The other weekend, we travelled to San Diego for a week-long vacation for my wife’s birthday. We’d been planning the trip for months – I booked our flights and hotel around April of this year, and we travelled (as usual) with an eye for determining whether San Diego could be home for us.

After a fairly uneventful trip through our local airport’s security, we hopped on the plane to Charlotte and our first layover. We landed, grabbed a snack, and queued up for the big cross-continent haul. Somehow, we’d gotten lucky – the airline randomly assigned us exit row seats on the Airbus, my first time in an exit row. Usually they cost extra. I was surprised how many times the airline double checked to make sure that you know you’re sitting in an exit row and that you’ll have to do stuff if there’s an emergency. We were prompted at checkin, when handing in our bag, when our tickets were scanned, and again one more time before the plane took off. Foreshadowing only happens in books and movies, right?

Coming into Charlotte, we flew alongside another plane for a few minutes.

Sitting in the exit row, I didn’t have great visibility out of any windows. The closest window was mostly behind my seat, and the person behind me had closed it soon after takeoff, so I spent the flight finishing a Terry Pratchett book and starting another before browsing the in-flight entertainment and starting on Snowpiercer, an excellent but not subtle movie about class dynamics through the lens of a dystopian train with a seemingly infinite supply of energy.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I have some bad news…”

With about an hour left in the flight (and about an hour left in my movie), the pilot made a surprise announcement – there was an emergency! The plane had developed a hydraulic issue affecting the steering and would need to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas. Over a series of anxiety-ridden announcements by the pilot and flight staff, we learned that emergency vehicles would be standing by, there was a chance the plane would leave the runway during landing, and we should all be prepared to leave via the emergency exits. Also, they did not know how we would be getting to San Diego after we maybe-landed in Las Vegas.

On the positive side, the person behind me re-opened the window, so I was able to get a glimpse of the Nevada desert. I noticed aloud how perfectly straight the highways over the desert were – they ran for miles, straight as an arrow, and only turned when necessary to avoid crossing a mountain. My wife did not share my fascination with highway planning.

Above the desert on a plane with failing hydraulics

Each time the pilot or flight attendants made a new announcement about the state of the plane, a wave of murmurs and concerned conversation ran through the passengers. As we began to descend, a flight attendant came by to check once more that I was willing and able to operate the emergency exit, as I had the window seat in the exit row, it’d be on me to open it and deploy the slide if necessary.

As night fell, we approached low over Las Vegas (which looked very flat) straight as an arrow and gently touched down onto the runway. I watched the runway markings as the pilot applied whatever braking he was able to – we were just barely drifting to the left after landing, but we straightened out a few moments after applying braking. We slowed and came to a stop safely on the runway between groups of emergency vehicles with pulsing red and blue lights and the pilot asked us all to remain seated as we waited for a tug to pull us across the tarmac to an airport gate.

Livin’ Las Vegas

At first, the crew optimistically offered for us to wait on the plane while the maintenance folks tried to fix the issue, but soon enough it became clear that this Airbus would remain broken longer than was feasible and we were asked to deplane. Coming off the jetbridge, we overheard the gate attendant explaining that they’d be doing their best to get us to San Diego that night, but that Las Vegas does not typically fly direct to San Diego, so we were welcome to collect our bags and make alternate travel arrangements if we desired, but in the meantime, to please feel free to grab some dinner, stretch our legs, and wait until they had more information for us. Not being in any particular rush, and never having been on a diverted flight before, we scoped out the area for some grub and prepared to get comfortable.

Airport food is challenging at best. I usually only find overpriced pre-packaged junk food, or hastily-made wraps and sandwiches, or microwaved menu items at an off-brand Applebees. Somewhat recently, after receiving a suggestion to try going gluten free from no less than four different doctors, my wife has been adhering to a gluten-free diet. We searched through our terminal for options and found a California Pizza Kitchen (great!) that was closed (not great)! and not many more options for real dinner food that was also gluten free. I picked up a hastily-made chicken caesar wrap for myself, and my wife grabbed a cheese stick and a small bag of Doritos for a sorrowful birthday eve dinner.

Back at the gate, a Karen was aggressively videoing the gate attendant for reasons unknown – allegedly for her own personal safety, but it certainly seemed like the Karen was trying to bully the gate attendant into doing something she had no power to do. I enjoyed hearing the gate attendant remind her that she was in an airport, not a public space, that the pilot had landed here for her personal safety, and that she could be removed by airport security at the drop of a hat, she is not special, so shut up and sit down with everyone else, thank you very much. I was nearby, enjoying the parenthetical drama while attempting to enjoy my dinner.

After about two hours of trickling information (they found a working plane for us! But then, goodness gracious, our flight crew somehow disappeared. Soon, good news, they found us a crew! But they didn’t tell the crew they’d found them for us. And so on.) we boarded a new plane to San Diego to the jubilant sounds of our new flight crew complaining that they’d been assigned this flight without notice, having been expecting to stay in Las Vegas that evening. At this point, it was well past our bedtime in our usual timezone, so I loaded up the rest of Snowpiercer and gently dozed away the last hour of flight time.

Finally San Diego

Touch down number three.

Jetbridge number four.

Airport number four.

We made our way to the baggage claim and waited. I watched a guy from our flight grab a surprising number of designer luggage pieces off the carousel (Louis Vuitton looked like his favorite) and got generally annoyed with the number of people crowding the area where the bags come out. Eventually, our bag arrived, and we made our way to the ride-share pickup area, turned down some taxi scams, and went to our hotel downtown.

We checked in and found our room, which was small but nice. My wife hadn’t eaten anything substantial since before we left Pennsylvania, so we jumped right into one of our favorite things about being in a town with a population more than five thousand people and ordered tacos for delivery. We’d run into some pretty sizable travel delays, but we’d gained three hours from timezone changes, so well after midnight for us was barely ten at night by the clock.

I ate my tacos while mostly asleep, plugged in our phone chargers, turned off my alarm and passed out, looking forward to the next day’s plans.

A landscape photo of La Jolla cove at night
La Jolla Cove at night, with lots of sea lions on the rock outcroppings.

I decided to split this trip into a few posts. The next post should be up Soon (TM).

  • A California Birthday
    We’d been planning the trip for months – I booked our flights and hotel around April of this year, and we travelled (as usual) with an eye for determining whether San Diego could be home for us.
  • The Sweetest Tour On Earth
    I grabbed my favorite camera, crossed my fingers that the film inside was still good, and tossed it in the back seat for the long drive down to Hershey.
  • Local Tourism
    Bellefonte is a great jumping-off point to do some exploring of the State College area.