Planes, Trains & Automobiles...and 5 cities later!

Posted: Apr 27 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles…and 5 cities later!

John Hughes is one my all-time favourite filmmakers and one of his best films to date is ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ starring John Candy and Steve Martin.

One of the main characters, Neal Page (Steve Martin), just wants to get home for Thanksgiving after his flight was cancelled due to bad weather - so he decides on other means of transportation to get home. Sound familiar?

And to his absolute horror and disgust, Neal is thrown together with Del Griffith (John Candy), an annoying Salesman that pushes shower curtain rings on the likes of anyone willing to listen to his pitch. He’s loud, yaps like a junkyard dog, offering his twist on life with advice, obnoxious mindless conversation, and very tasteless jokes. The story really starts to take off after Neal starts his journey in one direction and Del follows suit...this story falls into line with what 2/3 of the world experienced first hand last week.

It would have been nice to actually end up with a happy ending as Neal and Del had – a beautiful concerned wife, a nice warm cozy home with a fabulous holiday dinner waiting for them… But, such is Hollywood.

However, last week, the volcano Eyjafjallajökul, located on the small island of Iceland, erupted (exploded is more like it) spewing tiny particles of glass, ice, ash, and mud into the atmosphere, bringing the aviation world to a virtual standstill for 6 days!

We can’t say it was every man for himself as the helpless airlines stood by, clueless on how to handle this enormous natural disaster. From Hong Kong to Los Angeles to the Bahamas, we all looked at one another, scratching our heads, waiting for answers.

The question is: What do you do when Mother Nature makes a house call to 6.5 billion people at the same time? Apparently, there are no underwritten terms in any insurance clause covering a colossal call of nature! And apparently, no one is financially responsible either!

We were one of the few fortunate families to have been staying in a hotel room in New York City when it erupted allowing us to sleep in the comfort of a warm bed with food at our beck and call – and I thank our lucky stars for that too!

But there was this moment of clarity, it was almost as if the movie had been written for that specific moment. Just waiting to be told again and again and again. My heart especially went out to those who were running out of money, having started and ending their holiday plans in the very airport(s) they started their journey, only to be  quashed as ‘The Cloud' spread over the Atlantic and over most European airspace.

As we stood by the phone, along with millions of other travelers, waiting for a sign of hope and faith that the cloud would subside or atleast sink into safer air zones, the call came after 6 long days.

I was apprehensive to leave the hotel with my three children and husband in tow, knowing that once we parted, the room, our safety zone, would no longer be ours. So I packed what snacks we had, 7 sandwich baggies full, formula and clean bottles for the baby, and set off to JFK in a taxi.

It was nerve racking! As a mother, you start to think about what you packed in the diaper bag. Did I pack enough food? Diapers? Do I have extra clothes for ‘accidents’? I mean, come on, it was an hour and half flight to Detroit! But you don’t know any of these answers until your travel plans start to unravel, the kids start to scream because they are hungry, all at the same time!

My husband and I did not eat at all during the mahem and every time he secretly reached into one of the snack bags, I would slap his hand, saying it was for the children!

We boarded a plane bound for Detroit, and to our absolute irritation, we hear the Captain blurt over the speaker “Ladies and Gentlemen, there seems to be a light that’s on the fritz on the dashboard… (big sigh)… and we don’t know why. The Maintenance crew is coming to fill out the paperwork to fix the problem. Please make yourselves comfortable, you are free to walk around the cabin.” Now, as a well seasoned traveler, that’s never a good sign when the Pilot lets everyone loose!

3 hours later…we are still sitting in this dock, about a mile from the actual airport, waiting for this light to be fixed and the proper paperwork to be filled out. One of the passengers was getting antsy and demanded answers. We were all curios but just too afraid to ask. He then said “If we do not push off in 10 minutes, I want off the plane – bags or no bags! Half of these people had no intentions of going to Detroit – we are all trying to get back to Europe!”

Now, in any given circumstance, I would have been completely disgusted with this individual but absorbing the magnitude of the situation and realizing we had a connecting flight to make, probably the only one left, I found myself silently cheering him on. Mutiny never sounded so good!

Nevertheless, we pushed off in those 10 minutes and the flight was underway. I think the thought of having atleast 10 passengers demanding to get off with loose baggage in the plane’s belly and even the cost of it, scared the Union boys and the flight crew! So suddenly we were off.

We made our connecting flight, only to hear how so many had started their return home AND the second half of their journey to be ‘Cancelled’ mid-flight. We landed in Paris, to wait for the next part of our journey to London via the Eurostar.

The train station was absolute mahem! There were no trollies available to transport baggage to the train. You saw families, singles, the ederly, all of which were waiting around for spare tickets. Anything to get waitlisted on the last train of the evening!

We found ourselves running through Gare de Nord train station with minutes to spare…I had to leave my infant son on the tarmac to get the other bags on board. A mother reached out and explained her own little toddler was worried about the boy in the pram and asked where his mommy was. I winked and quickly said “Don’t worry Sweetheart, I have eyes in the back of my head and there is no way anyone will be left behind”. He smiled as did she.

Ironically, nobody was checking tickets. I did overhear a woman working for Eurostar say 200 people missed the train and that the train itself was overbooked by 100. There were atleast 11 empty seats in our cabin after we took off from the train station. Where was everyone?

We finally got to London and took a taxi home. I kissed the ground as we entered the property. I was so excited we made it home but still felt incredibly sad for all of the other travelers who weren’t in the comfort of their own homes.

At the end of it all, it took us 36 hours and 5 cities to get home via planes, trains and automobiles…what did it take you?

You know, my mother always says when there is a disaster at hand “We will all look back and laugh about this some day.” I think John Hughes had the same thoughts and many a journey…

Go out and buy ' Planes, Trains & Automobiles' by John Hughes (1987). It’s a great film and one we should never forget!

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