My family went on a trip to Honolulu with my parents recently. After a tough 2022 lumber market, the trip was supposed to be a time of rest and rejuvenation; my parents would go to Hawaii every year during the Pro Bowl with their late friend Derrick Thomas, the All-American Alabama linebacker, so there was good reason to believe a good time was imminent.
This proved to be illusory.
We had no problems boarding the plane in Nashville, Tenn., but once we neared Houston, our connecting flight to Honolulu, the outlook dimmed. According to the captain, it was much too foggy to land in Houston, and we were diverted to Dallas. That wasn’t far, of course, and our generous layover gave us plenty of time to make it back, provided that the fog cleared up in time.
That didn’t happen.
We sat on the tarmac for three hours. “Please be patient,” the captain said constantly. “We will take off any minute.”
Babies were crying, and if memory serves correctly, a woman needed to get off and get some medicine. My own kids, six and nine, were growing impatient too. “Listen to the Captain,” I reassured them. “We’re taking off any minute.”
Soon, however, the captain told us he was letting us off. The FAA only allows airlines to keep passengers on the ground for three hours without taking off, it seems, a useless consolation, for things only grew worse from there.
Communication was so bad that some of us thought we were supposed to go to the airline hospitality room. That wrong move was only fully appreciated when a woman, low to the ground and built like a fullback, told us to get out.
“But our plane has been grounded,” said my dad good-naturedly. “The captain said we were to come here.”
“Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She reached for her walkie-talkie. “But if you don’t get out, I’ll call security.”
When we got back, we learned that we’d missed our Houston flight and were on our own if we wanted to make it to Honolulu.
Thus ensued several hours of long lines, frustrated familial accusations about scheduling, threats, tears, and finally the realization that we would likely have to cancel our trip and head home.
Then the airline gods smiled on us: there was a flight later that night to LAX. We wouldn’t get much sleep, but, if we took it, we could get on the only possible flight the rest of the week—an early morning departure from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
We were renewed. Apologies were made, and forgiveness extended. We had no problem making the late evening flight. Early the next morning, after enjoying a ride on air so clear it was like traveling through the cleanest piece of quartz, we breathed easily upon landing, recognizing that we had escaped the terrible, dragon-like jaws of the modern-day airline industry.
And indeed we had.
But we’d failed to account for the troll-like monster that is the rental car business.
Simply put, we had no cars. We’d reserved them, but somehow there weren’t any.
A virtual repeat of the airport followed, except worse: by now, presumably because some in the group had been through what we’d experienced in Houston, tempers were on edge and emotions were hot.
I pulled the manager aside. “Are there any cars?” I asked. “Just tell me the truth.”
“There are cars,” she told me. “They just aren’t cleaned and serviced.”
Suddenly, the cars came, and people were running for them, even if they weren’t the exact ones that had been rented. Two frustrated men came to blows over a Jeep Wrangler, with the smaller, rowdier one easily overcoming the larger, older, and calmer fellow who lacked the requisite energy for this unlikely endeavor.
We ended up with two SUVS that we didn’t even rent, feeling, like everyone else, that we should take whatever we could get. With shipwrecked hearts, we loaded the vehicles and made the best of the trip’s remainder. Sad to say, I was so disheartened I barely batted an eye when our return layover in Chicago was grounded by the FAA for a computer malfunction. By then it just seemed like part of the process.
I figured it would take me a few days to process what happened. The truth is, I’m still processing it, because, in all honesty, I’m not sure what happened. We’ve made that trip as a family to Honolulu for 30 years now, and nothing like this ever happened. Perhaps the worst part was that most of the travelers just took these misfortunes as a given as if they were just part of travel in the 21st century.
I can’t help but think that our flight wasn’t the only thing that’s been diverted recently. There’s conflict abroad; our borders are a mess. We readily admit that we don’t know what it means to be human anymore, and we give awards to those who best personify this confusion. It’s as if we’ve adopted the image in the “Wizard of Oz,” when the Scarecrow, asked by Dorothy the way to Oz, points in opposite directions simultaneously.
Once upon a time, a family could travel without fuss or fear to Hawaii. I hope that even this, like so many other things, isn’t a thing of the past.
Along with his father, Allen Keller runs a lumber business in Stevenson, Alabama. He has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Florida State University and an MBA from University of Virginia. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].
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