Saturday, September 27, 2014

Travail to the Lower-48

Our modern English word 'travel' is rooted in the old French word 'travail', and for good reason. My trip to the Lower-48 for a week of clinical training has certainly highlighted that part of the definition that reads " to torment, labor, strive, journey."

My flights from Fairbanks to Anchorage and from Anchorage to Chicago went smoothly enough. We even landed at Chicago's O'Hare a bit earlier than scheduled, thanks to favorable winds aloft. Between the time we arrived and time it took me to hike from the far end of one terminal to the far end of an adjacent terminal, to catch the final flight of the trip, things pretty much went to hell in a hand basket.

About the time I was looking for some breakfast, a 36 year old idiot decided to commit suicide and "take out" the air traffic control center in Aurora, Illinois. The same ATC responsible for traffic bound for O'Hare, Midway and many other midwestern airports. At about 5:40 my trip went from being just another routine flight to the Lower-48 to it's own very special brand of hell.

When my flight to Kentucky, scheduled to depart shortly after 8:00 AM was cancelled I was rebooked for a later flight. When that flight was cancelled, I was rebooked for a third. When it was obvious that that flight would also be cancelled I was rebooked to a different destination (CVG in Cincinnati) and when THAT flight was cancelled I was finally able to catch a flight into Cinci which arrived about 6:10 PM. The flight arrived, I arrived on it, but my luggage was nowhere to be found. In fact, even as I write now (11:45 AM), my luggage is STILL nowhere to be found.

At one point I considered renting a car in Chicago, but quickly learned that no more one-way rentals were to be had, at least not through the rental company used by my employer. One traveler was going up and down the line asking if anyone headed near his destination had a CDL (commercial driver's license) in order to rent a large truck. He wasn't having much luck with that idea, either.

All in all, over 1500 flights, including four of my own, were cancelled as a result of this miscreants malevolent behavior. News reports indicate that he intended to "take down" the flight control center and take his own life. His suicide was thwarted by paramedics who found him sawing at his own neck with a knife.

As I was standing in one of innumerable lines of people to rebook yet another cancelled flight, I couldn't help but be impressed by the behavior of the vast majority of people surrounding me. After all, there was plenty of frustration to go around, yet most folks took the inevitable travails in stride, maintaining their patience and senses of humor throughout. As I made the long hike across the airport toward my final flight, I passed by a line of people waiting their turn at the United Airlines Customer Service Desk that was easily a quarter mile long, if not longer.

According to an ABC News report, the man responsible for the shutdown gained access to the facility by swiping his valid key-card. Apparently there was little or no other form of security at the facility. Perhaps because of my own job (dual role security officer & paramedic), I find that appalling, especially considering the gauntlet one must run to enter a Federal courthouse or any other Federal office building - most of which are not particularly vital to national commerce. A human security officer may, or may not, have elected to search the huge roll-on suitcase the perpetrator used to conceal the gasoline and other items used to damage the facility, but odds are it is not something workers commonly take to the job, so probably would have been scrutinized pretty carefully.

In any event, I have safely reached my destination, but I'm not able to do what I need to do, because the uniforms I need are somewhere between here and Chicago - at least I hope they are. Otherwise this entire trip will be a serious waste of my time and my employer's money.

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