Wednesday, March 13, 2024

March 3, 2024 – Tampa, FL – Cloudy, Rainy, and Stormy – 70s

I slept so-so last night but was awaked early by lightning and thunder.  Hoping that passes by quickly.

Waited over an hour until the breakfast was open – it was not yet crowded and I had some raisin bran and frosted flakes (always good) and a waffle (very good) and buttermilk biscuit (tad underdone – if you drown it in gray (which I don’t) then it’s probably OK).  The breakfast was pretty good overall.

I went down again with Ellen for her breakfast.

At 11 AM, we vacated our room – a nice big room with a lot of repair and maintenance issues – Ellen grabbed the bar near the shower and it came out of the wall – she is not that strong. She reported that - along with photographic evidence - to the front desk.

Too early to to the airport – no bag check in for four hours before departure.  We warmed up yesterday’s pizza in the hotel microwave and had it for lunch along with another Mexican Coke.  The pizza travelled well and the lunch was very good.

A little after 12 PM, I called for an Uber to TPA. The ride is only 5.28 miles and took only 10 minutes – the total fare including the $2 tip came to $16.92.  I’m sure that’s a better deal than the hotel would offer (usually $10 pp).  Alberto dropped us off at the Blue Terminal – United. 

In TPA, the Kiosks are right at the bag drop area.  I checked us both in and the bags were tagged.  We went up one flight to TSA Precheck – the line was long but it moved very quickly.  We both had our picture taken while the agent checked out our passports (a new thing for us).  As I was going to the magnetometer, the bell went off. The TSA said it was a random double check – I went through the full body scan and then a brief pat down – the second time on this trip.  No problem.

We got our carry-on bags and then hopped the train from the Terminal to the Gates – a five minute ride. We are flying UAL2289 (737-800) today and it was parked at Gate C9.  

The TPA airport is really nice with lots of places to eat and very comfortable seats (just like the ones in the United Club, which TPA does not have).  They have chargers and a console to put your stuff. 

The flight boarded on time at 2:05 PM for a 2:50 departure.  We are in Economy Plus Seats (11A and 11B – middle and window – I really like the window) and Ellen is small enough to fit in the middle.  The legroom may have been a little better on this plane than on other United Jets. 

We didn’t push on time as two standby passengers were trying to find seats.  The flight attendants were all helpful and friendly and communicated very well over the PA.  The pilot, who referred to the cockpit as the “front office” could not be understood at all.  Spoke softly and mumbled.  We pushed and started our taxiing.  In a few minutes, the pilot said (and the flight attendant translated) that because of the storms in the area, the planes were being spaced out every five minutes – I think normally, they are 90 seconds apart – and that we were 20th in line. An hour and 40 minute delay.  Well, that delay turned into a two hour delay with several passengers destined to miss their connections in Chicago.  We moved up slowly every five minutes – the captain idled the engines between inching along - trying to save fuel. 

At the 2 hour mark, the captain said that the winds had shifted and he was directed to another runway.  As we made out way to the other runway, I could see the planes queued up for takeoff.

There were only three planes ahead of us at that runway and finally after two plus hours of waiting on the tarmac (with only one quick bathroom break allowed) we were off.   Finally, takeoff.  The flight attendants were told to sit in their seats until the air was smooth.  

On the plus side, which we were waiting to leave, the storms had passed through Tampa and there was a smooth corridor to the West. Our pilot used that vector to bypass a lot of the turbulence which made for a smoother ride. And indeed, the ride was pretty smooth all the way to Chicago – the head Flight Attendant spent a lot of time working out how to deal with missed connections.  

The sun was setting giving me a great shot from 36000 feet.

The flight attendants sat down early as we came over the lake – the plane was vectored straight into ORD (from the East) maybe due to the need to make those connections.  

The ride was bumpy on approach with the plane moving side to side and wings rotating a bit – the pilot did a good job of dealing with the winds until touchdown (we came in hot but the thrust reversers slowed the plane). The taxi to Gate C10 took about 10 – 15 minutes probably chewing up the time buffer with our direct landing. 

We arrived at our gate at near 7 PM; we waited until the connecting passengers exited the plane.  We crossed under the tarmac to get to the baggage claim area and found our bags (after a while).  I called our pre-arranged American Taxi Cab.  He arrived in about 10 minutes in an unmarked car – Ellen asked him if this was a real cab. It turned out to be one and he got us home quickly and safely. FYI – there is a $6 evening surcharge, which is annoying but another way businesses can jack up prices.  This surcharge did not show up when I set up this ride. 

So it was a tradeoff at TPA – a takeoff on time through a sky of thunderstorms or a delay that avoided that and gave us a smooth flight.  It may have become a nightmare for connecting passengers but for us, while annoying, it made for a smoother flight.

The cruises themselves were fantastic – perhaps, the food was inconsistent but the rest of the trip, the lectures, the time outside, the entertainment was very good. 

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