Except we couldn't leave.
That would be the sign for our flight. And that little red word you see? It was flashing "CANCELLED" over and over and over again. And so began our journey.
We arrived at Princess Juliana International Airport several hours early, as instructed for our international flight. We stood in long lines to check in our luggage and finally made it to our gate, where we waited and waited. Eventually someone came over a loudspeaker and said our flight had been cancelled.
We found out through the rumor mill what had happened. When the flight had come in an hour or two prior, one of the flight attendants had opened an exit door too early and activated that balloon slide thing that comes out in the event of a water landing. The family and I all agreed we would fly without it, but apparently the airline had other ideas. I have no idea why that balloon slide is necessary, in the event of a water landing you're pretty much dead anyway, although this was in the days before Sully Sullenberger. But I'm betting even he couldn't land a plane in the ocean after it came crashing down from 33,000 feet.
So, there you have it. The airline wouldn't fly us on a plane without a balloon slide thingy, and they didn't have another plane to put us on. We were trapped. In a foreign country. And we were not excited.
Not excited at all.
After a couple hours at the gate we realized we weren't getting out of St. Maarten that night. There was talk of flights to Puerto Rico, since it's a territory of the US. My aunt kept joking that they were sending us to "sunny San Juan." Princess Juliana was highly unqualified to deal with the mess they were in, but deal with it they did. Or tried to.
Severl hours after we were supposed to leave we found ourselves shuffled downstairs to the main level of the airport to wait in yet another line. For a couple hours.
Waiting in line. The first of many.
The airline had our luggage and we needed it back. I have no idea how it could possibly have taken so long, since it wasn't even on the plane when the flight was cancelled. But we waited for hours and eventually were moved into a room a couple people at a time where we shifted about and waited for our luggage to come around on the conveyor belt.
Eventually we got our luggage and were put on buses to take us to our hotel, compliments of United Airlines.
We waited in line again to get checked into rooms, and then we could finally relax, after hours of doing nothing but waiting, waiting, and waiting.
The hotel was actually very nice, and the view was gorgeous. And it was close to the airport.
Eating dinner, again compliments of United Airlines. But really, it was the least they could do after they got us trapped on a foreign island. It's not like we could just drive ourselves home.
We got up early the next day to go back to the airport and wait in line to check in. We got there before the counters opened and were still towards the end of the line.
Everyone was having so much fun.
Finally, FINALLY, we made it through the line and got on our plane, which ended up being a couple hours delayed from our original flight time. But we didn't care anymore. We were so happy to be out of that airport.
So off we went, on United 1078 bound for Chicago.
And we lived happily ever after.
But not quite.
You see, we were about 24 hours late for our connection from Chicago. And, happy day, there were no more open flights until the next day, which we discovered after about an hour in line. Princess Juliana got us the heck out of St. Maarten without worrying about our connections, so now we were Chicago's problem. And, here's a shocker, they didn't know what to do with us either. We could spend the night in Chicago and catch a flight the next day, but with the next day being Monday we all had work and school.
So we did the only thing we could: we drove. But not even that was without its problems. The largest vehicle they had wasn't going to be big enough. We were literally squished in that car with our luggage piled around us. It was a long 6 hours. We arrived in the cities late at night, where I was dropped off at school. The rest of the family still had a 3 hour drive up north.
United Airlines never reimbursed us for the cost of the vehicle we rented, or for the flight from Chicago to MSP we didn't take. But, that's the airline for you.
Needless to say, we survived. It wasn't funny at the time, but it makes a pretty good story now.