Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snowstorms in my life

More memories invoked by closed airports and cancelled flights.

In 1993 Julia and I lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I had my Fulbright grant. For break, we decided to go to Florida where Staffan and Anton were to join us. Our closest airport was Bradley in Connecticut, about an hour's drive as opposed to three to the huge Boston Logan. So we packed preparing to enjoy the Sunshine State with Disneyland and all other necessities. It was cold and snowy, but I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine what was to come. My university host called me on Saturday morning saying that there were storm warnings (then, like now, I never cared about listening to weather forecasts) and that I probably should start for the airport early to beat the weather. We were ready to go, so we went. The storm caught us midway, but we made it, very slowly, to the airport, parked, went to the terminal that was conspicuously quiet. All flights were cancelled until the next day. The information booth where I asked to page my family at Orlando airport didn't provide such service. It was long before mobile phones. I called the Holiday Inn where Staffan and Anton were supposed to be staying to learn that nobody by that name was booked. When I asked whether there were more than one Holiday Inn in Orlando the receptionist laughed.

(It is worth mentioning that I suffer from a rare social phobia that makes every phone call excruciating).

Meanwhile, Staffan was at Orlando airport, having learned that our flight was cancelled and trying to call me at home in Amherst. It also turned out later that my name was misspelt on my ticket so he couldn't get any information from the airline. As far as they were concerned, I didn't exist.

I realised that we would have to spend the night at the airport and made a hard decision: I joined the long queue to the reception of the airport Sheraton. I didn't know that the airline gave vouchers to stranded passengers, so I paid the incredible sum of 80 dollars for a luxurious room where we spent the rest of the evening watching movies and chewing munchies from the minibar. Early the next morning, I went down to check-in, expecting in my naivete to get on the first flight to Florida. Instead, the hall looked like a refugee camp. It took me several hours to reach the counter, just to learn that the nearest flight they could book me on was Wednesday. I think I burst into tears; I tried to explain about the rest of the family having come all the way from Sweden, but there were hundreds of other people with similarly heart-breaking stories, and what could an airline clerk do? There was no point staying at the airport for three days so we went back to Amherst. My car in the parking lot was literally buried in snow. Somebody lent me a shovel. I cried all the way home.

On my answering machine, there was a polite call from the airline to tell me that my flight was cancelled and fifteen calls from Staffan, with his phone number in Orlando. I called it, asked to be connected to his room, got a puzzled stranger, called the reception again, learned that Mr Skott had checked out that morning. No, he didn't say where he was going. Finally, Staffan did get hold of me: they had moved from the expensive Holiday Inn to a more modest motel.

Staffan and Anton went to Gatorland and Sea World, while Julia and I went to the movies and read books. I called my host, and we were invited to dinner. When Wednesday eventually came, the flight was uneventful.

This snowstorm was afterwards called the Storm of the Century. They didn't know what the 21st century had in store.

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