For travelers stranded in U.S. by volcano, a flight home can't come too soon
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Alone in a Dulles hotel room with a single book and a TV he doesn't much care for, William Thue has had a week to consider the "what-ifs" that have left him stranded, threatening to keep him from celebrating his 85th birthday in Paris.
What if he hadn't spent a night in the District on his way from North Carolina to London?
What if the SuperShuttle he was taking to Dulles International Airport last Wednesday -- about four hours before his flight -- hadn't been rear-ended?
What if -- and this is the most nagging -- he hadn't complained of neck pain at the airport and the airline hadn't demanded that he go to the hospital, making him miss what would turn out to be one of the last flights to depart for London for nearly a week?
With a volcanic ash cloud leaving Europe-bound fliers in travel limbo, Thue's purgatory for the past six days is among the more comfortable but boring: Room 370 at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel. The room, where everything from the curtains to the floor is done in shades of latte, is quieter and more comfortable than the surroundings of stranded travelers who've been living on airport floors, their clothes wrinkled and hair grown greasy. But the feeling of restlessness is just as severe.
Optimism that at any moment he might get a flight home has kept Thue from unpacking his suitcase, but realism has pushed him to tell his wife to prepare to go without him to Paris, where they had planned to celebrate their anniversary April 27 and his birthday the next day.
"After flying commercial for 60 years, you learn you have to be patient," Thue said Tuesday. "But this is getting ridiculous."
Thue, who had been staying at a house he owns in North Carolina, said he had given himself plenty of time to catch last Wednesday evening's flight to London, where he lives most of the year. That's why he spent the night in the District and caught the SuperShuttle so many hours before takeoff. When the shuttle was rear-ended, the seasoned traveler didn't worry. He figured the mishap was a mere "pebble in the road." Even after Thue missed his flight, because he was released from the hospital so late, he figured there'd be another the next day. It wasn't until woke up the next morning to find Europe closed that the pebble suddenly loomed larger.
"Then the whole damn mountain fell on us," Thue said.
Thue said the hotel and airline, Virgin Atlantic, have been great about accommodating him. He knows he has it better than many other stranded travelers, whom he watches on the TV news. "I can't complain," he said. "I'm eating well. I'm sleeping well."
It's just that it's, well, so boring.
Watching tour buses, TV
There are no restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. The only businesses nearby have names such as Center for Sustainable Lighting and LabCorp.