Flight from paradise turns into flight from hell

We returned yesterday from a Caribbean cruise vacation. We spent the last week visiting islands of indescribable beauty and having a great time vacationing with our friends. But, before I tell you all about the wonderful week in paradise, I have to explain our journey getting home.

We boarded US Airways flight 770 from San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) to Philadelphia (PHL) on Saturday at about 1:15pm. We were supposed to take off at 1:50pm and arrive at 5:30pm. Everything was normal as we boarded the plane and got to our seats. Manina was very happy to be seated right next to our friends the Denneys for the flight.

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We pulled away from the terminal and started taxiing to the runway. I put on my headphones, got a podcast ready and prepared for take off. Then, the captain came over the loudspeaker.

He explained that our plane needed to be towed to a remote part of the airport because someone had called in a bomb threat, someone who did not make the flight, yet his luggage was on board. We spent several hours on the runway, with very infrequent updates.

Manina and Kristy both started crying. Manina was very concerned with how our neighborhood would be affected losing four good families in a tragedy, and she told Kristy that at least they would die together. No mention was made of me, her loving husband. Her priorities seemed a little screwed up to me, but I guess stress affects some people in different ways.

They made us put away all our phones, turn them all the way off, not just in airplane mode. I had to help an older gentlemen sitting next to me turn his off, since both he and his wife were completely frazzled. Everybody was stressed out. We were told to remain seated with seat belts fastened, and comply with any officers who came aboard. It was not a comfortable situation as we sat there without any real information for just shy of four hours. Finally, the captain mentioned the FBI apprehended the guy, and it turned out to be a hoax.

The flight attendants had been great throughout the entire ordeal. They reassured people that we were going to be OK, that missed connection flights would be taken care of, that US Airways was going to bring on catering and feed us once we got on the way to Philly. Bravo to them, they were great.

Since the crisis was over, we taxied back to the terminal, where people were given the choice to remain aboard or stay in San Juan. However, the intercom warned, your luggage wouldn’t be staying with you. Then, they announced that there wasn’t enough time to bring catering aboard, so on the flight over they gave us cookies, pretzels, and a soda, and that was it. They briefly turned on the in-flight entertainment, and we thought a movie would be a great diversion from all the stress we’d been through. Then, it was shut off, and didn’t come back on. We finally touched down at 7:30 EST in Philadelphia and the cabin erupted in applause. We’d spent nearly 8 hours on that plane by the time we got out of there.

There was a US Airways customer service representative waiting at the gate who gave us our updated itineraries. When we got our new flights, we totally got the short end of the stick in more ways than one. US Airways only gave us each a food voucher for $10 and a little pink slip with a phone number where we could reserve a room and pay for it ourselves. Unacceptable. Then we found out that we had the worst flight available: The Denneys left at 7am, flew to Phoenix, then arrived in SLC around noon. Emily and Tony flew out to Chicago at 6am, finally arriving in SLC at 10:30am. The Bergerons had the same flight as the Denneys. Our flight left Philadelphia at 1:15pm to Phoenix, finally arriving to SLC at 7:55pm on Sunday. That was way too late, especially without lodging and only $1o in food.

So, we went to the US Airways customer service desk to see what could be done. The lady there was as unhelpful and rude as she looked. I think her name was Kathleen. She said, “I just got a phone call from my manager saying not to help any more of you people,” gesturing to the line of travelers heading through SLC who had missed their connections, “but I’ll see what I can do.” She said it like she was annoyed that we were there trying to get help.

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She did manage to get us the flight out of Chicago. The Denneys saw who were dealing with got out of the line and just called the customer service line on the phone. They got the same flight through Chicago, no problem. Penny and Mike got switched to a later non-stop Delta flight which we had told them about from Abby’s research. They failed to mention we were trying to travel together as a group. Tony had to do a bunch of switching around, but managed to get a flight to Texas, where he was had to be for work Monday morning. He didn’t even get to go home and see his kids. Pretty sad.

There was a little discussion about getting a room, but the Denneys and we elected not to do that since we figured we would lose a couple hours just going back and forth, getting though security, etc. Both Mike and Penny and Tony and Emily got a room, but we decided to stay.

So, it was just us and the Denneys. We took a shuttle to the big food court. I got Chipotle and Manina got Smashburger with our vouchers, both of us having to pay extra since the voucher didn’t cover the entire cost. Then we treated ourselves to Red Mango frozen yogurt for dessert.

While we were sitting there eating, we noticed an abandoned bag. A cop came up and asked us if it was ours. Nope. He told us to hang tight while they brought in a bomb-sniffing dog. He was a very nice guy who told us it was probably nothing, but if the dog sits, run like crazy. Incredible, two bomb threats in 12 hours — where were we? Hyderabad?

