The storms came out of nowhere. We rode in the taxi to the airport with overcast skies and a few sprinkles. But just after we got checked in, the skies opened up and the monsoon-like conditions washed over Brisbane like the heavy-duty cycle of a Maytag.
We sat at the gate watching the planes on the tarmac disappear behind a curtain of deluge, only glimpsing the 737s in the hundreds of lightning strikes that lit the sky during the continuous rolls of thunder.
We knew we weren't going to be flying to Sydney on time.
No Duty-Free Shopping
I texted my Aussie friend Cheryl who works in air traffic control at the Brisbane airport. She said things were a mess but we had a good chance of getting out of BNE in enough time to catch our flight to Dallas-Fort Worth from Sydney.
The storms finally passed and we were quickly boarded onto the plane. Of course, everyone on the flight was tense. Most all of us had flights to catch to somewhere else. As we were descending into Sydney, the flight attendants were coaching us on making our next connections and where to go immediately after exiting the plane.
Unfortunately, we had to go from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. That meant taking a bus from terminal to terminal -- something that in the past had delayed Chris and me on flights before.
We sat and sat on the bus waiting to move. When we finally got rolling, I texted Cheryl again, and she said to 'haul ass' straight to the gate. They were holding the plane for the BNE flight to arrive. She also instructed no duty-free shopping along the way!
Cheryl also asked where our seats on the plane would be. We had some trouble getting our seats sorted, and in the end we wound up with two seats in the very back of the plane, which meant when we boarded as the last of the passengers, everyone would know it was us holding up the plane. Lovely.
On exiting the bus at the international terminal, we had 20 minutes till takeoff and STILL had to go back through security and customs. We sprinted through the security line and passport control with the help of an express pass the flight attendants gave us. We made it to the gate just as the last of the DFW passengers were boarding.
We settled in and took off. It was a new Qantas Boeing 747 plane with the state-of-the-art screens in the back of the seats with more movie, tv, and music selections than anyone could ever play through. After dinner, we were perusing the tv selections (we chose Come Fly With Me, a BBC sketch comedy that is absolutely hilarious) when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man hovering by our seats.
It was one of the pilots. I took off my headphones as he leaned down and said, "Your friend Cheryl says hello."
What??! Cheryl had used her air traffic control powers to get one of the pilots to greet us! He asked if we'd like anything from business class (too bad there weren't any seats available!). I asked for a drink, which he cheerfully got for me.
We got to talking and he asked where we were headed. After telling him we were on our way to Tennessee, he said, "I've been to Tennessee once. I went to Greeneville to visit a friend at Tusculum College."
Of all places.
Tusculum College is less than a mile from my parents' house. The Aussie pilot remembered it being a pretty little place with lots of apples and cider. He was there in November, so I guess the apple cider thing could fit. Small world!
After arriving at Dallas-Fort Worth, we came to a massive line in customs. Our flight from Sydney had arrived about 20 minutes late, and after waiting 30 minutes in the passport control line, we received another express pass to skirt the lines.
The passport guy in Dallas could tell we were frantic. We DID NOT want to miss this flight because it meant a night in Dallas and no Mexican dinner with the family -- something we had been looking forward to for months. The passport chief was a friendly guy, and asked if we got any good Mexican food in Australia. No, we didn't. In fact, we explained that we were running to catch the Knoxville flight so we could meet our family at a Mexican restaurant tonight. As he stamped our books, he smiled and said, "You'd better run for it!"
We collected our luggage again, sped through customs again, re-checked our luggage, and sprinted to the terminal train. Again.
We sprinted through the airport for the second time in 18 hours. Not just jogged. We were in a full sprint - complete with high knees - lugging our two carry-ons like weights. As we huffed and puffed up to the gate, we found American Airlines had waited on us. Again. This same thing happened last year, too, for this same flight into Knoxville.
Everyone on the plane was already boarded and buckled in, so we tried to sneak on without receiving too many death looks for delaying their takeoff. Have you ever tried to sneak onto a plane? It's really hard because, as you may know, everyone is sitting facing the door. Not a lot of places to hid.
Oh well. We made it. The luggage didn't. Since we ourselves barely made it to the plane, we knew there was little chance that the luggage would. We had been awake for 32 hours straight at this point, so missing luggage was the least of our cares. We made arrangements to have the luggage delivered to Chris' parents the next morning. Somehow this was translated by the airline as 2 a.m.
Since Chris was staying in Knoxville with his parents and I was going on to Greeneville with my family, this meant I wouldn't have my luggage for three days. After piecemealing an outfit together from old clothes in my old room, my sister said she could tell I was luggage-less because I was dressed like a hobo.
At least I got two workouts in.