Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Doing Dordogne, Day one

Tuesday, September 6
It rained all night the day I left....
     A last minute morning check of the weather shows that Hurricane Katia is veering offshore and will not make landfall while we are on our trip to France...relief!
Our first flight of the day from Richmond to Philadelphia is scheduled for departure at 1:15 pm. Bill and Miriam and Harry arrive in our driveway promptly at 9:30, and we're off to the airport. We unload the luggage at US Air and use the automated check-in kiosk which scans the data on the edge of the passport page to identify and confirm each passenger and print boarding passes. With a chunk and a whirr the machine spits out two boarding passes for each of us, from Richmond to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to Frankfurt, Germany. The boarding pass for the leg from Frankfurt to Toulouse, France doesn't appear.
      When we ask the airline representative behind the desk about that she says that normally we would get that at the Frankfurt airport, but that she can issue those boarding passes from her desk if we'd like. We'd like! I hand her the passports, and after a moment of looking at them she says, "If you'd like I can get you on the flight to Philadelphia an hour earlier at 12:16 pm. The weather in New York is beginning to cause delays, and it's my experience that backup often begin to effect the traffic at Philadelphia.
      I immediately think it is a good idea, but we are traveling as a group of twelve people, and when I broach the subject, others show considerable agitation and aversion to any change of the plans. The airline rep manages to get the other group members who have already checked in together and explain the advantages of taking an earlier flight to the gateway city for overseas flights, and finally consensus is reached; we'll take the earlier flight. However, within minutes, the rep is back, saying that the dispatcher in Charlotte, NC is telling her that the earlier flight has some minor mechanical problems to be resolved and will be about a half hour late.
      OK, so we now are scheduled to leave a half hour before our original plans, and that still seems to be an advantage. We all get booked in, receive our modified boarding passes, and head for the gate.
     The flight arrives and the Charlotte passengers get off and go streaming down the concourse toward the luggage claim area. The time for boarding comes, and we hear an announcement on the speakers saying that although the plane is ready to go, there are now no planes landing in Philadelphia due to very heavy rainstorms directly over the airport. Please stand by.
      After some considerable time has passed, boarding is announced, and we all make our way down the enclosed ramp to the plane and slowly down the aisles to our seats. The pilot announces on the address system that as soon as he receives clearance from the dispatcher in Philadelphia we'll be on our way. Eventually the doors are closed, the plane is rolled back and taxied to the end of the runway. The pilot pushes the throttles forward, the engines roar, we feel the acceleration as the planes plunges down the runway, and the wheels leave the ground as the plane surges into the air at 2:00 pm, forty-five minutes later than the original scheduled flight.
      A few hundred feet above the ground the view out the window quickly fades to a uniform light gray as we climb into the thick cloud layer hanging low over Richmond, and the world disappears. screen. Thin, dark rivulets of water race sideways across the window, giving it the appearance of a malfunctioning LCD screen. The plane lurches and sways its way upward through various air densities and currents for fifteen minutes before the gray begins to lighten as we approach 27,000 feet. We break out of the top of the cloud layer and look down briefly on the misty, soft, sunlit cloud bank below. Soon we enter the cloud layer again, the aircraft doing its best to simulate the rocking, pitching yawing motions of some long-ago stagecoach as we travel our aerial highway to Philadelphia.
      In spite of the switches and delays, we arrive a bit more than an hour before the scheduled departure of our flight to Frankfurt. All is well. We'll wake up tomorrow morning (early) descending to land in Germany.

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