings an interesting color green. That is to provide a visible signal of which parts of the wings have been treated and presumably will let them know when the chemicals are no longer doing their job, and reapplication is needed. Anyway, after de-icing we get to watch a parade. A parade of yellow vehicles plowing and brushing and throwing down all manner of chemicals on the runway to try to keep it safe for really large vehicles going hundreds of miles per hour that need to stop fast. You can kinda-sorta see them in this picture out out window…

IMG 6856

We are second in line for takeoff for at least 15 minutes! I don’t see any planes landing, I see an SUV driving down the runway with flashing lights. I’m waiting for the announcement that we are going to have to return for more de-icing or even worse, return to our gate. But then the engines fire up and we begin to taxi to take our turn! As I look down the runway I realize that we are taking off blind! Visibility isn’t even good enough to see the far end of the runway, maybe not even halfway… and then the pilot does one of those power takeoff maneuvers when he stands on the brakes and revs the jet engines to get more power, like we are on some kind of aircraft carrier.

Seconds later we are hurtling down the runway into the snow and fog then clouds; eventually we break through and see some blue sky and are on our way! On our way to sunny Palm Springs, with no snow on the ground, and where our friends are surely complaining that it is only 64 degrees!

So long Minnesota… I’m seriously re-thinking my quick visit back in February! Will the grandkids hate me if we just FaceTime? Do I really need to go to Minneapolis to see the musical version of To Kill a Mockingbird? If I don’t see Minnesota until April can anyone blame me? Oh and the Wordle answer was LAYER, as in Ogers are like onions, as in always dress in. I’m going to call that nothing but skill.