Traveling in the winter is always an adventure. When Zac and I booked our flights we found that it was cheapest to have two layovers instead of just one, so our route to the mainland took us from Honolulu to San Francisco to Denver to Minneapolis. Of course the weather in Hononlulu was flawless upon departure. When we landed in San Francisco, it was a little overcast, but no "weather" to speak of. When we landed in Denver there was a little precipitation so we had get de-iced before we could take off. For the number of times I've flown, it was the first time I had ever been on a plane as it got de-iced. After a quick bath of what I'm sure are highly toxic chemicals we were airborne and heading to Minneapolis. The pilot came on the intercom and told us the flight would be about an hour and 27 minutes long. We had been on planes for more than seven hours at that point. Oh, sweet relief was so close.
The pilot quickly announced that we were starting our descent into Minneapolis. He noted that there was some precipitation. Soon we were under the cloud deck and I could see the orange glow of the Metro Area. I grinned like an idiot as I tried to figure out which runway we were heading for. I could see the residual snow from last week's storm and was looking forward to taking a good, deep breath of cold air in a matter of moments. The pilot set us down and we slowed to turn off the runway and onto the taxiway. Then we stopped.
People began firing up their mobiles and unbuckling their seat belts, because, really, who actually keeps their seat belt fastened until they stop at the gate? A few people started to gather their carry-on from under the seat in front of them. But we still weren't moving. We waited a few more minutes. Finally the captain came on the intercom to tell us why we essentially parked 200 yards from the terminal - ice.
Our flight landed at 11:15pm on Saturday night, right after a nasty, unexpected ice storm coated the region. According to the captain we were able to land safely because of the ridges that are incorporated into the runways. However, the taxiways were smooth and now, essentially, ice rinks. Since the storm wasn't anticipated, and it was late Saturday night, there were no sanding and salting personnel at the airport. The captain couldn't drive the plane to the gate, and the United towing crew couldn't come out to get us. We were stranded until the salter/sanders arrived. And that could take more than an hour. (Because, after all, the workers were trying to drive on the ice to get to work.)
People groaned. Most people expressed a certain amount of skepticism at the severity of the ice, but as more people started making phone calls to their Minnesota connections they started hearing stories of how bad it really was out there. Someone said that they heard that there had already been 140 car accidents that night. The captain came back on the intercom and told us that the buckle-your-seat-belt light had been turned off and that we were free to mill about until further notice. The flight attendants came around with more beverages and tried to keep the mood light.
And honestly, most everyone took the situation in stride. What other choice did we have? We were stuck. Now, if this had happened after the almost six hour flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, people might have been crabbier. But we had only been in the air for 90 minutes. We were doing fine. 30 minutes came and went.
Then an hour.
Then 90 minutes.
As I realized we had been on the tarmac as long as in the air, I got up to use the restroom towards the rear of the plane. A group of guys was hanging out back there socializing about stuff and talking with a couple flight attendants. I think they even weaseled a couple of free beers out of them. That was kind of the mood of the plane - whatever it takes to keep everyone happy. I spent most of my time corresponding with Paul who had planned on picking us up from the airport. Paul reported that getting to the airport was practically impossible. Some of the bridges had been closed, the freeway was a parking lot, and travel was just all the way around near impossible. We crafted a plan where, assuming we ever got out of the plane, Zac and I would take the light rail to the nearby VA Hospital were Paul could pick us up and then we'd drive back to his house.
At this point the captain came on the intercom to relay that he could personally see the salter/sanders through the front window. (I think he added that last part to emphasize that the end really was near.) He also mentioned that though our flight was supposed to taxi to a gate on the far side of the terminal, the folks at MSP Int'l decided to get us to the gate closest to our current location. The baggage folks and ground crew were on their way to take care of us too. People heaved a collective sigh of relief and in a few more minutes we were moving towards our gate.
As I got off the plane I got a blast of cold air in the face and smiled. Invigorating. (Which was helpful as it was now 1:45am.) We realized we could still make the 2:19 train to the VA so Zac and high-tailed it to the baggage claim to get our bags. We then hustled to the light rail station, purchased our tickets and finally decided to dig out our winter coats from our bags as we waited in the 26 degree weather for the train. The train arrived, I do love the light rail, and we took the five minute ride to the VA. We debarked the train and almost fell flat on our butts. It was slick. This ice was no joke. We shuffled our feet as we skated down the sidewalk to Paul's waiting vehicle.
At this point it was 2:30 in the morning. Between the late/early hour and poor weather there was no traffic so we slowed through stop signs and red lights as we slide home. I almost bought it a couple of time just walking through Megan and Paul's backyard. But finally, at 3:00am we were "home". It just took a little longer to get there than we had planned. :)