Escape From Detroit

Much of my family is scattered across the country, so I haven’t been able to visit them as often as I’d like.  When my grandmother arranged a gathering to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday, I boarded a plane, looking forward to catching up with relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, including cousins I had never met before.

The trip involved a connecting flight in Detroit.

Before the plane could take off, we received word that Detroit was experiencing some sort of weather phenomenon–meteor storms or something–and that the airport there had been shut down until the apocalypse had passed.

We were forbidden to take off until that happened, so we waited on the plane while the flight attendants served beverages and tiny bags of pretzels to prevent us from resorting to cannibalism.  Some of the passengers worried they would miss their connecting flights, but the crew assured us the planes in Detroit were also grounded, and that all would be well.

When the departure window opened, we scrambled into the air, arriving in a Detroit still misty from the meteorological apocalypse that had assaulted it.

The airline canceled my connecting flight.  The gate agent directed me to the customer service desk.

Thor and the Midgard Serpent (image via

On my way there, I stumbled across a line that snaked through the airport like a human Midgard Serpent–a mythical creature long enough to coil around the world and grip its own tail in its mouth, an ability which probably plays well on the talk show circuit.

“Uh…this wouldn’t be the line for the customer service desk, would it?” I asked a grim-faced man.

“Yes,” he intoned in a pronouncement of doom.

“Curses,” I cursed.

Eleven flights were canceled that day, so hundreds of people stood in a line worked by only two customer service representatives, supported by automated machines and wall-mounted telephones that were too swamped to be of any help.  The airline served warm soda and tiny bags of pretzels, but they were insufficient to ward off starvation as the hours passed.

image via

For much of that time, we stood alongside a sliding sidewalk from which a monotonous voice endlessly repeated the same warning:

“Please watch your step as you exit the moving walk.  Please watch your step as you exit the moving walk.  Please watch your–please watch your–please watch your step as you exit the moving walk.”

Had there been a cliff nearby, I would have flung myself to my doom to escape that voice.

By 2 a.m. I had a boarding pass for a flight departing late the next day, assuring that I would miss most of my grandfather’s birthday party.  Because weather was to blame for the flight cancellations, the airline refused to compensate me.

At least they gave me a pillow and blanket for a luxurious overnight stay at the airport.

Hunger gnawed at me.  I found vending machines.  Hooray!

But the vending machines refused to accept either money or credit card.

The other humans were either too fast for me to catch or too clever to become ensnared in my traps, so I resolved to wait until morning to eat.  Sleep was also denied me.  The chairs were designed to force people to sit upright, and the floor was so hard and uncomfortable it was like sprawling across a torture device.

Winged raptors descend upon their helpless prey

Morning came much too soon for my need to sleep, yet not early enough for my need to eat.  After powering up with a nutritious breakfast, I watched a small flock of birds darting about the inside of the terminal.

“Where were you guys during the night when I had nothing to eat?” I asked them.

“Cheep, cheep,” they replied.

Since I was no longer hungry, I tried to befriend them, but they were more interested in feasting than in friendship.

Snake Plissken (image via

The hour of departure arrived.  Having had no sleep since 9 the previous morning, I shuffled onto the plane like an exhausted zombie.  I feared that some other complication would delay me further, causing me to miss my grandfather’s birthday party entirely.

But the plane departed on time, and just like Snake Plissken, I made my escape from New York Detroit–not that the airport there is that bad, as far as airports go.

A quick shower cleansed two days worth of airport from my flesh and revitalized me enough to make it to my grandfather’s birthday party as dinner was wrapping up.

When I arrived, people cheered, applauded, and hugged me.  It was like walking into a room full of instant love.

Family is pretty special.  The trip was worth it in the end.

*     *     *

Have apocalyptic meteor storms stranded you in an airport with only a tiny bag of peanuts to ward off starvation?  Have unforeseen circumstances stood between you and reunion with your family?

38 thoughts on “Escape From Detroit

  1. Catherine Johnson

    I love how you managed to write in your genre telling us this crazy story Mike. All I can think about is why didn’t they hand out apples? You must have been starving and I can’t believe you had a blanket and Pillow. I think my pillow was a bag. So relieved you didn’t entirely miss your grandfather’s birthday. I bet you felt like you were in a movie. Have you seen that Tom Hanks movie where he lives in the airport?

  2. Brinda Berry (@Brinda_Berry)

    My flight a month ago got delayed and changed and seemed like a marathon. I did not have to spend the night. I would expect them to offer a hotel and meal vouchers. I got one for lunch and dinner since I spent the entire day for a new connecting flight. Wow. So sorry.

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      That’s okay. At least I got a blog post out of the experience. I’m such a trooper 😉

      I wonder if the airline would’ve been more inclined to hand out some vouchers if they hadn’t canceled enough flights to displace hundreds of people, since that would cost so much money. But on the other hand, the experience makes me less inclined to give the airline a favorable review.

