Thursday, August 04, 2005

the luck o' the Irish

The day started off just fine. We arrived at the Dublin airport on time, returned the rental car, and made our way to check-in. It was there that the problems started.

The conveyor belt was broken, meaning that no one's luggage was being transported to the planes. Which meant that we stood in line for 2 hours, waiting for the problem to be fixed. When the line started moving again and we were next in line to check our bags, the people in front of us brought our progress to a screaching halt. Their bags were too heavy, and had to be re-packed. And re-packed. And re-shuffled. And shuffled again. Finally, after loading some of their stuff into boxes that the airport provided, they were under the weight limit and it was our turn. We had planned to stop for a light breakfast at the airport, but there was no time for that now, so Dani and I ducked into an airport store to spend our last few Euros on bottles of water and chocolate. Yum - breakfast!

For some reason, the airline had assigned us seats all over the plane. The ticket agent had tried to fix it at check-in, but at the gate, we were still all spread out. Small problem here: Aidan, Ian, and a 7-hour flight. We needed to be together, at least in groups of two. THe flight attendants did some magic with other passengers, and managed to get us all in two rows. And off we went, bound for our connection in Toronto.

Or not. We had no idea, as our tickets didn't reflect it, and it had never been mentioned anywhere... but our flight was scheduled to stop in Shannon, less than an hour away. No problem, we thought. We'll just wait on the plane.

Or not. Since we were getting a new flight crew, everyone was required to get off the plane while they boarded and settled in. When we re-boarded, the new flight crew wasn't helpful, especially when a few beligerent passengers refused to give up their seats. We placed Ian across an aisle and up a row from Grandma. I had just told a man that he was going to get to sit beside Aidan for the long flight when a couple (Irish, no doubt... the KINDEST, most accomodating, most laid-back people on earth) offered me their seats. It meant that Ian, Aidan and I could sit on the same row. I tried to fight it, but the tears won... and as I thanked them, I had tears flowing out of my eyes. I was so relieved that the kids wouldn't be stuck sitting with strangers for the duration of the flight. Grandma was sitting across the aisle, a row back... and Dani was sitting two rows up, across the aisle. Darren was in no man's land at the back of the plane, sitting next to a boisterous gay man who wouldn't stop talking the whole flight. Even though I was stuck taking care of both boys by myself, I still got the better end of the deal. LOL!

The boys were GREAT, and the service was exceptional. We got orange juice as soon as the seat-belt sign was turned off, which was followed by a lunch choice of vegetarian lasagna (YUM!!) or chicken (the boys' choice). The food was delicious. Following that, we were served ice cream cups. THen came the drink cart, a mid-flight snack of chocolate chip cookies, and then a dinner of pizza. It was the most service and the most food I've ever experienced on a flight, and the boys thought it was awesome. Between entertaining them and making them take turns with the Leapster and helping Aidan write words and keeping Ian from kicking the seat in front of him, I was actually able to enjoy two movies: Million Dollar Baby and Fever Pitch.

Then the captain came on the intercom. We were only an hour from Toronto, but because of bad thunderstorms there, he was going to divert to Montreal until the weather cleared. He assured us that we'd be back in the air in 30 or 45 minutes. 30 or 45 minutes later, the captain came back on and said that there had been a plane crash in Toronto, and that he didn't have any more information. He'd try to see if Montreal would at least let us off the plane.

In the meantime, Nancy's seatmate, who works for a news station in Vancouver, was able to get wire reports from co-workers via his cell phone. It was then that we learned that the plane was on fire and that the airport was closed.

Montreal would not let us get off the plane, because we were an international flight at a domestic gate, and there was no way to process us through customs. The captain even tried to let us off just to walk around on the tarmac outside the plane, but the answer was a strict no. So we sat. And sat. For 5 hours, we sat.

The boys and I took several walks around the cabin. We colored, we drew, we played games. We listened to music, I read to them, and finally, after 4 hours, they fell asleep. During all that, Darren sat with us in our row, so that was good.

Finally, Toronto opened partially: they were accepting international arrivals only. So we went. And landed. And sat. A plane at the gate couldn't start his engines, so we couldn't pull in. THey were waiting for a truck to come tow him out of the way. Once out of the way, we pulled forward, and sat. We were waiting for a crew to guide us in. The captain came on again, and we could hear the frustration in his voice. He said that we were sitting a mere 20 feet from the gate, but that he was not allowed to pull forward until a crew arrived to guide him in. He had asked numerous times for a crew. He vented to the auhorities. He explained that his passengers had now been sitting on his aircraft for over 12 hours, and that if he didn't get a crew NOW, he'd shut down his engines in protest. We got a crew.

Once inside the airport, we waited and waited for a bus to take us to another terminal where we could process through customs and get our luggage. We were given an 800 number to call where the airport would provide us with a discounted-rate hotel room, and another number to call to get our flight rescheduled. We waited and waited in the phone line. We called, discovered that the nearest room was 30 minutes away - a $53 cab ride - and that the discounted room rate was still gonna set us back $170. As I was discussing this with Darren, the person on the other end of the phone said, "Ma'am, in an emergency situation such as this, I can't allow you time to discuss it. Either take the room now, or I'll have to take another caller." I took the room, and we hailed a cab.

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