Aunt Millie had been planning a trip to southern India for many months. She was interested in the culture of Tamil Nadu and she had made many friends who were originally from that area and they had offered her a warm welcome by their families. The plans had been finalized after many phone calls and email exchanges with the relatives, and the airplane reservations had been made with a departure date of December 28, 2010. Since the plans had been made far in advance and the reservations had been confirmed with the airlines, everything seemed to be in order.
The Christmas weekend blizzard of 2010 changed everything. The whole East coast of the United States was buried in snow that paralyzed all forms of transportation. Christmas and New Year are two of the busiest days for air travel because many people go back home for the holidays to spend time with relatives and friends. In 2010, the big snow storm shut down all three of New York's major airports for 24 hours which affected flights throughout the United States. European tourists who planned to fly into New York got diverted to Chicago and they had no idea when they would get to their destination. Some members of a marching band from Pennsylvania got stranded in Philadelphia and the band faced the prospect of going to the Rose Bowl with only half of the musicians.
At about 3 PM on her day of departure, Aunt Millie got a phone call from her travel agent saying that her flight from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. to the JFK airport in New York had been cancelled. Aunt Millie tried desperately to find any flight from the Washington area to New York, but there were no airlines scheduling flights to New York. It was a mess! Her flight departure from JFK to India was still on schedule, but she would have to wait at least a week to reschedule the flights and she would lose the vacation that she had already taken from work. Rescheduling was not an acceptable alternative. What to do? Paul to the rescue.
On the 28th of December, the weather was clear and crews had had about two days for cleaning up the snow, so Paul offered to save Aunt Millie's vacation by driving her from DC to New York, only if she promised that he would not be blamed if they could not catch the flight in time. Paul had filled the car with gas the day before to take Aunt Millie to the Dulles Airport on the 28th, so he grabbed four granola bars from the kitchen and put them in his coat pocket. The luggage was loaded in the car and Paul and Millie left the Washington area at 4:30 PM. Aunt Millie had to be at the check-in counter at 9 PM. It was going to be a tight schedule. Aunt Millie called the airline at JFK to tell them that she was coming by car and not to give her place to any stand-by fliers.
During the trip, there was a 7 minute pit stop in Pennsylvania to fill up with gas and get a quarter pounder to go from McDonald's. Paul gulped down the burger but Aunt Millie was too stressed to eat anything. Of course, mustard spilled on Paul's sweater. It is not easy to eat neatly while driving a car in the dark. It had taken quite a while for Aunt Millie to set the GPS while Paul drove. Did you know that the JFK Airport does not have a street address? The GPS was finally programmed by locating Long Island on the map, zooming along the south coast of the island until the JFK airport was spotted, and then setting that as a destination.
At 9 PM, Paul and Aunt Millie were four miles from JFK when all the traffic stopped. The New York roads had only been partially cleaned. Three-lane roads like the Belt Parkway had two and a half lanes clear of snow, but only the center lane was clear all the way. If you drove on either of the side lanes, in some spots you would find yourself driving toward a pile of snow that obstructed half of the lane and you had to switch back to the center lane. After a tortuous 15 minutes wondering whether all the effort had been in vain, the snow removal crew that had been blocking the lanes moved and Paul and Millie made it to the terminal at Gate 4.
Paul put the flashers on, unloaded the baggage, and helped Aunt Millie get in line for the check-in desk. When he got back outside to try to park the car, a cop was already there asking to move the car immediately or get towed. You think parking was easy? Not at all! The parking lots had not been plowed and they had from six inches to one foot of snow. The cars were parked haphazardly and piles of snow made it impossible to park in many places. People who had used the airport carts to bring their luggage to their parked cars had found that the carts would not roll on the snow and they abandoned them in the middle of the driving lanes. Exasperated drivers were angry and rolled down their windows to shout to oncoming drivers that they who should go back. Paul found a spot for limousine parking toward the exit from the parking lot.
Paul went inside the terminal and helped Aunt Millie get her boarding pass, which could only be obtained by paying for some overweight charges in another long line. Paul left Aunt Millie all set to board the airplane and he drove back to DC. By 5:20 AM, thirteen hours after the initial departure, Paul was back at home and Aunt Millie was on her way to India although her flight had been delayed by almost four hours because of the weather.