Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Congratulations Dr. S.!

(Originally posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 by Tim)

Well, this is 2 weeks delayed at this point. I blame finals week and the nice weather and grant writing and...well you get the picture.

The title says it all. Cat and I journeyed out to Southern California this week for her Ph.D. defense which she passed with flying colors. I was torn on the title for this post. I wanted to name it, Cathy's big adventure after the cornucopia of mechanical problems that Delta subjected us to on Tuesday.

It all started in Roanoke airport. There are several things that I dislike about living removed from civilization and Roanoke airport is one of them. You can't go anywhere direct from Roanoke and it seems like we get delayed 50% of the time leaving the place. The worst thing is that the delays can be caused by events across the country. We have been delayed in Roanoke due to weather problems in Chicago and mechanical problems in San Francisco. As far as I can figure, if one of the luggage guys in Atlanta develops a hang nail, it translates into a delay at Roanoke.

Well, this time the delay was actually caused at Roanoke. It seems that when our plane was landing, it hit a bird. Said bird was clearly trying to get at the pilot because it bounced off the windshield rather than getting sucked through the engines. Come to think of it, the bird may have been a terrorist trying to bring our great nation to its knees by causing delays at Roanoke airport. I wonder if it had a laser pointer? In any case, the bird hit the windshield and took off the windshield wiper. Apparently the FFA considers windshield wipers essential and we couldn't take off until it was fixed. Of course it wasn't that simple. First, we were told our flight was canceled. At this point, everyone gets up and charges the attendant. Cat grabbed her cell phone and ran down to the ticket counter to try and make changes there. I sat and courageously guarded the luggage. I wasn't going to let it out of my sight and allow some crazy plane charging bird get at it.

After roughly 30 minutes, the attendant comes back on and tells us he was kidding, they didn't cancel our flight after all. It seems the maintenance guys were able to pull a wiper blade off an old VW bus out in the parking lot and attach it to our plane with a liberal amount of duct tape. Cathy comes back from the ticket counter and, with high hopes of making our connection, we get on the plane. Unfortunately, an on time take off was not to be. After we get into the plane, we end up sitting at the gate for 40 minutes. Eventually the pilot comes on and tells us that our resourceful maintenance guys forgot to write the make and model of the VW bus in the repair log. For us to take off, this critical information must be inscribed in the tome of repairs. So all they have to do now is find the maintenance guys and get the information they need for the log. This takes another 20 minutes and needless to say, we've missed our connection in Cincinati.

Arriving at Cincinati, we find that Delta has rebooked us on a later flight to Los Angeles. The flight is two hours later, but still gets us in at a resonable hour. I'm thinking, "Ok, not perfect, but it isn't too bad". Of course I should have knocked on wood or sacrificed a small animal or whatever one does to ward off bad luck in that situation. It turns out that our plane in Cincinati is also broken. I actually didn't listen to what the problem was, but they went and put us on a different plane, resulting in another one hour of delay. Cat was enjoying the extra time to work on her thesis and I managed to get this cheerful picture of her. Our new plane is coming in from San Francisco and there are some sort of delays there (probably mechanical). They keep bumping back our departure time and we lose another hour waiting for it to come on. Now, we're looking at getting to the hotel at something like 1:30 am in the morning.

Finally our plane arrives and we board. Then we sat at the gate for over an hour, big surprise huh. Eventually, one of the ground crew comes on the intercom and says, "We've been here at the gate for some time and we just wanted to let you know what is going on. There's a small fuel leak in the right engine and we're waiting for a ground crew to come look at it and tell us if it's too big a leak for us to take off." A SMALL FUEL LEAK! Clearly, someone needs to school these Delta guys in a little creative lying. If not creative lying, how about a little creative not giving out all the details.

So we wait some more. Meanwhile, as is always the case with these things, we have someone freaking out adjacent to our seats. This time the individual is in front of us. He calls the flight attendant over and says, "Can the Captain make an announcement? I'm a liscenced pilot and I'd never take off with a fuel leak." The flight attendent informs him that jets fly with small fuel leaks all the time and that he's welcome to walk up and talk to the Captain or get off the plane if he feels uncomfortable. Well he doesn't talk to the Captain and he doesn't get off the plane. The first thing he does is call his significant other and tell her/him to sue Delta should the plane goes down. Next he and the women across the isle start going on about how crazy it is to take off with a fuel leak and mutually raise each other's anxiety level. The flight attendent finally has to come over and tell him "mostly politely" to quiet down as he's scaring the natives.

Eventually the mechanics get there and determine that the leak is not large enough to prevent us from streaking through the troposphere. The Captain does come on and inform us that the leak is one drop every two seconds. I do a quick (and conservative) calculation in my head and inform the pullus minimus in front of us that it translates into us losing a whole liter of fuel over our four hour trip.

Finally, we pull out from the gate. Yay! We taxi out on the runway. Yay! We're 10th in line to take off. Yay! Well, ok, not yay, but we are in line. Then we sit. We sit for at least 30 minutes before the Captain comes on again and informs us that he has an "indicator" in the left engine and we have to go back to the gate. It turns out that the indicator is a fuel valve that needs to be replaced. We've now been on the ground so long that our flight crew is running out of time before they have to take a break and get us a new crew due to FFA regulations. So we sit on the runway for 25 minutes hoping that we get the fuel valve changed in time. If we don't, they need to get another flight crew and we will certainly be stuck in Cincinati overnight.

Well, people like to say that "Alls well that ends well." They managed to chainge the valve in time and rest of our flight was without event. We landed in Los Angeles at 2:30 am and got to our motel at 3:30 am. Cathy managed to get enough sleep to do very well at her defense and she is now Dr. S. I've attached some of the pictures from her defense below for your viewing.

Picture captions in reading order are:
1. Cathy opening champagne.
2. Cathy, Cynthia (Lab Administrative Assistant) and Marie (Lab Technical writer).
3. Cathy and Steve (Advisor).
4. Cathy and Steve (Advisor).
5. Happy Cathy.
6. Cathy, Rhonda (Lab Manager), Cynthia and Marie.
7. Cathy in the Mayo Labs.
8. Cathy outdoors.
9. Cathy by the DNA fountain.