  3. lwsapir

    As usual, you had me laughing, though the ordeal sounds harrowing. I can imagine the fear you must have felt as the tiny pterodactyls dive bombed. Oh, wait, they were birds. Same difference.
    I’m glad you didn’t entirely miss the party!

  4. livrancourt

    Many quoatable quotes…my favorites:
    “Curses” I cursed.
    “It was like walking into a room full of instant love.”
    Nice post!

  5. Tami Clayton

    What a craptastic experience, Mike! I’ve been there, done that with the airlines several times. My post about my Travel Mojo was my most recent experience: At least I got to sleep in a hotel and got a meal voucher. Sleeping in an airport is the complete opposite of enjoyable. Sorry you went through all of that. Glad you made it for part of the party, though. Sounds like you were welcomed in like a rock star!

  6. Barbara Forte Abate

    I admit to feeling a little creepy laughing so heartily over your “series of unfortunate events,” but then, you only have your writerly skill to blame :-D.

    I’ve never been held unduly long in an airport–although I did once fly into an oncoming hurricane and was stranded for days at my destination. (Okay, not even close to the same thing, since the destination was Mom’s house, which was abundant with tasty goodies and assorted creature comforts … still, stranded.)

    I have to believe it might have been a wee bit less painful if the airlines had made a little more effort to compensate grounded passengers. There situations certainly happen enough times that there should be a hot-dog wagon on speed dial and maybe a closet full of cots.

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      It’s totally okay to laugh…it’s what I was hoping for when I wrote the post 🙂

      Having grown up in an area that suffers hurricanes on occasion, being stranded can get pretty serious if the power gets knocked out for a week or more without proper preparations, not to mention the danger of tornadoes. I’m glad that it sounds like your hurricane experience was less devastating.

  7. corajramos

    See–good things can come out of terrible experiences–you got a blog post! Very funny. The airport experience is one I try to avoid if I can nowadays. It has gotten so difficult and uncomfortable, but as you said, you learn some Zen-like states to cope. Being tired and needing to sleep is the worst. I get VERY cranky when I don’t get enough sleep. So glad it all worked out with family. That’s most important.

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Yeah, there was a moment when I thought maybe it would be better to just come back home when I found out that I was going to arrive at my destination so late because any further delay would have made me miss pretty much everything. But I realized it was probably my only chance to see in one place everyone who was going to be there, and I didn’t want to miss it. I’m glad I didn’t.

  8. Judythe Morgan

    Mike, the ordeal must have been awful for you. You had me laughing and cringing. Delightful retellingl–a true testament to the fact that everything that happens to us is fodder for the writer’s grist mill.

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Hi, Judythe. Yeah, it was pretty awful, but being able to see family in the end made it better. And you’re right…the experience was good for some blog material 😉

  9. Kirsten

    A meteor storm, huh? Likely story!
    I’ve had a few issues, one where my husband and I had to drive home to Chicago from Denver through a snowstorm in minus fifty degree temperatures … but at least the airlines had a legitimate reason for not flying in that case.
    It is always a question of whether it’s worth it to brave the often heartless and haphazard airport rigamarole, but for me, family always wins out. I’m glad yours appreciate the trouble you went through to get there.
    A sense of humor and a good book to read always helps.
    And a snack or two. 😉

    Love the post!

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

      Normally I can easily wait for several hours in an airport because I always make sure I bring plenty of ebooks with me, but for whatever reason, I didn’t do any reading in Detroit. I think after a certain point I was just too tired.

  10. Ellen Gregory

    Oh I see I’m very late to this party! I can’t help but get excited when totally annoying things like that happen. Gosh that sounds weird, but they’re such great experiences in retrospect. Maybe you made it sound too funny :-p
    Great post!

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Ellen. Yeah, getting stuck in that airport for 22 hours was pretty miserable at the time, but at least I was able to turn it into what appears to be an amusing anecdote 🙂

  11. elainecougler

    Oh, Mike, you bring back bad memories. Of a flight from Ixtapa to Toronto. We had to land in Harlingen, Texas after engines started conking out and wings falling off. (At least it sounded like it.) We, too, spent the night cornered in the airport with hard floor and single chairs, but we also had the sobs of little children who were caught as well. The flight crew rested comfortably at a nearby Hilton. In the morning, a plane to come from Montreal to rescue us and get us back to Toronto by around noon that day. Needless to say we do NOT fly that airline anymore.
    Glad all worked out for you, and you’re right. Family is everything.

    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Hi, Elaine…nice to meet you.

      Sorry if I awoke some bad memories. That certainly sounds like a bad time at the airport, especially for those little kids. Surprisingly, I don’t remember seeing any in Detroit, but surely there had to be some. There were just too many cancelled flights for there not to be.

  12. Alina Sayre

    I love this post! I think everyone has an airport horror story or two, but I like that you actually told yours as a horror story 🙂 Favorite part was definitely the monotonous voice on the moving walk. At least it wasn’t saying “Mind the gap. Mind the gap. Mind the gap…”


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