Well, now that it is all over, I can say that it was quite an experience. In a nutshell, the volcano in Iceland put out too much ash again, and we had to come back home after getting less than four hours from landing in Europe. Though, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" is I guess what you came to hear, and not the "nutshell" version, so here it goes.
I was dropped off by my family at the Dallas airport in plenty of time to go through the ticket window, checked baggage, and security on Sunday, May 16th. I found the terminal without any trouble, and checked in my thirteen students who would come to Houston from Dallas with me as the connecting flight for our group to Houston. From Houston we could board the airliner to take us to Europe. I got on fine, stowed my baggage, and got into my seat without getting too confused. For never having been on a plane actually heading somewhere before, I was quite happy that it went so well (the other time was in Scouts- and it was a quite different experience). I discovered the takeoffs and landings are the worst times, but all in all flying is not a bad experience. I quickly found out that having the window closed works best for reading.
We arrived in Houston, and found the rest of the group there waiting for us. At the proper time, we all boarded the Southwest Airlines plane and headed off to Europe. The in-flight movies were quite bad, so I busied myself reading a book. By the time we were over the Pennsylvania- New Jersey area, I had read most of the book and was dozing off and on.
We flew out over the Atlantic Ocean until we were approximately straight south of the eastern tip of Greenland, which is apparently when our flight crew discovered that all the airports in Europe were closed because of a renewal of the ash cloud. With just over 3 hours 50 minutes to go before landing in Amsterdam, the plane turned around and headed back to North America. We were not informed of this decision by the pilot until we were less than 30 minutes from landing in Newark, New Jersey, for fuel. Apparently the decision was made while still in the air over the ocean that we would fly all the way back to Houston, which was not received kindly by the Europeans in the aircraft who wished to get back home, or at least stay on the East Coast to shorten their flight home, whenever that would be. But we had no choice in the matter, and after obtaining fuel we flew all the way back to Houston. That was when the fun really started, as it was now something like 5 AM, we had a group of 31 people, we were sitting in the Houston airport, and we were not even supposed to be in the country anymore!
The airlines arranged for us to spend the night in a hotel, though most of the night was gone by the time we actually arrived back and could find it. After waiting until around 6 AM for a shuttle from the hotel to come pick us up, some people left by cab minutes before the shuttle finally came. We then went to the hotel, got keys, and most everyone took their luggage off to their room to sleep for a couple of hours, after arranging for everyone to meet in a designated area at 9:30 AM for a council of war. Several students and I elected to remain behind, figuring that we would not be much improved by a couple of hours of sleep, and if we slept we would not be able to get out of bed after only 3 hours, so we camped out in the lobby chairs until 9:30.
At the 9:30 meeting, our professor informed us that the booking agent had managed to rebook us all together on one flight scheduled for Thursday, which meant that now we had to survive until Thursday. Actually a lot of the students lived around Houston, and some simply had multiple house guests for a couple of days.
My mother and siblings came back and picked me up, and then I discovered that since I was now here, I could help move furniture in preparation for the house to be rewired! I thought I would be lucky enough to miss that, the volcano must have conspired with the wiring people and my parents or something so that I would have to help. No, actually it was good that I could help, and I now know that most of the furniture in our house can in fact be moved, which will come in handy someday!
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