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The Missed Airplane Flight

It was an ordinary day in April 1983 when it was time to get on the airplane and head to Denver for the annual trade show.  This had recently become an annual trek to see the numerous products that were available for the two-way radio industry.  So now it was time to head to the airport for the flight.

The trade show was only about 4-5 years old at this point in time.  In the recent past, there had been no trade show for our business.  We must have been one of the few industries without a trade show, so finally one was created and held at the Denver Convention Center.  It was initially known as the Denver radio show, then by other names such as the Land Mobile Communications Expo and now the IWCE (International Wireless Communications Expo).  Until COVID, the trade show was growing almost every year.  This year, the IWCE is a shadow of its former self because many of the major vendors including the two largest vendors (Motorola and Kenwood) in two-way radio decided not to attend again this year due to lingering COVID concerns and supply chain issues.

LAX Los Angeles airport aerial view in 1984

I got a ride to the airport and was dropped off in front of the terminal.  I would like to say that it was United Airlines, but I do not remember for certain.  United was one of the airlines that I had taken numerous times for flights to Denver.  I often use United to fly there on business, but I may have been on another airline.  (It was too long ago and many of the fine details are in the category of fuzzy memory.  I have tried to dust off the brain cells to be more accurate about the trip details, however they have been lost to the annals of time.)  Now it was time to go inside and check-in at the airline counter.

It all started 9 years earlier when skiing had become a passion of mine.  I learned to ski through sheer determination in spite of the fact that I was not a natural athlete and in fact, I was terrible.  I took dry land ski lessons in the Los Angeles area on a stationary slope where one could climb up the slope and spend about 10-20 seconds skiing down the artificial slope attempting to learn some techniques that would allow me to survive a trip down the hill.  After many of these lessons, I graduated to a moving ski slope where a revolving carpet would move uphill while one would point the skis downhill thus allowing a considerably longer “run” on the carpet.  After several of those lessons, I felt comfortable going to one of the local ski area to try out my passion.

Snow Summit Big Bear

https://www.flickr.com/photos/saechang/

On my first trip to a local ski area which was in 1974 (9 years earlier), I went with a friend of mine named Gary who was an accomplished skier.  We had known each other previously for many years when I decided to start Raycom while he went to work for Advanced Electronics, one of the local Motorola Service Stations (MSS).  The two of us went to Snow Summit in Big Bear which is one of the premier ski areas in Southern California.  We donned our ski gear and proceeded to walk to the slopes.  My friend was extremely patient with me as he stayed with me the entire day as I demonstrated over and over again how inept I was even though I had taken the dry land ski lessons.  The reaction of the skis on snow was very different than on the stationary slope or the revolving carpet, at least as far as I was concerned.  So we climbed up the hill and I proceeded to ski down the hill at a snail’s pace while demonstrating my ineptitude and lack of experience.  After doing that twice, I then graduated to the beginner ski lift where I was completely intimidated by getting off the lift and coming to a complete stop.  I would then gather up my courage to start the trek down the ski slope in an attempt to survive my first ski run down the hill from the lift.  I fell several times on the first trip down the hill, but I was amazed how little it hurt to fall into the soft snow.  Since I grew up in Southern California, I was not familiar with snow and I had never been in more snow than one could use to make a few snowballs to throw at a friend, so this was a totally new experience.  When I fell down, I would get up and continue my route to the bottom of the hill and back towards the entrance to the ski lift.  When I would fall down, I would sometimes slide on my back for 10-20 feet while trying to figure out how to stop the slide and laughing out loud because I was so amused by the simple pleasures of being in real snow.

In spite of making a total fool of myself, I was having a great time.  I felt sorry for my friend who was an accomplished skier who stuck with me during my inept demonstrations of incompetence over and over again.  We spent the morning skiing on the beginners lift and after each ski “run”, I became a little more proficient and a little more confident that I would survive the day.  Before noon, he asked me if I wanted to try going up the hill on the main Summit chair and take the Summit run to the bottom.  I asked him if there was a way to get off the lift before the top of the hill.  We looked at the ski map and it indicated that there were two mid-station unloading points on the lift so it would not be necessary to go all the way to the top of the hill.  I told him that I felt that I was ready, even though I was highly intimidated by the thought so that we could get on to some ski terrain that was more challenging for my friend.

We got onto the ski lift and started the ride to the top of the hill.  About a third of the way up the hill, we were approaching the unload point.  We discussed getting off the lift at this point, but I decided that I was either brave enough or foolish enough to get off at the next mid-point unloading station which was about two thirds of the way to the top of the hill.  So we continued our way up the hill on the lift and finally approached the 2nd mid-point unloading station.  When we got close enough, we noticed that the station was closed and inoperable so now I had to go all the way to the top of the mountain.  We exited the lift at the top of Snow Summit and now I had a rather intimidating ski run to the bottom of the hill.  I was both excited and scared because I was still a rank beginner on an intermediate level ski slope with the opportunity to further demonstrate my inept abilities at the sport of skiing.

