Amazing. Just when we thought we were headed home, the take-off of our plane from Aruba was aborted and we are headed back to the gate. It had been more than a week since Hurricane Irma came through St. Maarten with a vengeance, trapping six thousand Americans, including Mike and me. Four days later 300 of us were picked up and evacuated by the humanitarian effort of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. They rerouted an existing cruise to evacuate us, giving us the option to go all the way with them to San Juan via Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire, or to disembark at any port from which we could get a flight. Mike and I were able to get a flight from Aruba through Charlotte back to Raleigh. After spending the night at the Aruba Hilton, on Thursday, September 14th, we had arrived at the airport early, taking every precaution we could to make the flight. We should not have hurried.
Our plane was headed back to the gate. A mechanical problem was the culprit. On the intercom, the pilot reported that diagnosing and correcting the problem would probably take a couple of hours. We were told to deplane and wait near the gate. There really wasn’t anywhere else to wait. The lounge we had been to near the gate before we boarded our plane was now closed, as was everything else. At times we paced, unable to sit down. We talked to other passengers and heard some interesting stories. One man who was headed to Charlotte had been in Aruba for more than a week, there to attend a convention. He was scheduled to leave Aruba the previous Sunday. His flight had been cancelled and he and his sister who was with him had not been able to get on another flight home until that day; all the other flights were full. He said they were fine, that their additional expenses for lodging and food were covered by his company, but that some were not so fortunate. He told of a family with a child who was at an all-inclusive, travelling on a shoestring. When their flight was cancelled they had to relocate to another hotel, barely able to afford that and the food they needed for the five additional days.
About an hour after we deplaned, we were told that another flight was due in from Charlotte soon and that the decision had been made to send us out on that plane. We learned that our original plane had been sitting at the airport for days, and the needed repair on it appeared to be more extensive than anticipated. We were relieved that there was another plane option. Or so we thought there was.
The plane from Charlotte landed soon thereafter. Knowing that “turning around” a large plane takes about forty-five minutes when we were not boarding more than an hour later, I became concerned. By this time, making our connection from Charlotte to Raleigh was questionable. The longer we were in Aruba, the less likely it was that we would make that flight. Given that, Mike through Skype spoke to American Airlines and changed our flight from Charlotte to Raleigh. Since our original flight from Charlotte was the last flight out that day, we would be spending the night in Charlotte. Or so we thought.
Another announcement was made. Not only would we not get out of Charlotte that night, it seemed that we would not even make it out of Aruba.
Unbelievable as it was, the plane that had arrived from Charlotte, the plane that was now supposed to take us to Charlotte, also had a mechanical problem! Unbelievable! How likely is it that two planes in the same airport, (Aruba;) two planes of the same carrier (American;) two planes headed to the same airport (Charlotte,) would both have mechanical problems?
My mind went in several directions. At other times with similar delays, I had been able to think and say, “I am glad that they found the mechanical problem while the plane is on the ground.” While my logical mind knew that, my emotional self was not able to be grateful for that in that moment. I was spent.
I began to think of what would we do if we were stranded in Aruba that night. While we had resources the family with the child that had been stranded earlier in the week apparently did not have, how were we to know that we could even get a hotel room at the last minute? And for how long would we need a hotel room? How would this latest delay affect our ability to get seats on another plane from Aruba to Charlotte, and when? The flights from Aruba to Charlotte on subsequent days might all be full! I began to wish we were back on the cruise ship with our room and board secure with little to worry about other than how to avoid overeating.
But we weren’t on the cruise ship. We were at the Aruba airport and had been for almost seven hours.
When would we get out of Aruba? And what problems would we encounter until we did?