Saturday, February 9, 2013

When I escaped the blizzard

I was doing some work for an insurance company in New York.  Their office was on 57th Street.  This would have been in 1986 or so. On the news in the morning, on Friday, I heard the forecast that a major storm was coming up the East coast, and it was going to be all snow in New York, and it was going to be bad. Sometimes they were non-committal about the forecast and whether it would be rain or snow, but not this time.

I was going to New York often, and my normal routine was to take American Airlines flight 25, which left around 3:00 or so, a DC-10 flying non-stop to DFW. I would normally break for lunch, and then come back to work for a while and then catch a taxi to the airport at around 1:00.  This obviously was in the days before 9/11, the TSA, and the two hours early recommendation. 

Given the weather forecast, I elected to leave work early and grab something to eat at the airport.  As I waited to flag a taxi on Sixth Avenue, the first snowflakes were trickling down.  By the time I got to the airport, it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see.  I paid the driver, and went in to the ticket counter to check in.  (This really was a long time ago when you had to check in at the counter!)  I asked if they had an airplane for the 3 o’clock to Dallas, and the agent checked, and said they did. Well, generally they can take off in a lot worse stuff than they can land in, so I was fairly confident it would happen.

I had lunch, but noticed, as I walked to the gate, a certain air of desperation among the passengers. 

The gate area for flight 25 was absolutely jammed.  LaGuardia is an old airport, and the gates were not intended for jumbo jets.  Lots of people were standing around.  There were continual announcements as they brought standbys up to check in. I did not see any other airplanes on that finger other than mine – if you were not on flight 25, you were probably spending the night at the airport.

The flight boarded on time, and the plane taxied out to the runway.  The pilot announced that the conditions were above the company minimums, and he was asking for the snow plows to take one more sweep down the runway, and we would depart.  And we did.  At the time, American had a channel on the inflight audio where you could listen to the air-to-ground communications.  After taking off, the pilot called Washington center and asked for direct routing to DFW. The response was, “Captain, you’re the only thing up there. You can go wherever you want.”

I spent the weekend at home, with some cloudy but warm February weather.  I went jogging a couple of times in shorts and a t-shirt. Late Sunday I flew back to New York, where the airport had only just re-opened, and for the only time in my life I shared a taxi. Two ladies who were shoppers for Dillards department store, and I, shared a cab.  The FDR drive had only one lane open (of three).

When I went to work the next day, I knew from bitter experience that the people working there had spent the whole weekend digging out, so I didn’t tell them anything. One secretary, however, asked if I had gone home that weekend.  I told her I had.  She asked how the weather was in Dallas.  I replied that she didn’t want to know.