We started down the hill while I practiced my snowplow, a ski technique that is taught to rank beginners.  It is a simple technique, but far less effective than parallel skiing which is taught to more advanced skiers and significantly enhances one’s ability to control speed, turn and stop.  Gary was proficient at parallel skiing while I was using the snowplow to turn and stop.  We started down the hill at a slow speed while I was getting used to a slope with a greater pitch which made me go faster than the beginners slope.  I was feeling good as we proceeded down the hill.  I was having a great time when the slope became a bit steeper which required me to make more frequent turns to slow down.  This worked well until the slope got even steeper and now I was way over my head.  Now I was regularly falling down, rolling down, sliding down and crashing down the hill while having a great time.  Once I was sliding down the hill head pointing downhill on my back while laughing and was eventually able to stop sliding when I dug in my hands and feet to slow me down.  I had a complete “yard sale” as I lost both my skies and both of my poles.  Gary had to collect my equipment as he headed down the hill behind me and brought me the equipment so that I could get up and start all over again with another attempt to get down the hill.  This process repeated several times during the one run down the hill and eventually, we managed to get to the bottom of the hill and over to the ski lift.

We took several more runs down the hill with similar results.  I continued to roll, fall, slide and crash my way down the hill while each time getting a little bit better and more proficient at skiing.  After the day was over, I continued to ski over and over again until I eventually became a decent skier.  This process took a long time and over the next 9 years, I skied a lot and eventually became an upper intermediate skier who could handle most of the ski runs on most of the mountains that I skied.

Now that it was many years later, I went inside the terminal dragging my suitcase and my ski equipment.  Denver had great skiing in the Rockies which were as little over an hour drive from downtown Denver, depending upon the ski area that one was trying to reach.  Being late in April, many of the ski areas were shutting down for the season, so I thought that I could get two days of skiing in after the trade show before returning to Los Angeles.  I checked in at the counter and gave them my baggage and my skis.  This was a common event for people heading to Denver, a well-known destination for avid skiers who wanted a superior ski experience.  The Rocky Mountains were home to many of the nations most famous and prestigious ski areas including Vail, Aspen, Copper Mountain and Winter Park.  I only had time to visit one ski area after the show, so I was going to head to one of the closer ski areas so that I did not have too long of a trek to the ski area.  But first I had to make it to the gate and get on the plane.

I had arrived about 45 minutes prior to the departure time of the airplane.  This gave me sufficient time to check in at the counter, check my bags & skis and head to the gate.  This was many years before 9-11 so there was no security heading to the gate.  I simply walked down the underground tunnel until I reached the moving sidewalk and continued towards the satellite building which contained the airplane gates where I had to go up the escalator and head towards the specific gate for my departure. I arrived at the gate and checked with the gate agent to determine when the plane was leaving.  At this point, I was about 30 minutes from flight time, so I grabbed a seat and began to read my book until we were called to board the plane.  Everyone lined up at the gate and we proceeded to get on the plane.  I found my seat, stowed my carry-on bag and sat down in my seat towards the rear of the plane.  The rest of the passengers boarded the plane and after the crew secured the door and made the normal announcements, the plane began to taxi from the gate to the runway.  After a short delay from the control tower, the plane started down the runway gaining sufficient speed to take off and head to Denver.  I was now on my way for a great trade show and two days of wonderful skiing.

I was really looking forward to attending the trade show.  I felt like I was a kid who was about to go to the Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory for a grand adventure with all the new equipment that was being shown at the expo.  The state of the art for radio communications was far more primitive than it is today.  Although there continues to be innovation in the field every time I attend the show, the advances in technology seemed to be far more dramatic in those days.  The world was changing from all conventional radio to trunked radio systems and in some cases, trunked radio networks.  Trunking was a quantum leap in radio communications by having multiple repeaters at a single location with an automated system of assigning a group of radios to one of the repeaters while blocking out all the other users from accessing the channel while it is in use by another group.  This takes radio from the equivalent of a “party line” telephone to a “private line” telephone.  Instead of having to wait for another company to finish talking on a common radio channel, instant access and privacy is now granted to the user who accesses the trunked radio system.  Everyone experiences a significantly higher level of service and has defacto privacy from all the other users of the system.  (This is the same thing that happens with cellular phones.)  Looking at the latest advances with this equipment and all the other radio “toys” that customers need was a phenomenal learning experience.  There were also presentations from industry professionals who would impress me with the extensive knowledge of the radio business and insight into the issues and solutions that were important to the radio business.

