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Detonation: Traveling Woes

The Inevitable Misfortunes of a Traveler

John Lehenbauer
Apr 6, 2017
Photographers: John Lehenbauer
I have always enjoyed traveling and seeing the U.S. The interest dates back to when I was a kid and my family would load up the truck and head down the highway with a map serving as our guide. We would see and learn about natural and man-made wonders, and we occasionally encountered a bit of Mother Nature’s wrath (snow, rain, and thunderstorms). Through it all, we were never deterred. We were always able to continue after only slight delays and would consider mishaps as part of the adventure.
Since I have been old enough to get behind the wheel, driving has been my preferred means of travel. Since I became Diesel Power’s tech editor, my transportation choices have changed quite a bit. For us, traveling to shows and events all across the country really isn’t suited to commuting by wheeled transportation. The distances and time constraints require me to take to the sky. I’ve never been opposed to flying, but before taking this job, I tended to stay in the western states and preferred my travel plans not be at the mercy of others.
I have heard the stories and news reports about people being stuck at airports, sometimes having to sleep in the terminals or in hotels for days because their flights were grounded, canceled, or delayed by storms, mechanical issues, and such. This was never really a concern before I started traveling for work. Driving most places always gave me the freedom to decide what to do, even if my travel plans were interrupted.
In my short time flying, I have been close to camping out in an airport on two occasions. The first time it happened, in August 2016, I was flying to Indianapolis to cover the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza. After leaving Burbank, California, I was supposed to have a short layover in Las Vegas, where I would catch a connecting flight to Indy. However, the plane I was supposed to fly on from Bob Hope Airport arrived late, which put our departure behind schedule. By the time we were on the plane and finally lifting off, the delay had taken up the time I had to connect with my next flight in Vegas. Since I was warned ahead of time the original flight was running late, I went ahead and called the airline to see if it was possible for me to catch the flight out of Las Vegas and whether there were any options if the plane left without me. I was told the airline does not always hold planes for late passengers, and there were no more flights until the next morning.
Photo 2/2   |   A bird’s-eye view (from 30,000 feet) of Los Angeles County at night. This is what I usually see upon my return from a work trip. I’ll probably be looking at a highway’s blacktop if I have to drive back home because a travel mission doesn’t go according to plan.
Once I got on the plane to Vegas, my hopes were that the Indy-bound connection would be there and I would not have to stay overnight in Sin City’s airport. The planets must have been in the right alignment that day, because they actually held the plane to Indianapolis for me. I was the absolute last person to board; the doors were locked behind me. I don’t even think I was seated before the plane started to move away from the terminal.
The second time I almost had to curl up on an airport bench happened when I was in Northern California working on a tech project. Just before I returned my rental car to catch my flight out of Oakland airport, I received a call from the airline saying my flight back to Bob Hope airport was canceled. Although it had been raining in the Bay area, the precipitation wasn’t substantial enough to cancel flights. Come to find out, a severe storm in Los Angeles caused the cancelation.
When I arrived at the airport, I found out no outbound flights would be leaving for two days (mine wasn’t the only one). While standing there thinking about how nice it would be to be on the way home to my family, the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles flashed through my head and I started laughing (to myself) about ending up like Steve Martin’s character Neil, who had to go through a bunch of trials to get home.
I’m happy to say the situation never got as desperate as Neil’s. But not wanting to hang out in the Oakland airport for two days, a Plan B was needed. With L.A. being only about 400 miles south of Oakland, driving was the next option. I headed back to the rental car lot to get a set of wheels. Upon my arrival there, every rental company had a long line at the counter, which made me think cars were getting scarce. After a brief wait, I was able to score a car for a one-way trip to Bob Hope. A few hours of driving in a weak storm got me home.
I’ve been lucky so far, but I definitely feel for anyone who has been stranded. There is always a possibility that it can happen when traveling, by land, air, or sea. If being truly stuck somewhere ever happens to me, it will be handled like anything else, the best way possible.

John

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