Saturday, February 20, 2016

No Exit

It really was the perfect trip...up to the moment we arrived at the airport and noticed a disturbingly large number of people just sitting on the floor with their luggage. We should have been tipped off when the shuttle driver kept asking us if we checked on our flight, but we had and according to the American Airlines website, our flight was just fine.

Except it wasn't. See, some navigational equipment on one of the mountains was broken and no one had been able to service it for days, so when it was cloudy (like that day), the smaller planes had a hard time taking off. So even though the website was reporting that everything was A-ok, our flight was cancelled, and since a rockslide had closed I-70, we couldn't really leave Aspen except via air. And with the equipment out and it being windy, the probability of that started rapidly diminishing.

While Allen tried to get us on a non-cancelled flight, Nabeel and Megan showed up with their kids for their flight back to San Francisco. It too was cancelled (thought they didn't find out as quickly). This was a bit of an issue, as they were only heading back to SF for 24 hours in order to drop off their ski stuff, pick up their car, make their kids' conferences and then fly to LA for a Pokemon competition. So while the kids played various games on the airport floor, we continued to try and get on a flight that afternoon, and the Hyatts re-booked theirs for a direct flight to LA the next day, (cars, conferences and clothes be damned!), got a hotel for the night and wished us luck.

As our scheduled flight was now less than two hours, we headed through security in order to eat at the lone restaurant in the Aspen airport. Time passes. A single plane landed. And after a few more fits and starts, we boarded the plane, took our seats in the last row, and began to hope that we might actually make it home that evening and could send the kids to school the next day, narrowly avoiding an additional unexcused absence (their fifth) which would in turn trigger a call from the school's social worker and a strongly worded letter informing us of our parenting lapse and threats of Child Protective Services.

But then things started to get weird. The lead flight attendant announced that we were 1400 lbs overweight and so they would begin unloading all checked baggage in order to have it trucked to Denver to be later reunited with their owners (the logistics of which were unclear, given I70's status) and bring all gate-checked bags back into the plane resulting in all open seats having a belted carry-on.

While this was going on, the flight attendant sitting in the jump seat next to us started telling us about the landing of the previous flight -- how it was the worst one of his career, that he couldn't believe they weren't redirected and how passengers were crying throughout -- and that he couldn't believe we were even trying this. Then he started discussing how he'd been sick for a really long time and that he would be retiring soon, thanks to his billionaire brother who, despite not having been much of a sibling throughout their childhood (in which the siblings were orphaned and then adopted together), announced after the attendant's illness that he could stop working and that he'd take care of him. So the brother had set up a trust for him which would allow him to buy a house (either in Aspen or Park City) and retire in two weeks.

Which made our current predicament seem all the more ominous. The captain said we were now just below the maximum weight, and as we were first for take-off, we were going to taxi-over to the runway, but since it was so windy (and it had now started sleeting), we were just going to hang out for a while, waiting for some updates from other airborne flights and look for a window of opportunity.

At this point, pretty much everyone on the plane wanted to abort, but we all sat there tensely and quietly (except for the flight attendant by us who kept talking about the danger of trying this and real-estate cost in ski areas) waiting to hear what the captain thought. After another 10 minutes or so, he announced that the previous plane to leave Aspen was reporting some passengers had been injured due to turbulence at take-off, so since "we've got kids on this flight," he was going to take us back to the gate where we would decide what to do.

So we deplaned and collected our carry-on (which had a better seat than we did) and after they announced we were officially cancelled and we had claimed our luggage at baggage claim, Allen and I worked on getting a hotel for the night and plane tickets for the next day while the kids made prank calls asking people to marry them and go on a honeymoon to Paris on those telephones at the airport that connect you to local vendors. (FYI, not our proudest moment, but I assumed they weren't actually talking to real people and quite frankly, we had lost our "A" game 6 hours earlier).

We couldn't get a room where Nabeel and Megan were staying, so we took a shuttle to the Holiday Inn (and had no cash to tip the driver) and then walked through hail to get dinner, only to retire early back at the hotel (whose radiator heat clanked loudly about every 20 minutes) in order to make a newly re-scheduled 7 am flight the next morning.

So we arrived for day two at the airport at 5:30 am, only to discover that because we'd switched from American to United and then we're trying to switch back to American, the transfer hadn't gone through and so we weren't really booked on the 7 am flight and they couldn't book us using the computer at the desk. So our representative went to a back office for 45 minutes while the rest of our plane checked in and left. It started to look like we were going to be stuck in Aspen for another day, when we finally got our tickets, made it through security and grabbed some pretzels for breakfast.

We were pretty nervous taking off, but the flight to Chicago was surprisingly easy and upon landing at 10:30 am we had plenty of time to grab a relaxing lunch and find our gate before our 3 o'clock flight.

In part, because it became a 4 o'clock flight and then a five o'clock one. It seems the wind we had encountered the previous day in Aspen had headed east and was now impeding most of the flights out of Chicago. Flights were being delayed and cancelled at an alarming rate while disembarking flight crews could be overheard discussing passenger freak-outs. Once we finally thought we'd be allowed to board, they discovered they needed a new lightbulb and we had to wait another half hour.

Finally, around 6 pm we finally left Chicago. After an extra bumpy ride, we arrived in DC, collected our things (eventually... apparently Allen's ski boots took an earlier flight and it took us a while to find them), caught a Uber home, put the kids to bed and had a drink before crashing.

It really was a great trip, but it's probably for the best that this isn't an annual thing.

Snowmass 2016

Snowmass 2016

Snowmass 2016

Our ski trips out West have become quite the family tradition.  This year we joined the Hyatts for another Snowmass adventure.  For the first time, the flight out was smooth, we arrived before the sunset, and none of the kids got sick.  The weather was gorgeous, 40's and 50's most of the week, with one day of snow (4-5") in the middle, and great skiing conditions on all the slopes.  Our condo, Tamarack 34, was right across the street from ski school, probably even more convenient than the condos right on the slopes we've stayed in in the past. We had a lovely Valentines's day lunch at Lynn Britt Cabin, and another amazing dinner at Matsuhisa.  The kids both did great in ski lessons, Owen shot up to level 5 in the 7-9 year old group, and Nora had a great time with her instructor Lollipop and cruised up to level 4 in the 5-6 year old group.  We got to ski with the kids in the afternoons after lessons when they were up for it, and on the last day Owen skied with us the whole time. Our last morning in Aspen, we visited the Ice Age Discovery Center for a fun extra activity between checking out of the condo and catching the shuttle to the airport for our conveniently timed early afternoon departure.  All told, an absolutely wonderful trip :-)

(click here for all the pictures)

Thursday, February 04, 2016



For my 41st birthday Elaine treated me to an amazing dinner at minibar by José Andrés.  As a fan of molecular gastronomy, I couldn't have asked for a luxuriant feast for all the senses.  Hard to pick a favorite dish from the night, but I might have to go with the Mussel Shells.  They looked just like you would expect, but through the magic of liquid nitrogen you eat the shells and they melt in your mouth with all the flavor of an amazing moules marinières broth. Delicious!

(click here for all the pictures)