Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Hellacious Trip Home: The Illegal Imprisonment Of The Weary Traveler

My son, Frank, was tired after almost 4 solid weeks of arduous work learning about the US Political System and Political Communications at the Jr. Statesman Foundation's Summer College Program at Northwestern University in Evanston IL. The kid left the day school here ended, and then started the 6 day a week, 12 hour a day program to learn about how our country runs, and how to debate. He and his fellow Jr. Statesmen worked very hard taking college courses conducted by college professors for 6 hours a day, then preparing and participating in Model Congress debates for 2-3 hours each night.

Frank had earned superlative grades at Northwestern in the classes and was selected as a "Powerhouse" debater (one of only 6 out of the 60+ students by the professional staff), and also selected one of 3 top Speakers by his classmates. He was the only student to win both designations. After graduation, we celebrated with a great meal at Chicago's Grill on the Alley and a tour of the city's sights. The next morning it was off to O'Hare.

Along with over 150 other passengers we left Chicago O'Hare Airport on United Airlines Flight 680 headed for LaGuardia Airport in NYC on Friday at 12pm. Normally it is a two hour flight. Unfortunately, Friday last was a terrible day for traveling to the NY area. Now it is never a good day to fly into LaGuardia (nor Kennedy or Freedom/Newark either.) They have one of the the worst on time schedules around. Friday however they were shut down for most of the day with blasts of wind and lightning that caused massive flooding.

Air Traffic Control entered our plane into a series of holding patterns over Pennsylvania. More than a few times passengers on the flight thought and spoke about the heroic Americans who were aboard United Flight 93 who died on 9-11-01 bringing their plane down in a farm field not too far from where we were holding rather than allow the Islamic terrorists who had hijacked her to crash her into a building. Talk then came around to the way the President was handling the war. There were a lot of Midwesterners on the plane who want to like the President and trust the government. There were a lot of New Yorkers who have grown inpatient with the government and especially the President. I liked the respect both sides of the debate showed the other. I liked that Frank was so up on the issues and spoke about them so well that other passengers commented on his knowledge and presentation.

After a couple of hours of hovering, we needed to refuel. We landed at Harrisburg (Pa.)International??? Airport. That's when Hell took over. After refueling we were denied permission to take off, as Queens NY was under the siege of Mother Nature. Ok, most of us could understand the prudence of not flying into a lightening storm with 80+ MPH wind gusts. However what we couldn't abide was the refusal of TSA to let us off the plane. For over 7 hours we were held captive on the flight.

We were told that the airport didn't have a gateway to get us off the flight. Then we were told they didn't have a staircase, then we were told there was no tow bar to get the plane out of the gate once we went in. Finally we were told the truth. There weren't enough TSA officers to check us back through the gate if we left to get food or take care of other bodily functions. The cafe on the "right" side of the security gate was too small to handle the whole plane so some of us would have to go to the McDonald's on the other side of the gate and TSA couldn't handle us.

Seven hours of being on a cramped dark plane. Seven hours of baby's crying and people bitching and heat. Little to drink, and no food except for a few oat bars that tasted and had the consistency of cardboard. Seven hours of nothing but cellphone calls to loved ones telling them what was happening as if we had any idea.

It occurred to me that this is a microcosm of how our government is dealing with the terror threat. Screw our citizens to protect them??? I am tired of the mishandling of the domestic terror threat. Spying. Torture. Constant fear of our own neighbors. Threats to our newspapers and their reporters for telling us what our country is up to in our names. Holding prisoners without charging them and refusing to let them talk to their lawyers. Forcing children and Moms and old people to stay on a plane for 7 hours because the government can't get their act together.

Call me un-American I guess, but I am just plain tired of the incompetence and arrogance of this administration. I am tired of a President who has no idea how to handle foreign affairs. I am tired of his Texas Mafia and how he runs the country by poll. I'm tired of hearing that everytime anyone criticizes this administration for the way it is handling things, they are un-American or a traitor. I can't wait for November. I have every intention of showing them just how tired I am, when I get to the ballot box and register my vote. I will be encouraging others to do the same.

Finally a little after 9 pm they let us out. An obnoxious 20something who was the customer service rep told us that he was only going to announce the flight once so if we missed his announcement we were spending the night in Harrisburg. What an obnoxious bastard. A number of folks rented cars and cabs to go to NY. Frank and I stuck it out and went to the Capital Cafe on the "right" side of Security. We were repaid for staying by finding out that we could finally get into LaGuardia by midnight.

I will spare you the fiasco that United created at baggage claim (for more on consumer's complaints with United go here) Suffice it to say I will do whatever I can to avoid United in the future.

Meanwhile a big That Lawyer Dude thanks to the staff of The Capital Cafe at Harrisburg Pa. airport for staying open for us, even though the food choices had dwindled to frankfurters, ham sandwiches and chips with salsa. (And that goes for the kids who worked at the airport McDonald's too.) The hot coffee was appreciated as were the smiles and the understanding.
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