Thursday, June 18, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

MAINE COURSE, Chapter 1.
Day 1.  Home to Lewiston, ME 

Having lingered in Georgia for the last six weeks, we have watched the temperatures climb and climb.  Finally when we saw a stretch of 90+ degree days with no end in sight, we knew it was time to get away from the heat for a while.  The maine idea was to find somewhere cooler, so yesterday we booked a flight to Portland, by way of Newark, and a return home next Saturday with United Airlines.  That's the beginning and the end.  Tomorrow we'll start figuring out the middle.

As we were making final preparations for leaving home this morning, a text from our usual driver, Faisal, dinged onto my phone screen, letting us know that:  a) he would not be taking us to the airport this morning, and b) Ronnie, our assigned driver, had been delayed by traffic.  We had left ourselves plenty of time, so even after we were caught in a snag of traffic after we were picked up, we arrived at Hartsfield Atlanta plenty early for our 11:30 United flight to Portland, Maine.

A well-grounded airline
Lucking into TSA-Precheck status for the flight provided us a painless security screening—no clothing removal, all belongings remained in our bags.  A simple walk through the metal detector and x-ray bag screening, and we were on our way to gate T-13.  Almost like old times.

If you're as triskaidekaphobic as I am, you may legitimately be questioning my cavalier attitude toward that gate number—as well you should.  When we reached T-13, a good 90 minutes prior to our scheduled departure, passengers waiting for a 10 a.m. United flight to O'Hare filled the gate area.

Just down the concourse from the gate, we found a comfortable spot to wait, planning to shift to T-13 after the Chicago-bound flight departed.  Except they didn't.  Ten o'clock came, and it went, and those passengers still waited.  (Later we learned that this flight's departure was DELAYED until 1:30 due to aircraft maintenance.)

Finally United announced that our flight to Newark had a new home—T-17.  Definitely a more propitious number, we thought, and indeed, the flight boarded on time, leading us into deceiving ourselves that we had escaped the power of the 13.  Ha!

The first clue arrived with our seatmate.  Weighing in at an estimated 400 pounds, there was no way he could fit into the confines of a standard airline seat, especially in economy class.  Consequently, in the center seat of a row of three, I was afforded the opportunity to share at least half my seat with him—whether I wanted to or not.

When he first sat down beside me, we were confident that our perky flight attendant would disqualify him from sitting in the exit row we were in.  After all, his girth was twice the width of the emergency window exit.  No way could he get that bulk through the opening, let alone assist others.  Having someone that size in an exit row was a major safety hazard.  And yet, Ms. Flight Attendant flitted on by after Mr. Big assured her he could handle the responsibilities of sitting on an exit row.  When donkeys fly!

Before you ask, no, we were not sitting on row 13, though you'd be reasonable in asking.  And no, my seatmate—and he was actually sitting partially in my seat—did not volunteer to move to a safer row.  So the best we could hope for was to get this flight over and done as quickly as possible.

That's when United decided to keep us on board, still at the gate, for another hour after boarding.  The ultimate scapegoat—according to the pilot's intermittent announcements—was a malfunctioning printer in the terminal that was preventing the crew from receiving maintenance clearance documents.  Wait.  United Airlines has only one printer at the Atlanta airport??

By the time we pushed away from the gate, DELAYED an hour after our scheduled departure, we could finally stop worrying about whether we would make our connection in Newark.  We had no chance.  Our flight was now expected to land two minutes before the connector would depart.  Or would it?

How quickly we forget!  This time last year we were booked on a United flight to Newark on our way to Newfoundland.  On that occasion, the delay occurred before boarding.  Resisting the gate agent's urging to play passenger roulette and bank on a delay in the connecting flight, we opted for an offer to change us to a Delta/Air Canada itinerary, which took us to Newfoundland exactly as scheduled.

And yet, here we were—in United's clutches again.  Did I mention that Mr. Big had a restless twitch?  Waves of flesh rippled against me at unpredictable intervals.  But I digress.

With a 2:39 departure time on our connection from Portland, we reached the arrival gate in Newark's C terminal at 2:26.  At the flight attendant's request, many passengers on our Atlanta flight waited in their seats before deplaning to allow others with connecting flights to disembark first.  We were very impressed—and appreciative.

"Which way to Gate 88?" we pleaded with the nearest United gate agent as we barreled out of the jetway.  Her point was taken, and we shot off down the concourse at breakneck speed.  Our unfamiliarity with the Newark airport kept us on the run, following signs toward 88, having no idea it was waaaay down at the end of another concourse.  Our chance of reaching the gate before boarding closed for a 2:39 departure was nil.

At 2:38, we screeched to a halt at 88, only to find the gate area—full of passengers?  A quick check of the board indicated the flight was.....(Surprise!)....DELAYED.  Though the aircraft was in place and prepped, the flight crew was just arriving as we reached the gate.  It seems their United flight from Rochester was...DELAYED.

Finally at 3:30 we left Newark, happy to be on a smaller aircraft with a two-seat row.  After a brief, uneventful flight, we breezed through the Portland airport, thankful that we had not checked any bags and didn't need to wonder where they might have turned up after all the delays and confusion.

After picking up our Mazda SUV from Hertz, we exited the terminal into a blissfully breezy cool afternoon, with temperatures in the mid 60s.  Having missed lunch with all the delays and confusion, we headed for the local Whole Foods and gorged on their healthy food bar. Then we were off to Lewiston, just across the Androscoggin River from the equally charming town of Auburn.

Tomorrow we'll begin to figure out what goes in the middle and get in touch with United Airlines.  We have a suggestion for a change in their advertising slogan—something with a genuine authenticity that would alert passengers exactly what to expect when they book a United flight.
Daily Stats
  • Started in Atlanta, GA, ended in Lewiston, ME
  • Mileage - 1,085           
  • Weather - hot to getting cooler
  • United flights delayed today:  3,125 (just a guess, systemwide)  

Is there ever an end to United delays??
Hurtling through Newark
Portland, at last