Murphy’s in the Cockpit

I can’t say I rigidly obey every law on the books. Some are dumb. Others, just too tempting to break. Who among us on an empty freeway have defied the 55 mile per hour speed limit and edged up to 60 miles per hour or better? But the one law I don’t mess with is the one that seems to foil me anyway.

Murphy’s law. Which basically states, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Usually at the worst possible time.  The other night, actually the early hours of the next day, Murphy hit me big time, and I was not alone.

Come think of it, even though I had nothing to do with what unfolded, I probably played right into Murph’s hands.

Last week I got some devastating news that a close family member, my cousin Mike, had died unexpectedly. There was no indecision, I was going to Mike’s hometown for the funeral. But there were a few challenges. Mike’s arrangements called for a viewing Tuesday night and a funeral and burial Wednesday morning. As I live in California and Mike died in Pennsylvania, there were some obvious travel logistics. My schedule, which called for an important commitment to be in Anaheim Thursday night, was another consideration. I thought I had it figured out. A Monday night red eye would get me into Philadelphia, a 90-minute drive from Mike’s hometown, around 9 AM, more than enough time to get there, take a nap and be right on time for the Tuesday night wake. Wednesday after the funeral there would be ample time to get back to the airport, return the rental car and make a 5 PM flight back, which would have me back on the ground at Sac International around 10:30 local time.

The plan did have a few variables out of my control–and as it happened they sent the whole trip out of control.

Monday night, I arrived at the airport just after 8 PM—plenty of time for a 10:08 departure. I had heard something about bad weather delaying some flights, but that was hours ago in Texas and Florida. The weather in California was clear and hot…nothing to delay a jet.

Uh Oh there on the board was the beginning of the end. The flight was delayed until 11. Which meant I would have a dicey connection in Charlotte, more like 45 minutes instead of the planned 2 hours. Well we didn’t board until 11:30 which only made things tricker. I could see gate agents, coming and going, flight attendants whispering, even ramp agents conferring with the cockpit crew. Then came something I’ve never seen in all my years of travel. The Captain said, much as he tried he could not summon two fresh pilots, a problem because he and the First Officer were running out of legal flight time, having been delayed by weather all day. And because they had about two hours of time and the flight to Carolina was 4 hours and change–this flight was cancelled.

Now what. What had begun perfectly last night…believe it or not I was all alone walking through security–was turning into a jet age nightmare. We were told to simultaneously claim our luggage and get in line to be re-booked. By the time I retrieved my bag, I was about number 110 in line to be rebooked. By then there were few options…none of them good that would get me to Philly on time. While online, I checked out the airline’s web site. If I hurried I could make a 12:40 departure for Dallas and a connection to Philly arriving at 3 PM. Not ideal, but better than nothing. Bag in hand, I raced to security…where I was questioned as to why I was going through for the second time in 4 and a half hours…I explained and was waved through, but the bottle of wine I had purchased at a shop past security was seized. It was legal when I bought it–dangerous contraband hours later. I sacrificed the Petite Sirah for the greater good. Racing to the gate I was told I could get a middle seat to Dallas but the second flight to Philly was sold out. Lugging my bag back to be re-booked, the fresh crew of TSA inspectors had no idea where my bottle of wine had gone, having been seized by the previous shift. By 2 AM I was offered a flight to NY arriving at 6 PM. It would leave at 6:30 AM with a connection in San Francisco. Renting another car, battling rush hour in the NY area I could get to where I needed to be around 9:30…after the viewing.

Considering I rarely sleep on planes and know way too much about NY area traffic, it was fruitless. A lot of things had to go Murphy’s way, but as usual his law prevailed.

I’d wager that 300 days out of the year my trip would have gone off without a hitch. But I wasn’t traveling on those days–I had to leave on this one–I was putty in Murphy’s hands.