Thursday, July 18, 2019

Heading to the Great Smoky Mountains

[Composed 7/9/2019]

I was supposed to have the easiest path to starting our vacation. Shira had to fly to Boston to get D., and then the two of them had to fly through LaGuardia to get to Knoxville. J. had to fly unaccompanied through Atlanta. All I had to do was fly from DCA to Knoxville. How tricky could that be?

I did have one important task: I was responsible for shepherding our cooler, filled with dry ice and Kosher meat, to Knoxville. But I'd carefully read the TSA instructions on Dry Ice and even talked to someone at American Airlines ahead of time: as long as I followed the rules (used a breathable cooler, properly labeled and brought less than 5lbs of dry ice) I'd be fine. I confidently approached the baggage check-in area and handed the cooler and its precious contents to the ticket agent. She looked at the dry ice label and wordlessly walked over to a coworker. A few moments later she came back and checked me in. Well that was easy, I thought.

The short flight to Knoxville was leaving from the infamous Gate 35x, but even this didn't phase me. I'd be on the ground with our vacation starting in no time!

As the shuttle bus parked at our plane, I couldn't help but notice my cooler pulled aside from all the luggage. Neat, I thought, the cooler made it. As the doors opened an airport employee pointed to the cooler: will the owner of the cooler see me?

Uh oh.

The employee explained to me: the cooler wasn't weighed and was missing a hazmat label, and therefore couldn't fly. In a moment of panic I thought I forgot a step, but no, the weighing and labeling of the dry ice needed to be done by the airline not me. Why had they skipped this process? Why had TSA let the cooler make it as far as the plane? No answers were provided to these questions. The employee was adamant: this cooler can not be placed on this plane. The flight attended suggested that I carry the cooler on; no, that wouldn't do. The pilot herself suggested that she'd take ownership of the cooler and fly it as her own. Again, that was a no go.

By now, the tiny plane had been loaded and I was obviously holding us up.

Fine, I'll dump the dry ice and just take the cooler as is. No, that's not allowed either, I was informed. I had two choices: abandon the cooler or take a later flight. Neither option really worked.

Finally, someone managed to 'uncheck' the bag and allow me to dispose of the dry ice and fly with the cooler stuffed under the seat in front of me. Part way through the flight, the flight attendant came by and offered me a big chunk of ice to keep it cold.

Clearly everyone was trying their hardest, but rules were rules. So yeah, if you fly with dry ice, do make sure they weigh and tag it!

The rest of my trip to Knoxville was uneventful. I met J. at his flight and found him in good spirits. 20 minutes later Shira and D. landed and our vacation had officially begun!

Tomorrow we start our adventure in earnest! Gatlinburg, here we come!

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