Some years ago, my wife and I decided to take the family to Banff for Christmas. We spent a long time planning the trip so that we would be certain to get the flights we needed along with holiday reservations at the Banff Springs Hotel. We also wanted to time the trip so that our youngest child would be old enough to remember the experience and our eldest still to be living at home. Having lived all their lives in Southern California, the three of them had never experienced snow much less a white Christmas.
The morning of our departure, we were all up at 3:00 and ready for the airport shuttle, due at 3:30. The scheduled time came and went. No shuttle. At 3:45 I called the company. They weren’t sure where Mott was, but he should be there soon. I called again at 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30. We were just about to throw everything into the car and take our chances on parking when the van pulled up, seventy-five minutes late.
The shuttle was packed. There was scarcely room to add our luggage and my wife’s wheelchair much less us. Mott had my wife sit in the front passenger seat while the rest of us squeezed into the back as best we could. I had to hold my daughter on my lap with no seatbelt. It was then that Mott announced that we had to stop at a filling station so that he could put air in one of his tires because of a slow leak. I thought a couple of our fellow passengers were going to come completely unhinged. Everyone was late for their flights.
It went from bad to worse once he had taken care of his tire and entered the freeway. Mott was just about the worst driver I’ve ever seen (and that includes my middle kid). Not only was he pretty much all over the road including the shoulder, he kept up a nonstop stream of crazy talk directed at my wife. Kyra is a pretty level woman and an outstanding conversationalist in most situations. I could tell from the cold silence that she was probably looking for the eject button (or maybe a baseball bat).
When we finally arrived at Burbank Airport, limbs intact and stomachs in our mouths, it was a zoo. I’ve never seen a shuttle empty so fast. We headed into the United terminal only to be confronted with a monumentally long line at check in. There was no way we were going to make our plane. However, one of the few advantages of traveling with someone in a wheelchair is that we often get moved to the front of the line and such was the case that morning. The agent looked at our tickets, looked at us, looked at her screen, and then looked at us again. “Your flight has been delayed at least ninety minutes due to weather in San Francisco. You will be unable to make your connecting flight to Calgary and all other United flights are full. What do you want to do?”
Our options were few. We could be stranded in San Francisco or give up and lose a pot of money on non-refundable reservations. We decided to throw in with the travel gods and take our chances. The agent shrugged her shoulders and checked our luggage. We headed to the gate.
Our flight was two hours late when it finally took off and our connecting flight had long since departed by the time we arrived in San Francisco. The agent at the gate had little advice to offer other than check with Air Canada in the next terminal (our tickets were Air Canada but the flights were being fulfilled by United). Air Canada had one more flight leaving for Calgary and it was due to depart in thirty minutes.
So we dashed out of that terminal and down the concourse headed for the next terminal. It must have been quite a sight-seeing the five of us move that fast. Clutching her backpack, my daughter rode on my wife’s lap while I pushed the wheelchair, the boys running behind with the carry-ons. Of course we had to go through security again and while we did get moved to the front of the line, they decided that I was going to require special treatment (and this was in the days before I wore a kilt regularly). I thought Kyra was about to rise from her wheelchair and rip the TSA agent to shreds. I told her to take the kids and go to the gate and see if we could get on the plane. “And whatever you do, get ON the plane. Don’t wait for me.”
The TSA agent dusted everything in my backpack meticulously. She even made me fire up the computer. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she finally let me pack up and go. I ran desperately into the terminal, missing the gate. Once I realized it, I turned back, a little disoriented. An Air Canada agent ran up and said, “Are you Steve?” I nodded, and she led me to the gate and directly onto the plane. The door closed behind me and I barely had time to strap myself in before the plane pushed back. It was only once we were in the air that I was able to find the rest of my family. According to Kyra, there had been a cancellation that morning, right before the flight. Five seats.
We arrived in Calgary in time for the last shuttle to Banff, and arrived at the hotel late in the evening hungry, disheveled, and without luggage. The luggage caught up with us two days later, on Christmas Eve. What a gift it was to finally change from our travel clothes. And despite the lack of snow in Banff (it was a Chinook year), our stay was magical and truly worth the struggle to get there.
The trip home was no less difficult albeit much less eventful. The connecting flight in San Francisco was delayed twelve hours and it was nearly midnight when we landed in Burbank. I called the shuttle while standing in line to put in a claim for our missing luggage. I sent the family out to get into the shuttle while I filled out the paperwork. When I finally left the terminal, they were already aboard, my wife sitting in back with a wry smile on her face. “You can sit in front this time,” she said. You guessed it. Out of all the possible drivers, we had drawn Mott again.
Steve Humphrey is a people and technology consultant specializing in meeting facilitation, group visioning, and information. He is also a pianist and writer who delights in the inherent pan-applicability of ideas. His blog searches for fundamental truths that transcend their original context to enlighten leadership and decision making in unexpected ways. Follow Steve at Parnassus Musings.