Left Austin on time but a little more than halfway back to Newark the captain comes on and says we’re landing in Raleigh-Durham, as Newark airport has been closed due to an ice storm. First they think we might just refuel and then continue on up north, but then we are told we’ll be given food vouchers and rooms at the nearby Hilton as an ice storm has hit the NY area. It’s about 4:30. We all get in a long line by the gate to retrieve our vouchers. The line is barely moving — some in the line are not stranded, they’re getting seat assignments for Cleveland, and when those folks are gone, after about an hour, the line begins to move and we head for another line, one to get luggage, then a wait for hotel shuttles, then a line for rooms, then a line to get into the hotel restaurant. The cell phones are out in force and everyone shares whatever they know.
There is no update online and the automated voice on the 800 number says, “Thank you for calling Continental Airlines, a service representative will help you if you hold on…approximate waiting time…(pause)…four…hundred…minutes…”
I get up at 5AM, check the Continental website for updates — none — and head for the airport as there are scheduled flights in the early AM…and there might be news there.
There is a long line at the check-in counters and some of the folks I recognize say, “They tell us it’s a waste of time to wait in line now…there’s no news yet — you can’t get seat assignments or check luggage.” There is also no coffee, water, anything. Babies contentedly roll around on the floor — their parents had planned a once in a lifetime vacation trip to China, but now for sure they won’t make their plane out of NY. Some folks rent cars and decide to drive back (10 hours, approximately) but we have also heard that the roads north of here become icy and there are tractor-trailer accidents on 95 that are creating massive traffic jams.
It’s been almost 24 hours with this same group of shipwrecked souls. Have heard some funny/sad stories — the roly-poly Czech couple on the diverted Miami flight didn’t get a hotel room and by the time they got their food voucher all that was left was a chunk of still frozen chicken. The hotel restaurant was 1/3 full last night, but that was far more than they could handle — they were making people wait outside in line even though more than half the seats were vacant.
A young Asian guy seems to be making the rounds of the gates asking about people’s computers. A group of gals who were just heading off on their spring break are stranded but seem in good spirits. I see curled up bodies behind partitions and tucked into nooks and crannies trying to get some sleep. A woman with way too much makeup walks by — yikes. Then a parade of young black boys walks by in formation — a Ugandan choir that had been in Miami.
I’ve got a book and I’ve just read the paper and had a nap. Now I’m watching Spike Lee’s doc on Katrina, When the Levees Broke. We’ve got it easy.
The young white cleanup guy is dumping out the trash containers mumbling in a sing-song stream of consciousness to himself, “looks like we’re gonna be on TV…hate to see it.”
The first flight out of here to Newark has gone — there are cheers — so there’s hope that the rest of us might get out tonight.