When my ship comes in I’ll be at the airport

I took Richard to the Buffalo airport Wednesday for a well-deserved golfing vacation in Florida.

As usual, I had to allocate four and a half hours for the trip. Granted, it only takes a little under two hours to get there, but we always leave that buffer thirty minutes for the unexpected. I used to call it flat tire time, but today it’s more apt to be an accident, construction, or detour time. Whatever the unexpected delay, it’s never worth missing departure time at the airport. And then there’s the two hour trip back home.

The first two decades I lived in Warren, the commuter planes of Chautauqua Airlines were

the ideal way out of town on our rare airline trips . . . most often on business. I really miss the convenience of flying in and out of there . . . the quick half hour through Jamestown to Chautauqua Airport, the free parking, thirty seconds from the terminal’s front door, the great connections through Pittsburgh all those amenities compensated for the few less-than-perfect flying experiences. Sort of.

Well, there was that blowy, snowy night that the last flight home cancelled after our stop in Bradford – with our car in Jamestown. The Hertz lady was exasperated with the sudden rush of business at closing time. Her lack of vehicles resulted in strangers sharing the frightful slip-and-slide drive to the parking lot at Chautauqua Airport. Three crowded cars of stranded passengers, jammed in with luggage, were strangers no more after we all helped dig each other out and headed for home in that continuing 2:00 AM blizzard.

Another commuter flight on another stormy night was responsible for a large chunk of my white hair. My late husband, Tom, was a navy pilot and I was a stewardess back in the day. We were pretty intrepid travelers and took normal turbulence and strange airplane noises in our stride. This particular night, however, the freezing rain was blowing in sideways sheets and the winds were bouncing us all over the sky. As we headed north from Pittsburgh, the little plane struggled Actually, it was the captain who really had his hands full. We were being buffeted from all sides resulting in stomach-dropping plunges over Franklin and Oil City followed by hard lurching and jerking over Corry and Panama. As we

made our final approach to the runway on top of the hill in Jamestown, I wasn’t really confident. The engine noises were inconsistent and just as I thought we should be touching down we zoomed back into the wild, black sky. “Well, folks, that crosswind on final approach wasn’t too friendly, so we’re going to go around and try it again. Give us a just few more minutes and we’ll get you home.” Or something resembling that – with just the right amount of casual assurance that it was all in a day’s work.

Captain Fearless was just as folksy after the second aborted landing and beginning to show a bit of frustration after he made his third pass at the rain-drenched field. By now my hands were wet, I was breathing deeply and wondering who would pay the babysitter after we crashed. Oh – and who would raise our children.

El Capitan came back on the P.A. system: “Folks, we’re going to give it one last try. If we can’t get in, we’ll be heading back to Pittsburgh while we still have enough fuel to make it.” Oh good, I thought we’re going to crash in Pittsburgh instead.

The fourth pass didn’t seem one bit less terrifying than the first three, but either Fearless had a tee time the next day or we actually had used up our spare fuel to head back south. He got that little bird on the ground and to this day I don’t know how. Inside the terminal, no one from the flight was at the baggage claim bay, but both the men’s and ladies’ rooms were full.

My Mom told me recently that when she and my stepfather used to fly here for Christmas on the commuter, they always held hands across the aisle . . . after saying their prayers, and questioning their sanity. The weather was always typical for December and I think they renamed the Chautauqua outfit Sheer Terror Airlines.

And yet, despite the thrills and the challenges of winter weather, Chautauqua was convenient, and I miss it.

The Buffalo airport itself is really pretty wonderful. It’s clean, the people are nice and it’s so popular with Canadians (30% of all passengers) that they’ve had to enlarge it. But it’s still 98 miles away.

When my grandchildren do fly in for a visit, they see the road trip differently. They look forward to the herd of bronze Buffaloes grazing on the hill beside the thruway. They love the big Seneca Indian keeping watch further south on the highway. And as we drove south through the grape vineyards last October, Keira asked me, “Why is there so much barbed wire on those fences, Gogo?”

Barbed wire? What is she looking at? And what does an 8-year old know about barbed wire? Then, as we sped by, I looked again at the dried grape vines and realized that’s exactly what they looked like. Hmmmm. You can’t see barbed wire on grapevines from a commuter plane.

Maybe this isn’t so bad . . . this driving to pick up precious cargo. And come to think of it, everyone I pick up in Buffalo has always landed on the first try . . . as have I.

When I pick up Richard in two weeks, I’ll allocate four and a half hours for the round trip we have to allow for baggage claim.

I wonder if Captain Fearless has been promoted to the Orlando run.