Curse you, JetBlue!
Why, you ask? Because the discount airliner doesn't have a direct flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Nashville, Tenn., where I am covering the 40th annual Country Music Awards.
JetBlue has great rates to Nashville from JFK Airport in New York, but that airport is so far away from my New Jersey home and traffic is always such a nightmare. So I chose a 6 a.m. Delta flight on Sunday, connecting in Atlanta to Music City.
Everything was fine, right up to the point where we were about to lift off, when suddenly several loud banging sounds came from the right side of the plane, accompanied by sparks that shot up past my window seat behind the right wing.
"Uh-oh," I thought. "That's not good." Actually, I said something like "What the !#$%^&!!! was that?" as we were slowly lifting off the ground. There was complete silence on the plane, mainly because most of the Atlanta-bound passengers were asleep.
But as luck would have it, I was wide awake, studying People magazine's country music edition for my CMA coverage, and I just happened to have the best seat in the house to watch the fireworks. Was it the engine? Was it a blown tire? Nobody knew.
A flight attendant began explaining several possibilities for the sparks and what sounded like small explosions. One scenario was a blown tire. Another was something she described as a "hot start," where combustion builds up in the engine and spits its way out in a loud bang.
The plane never really got too high off the ground, and a few minutes later the pilot announced that there was an "indicator" about the right engine, and that we would level off at 25,000 feet and circle back to Newark.
That was all he had to say.
Meanwhile, a very nice flight attendant assured us that we were perfectly safe.
Now, I won't deny that when I heard the sound of mini-explosions, accompanied by high-flying sparks — and I swear I saw flames — I was a little more than concerned. My proximity to the event would have left me little chance of surviving if the right engine did indeed blow up.
Then again, I guess we'd all be up the creek then.
What I really wanted to do was yell up to the pilot, like some back-seat driver, to tell him not to take off. In retrospect, the pilot probably did exactly what he was trained to do, and we landed without incident.
But the runway looked like Christmas came early to Newark. Several fire trucks and Port Authority police and emergency response units lined the runway as we landed. Again, not good.
We came to a halt and a lone fire inspector ventured under the plane, and emerged shortly thereafter with a thumbs up, and we taxied to the gate where we were told we'd board the 7 a.m. to Atlanta.
I felt much better about being trapped in a potentially burning aircraft after I saw the thumbs up, and I went back to my magazine and my cached country music on my satellite radio (which made my studying for the awards even easier).
Now is where the real Grrring part happened.
Delta wasn't staffed for 120 customers who were now feverishly trying to book an already crowded flight — most of whom had connections to destinations much farther than mine. There was absolutely no direction as to how to proceed.
For seasoned travelers, it was easy. We picked up the phone and reserved the 7 a.m. But most of the passengers piled on a long line, with one ticket agent at the end. To make matters worse, another ticket agent on another flight detail actually told a passenger, "No, I'm not," when asked if she was going to tell the passengers what to do. Then she essentially disappeared.
Of course, that passenger turned into a total Oblivion after that, and as if there weren't 120 people in her same predicament, started ranting about how she was "going somewhere for free, that's for sure."
Great. Opportunism at its finest. Grrr!
And then there was the woman who demanded to know where else she could go, because she wasn't "waiting on this line." Classic Important.
Most of us got on the 7 a.m. flight, and made it to Atlanta. Of course, one family left their seats before we reached the gate, because they were the only ones trying to catch a connection, and the flight attendants had to threaten further delays if they didn't sit back down, which they did with much fanfare.
My connection was changed to just an hour later, so I arrived in Nashville not too much later than I had planned.
But my baggage didn't.
You knew that was coming didn't you? Of course, most of the time, I'm just carrying clothes, which are easy to replace in the event I need a suit. But as luck would have it, this time I packed tapes, a device for digitizing analog video and an external hard drive for my PC.
Surprisingly, I was not too stressed about all this. After all, it's just multi-media, or just television, and you know, to be honest, FOX News Channel and FOXNews.com are not going to go black without my pre-awards coverage.
My bags were scheduled for the next flight out of Atlanta, so my cameraman and I hung out at the airport, and I wrote columns. In short, after much Grrring, we're here in Nashville, where country music celebrates its biggest night of the year.
I'm having fun, despite something Grrring in the air.
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