Week 9, part 9
Sunday's breakfast buffet was pretty much the same as Saturday's, except that the hotel decided to confuse us by moving it to another room on a different floor. After breakfast we were told to meet in the lobby at 11 for our ride to the airport. We asked why we had to convene over four hours before flight time when the official recommendation has always been to show up only two hours early. The airline representative muttered something about "safety reasons." We figured that the hotel needed us out by 11, and if he had been forthcoming enough to tell us so, we would have understood and accepted that explanation. We could NOT understand how loitering in the airport for three hours was supposed to make us more safe.

This time we had a long slow-moving line at the check-in counter. Once we had our boarding passes we went upstairs for lunch before moving on to security. This is where we first crossed paths with some of our fellow passengers. One group tried to pass us in line; another person barged into the middle of a conversation we were having with a security agent, who expressed his amazement over how some people "fail to grasp the concept of a queue, or a line." This rudeness and pushiness was an early taste of what turned out to be the most unruley mob that we ever had to travel with.

We don't know where the time went, but by the time we'd cleared security it was almost three and our plane was listed as "last call" at gate 31. We wheeled on to the gate and yet another long line. Once we got past the final checkpoint and found a place to sit in the last holding corral, it wasn't long before we were summoned through the cattle chute and onto the plane. We made note of the fact that all of our plane's engines had their covers securely in place, and that there were no gatherings of grease monkeys in the area.

After the previous few days' events, we were a little more apprehensive than usual about this take-off. As we left the gate, taxied to the end of the runway, and got in line behind the other planes waiting to take off, our return home felt closer to reality. Every seat was filled, and the overhead compartments were all packed as tightly as the mammoth suitcases that filled the cargo hold. It never ceases to amaze us how they can get all of that weight off the ground, but our plane finally did leave the ground and started its flight to Chicago.

Even though it wasn't even 4 o'clock yet, it was already dark outside, and it would be nearly 24 hours before we'd see daylight again. Our plane made a big loop around London as it turned toward the northwest, and we could see the vast sea of lights through our windows. We finished reading our assortment of newspapers, then started writing the week 8 update. In between a silly bad American movie and a silly bad Indian tv show, the big screen would show our flight status. Our route would be drawn on a big map, and a little icon of an airplane would show our position. There'd be readings on how fast we were going, how high we were, how cold it was outside, and many other things we might (but probably don't) want to know about our flight's current status.

Once an hour or so Obbie would take a lap around the plane to stretch his legs, stopping at each of the doors to take a look out the window. On one side of the plane the sun lingered just far enough below the horizon to leave a barely detectable red glow in the distance. On the other side of the plane, the rising full moon was just high enough to illuminate whatever happened to be below us. As we approached the coast of Greenland we could see dark low clouds widely scattered over the glimmering ocean water. Half an hour later we saw the white peaks of glaciers and snow-covered mountains rising toward us. In spite of being deprived of daylight for the entire duration of the flight, the moonlight treated us to a memorable glimpse of the arctic landscape.

Somewhere between Greenland and lower Hudson Bay they turned on the lights and rolled out the food. By the time the dinner mess was cleaned up we were somewhere north of Lake Superior. We were still about two hours from landing, but at least we were over our own continent. Somewhere south of Traverse City we started descending and our ears started popping. We know that some of this is normal, but this bout of ear-popping was pretty severe. We started seeing lights again when we were over Milwaukee, and our wheels were on the ground at 6:45.

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