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It was nothing, just a lost bag, but we couldn’t help but chuckle at all of this chaos. We took the shuttle back and went to find a good place to sleep. Thankfully the airport staff were much more helpful than the US Airways folks. They hooked us up with water bottles, a pillow, emergency blanket, toiletries, and suggestions on the best places to get a few hours of shuteye. I grabbed a floor, Manina and the Denneys all found a suitable bench and we tried to get a couple hours of sleep.

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We woke up, managed to check in (though not without more drama from US Airways staff), and got on the plane to Chicago. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. The flight from Chicago to SLC was bumpy and late apparently due to some weather issues. When we finally arrived at 11:45am on Sunday, I was dead tired, but also very happy to finally be home.

The moral of the story: stay away from US Airways at all costs. They couldn’t control the bomb threat, but, they certainly could have gained some loyal customers by handling it the right way. Feed the passengers who have been stuck on the plane for 8 hours. Turn on all of the in-flight entertainment, gratis. Don’t short-change us on meal vouchers, spring for a hotel, not just a booking service. Have your customer service folks ready and empowered to make each customer happy. Upgrade their next flights to first-class, give them a day at the frequent-flyer lounge. Do something, and odds are I wouldn’t be writing about how poorly managed this whole thing was. I know US Airways is merging with American Airlines soon, but I’ll take my chances with just about any other airline. That’s how bad this whole thing was.

Oh, and one other thing. We found out later through some news reports that the person making the bomb threat was a disgruntled employee who got bumped off the flight from San Juan. Also, apparently some some pop star was also traveling with us and had the same crappy experience.

Out with the Old

Our refrigerator died. I tried to revive it, but my handyman skills have been well documented on this blog.

Manina now understands my ineptitude and called an appliance repairman. But, when the seasoned professional arrived, he gave us the same diagnosis: this fridge is dying, get a new one.

Yay! Shopping for appliances is so much fun. Blech.

We spent an hour or two looking at Costco, Lowes, and Home Depot. We settled on one but decided we should go home and measure one more time just to triple check our measurements. It was a good thing we did.

What started out as a pretty simple (although expensive) home project now turned into something more like the projects we are used to seeing: a nightmare. You see, our space was the correct width and depth, but nearly a full inch and a half too short. Somehow our cabinets were made just wrong enough that none of huge models we were considering would fit. So, time for more shopping.

We learned that we could get a model that fit our height requirements, but it wouldn’t be nearly as efficient, it would be a lesser brand and model, and it would cost us $600 more than the previous model we’d decided on. At this point, we discussed altering our cabinetry, but that lead to even darker places, so we quickly squashed that idea. We bit the bullet and purchased the fridge meeting our height requirements.

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Bad Ankles

Sometimes genetics smiles upon you and gives you the best traits from your mom and dad. But sometimes, you get chromosomes that would be better off remaining at the bottom of the gene pool.

Jacob got his old man’s ankles. Too bad for him.

He went down hard in his soccer game on Saturday. Neither Manina nor I were there at the game (we have way too many soccer games this season), so I got a phone call from another parent saying that Jake was pretty badly hurt and that we should come and get him.

I picked up Jake and it was obvious that he was in pain. I got the full story and made an immediate diagnosis: sprained ankle.

So, we went home instead of going to the hospital. Jake elevated and iced his ankle, which was already pretty badly swollen. Jake has always been a bit of a hypochondriac, so his mom didn’t even let him get out of doing his chores. After his chores were done, we made him go out and continue to paint house numbers on curbs — a little side business he has been trying to develop. It was a pretty normal Saturday.

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On Sunday, his ankle was still pretty swollen, but the more concerning part was a red spot on the outside of his foot that was very tender to the touch. We went up to visit my parents in Riverton and then decided to take Jake in to get diagnosed by a real doctor. When we were taking the x-rays, I immediately saw the fracture. The doctor confirmed that Jake had broken his fifth metatarsal.

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Jake will be out for about six weeks, but is able to wear a walking boot and keep at least some of his mobility. His ankle still looks pretty for a bad sprain, but we’re sure he will make a full and complete recovery.

Sorry, Jake! At least you inherited your mom’s good looks.

Toroweap Overlook

I promised them an adventure they would never forget. And, maybe for the first time, I delivered.

We were in Saint George for the long President’s Day weekend. I had wanted to go see the Grand Canyon at Toroweap Overlook, and everything was lining up nicely: the weather, the schedule, the preparations, everything was good. But, the night before several kids grumbled about having to go on one of dad’s crazy adventures in the desert. I told them that this might just be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that they would never forget looking into the Grand Canyon.

Drew was really the only one excited to go when we woke up Sunday morning. And that was only because he wanted to find some geocaches out in the desert. I confess that in his recent bedtime stories I made geocaching sound much more exciting than it actually is. But, in my defense, I needed someone else on my side or we would just end up going to church and hanging around being bored all day. Eventually Drew and I won the day, and we set out around 9:30am.