The plane safely arrived in Denver after two and a half hours of flying.  We taxied to the terminal and eventually we were allowed to exit the plane.  This was at the old Denver Stapleton Airport which has been closed for at least 20 years since the new Denver International Airport was built and went into operation.  I walked down the concourse heading towards baggage claim to retrieve my bag and my skis.  I then headed over to the transportation counter to get a shuttle from the airport to the hotel that I had booked which was very near the Denver Convention Center where the show was located.  There were several other passengers on the shuttle, some of whom were staying at other hotels in the downtown area while two other passengers were staying at my hotel.  We disembarked, grabbed our luggage and went to the front desk to check into the hotel.  After depositing my baggage in my room, I headed downstairs to grab some dinner before the restaurant would close for the evening.

I spent the next 3 days at the trade show with lots of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” while looking at the new equipment with exotic features that would blow my mind and the mind of our customers.  I traveled around the show that had over 100 equipment vendors occupying the various booths and found more goodies to spend money purchasing their wares than was in our budget.  There were multiple presentations on subjects of interest such as the FCC Open Forum where we found out about the latest rules and regulations.  We also identified the opportunities offered by the rules along with the latest information about new radio spectrum to be released in the future.  As I had anticipated, the “candy” was everywhere and the information that was disbursed was invaluable.  I found myself overwhelmed with the breadth and depth of the information and products available at the show.  It was an unparalleled success of a show and I walked away with a renewed enthusiasm for my craft and our future ability to provide the kinds of products and services that were demanded by our customers.

Now it was Friday which was the last day of the show.  I had to check out of the hotel prior to heading to the convention floor to prevent being charged for another day in the room.  I checked my baggage with the bellman while I attended the show.  The show was over at 2PM in the afternoon and now it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up my baggage and wait for the shuttle to pick me up to take me to the ski area.  The shuttle arrived at the scheduled arrival time and we headed west on Interstate 70 to Winter Park with several other travelers.  It was about a 100 minute drive from Denver to Winter Park and I was dropped off at my hotel that was about a mile or two from the ski area.  Now I had to figure out the logistics of getting to the ski area and back to the airport on Sunday afternoon.  I went to the concierge desk and attempted to make the necessary arrangements.  What I found out was that all the shuttle services and taxis were shut down as we were at the end of the ski season.  The ski area was open this weekend and for another week at which point it too was going to shut down for the season.  Because we were into spring skiing, the ski area would be open from 7:30AM to 1:30PM due to the heat of the day making the snow too slushy for decent skiing later in the day.  So now I was challenged with the task of finding a way to get to the ski area and get back to the hotel.  Also, trying to arrange a shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport was beginning to be a difficult problem since it was the end of the season.  Now I had to figure out another method of transport.  I contacted the front desk to find out if any of the other hotel guests were planning to ski and if they could get me in touch with them.  They told me that I should be in the lobby the next morning and I would find the people who were heading to the ski area.

The next morning, I was in the lobby by 6:30AM so that I could find the appropriate people heading to Winter Park.  After about 15 minutes, I spotted a person who seemed to be heading to go skiing.  I asked him where he was heading and I was correct, he was heading to Winter Park to ski.  I introduced myself and explained that I had taken a shuttle from Denver only to find out that taxis and shuttles were essentially non-existent in the area due to the end of the ski season.  His name was Timothy Stangle and he worked for the Miller Brewery near the I605 and I210 freeways in San Dimas.  He had rented a car and drove from the airport to Winter Park.  He had been there for several days and was planning to head back to the Denver Stapleton Airport on Sunday afternoon.  I had struck “gold” as I also needed to head back Sunday afternoon.  So we spent the next 36 hours together while skiing, talking, resting, laughing and traveling.  We were both about the same level of accomplishment with our ski skills, so we kept up with each other perfectly.  We both had a great time during our stay Saturday and Sunday and after the ski area closed for the day on Sunday afternoon, we got into his car and we headed back to the Denver airport.  The drive was about 1:40 and we agreed that I would pay him for ½ of the rental fee for the car during the past 2 days.  We arrived at the airport with time to spare.  His flight was at 4:30PM and my flight was at 5:30PM on a different concourse.  So after we both checked in at the airport counter and deposited our luggage, we headed down the concourse to his gate and sat in the bar having a drink while waiting for his flight to depart.  We had both enjoyed each others company immensely and were simpatico.  When it was time for him to board the aircraft, we said our “goodbyes” as we had both had an unbelievably good time.  However, now it was time for me to head over to my gate to catch my airplane.

