I always heard that the Tampa Bay area of Florida was the lightening capital of the United States. More days of lightening per year than any other place. Well, lately it’s our home office in Hendersonville, North Carolina. It may be hot from Washington, DC to Florida across to Arizona, but the active weather seems to be in my town. What’s really strange was that we didn’t get a drop of rain from the last storm, yet the lightening strikes (about 2 miles away) reached our office and “popped” our surge protectors, blew out 2 computers, and a router which took us off the internet. I now know how far lightening can travel (pretty darn far). This handicap lasted about 2 days. I never knew I was so dependent on the internet till I had no internet. All is well now.
My wife and I were in Mexico this past week (as we do mission work across the border in Matamoros, Mexico). We were to board our flight at 4:00pm yesterday for a simple 1 hour flight to Houston to then connect to our last flight to Asheville, NC. Our incoming plane was delayed because of mechanical problems. By the time it got to Brownsville (over 2 hours late) we would now miss our connection (which was the final flight of the day) back home. We decided to still go on to Houston and get one flight out of the way, spend the night in a Houston hotel, and fly the final leg today.
So we boarded the plane and left Brownsville at 6:30pm. Just before landing in Houston, our pilot informed us that a severe thunder storm decided to sit over the airport, and the airport was now closed. The pilot said we had extra fuel so we could circle for awhile. Well, after an hour of circling (and the airport still closed) we were running low on fuel, and now had to be diverted to San Antonio to take on fuel. We landed in San Antonio at 9:30pm. As we were fueling, our pilot got on the speaker and said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Houston airport is now open. The bad news is that this flight crew has now exceeded our legal flying time for the day. So we will have to have you deplane here and get on another jet. (There were already about a dozen other jets that also had to divert to San Antonio because they were also low on fuel). So we got on another jet and finally 5 hours after leaving Brownsville, we got to Houston. We were supposed to be home last night by 10:30pm. We got home today around 9:00pm. Oh yeah, we also had to fly into another airport (Greenville) and get a ride home (65 miles) instead of the 10 miles it would have been from Asheville airport. The end result is we got home about 24 hours late and with more flights and stops then we had ever planned on.
About every 5 years the cycle of demand/supply in Washington, DC goes full circle. Even the affects of 9/11 haven’t changed that cycle. Right now (as things appear) hotel availability will be in short supply (and high demand) and prices will be up. We know this from being in direct contact with the hotels on a daily basis. School groups (especially larger ones like bands and choirs) need to be especially aware of this. Do not wait very long to make your Washington, DC travel arrangements, especially if you are traveling from Mid March thru mid June 2007. Prices will either be outrageous (for the few hotels that will have availability and will gouge) or you may be staying 50 miles or more from the center city. We have been in business 23 years and this is the 4th or 5th time the cycle has gone this way. What will most likely happen a couple of years from now is hotel general managers will be calling us with special deals because thy will have alot of empty rooms. However, that’s not this year. Book your trip early.
After about one week of having to adjust to Orange Level restrictions (nuisances), most everyone has adjusted to not being able to take drinks onboard a plane or bringing things on like liquids or gels, or chap stick, or make up. Even in the toughest airport, Washington, DC Reagan National Airport (because of the proximity to government sensitive areas), things are pretty much normal again. A poll was recently conducted after the latest terrorist scare and the question was, ” Are you very scared to travel/fly?” 23% of the respondents said yes. What is interesting to note is that that is the same identical percentage that responded the same way one year after the 9/11 terrorist attack. This means we are not letting scare tactics bother us the way they used to (at least in this case.).
All the school groups we have that go to Washington, DC, whether it is a history or government class, or even it’s a choir or band, all want to visit the US Capitol and tour it. If you can think back five years ago (pre 9/11), you could get in one line if you had a school group and another for individuals and families and go right in without a reservation. Also no elaborate security screening. Those days are gone. That is why we stress that school groups need to book their trip early with us. Once we know your dates and approximate travelers, we can contact your local US Congressman (or woman) or Senator and get an appointment for you. This is now the only way you can get into the Rotunda of the Capitol. Some groups would like to get gallery passes too for the US House of Representatives or for the Senate, and we can also get those, but again book early, as the reservations are strictly controlled and it’s first come, first reserved. I feel badly for some school groups who book later in the fall and want to travel at a particularly busy Spring week. All we can do at that point is make the US Capitol a picture taking spot. All reservations would have been given out. Besides 9/11 the current architects that have been involved with renovations of the building, have put a maximum on the number of visitors allowed through the building each day (which is about 60% of what it used to be). So again, I say book your trip early so you won’t be disappointed about not getting into the US Capitol as well as other popular Washington, DC attractions.
I don’t like these kind of stories, especially related to the sensitivity of the student travel market, but everyone is thinking back again to September 11, 2001 after yesterday’s foiled plane bombing plan. I have school groups right now booked on flights to New York City and Washington, DC and it makes people think again of the terrorist attack of five years ago. My mindset is different than alot of Americans, although I think over the last five years many have changed their mindset too. My mindset is, we no longer live in a protective “glass bubble” immune to events in other parts of the world. Israel has lived in a state of military readiness for years and yet they still live normal day to day lives (even with the latest rocket attacks from Hezbollah). The United States has a “knee jerk” reaction to terrorist threats. That reaction is to stop doing what we normally do and change our plans. This is actually one of the goals the terrorists have in mind. I’m not saying our country should not be caught with “their pants down”. I’m in favor of security measures. However, even with security measures in place, it does not make us impenetrable. We have to be able to live our normal lives (as they do in Israel) knowing we have very good security measures and an excellent Intelligence Department capable of sniffing out and finding terrorists and their plans against our country. I am also editorializing to school boards and administrations that cancel trips based on the news media accounts (which is also somewhat editorialized). You know, because of yesterday’s events, it is not unconceivable that a school from (let’s say) Jackson, Mississippi may cancel their trip to Atlanta. Sounds untrue. I was there after 9/11 and after we sent troops to Iraq in 2003. These kind of things happened. I hope, since 9/11 the American mentality has toughened.