AT Day -2: Wednesday April 5, 2023

The days before our departure have been very stressful for a few reasons. We had contemplated delaying the trip but in the end we decided that it is a very handy time to disappear for six months.

We were both awake at 3am so got up, tidied up the last few things around the house and were out of the door before 5am. These early morning hours really are the best, it is quite and everything feels calm, a day ahead a clean slate and full of promise.

Just a bit over an hour on a bus and a train and we were at the airline check -in counter. We could both start to relax a little, we were finally on our way.

By complete concidence we were leaving at the same time as our running friends Dave and Julie who will be on the AT a few weeks after us. We spent a couple of hours before boarding our respective flights, catching up on travel plans. Dave has hiked the AT before and the PCT in 2017. Julie is a talented trail runner, planning to run a couple of trail races, including a hundred miler in Zion, before starting on the AT later in April. Boarding time approached and we said our goodbyes hoping to meet up for a debrief before flying back home later in the year.

Photo credit: Dave Byres

On the plane, I had the middle seat and Hammer was near the window. I noticed that the passenger seated next to me was looking anxious. Always curious I struck up a conversation with her. She was an international student living in Australia on a student visa and was on her way for a surprise visit with her parents in Columbia. She is studying architecture and an hour later I learnt quite a bit about her and her long medical history, having been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, a diagnosis I could relate to. She had a familiar story of peoole not understanding how devasting this diagnosis can be, because you look so well on the outside but are suffering significant damage that is invisible to others.

She said she felt so much better abd calmer being able to chat. So much more pleasant to spend the 13 hours in the air sitting next to someone who is just a little bit less of a stranger.

The flight on a new United Airlines Dreamliner plane was smooth and before too long we were landing in Los Angeles  just as the sun was rising.

Clearing customs was relatively quick and efficient. Nowhere near as nerve wracking as past immigration encounters when arriving in LA. We saw Dave and Julie again in the customs line just behind us.

A short stopover and we were on our way to Houston for what should have been a three and a half hour flight  This leg did not go so smoothly. Once in the air we learnt that Houston airport was closed due to bad weather and  our plane was re-routed to land in Austin to refuel and wait.    At 3pm we were still sitting on the tarmac at Austin. The thoughts of a comfortable bed before sundown were beginning to slip away.

By the time we took off from Austin and landed in Houston our flight to Atlanta had been bumped to 7.30pm. No big deal we thought,  we’ll get a bite to eat and wait. An hour before boarding we were notified that our flight was cancelled and we were rebooked to a next day flight leaving at 2.30pm. Talk about being so close and yet so far. 

The length of the customer service line at the United counter at Houston Airport broke me a little

The customer service counters had long lines of very upset people. I noticed a couple of self checking auto booths which no one was using. I scanned our passes and managed to get us on a standby flight leaving at 8pm today. At this stage we’ve been in transit for almost 30 hrs, we were both tired and getting a bit emotional.

We raced around to the boarding gate for our standby flight and the friendly staff member said ohh…I just took you off the standby list as I found you seats. I think I almost cried with relief. We were waiting to board at 8pm….while waiting we were notified that the flight has been delayed till 9.30pm and then it was delayed again till 10.30pm.

An hour before departure there was a change of gates and terminals so we all took the 15minute walk over to the new gate. Arriving at the gate the boarding staff announced that we had a short window to get onboard before the flight crew timed-out and would not be allowed to fly. So we boarded, sat on the plane for 30minutes waiting for it to start pulling away. Just on 11.00pm the pilot announced that the crew had timed out and legally were no allowed to fly so the flight was being cancelled. 

Strapped in a waiting for take off only to be cancelled again.

As you can imagine there were some very loud and angry people on board. Although we were tired we didn’t think it was a big deal, we’ll rebook for tomorrow and get a hotel in Houston for tonight. By the time we were all off the plane and lining up for the United Airlines rechecking counter, the computer terminals were in meltdown. The earliest available direct flight to Atlanta is at lunchtime on Friday and no nearby hotels were available in Houston.

The line did not move for hours.

It was 2am before a very stressed ground staff member managed to get us a flight to Dallas tomorrow at lunchtime and from there to Atlanta arriving 10pm. As for our luggage, we are assured it will follow us. Fingers crossed.

So what should have been a relatively short transit time in Houston will end up being almost 24 hours. Reminded us of that episode of Kath and Kim when their big overseas trip ends up being a weekend stuck shopping at the airport terminal at home.