When Penguins Attack
I should have taken the bump.
The Airbus 330 is a big barge: it seats eight abreast up in the main cabin and seven abreast back in steerage, which was where I was. To distract you from your sardine-like state they have a little LCD TV screen on the back of each seat, on which they run announcements, safety videos, and in flight, an assortment of movies. Altogether, the thing seems to seat around 300 people, and at 12:15 p.m., with every seat full, we rolled back from the gate.
And sat there awhile, and then rolled back some more. And stopped again.
And then the little video screen popped up a message to tell us that the pilot was making an announcement, whereupon he announced that we were having some mechanical problems and there would be a slight delay. He apologized for the inconvenience, and assured us we would be on our way shortly.
And then someone shut off the cabin air-conditioning.
S'okay, I 've had worse. Once, in Memphis, Nørðwürst left me sitting out on the runway for three hours, in late August, with the cabin A/C turned off while they tried to do some field repairs to the APU. This time at least it was December, and an overcast and drizzly day, so we weren't roasting. It was just a bit stuffy in there.
And then the little video screen popped up a message to tell us that the pilot was making another announcement, whereupon he announced that we were going to back to the gate, because the problems were trickier than they'd thought, and there would be another slight delay. He apologized again for the inconvenience, and assured us that this time, we really would be on our way shortly.
Meanwhile, the cabin A/C remained off.
S'okay, I've had much worse. Once, in San Diego, Nørðwürst left me sitting out on the runway all morning and half the afternoon, sweltering in the sun with the A/C off, and then had us deplane and sit in a secured room until quite late in the evening, when they announced that the plane wasn't going to fly that day after all. Then they loaded us all on a bus and took us to a fleabag motel, only to rouse us at 4 a.m., drive us back to the airport, and herd us onto a plane and get us out of there before we had a chance to warn any other prospective passengers. So this wasn't so bad. It was just getting rather warm, close, and smelly in there.
An hour later the AAA truck showed up and jump-started the plane or something, and the little video screen popped up a message to tell us that the pilot was making another announcement. Whereupon he announced that we were finally ready to depart, ordered the stewies to secure for takeoff, switched the A/C back on, fired up the engines, and rolled us out to the taxi-way.
And switched off the A/C.
And after we'd sat there for twenty minutes or so, the little video screen popped up yet another stupid message telling us that the pilot was making another stupid announcement, whereupon he announced that they were having computer problems, but not to worry, they were working through the problems with the technicians back in Minneapolis and expected to have them resolved shortly. In the meantime, he apologized yet again for the inconvenience, and assured us that we were very, very, very close to being ready to be on our way. And then we sat.
S'okay, I've had... no, wait, I'm lying. By this point it was like being trapped in a sunken U-boat inside that plane. The air was hot, dense, suffocating. People were drenched in sweat and stripping down to their t-shirts. (None of the good-looking women, though, dammit.) A passenger revolt was brewing as people tried to storm the bathrooms and the stewies had to break out the tasers and cattle prods to keep them in their seats. The cabin was filled with the soft muttering of angry voices and the quiet, desperate clicking of hundreds of thumbs on cell phone and Blackberry keypads. Then the little video screen popped up another @#($*& message telling us the pilot was making yet another @#*$&^ announcement, whereupon he came on the PA again to announce that the computer problem couldn't be resolved on the runway, so they'd have to go back to the terminal to reboot the plane. In the meantime he really, truly, deeply and sincerely apologized for — ah, stuff it, buddy!
So we rolled back to the terminal again — with the cabin A/C still off, of course — and the stupid little video screen popped up yet another stupid little reminder that the pilot was making an announcement, whereupon he came on the cabin PA to tell us that, because we'd burned so much fuel taxiing around the tarmac, we were also going to have to refuel the plane before we could take off. So they shut off everything — A/C, reading lights, the works — while a cadre of technicians swarmed over the plane, connecting hoses and umbilicals, and one of the passengers seated near me started to get panicky because he'd been in the Air Force and said he could smell a JP-4 leak.
And then, more than two and a half hours after we'd first rolled back from the gate, the cabin PA system chimed but the LCD screens stayed dark, and the pilot came on to announce that everything was finally just about ready to go, just as soon as they finished the last step in rebooting the plane's computer systems. And then suddenly, 300 little LCD screens simultaneously blanked, flashed, and displayed the same smug, tubby, familiar little image...
Followed by about 50 lines of UFS error messages. At which point the plane's systems finally seemed to come up, and the engines fired up, and we rolled out onto the runway and — after an agonizing 15-minute wait in the takeoff queue — we finally took off and got the heck out of there, and flew back to Minneapolis.
While our luggage went to Boston, of course. But that's another story.