Denver Stapleton Airport

https://www.flickr.com/photos/erussell1984

My gate was on another concourse, so I needed to start heading towards my gate as it was a considerable walk.  I was at the very end of the concourse and my destination was at the very end of another concourse.  During my traverse, I stopped in several shops to look at books, magazines and snacks.  I exited the concourse and walked to the other concourse where I proceeded towards my gate.  I worked my way down to the gate that was at the very end of the concourse.

I arrived at my gate approximately 25 minutes before flight time to find that no one was there.  There was no one waiting for the plane and there was no gate agent.  All the seats in the area were vacant and the few people who were waiting were near one of the nearby gates.  I was totally confused.  I looked at my ticket which was one of the old-style airline tickets that was shaped like a computer punch card with red carbon paper on the back of the ticket to make the additional copies and it had the flight time printed on the face of the ticket.  I checked my watch and the clock in the terminal which indicated that I was there 25 minutes before the flight time, but something was seriously wrong.  I went to the adjacent gate where an agent was present and I presented her my flight ticket.  She informed me that the flight had taken off about 10 minutes earlier.  The flight time had been changed by the airline and in those days, there were no cell phones to notify passengers of the time change of the flight.  What got me was that the check-in agent did not bring the change of flight time to my attention when I checked into the airport.  So now I had missed my flight and it was a bit of work to get me rebooked onto a later flight.  The new flight was leaving about 1:10 minutes later, so I would still get home this evening.  However, this brought to life a whole new set of problems.

At this point in my life, I was still not married and I was dating a girl who turned out to be my future wife.  I had arranged to be picked up at the airport by my parents and my girl friend who had gone to my parent’s house to meet with them to pick me up at the airport and go to dinner together.  Now, our dinner was going to be delayed and this spelled potential trouble.  So now I had to call my parents to let them know that I missed my flight.  We did not have a dinner reservation and there was nothing else planned that evening, so the delayed flight was of little actual consequence, but my mother did not handle this type of situation well.  I was praying that my father would answer the phone because he would keep his cool and not have anything strong to say about the missed flight.  Unfortunately, my mother answered the phone and when I told her that I had missed the flight, she went ballistic.  She scolded me with, “You stupid idiot!  How could you be so irresponsible?”  Then it went downhill as she continued to berate me while making life miserable for my father and my girl friend.  I asked to speak to my girl friend who expressed disdain over having to spend the additional time with my mother while she was in a rage.  Unfortunately, I did not have a solution to the problem and told her that she would just have to work it out.  Maybe she could hide in the bathroom or tell my mother that she had to run a quick errand and would return before it was time to head to the airport to pick me up from my flight.  So I said my “goodbyes” and wished her luck dealing with my mother.

I waited at the gate the whole time without leaving for any reason because I had already been burned once and I did not want to get burned a second time.  So, after another 30 minutes, it was time to board the plane and take my seat.  I got as comfortable as possible in the seat and waited for the plane to fill up and get ready for departure.  The flight was relatively uneventful and a smooth flight.  The flight was running about 10 minutes early which was welcome considering the fact that I was already an hour and 10 minutes behind schedule due to missing my plane and having to take a later flight.  The plane landed and taxied to the gate where we were finally allowed to depart from the plane.

I exited the plane to find my parents waiting for me at the gate with my girl friend.  My mother wasted no time reiterating that I was a stupid idiot for missing the flight.  I replied with, “Hi mom, hi dad, it is great to see you!”  I could not think of anything else to say as anything I could say would only be used against me.  I then proceeded to give them both hugs and kisses and then turned to my girl friend and gave her the same.  She was glad to see me because now I was the brunt of my mother’s rage instead of my girl friend receiving her rage.  We proceeded to baggage claim to get my bag and my skis, then headed for the car in the parking lot.  After reaching the car, I placed the luggage in the trunk of the car and we then headed off to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  Throughout the meal, my mother continually reminded me how stupid I had been to miss my flight.  Explanations as to why I missed the flight fell on deaf ears.  The food was great, but the atmosphere was a bit murky, so when we returned to their house after dinner, we both took off in my girl friend’s car where we were able to get some piece and quiet.

In all the years that I have been doing personal travel or business travel, I had never missed a flight, train, shuttle or any other transportation schedule, nor have I ever missed any of these since that time.  This was the one and only time I missed a flight and fortunately, it made no difference except to irritate my mother.  (My father was completely cool with the situation and did not care except for the fact that he had to put up with my mothers attitude from the time of my phone call until the time that she went to sleep long after we left their house.)

So now I can say that the only time I missed an airplane flight was when I arrived at the airport 2 hours before flight time.  It has been 40 years since this time and nothing has changed in that regard.

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