Sunday, April 10, 2011

Planes, Trains & Automobiles - Knoxville Style

What an interesting 24 hours or so it was for me starting last Monday afternoon. What was supposed to be a simple couple of flights from Orlando, Florida to Knoxville, Tennessee turned into my own personal version of the Steve Martin and John Candy classic film, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles".  Luckily my traveling companion was more the Steve Martin funny guy rather than the obnoxious John Candy character.

Our VP of Sales, Pat, and I began our journey in Orlando. We already knew there was bad weather in Tennessee including tornado watches. We crossed our fingers that we'd be able to reach Knoxville that night.

 Our Aircraft Approaching the Gate

After pulling back from the gate, we sat on a taxi way for about twenty minutes. There apparently was windy weather earlier in Atlanta that impacted flight schedules. Once we were in the air, the flight was fairly uneventful. I did see some large thunderhead-looking clouds, but the ride wasn't very bumpy.

Clouds Enroute to Atlanta
Our layover in Atlanta now shortened, we quickly got to our gate via the underground Plane Train that connects the many concourses only to find our flight had a short delay. No problem, we thought, although we were keeping a close eye on the television screen showing the storms moving across the southeast region.

Boarding time came and went and a thirty minute flight delay was announced. I wasn't really hungry at the time so I opted not to go find something to eat. I figured I could eat once we landed in Knoxville. Pat and I sat through a couple more thirty minute delays before being allowed to board around 10 p.m. The cabin door was closed and then we sat. Finally the captain announced that we will have to take on additional fuel to allow for another routing to Knoxville. Did you know that FAA regulations required the cabin door to be open when fueling? And that once the door closed again, the flight attendant had to repeat the pre-flight instructions? Yep, its true.

Wheels up around 10:40 p.m. and Knoxville here we come. It was supposed to be a forty minute flight from Atlanta. An hour later, the captain came on the PA system to tell us passengers that he was unable to find a hole in the storm to get us down into Knoxville, and instead we are diverting to Greenville/Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina.

A couple of young punks in the rear of the airplane started cussing loudly when this was announced. What is wrong with some people? The captain and crew have put our safety above trying to get us to our intended destination. You just have to go with the flow and suck it up.

When we landed in Greenville, the cabin door was opened so the crew could work with ground crew on determining what the next steps were. We were asked to stay on the plane while the details were worked out. The two punks in the plane came forward and next thing I know, they have been allowed to leave. Good thing.

After about twenty minutes, we were notified that a bus would take us to Knoxville. Pat said there was no way we were getting on a bus and crossing the mountains during a storm at night with tornado watches. It would be about a three to four hour trip (although the airline said it was a two hour trip - not!). It was also not known how long it would take the bus to arrive at the airport. If passengers elected not to take the bus, they would be responsible for their own accommodations overnight and Delta would then fly them back to Atlanta in the morning and then on to Knoxville.

Pat decided we would rent a car, find a hotel, and drive to Knoxville in the morning. After disembarking, we retrieved our luggage from baggage claim and then proceeded to the rental car area. Surprisingly, they were still open at midnight because all of the scheduled inbound flights had not arrived. Pat started at the Avis counter where he was told there weren't any one-way rental cars available. So then he tried the other agencies and struck out there, too. Back to Avis and still the answer was no. Since the problem was the one-way rental issue, he asked about car availability for returning the car back to Greenville. Still nothing available.

At this point we figured we would have to find transportation to a hotel and off he went. I decided I would try the Avis counter one more time. In my nicest voice, I asked again about availability if we returned the car by 5 p.m. the next day. The agent started punching info into her computer and then said she thought she might have a one-way rental for us. The flight had already arrived but the gentleman never claimed his car. It was ours! Score!!! I motioned Pat over to the counter and after completing the paperwork, off we went to procure lodging for the night. On a side note, the punks from earlier were still at another agency's counter, trying to rent a car. I hope karma kept them from getting a car and that they had to ride the bus.

When we landed at Greenville, it was not raining yet. On approach, you could see lots of lightning in the clouds, but no rain. However, by the time we left the parking garage, it was storming furiously. We turned on the radio and the first thing we heard was the emergency broadcast system tones. Great. Here we are somewhere in Greenville and if they are saying there is a tornado, we haven't a clue where it might be.

It was three miles from the airport to the exit where several hotels were located. Three long miles. It was raining, hailing and extremely windy. Visibility was limited and was made even worse when a semi truck passed us and threw up a wall of water. We almost had to stop on the interstate before we could see out of the windshield. We came to an underpass and stopped for a few minutes. I think our nerves were rattled by the storm and lack of visibility. We then drove to a hotel where we got our rooms. I just prayed that a tornado would not come roaring through since nobody would know where I was.

Morning After the Storm - View from Hotel Room
Pat and I met in the lobby the next morning at 8 a.m. to begin our drive to Knoxville. The clerk at the counter told Pat to turn left leaving the parking lot and we'd get to I-26 easily. Ummm, about that. Luckily for us, I bought a new smart phone before leaving on my trip. I fired up the built in nav system and got directions to the interstate. I don't know what the hotel clerk was thinking, but there was no way we'd have gotten to I-26 if it wasn't for the nav system. We were on back country roads including the Cherokee Foothills Parkway and Route 25 before reaching I-26 heading north.

We found a McDonalds at the interchange and an Egg McMuffin never tasted so good. We hadn't eaten since lunch the day before with the exception of a couple of tiny bags of peanuts on the airplane. I was starved!

The trip to Knoxville was a very scenic route crossing the Great Smoky Mountains. We had snow showers in the mountains west of Asheville, North Carolina, so that just added to the types of weather we had experienced. We saw lots of waterfalls coming off the steep hills due to the storm during the night. I wish I would have gotten some decent pictures of them.

We pulled into the Knoxville airport around 11:30 a.m. to return the car and I could pick up my rental for my days there. I'm not sure if the Avis people felt sorry for us or what, but I got to be Mustang Sally. Literally! My rental was a brand spanking new Ford Mustang with less than five miles on the odometer. I've never been the first rental customer in any car, much less a sporty machine. While the blue was bit on the bright side, I wasn't complaining.

 The Odometer Reading

Just call me Mustang Sally!
The remake of Planes, Trains & Automobiles was a wrap!


JC said...

Wow .. what a trip !!!

When I was coming back from my Arizona mini vacation, I got stuck in Phoenix for over four hours due to the Alaska Airlines puters going out. We were one of the lucky flights that actually got to leave. They gave us a meal ticket, free miles and later cookies and bananas.

No bus rides over the mts. though or a cute mustang.

Sylvia K said...

What a nightmare!!! I've had some lousy flights,but none that bad! Love the little mustang! I hope you're back home safe and sound!! Love the shot of the clouds, too! Ominous but beautiful! Have a good week!


Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Holey moley what a nightmare of a trip! I thought our December flight from OR was bad -- six hour delay in Atlanta -- but you know, we didn't have any schedule to meet and nobody was even expecting us. The mustang was adorable though -- that was a nice ending.

Gaelyn said...

Such a nightmare/adventure. Sounds like you were pretty cool throughout, Mustang Sally.

kRiZ cPEc said...

Cheers Mustang Sally, have a nice trip next time

Andrew said...

Amazing photography is there. I like the photo of running cloud atlanta. Wonderful pics with that.