I awoke with an anxious heart, wondering why I felt trepidation in leaving for Florida. I hadn’t seen family there in six months. This was my time to have extended time with them. I’ve always looked forward to every opportunity to make this trip. I didn’t get it. The flights were two short legs into Charlotte and then on to Jacksonville. What could go wrong?

Rain started early at the house, quickly escalating into a downpour. The hour’s drive to Evansville took us through miles of wet highway and rivulets along the roadsides. We passed through the deluge into calmer weather, so though the luggage went into the van under an umbrella, the protection wasn’t necessary as I said my good-byes.

The flight to Charlotte started a little bumpy until we got up over the storm bank to cruising altitude. The landing proved uneventful. I had checked my large bag, so I made my way from Concourse E to Concourse C and gate 18 with about twenty minutes to spare before boarding began. The 4:52pm flight to Jacksonville appeared to be a go, and I mentioned so to my interested parties. I told them I was “just chilling” with a chai latte. Then I realized there was no plane at the end of the sky bridge.

My phone  buzzed with the delay notification and the message board behind the agent counter extended departure to 5:25 pm. We boarded half an hour late. I sat in row 30 long enough to stuff my backpack under the seat in front of me and exchange pleasantries with the passenger two seats away. Flight attendants paced the isle and a maintenance crew appeared, searching between the seats on my side of the isle.

The maintenance men called for rows 28 to the back of the plane to vacate our seats and moved forward for what they called a carpet adjustment. Really, the crew held the plane for a carpet wrinkle on my side of the isle? Okay, so be it. The crew straightened the carpet and exited. We thought we were free to take off, but what began as a fix for the carpet wrinkle ended in everyone deplaning so the plane could be taken to the hangar.

A rumor rumbled that someone was sick near the back seats on the previous flight as we made our way up the ramp to the terminal, the plane required a thorough cleaning. The search for a replacement plane ensued. My phone lit with the next notification that gates changed and the new plane was parked at gate D10. I slung a strap of the backpack over my shoulder and schlepped on over to Concourse D. Departure reset to 7:00 pm. Time for a snack, I made my way through the crowded gate area to a recently opened chair. I ripped open a bag of dried apples and made that my evening meal.

Slowly, I worked through the package, one dried slice at a time. The agent announced the replacement plane came in from an international flight, so it needed longer to get restocked and cleaned. Even the flight crew were not allowed down to the plane until it was cleared from its previous flight. So, we rested our heads in our hands, sighed, and entertained ourselves with conversation and phone apps.

The display behind the agent counter pushed out boarding time fifteen minutes, then fifteen more. The pilots were allowed to board, 7:15pm. The attendants moved through the ramp door about 7:25pm, and boarding began shortly after. Takeoff was now set to 8:00pm and the agent hurried passengers through to load everyone as quickly as possible.

A storm threatened the tarmac, but takeoff hoped to beat the five-mile-away lightening rule to get us on our way to Jacksonville. All settled into our seats, the captain broke the bad news that regulations forced the tarmac to close and we would be sitting onboard until the threat to workers below abated. Takeoff got pushed out to 8:45pm. I sent a few pictures of the incoming storm to those waiting for me in Jacksonville, as they were scrambling to adjust their pickup time on their end.

Action on the tarmac heralded the hope of taking off. The luggage door on the underside of the plane closed. I wore down under the weight of waiting. Push-back occurred at 8:48pm. Terminal businesses closed up and turned off their lights. Our spirits lifted with the thought of leaving Charlotte. We rolled toward the runways along with other planes that had waited out the rain.

We advanced slowly toward the available runway; and lightning once again jumped from cloud-to cloud high in the distance. Would we beat this second round? We were not yet in the air to escape the threat of further delay. Our plane paused to allow another one landing perpendicular to our direction, and a shine from the distant lightning reflected off its wings. If we took off, would we be flying through those storm clouds? Was that the better option?

The plane made an unexpected turn off the runway. It appeared to me the decision had been made. Another flash in the closer clouds passed through the mounding thunderhead as we moved back toward the terminal. The pressurized cabin prevented me from hearing the thunder roll as the captain’s voice came through the speaker with an incredulous explanation I did not see coming.

“The control tower lost our flight plan. By the time they recover it, I will be out of the allotted hours for my duty day.” What did that mean? Somebody commented, “You cannot make this stuff up!” The captain continued, “They will try to get the plane a new captain.” A skeptical murmur rippled among the passengers.

Two notifications buzzed our phones within a few minutes — flight 1830 departure time moved to 1:00 am, then flight 1830 departure time 6:00 am. Who was running this show? We deplaned, again.

Agents guided us to the customer service counter, and the line stretched over a hundred people long. Wait, move, wait, take a couple steps. Finally at the top of the queue, I was sent to the agent at gate C2. The airline provided vouchers for a hotels, transport and food. I made my choice to stay in the terminal rather than get in line for a shuttle and again at an unknown hotel, sleep a few hours and get up early enough to get back to the terminal by 5:00am. It was already approaching midnight. I called my daughter in Jacksonville with the news that I was stuck over night in Charlotte.

We made a conference call to the airlines that ended with “all our lines are overloaded, try later. Good bye.” My daughter found the “Minute Room” phone number and arranged an expensive stay for me there. The airline agent had mentioned that there was no voucher agreement with that company. I gratefully accepted the respite from the alternative arrangement that involved the floor of gate C8.

A pillow and thin blanket awaited me at the end of a faux leather, padded bench, which imperceptively slanted forward. My exhausted body didn’t care, and nested as comfortable as possible, wrapped in the blanket. I set my phone alarm and turned on a favorite podcast, hoping my headphones would help dim the carts beeping and other activity outside the room.

Sleep came sparingly, but the room was dark and private and safer than the floor of gate C8. I said a prayer of thanks for my thoughtful daughter and finally dozed.

The alarm dinged sooner than I wanted. I sat up reluctantly. A side look to the mirror was not too scary. My eyes that had been the objects of compliments the night before were now tired and gritty. I blinked back the desire for more sleep and folded up the blanket, then combed my hair. I noted to myself to put a few cosmetics and a toothbrush in my carry-on bag next time.

With a quick check for my phone and food voucher, I slung the backpack over my shoulder and made my way back to gate C8, stopping to use the food voucher for another chai latte and a piece of banana bread. I downed a couple ibuprofen with the liquid and pinched off a few bites of the banana bread. The call for boarding sounded, “Priority, active military and group 1 — group  2, groups 3 and 4 — (then mine) group 5.” I scanned my boarding pass and proceeded to my seat for the third time.

“Prepare the cabin for takeoff.” The plane pushed back to minimal applause. Someone said, “We aren’t in the air, yet.” We moved to find our place in the order of taxiing planes. The morning sun peeked through leftover storm clouds and the plane slowed to a stop. “The flight plan from last night has to be altered, and we are in touch with flight control.” Another delay raised a dust-up of disgust from my fellow passengers. We were in the air, wheels up, by 6:45 am. This time, the cheers were robust.

At cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, the sun’s rays reflected off the top of the clouds, creating a rainbow effect across the upper layers. Jacksonville was 20 minutes away. The steward passed through the cabin giving out drinks. I savored my cup of hot tea, grateful for small comforts.