We drove out to Hurricane and then to Colorado City, right on the border of Arizona. We turned onto the Clayhole Road and headed South, ready for 60 miles of bumpy dirt roads. About 50 miles of that we would be out of cell phone reception. But, we had come prepared. We brought along plenty of extra water, food, and warm jackets and clothing. Just in case.

We stopped every once in a while to bag a geocache, but it was mainly to break up the trip and give the kids a chance to run around outside. So, we didn’t break any landspeed records getting to Toroweap Overlook, but we had some fun adventures getting there.

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At long last, we finally made it to Toroweap Overlook. The last mile was very slow going. I was worried about bottoming out in our Suburban and took it really slowly. That was until I saw an old lady taking this rough terrain in her Toyota Prius. Crazy.

We parked the car and walked around. It was nerve-wracking approaching the edge of the canyon, and even more so with our young children. We’re talking a 3000 ft sheer drop down the the Colorado River. It’s impossible to explain this canyon or appreciate it from a few pictures. It was awesome.

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I found out later that Jacob and Manina actually had a discussion about the pros and cons of shoving me off the edge. I’m not sure which one of them was more anxious to have me die a horrible death, but I’m glad they didn’t have the guts to pull it off. Had I known what they were conspiring to do, I might have looked even more nervous in some of these pictures.

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On the way back everybody was pretty wiped out. We were not looking forward to more of the bumpy roads, but were ready to get back to our home base and cook some dinner. We had a meal planned out waiting for us to cook upon our return.

On the drive back I made a fateful decision. I decided to take the scenic route. Instead of going back on the Clayhole Road which we’d driving in on I decided to take the County Road 109, which would give us a total of 2 fewer miles of dirt road. Plus, that was the road our GPS was telling me to go, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? Manina had nodded off, so she didn’t object to my decision. And off we went.

About an uneventful hour later Manina woke up and started checking her cell phone for service. Nothing. She’s with Verizon and I’m with AT&T so she checked my phone. Nothing. We were 3.7 miles from the 389 and I felt the back end of the Suburban starting to sway. I slowed down, knowing it was a tire problem. Then the dash beeped at me. CHECK LEFT REAR TIRE. I stopped. The dash beeped again CHECK RIGHT REAR TIRE. Oh no.

I got out and checked the tires. The left rear tire was flat. I walked around to the right tire. It looked low. I thought if I could quickly swap the left tire we might be able to get to the road or to civilization before the right tire went flat. I started to take off our spare tire but in the process I noticed the right rear tire was now completely flat. We were in trouble.

Often I deal with stress in an unhealthy way. I stood outside for a while and then started screaming at the sky, “TWO TIRES?! REALLY?! I CAN HANDLE ONE TIRE, BUT TWO? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”

My kids all laughed about it later.

I was walking through some scenarios in my mind. We could walk to the road, less than 4 miles away and get help. We could wait for a passing car and flag them down. Then, Manina’s phone had a single bar of service. I called 911 and told them of our dilemma. They dispatched an officer and called a towing company for us. We waited.

We got stuck at the purple pin.
We got stuck at the purple pin.

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The officer was the first to arrive. He told us this road was infamous for tire problems and we certainly weren’t the first. He said he’d been on a call not all that long ago to help a lady with one tire, and he ended up cutting two of his own and needed a tow out. Just rough country. Just bad luck getting two at the same time. Luckily, we had just made it into cell phone range.

Jake from Ramsay Towing came and towed us back to Kanab, Utah where he had a nice shop. He went about fixing our tires while Manina started telling the story via text message. I found this example:

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Drew loved seeing Jake fix our tires and put them back on the Suburban. Drew even got to help run the machine. He had fun while we waited. Thankfully both tires were able to be patched and we were soon on our way, only $188 poorer. But, I was right, it was certainly an adventure we will never forget.

 

A good two months

A few months ago, we swapped out our Expedition for a 2009 Suburban. Manina searched KSL Classifieds and found a super-clean, extremely well taken care of Suburban. It was used solely as a road trip car by the original owner, had low, freeway-only miles on it, and could easily be mistaken for a new car. It was spotless.

After we bought it, Manina wanted to keep the Suburban in great condition. She bought custom floor mats for the trunk, washed it regularly, and really kept it clean. She totally babied it. Even on our Washington road trip she had the kids clean it out at every pit stop.

Then, yesterday, this happened:

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It was a typical silly accident: Manina was backing out of a parking space, being very careful not to hit the other car on the driver’s side, all while a mean and nasty stationary pole was lurking on the passenger’s side. Crash. Our nice, clean, could-be-mistaken-for-brand-new Suburban now doesn’t look so new. It was a good two months…