Monday, January 21, 2008

Where is Punta Gorda?

So after 5 weeks of jetting around the USA, we thought it was time to come up with a funny travel anecdote to send people...

Yesterday, we were to fly from Greensboro, NC to Columbus, OH (then drive to Toledo) – which would have taken about 10 hours to drive the whole way. We were a little excited because our flights cost $10 each with a new ULTRA low budget airline called Skybus. We dutifully went to the airport two hours before the flight, only to find that it was delayed by 3 hours (along with most flights). After the wait, and negotiating our way through hordes travellers, having a gate change, no signage or update announcements, and straining to hear flight attendants yelling above the crowd, we boarded our plane. No big deal, it was just another about of about 19 flights we’ll be on this trip.

When we landed, the captain announced “Welcome to Punta Gorda, Florida” – and a bunch of people laughed, so although my heart jumped, I wasn’t worried.

An arctic blast was forecast for the North, so the temperature was likely to be 0 ̊F outside (about -18 ̊C). So we put our coats on and braced for the cold air... which was... warm and humid. Weirded out, we walked into the tiny (ie NOT Columbus) terminal to see people in shorts and t-shirts. Really weirded out. We walked around for a while in disbelief, but it finally started to sink in that we were indeed in Punta Gorda, Florida. I’d never even heard of the place – and it took a while to even work out what it’s name was. If you’re wondering, it’s down on the bottom Western side of the little appendage that is Florida, sticking out like a pan-handle from the USA. I checked with Google, and it told me we were a 20 hour drive from Toledo, Ohio and therefore, Grandma and Grandpa.

When we finally got up the courage to tell a staff person, and he said – “You’re not the only ones” and we met our new friend called Dain who the same thing had happened to. Since Skybus is such a low cost carrier, you can’t talk to a real person who works for them. The guy we were talking to was just a contractor, and they do everything online, so there’s no phone number to call. The airport was so tiny that it was only Skybus who flies into it, so there were definitely no more flights going out (it was after midnight by this stage). After lots of fun, we ended up getting a lift in an airport employee’s limousine to a nearby Days Inn for the night, planning on turning up to the airport the next morning at 7am to talk our way onto the 9am flight.

Apparently the area we were staying in was devastated by Hurricane Charlie in 2003 or thereabouts. All the buildings had been either rebuilt or re-furbished after the storm.

The next morning, after a little adventure trying to get a lift to the airport and getting there with less than hour before the flight. (Floridians seem to be very friendly, but pretty laid back, i.e. not in a rush to get us to the airport, and also due to dense fog, the guy who eventually was nice enough to drive us got a little disoriented) the Skybus people still claimed they could do nothing for us, so I urgently had to buy tickets online in the minutes before departure time – luckily I had my laptop and the airport had free WiFi or we and our friend Dain were not getting on that plane. We can apparently claim a refund online... probably about as likely as Di and I coming to America and not eating Krispy Kreme donuts.

The plane ended up being a few hours late again due to the airport being fogged in. We finally got to Columbus, complete with arctic blast, got our car and followed Aunty Ji’s directions to Toledo, Grandma, Grandpa and dinner. Aunty Ji is our GPS.

So overall, it was a shame to miss almost a full day of our last two days with Grandma and Grandpa for a long time, but it was an interesting experience. Sort of.

Dain and me booking tickets with minutes before the flight was due to leave...

Boarding our Skybus flight in Florida.

By the way, Punta Gorda is HERE

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