The following is an excerpt from my Kilimanjaro travel journal, written June 16, 2010
The ground was in sight. The plane had descended low enough to almost graze treetops.
After nearly two days, the trip from London to Kansas City was finally nearing its end when suddenly the engines revved.
The girl sitting next to me grabbed my right hand and nearly crushed it in cold, hard, white-knuckled fear.
What the hell was going on?
Heads turned from side to side and nearly every passenger wore a look of confusion as our plane, just seconds away from touching down, raced back up into the clouds.
Did the landing gear fail to deploy? Did they forget the luggage and decide to go back? Nothing would’ve surprised me at this point given the mess American Airlines had made of my trip home.
Fortunately, our pilot chimed in over the public address system a few minutes later and clarified things. Another plane was on the runway as we were about to land. She’d had to abort the landing attempt so we wouldn’t crash into another plane on the runway.
Wait. Hold up. There was another plane on the runway?!?!?
How does a mistake like that happen? How does the control tower nearly allow another plane to land on an occupied runway?
Credit to our pilot for paying attention and saving our lives. She had the plane safely on the ground and at the gate 15 minutes later, but the close call was a perfect ending to a nightmarish return crafted by the folks at American Airlines.
First came the $50 baggage charge in London. I wasn’t charged for checking a second bag on my way from Kansas City to London because it was an international flight. Perhaps this was one of American’s latest gimmicks to swipe a few more bucks. Let you fly somewhere, and then stiff you with extra fees to get back home. Who knows.
Then came the connection through Chicago O’Hare. After watching the laughable “Welcome to the United States” video featuring the happy faces of all different ethnicities (made even more ironic by the recent Arizona immigration uproar), the customs line took about 45 minutes to navigate while a police officer rudely barked at people to push to the side as they tried to figure out which poorly marked line they should wait in.
From there, it was on to the gate. A 15-minute delay soon grew to two hours. Multiple excuses were offered as to the cause of the delay, all the while announcements were made that the flight was oversold and a voucher and spot on the next flight out would be given to volunteers. I would’ve accepted if I didn’t have a ride waiting for me in KC.
After two hours, American Airlines canceled the flight. I bolted to the gate where that later flight was set to depart and got there in time to hear that it too was oversold.
Fortunately, my friends Brian and Michelle have a condo near Soldier Field, so I hopped on the train and headed to their place to crash for the night (American Airlines offered no lodging, meal or transportation vouchers despite this being their mistake). Brian, Michelle and I walked a few blocks to a pub downtown and grabbed dinner before calling it an early night.
The next morning I headed back to the airport, inquired again about the bag fee I’d been charged (I was given a different explanation in Chicago than I was told in London) and headed to my gate.
An announcement was made that the flight was oversold (surprise, surprise), but we boarded and everything seemed orderly. That was until the crew determined that someone boarded the plane that shouldn’t have. A staff member decided to do role call and have everyone on the flight raise their hands when their name was called. Five names into role call, it was determined that the wrong passenger list was being used.
Eventually the flight departed and the short trip was smooth until the near-crash landing was avoided.
With that, my two-week journey was complete.