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The 10th Circle of Hell

Like millions of Americans, I traveled over the Christmas holiday. And, like millions of Americans, I was stranded because of an antiquated computer system used by Southwest Airlines. “Stranded” may be a little strong in my circumstances. I was in Tucson visiting my daughter and her family, so I got to spend an extra week with them, sleep in a bed, eat normal meals, binge-watch The Last Movie Stars, do laundry, and keep track of my stuff. Even my son-in-law and I hung out. I usually time my trips like the proverbial fish test – three days and I’m outta there – so that’s saying a lot! People who know me know that, as outgoing as I am, I like to be alone much more. So this was a test for everyone, and we all passed.
Except Southwest.

I like Southwest. I fly it several times a year to Tucson, and I’ve amassed a gajillion Rapid Rewards miles, so I essentially fly for free. I generally get an aisle seat, the snack is fine, it’s non-stop at a reasonable time of day, and they’re generally reliable. Until this trip.

Obviously the weather was a factor this year. But Southwest had sent an alert earlier in the week cautioning passengers to reconsider their travel plans if their points of origin or their destinations were on this list. Neither Houston nor Tucson was.

The first alert arrived on the way to the airport: 20-minute delay. By the time I got into the terminal, it was a 90-minute delay. Security took maybe 10 minutes, including a pat down. Even though I had plenty to read, I stopped at a kiosk and bought another book – just in case.

I found a seat and did not budge for the next four hours. I’d brought some granola bars, and a woman watched my seat as I made my single pit stop. The people around me kept to themselves, just patiently waiting. Except for one man, a dad with two young children who were actually better behaved than he was. He was loud, a real know-it-all. Every now and then, the rest of us looked at one another and then back to our books or devices. I just prayed he wasn’t seated near me on the full airplane. He wasn’t.

The flight was uneventful, actually smoother than we expected, given what the sky looked like as we took off. After Tucson, the flight continued to Denver and then Des Moines. Someone checked the temperature, and at 6:00 PM CST, it was – 18 in Des Moines. Who goes to Des Moines when the sun is shining, let alone in sub-zero temperatures?

Winter is Tucson is gorgeous. Sapphire skies, low 70s daytime, low 40s nighttime. We had a wonderful time baking, cooking, eating. On Christmas day, I checked in for my return trip the following day. The next morning, my grandson Robert and I were sitting up in bed talking when my other daughter called from Houston to inform me that my flight had been canceled. I had not received an alert.

That was annoying, to say the least. But the pictures of stranded travelers sleeping in airports around the country, of suitcases piled atop one another with nowhere to go, blank arrival and departures screens – that was sad and scary at the same time. I may have been temporarily discomfited, but I was with family in a familiar place. Not my home, but home enough.

I made several other reservations that week, all of which were canceled with alerts. At least they got that right. One flight had included a layover in Vegas, and I was relieved that it was canceled because I did not want to be stuck there for Godknewhowlong. Southwest suggested waiting into 2023, the smartest thing they said all week. I booked a flight for January 2nd and held my breath.

No delays. No nothing. Until I got to the airport and there was the notification – 20-minute delay. Okay. I started reading my third novel. Finally, we boarded, on time because the plane had mysteriously arrived early. And then we sat on the tarmac for an hour because a baggage handler’s cap had flown into the engine mechanism. Passengers demanded his name! Again, the flight itself was uneventful. We landed at Houston Hobby and…waited on the tarmac for another hour because there was no gate for us. Connecting flights in Houston were now a dream.
I had been traveling about 10 hours before I dropped into my own bed. The next day, the CEO of Southwest did his mea culpa again and offered travelers 25,000 Rapid Reward miles as compensation.

I’ll use them next month, when I fly to Tucson for Dale’s birthday.
What are the odds?

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