Three colleagues and I boarded a flight at La Guardia airport for what should have been a routine flight to Baton Rouge, with a short stop in Atlanta, for a business meeting involving about 20 people from all over the US. The travel gods were not smiling this day. Instead of choosing a private charter flights we opted for a direct flight for our business trip. That was not a wise decision considering the fact that we faced a lot of delay and problems after that.
After boarding the aircraft at La Guardia, we were finally second in line for takeoff when the pilot announced that the wind had shifted 180 degrees and all planes had to be “turned around” to take off into the wind. After an hour’s delay, we took off, and the flight went smoothly until we reached the Atlanta area, which was inundated with thunderstorms, closing Hartsfield Airport.
We circled Atlanta for 2 hours waiting for the weather to clear, which it didn’t, and, running low on fuel, we diverted to Nashville for refueling.
During refueling in Nashville, the pilots discovered that the cockpit fuel indicator was broken, so they had to rely on the fuel gauges in the wing tanks. Within minutes, they discovered that one of the wing tank fuel gauges was broken, and the only way they had to measure fuel was to pump fuel from the wing tank with the functioning gauge to the other wing tank. Another 2.5 hours gone, then an hour’s flight back to Atlanta. By then, so many planes were trying to land that we had to circle for another hour before landing at 1 am.
The only flight available for Baton Rouge was leaving at 7:45 the next morning via Pensacola, so we booked our seats on that flight. All of us had checked our luggage through to Baton Rouge, but luggage from all delayed flights was collected into a huge area and could not be retrieved, so about 1:30 am we decided to get a hotel room for a few hour’s sleep. All rooms were booked within a 15 mile radius of the airport, but we finally got a room in an industrial area of Atlanta that made “seedy” seem like a compliment. So, here we were, 2 am, no luggage, no toiletry gear, two hamburgers for four people, one double bed, worried about an important meeting starting in just a few hours, too late to call home to report this odyssey to our worried family, and convinced Baton Rouge was unattainable.
We fell into bed, slept (well, a nightmare kind of sleep), got up at 5:15 and then discovered the motel had no hot water for showers or shaving. We elected to do neither, so we left for the airport wearing the clothes we had put on the previous morning, unshaven, unwashed, and very hungry.
The flight from Baton Rouge via Pensacola went smoothly although, I have to admit, we were by that time expecting the plane either to crash or be diverted to Oslo. When we arrived at the meeting in Baton Rouge, looking like people who desperately needed clothing and steam-cleaning, all conversation ceased as we took our seats and announced that we had been “slightly” delayed. Those seated next to us very quietly moved their chairs just a bit farther away from us, but I prefer to think that was a comment on our role in the negotiations as opposed to a verdict on our physical appearance.