Miles' Files: Stranded in Seattle
Whenever I see news stories of thousands of passengers getting stranded at an airport, I always think how horrid it would be and that it would never happen to me. Either I'm smarter than that, and wouldn't fly into that type of weather, or I would be savvy enough to get out on another flight. I was dead wrong.
In mid-December, I was flying with some others from San Francisco to Kalispell, Montana, with a stop-over in Seattle. When I was on the plane in San Francisco, the pilot told the passengers about near-blizzard conditions in Seattle. I was a little nervous, especially since I overheard the women behind me commenting on how her family was caught on a freeway in Seattle for more than three hours due to the snow. I assumed that since it rains so much in Seattle, the town must be equipped for snow so it would be no problem. Right? Wrong.
After an easy flight, but a somewhat tense landing (after which the passengers burst into applause), I was in Seattle, and had to get my connecting flight.
Seattle looked like the apocalypse. The airport was a white and gray wasteland with planes ominously sitting on the tarmac waiting for the go-ahead. Little did I know, that was the farthest thing from what was about to happen.
When I walked into the terminal at 10 p.m., I saw scores of flights cancelled, including my own to Kalispell. The airline's customer service line had hundreds of people, and I later learned that people had been waiting in line for up to 12 hours. I decided to forego the line, and re-book a flight on the Internet. Yet due to the holiday season, all the flights were already booked for the next few days, and I could not get out. I had to find a hotel room. It was now 11 p.m.
I called every hotel within a 10-mile radius, and only one hotel had a few rooms left. I felt extremely fortunate to get one of these rooms. Yet when I walked into baggage claim, I realized my problems were far from solved.
Bags were visible as far as the eye could see. There was no organization. It was a free-for-all. People were grabbing bags and leaving. It was an area the size of two football fields, covered in bags that all looked the same. I needed a miracle.
After an hour of searching, I got one. I found my bags under an oversized brown box. It was now 2 a.m.
I walked out to the ground transportation area, and saw another few hundred people waiting in line for cabs. But there were no cabs. It had snowed so much the cabs couldn't make it to the airport.
Through incredible assertiveness and chutzpah, I was able to convince a shuttle driver to ferry us to our hotel, and our shuttle driver made that night worth it. Whether he was quoting celebrities from the 1950s or creeping us out by passing people on the right or getting lost in the middle of industrial Seattle in white-out conditions, I realized even though I was not where I wanted to go, this shuttle ride might be my vacation.
Once at the hotel, everyone I met had a different story to tell. Many were in the same clothes from three days prior, and they sure looked and smelled like it. A woman wearing a leather Harley Davidson jacket always kept her spirits high, as long as she had her wine. Another woman from Alaska (no relative to Sarah Palin) told me about different types of moose for more than 20 minutes.
The people I met on my trip helped me "carpe diem" — a valuable lesson I could only learn while suffering through the biggest snowstorm to hit Seattle in 30 years.
Fast forward now. When I finally got out of Seattle two days later, I learned that when people are stranded and feeling totally homeless and hopeless, they come together. They no longer worry about talking to strangers, and they tell their life stories.
This trip gave me lots of new information, including where not to fly in the middle of winter, how you can always rely on the kindness of strangers, and, finally, how you can survive an encounter in the middle of Alaska with an adult bull moose weighing 2,000 pounds.
Miles McMullin of Woodside is a senior at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough.