Thursday 04 January
For the past 2 weeks, we had been packing and cleaning and passing off responsibilities in preparation for our return to the US. We had mostly finished, and felt like we were just kind of waiting for the day of our departure. But, I guess the Lord didn’t want me to be idle the last few days. So, about 8:30 in the morning I received a call from our aviation flight coordinator letting me know that the helicopter was inbound to pick up a medical patient. Upon hanging up the phone, I messaged our team to see if anyone knew who the helicopter was coming for, since that was the first I heard of it. No one knew anything. So, I went about my day.
About an hour later, I went to check in with my coworker Mike. And as we talked, he let me know that his wife was the one they were coming for. She had been ill, and they were trying to work through it without having to fly to our medical clinic, but the clinic had made the call and was sending the helicopter to get them. About an hour later, the helicopter came, and we loaded them in the helicopter and they left, leaving me responsible for the center and all the workers. We didn’t know if they would be back before our scheduled flight on Tuesday or not.
The weekend 05-07 January
As Mike was leaving, one of our employees brought a complaint to us that involved his benefit pay. So, I assured Mike I would take care of it. Also, due to a flood damaging our generator a few weeks back, the generator had not been working properly. So, Mike gave me some info about what to look for and what to do if it malfunctioned while he was gone.
Thankfully, over the weekend, we had no issues with the generator. But, as I started researching and thinking about the issue our employee brought up, it unveiled a rather larger issue that didn’t just affect him. But, because Mike was near the business office, he was able to sit down with our employment manager and get some of our questions answered while he was there.
Monday 08 January
By Monday I had enough info to give an answer to our employee, but the bigger issue was still outstanding. Since I was leaving the next day, I talked through things with Mike on the phone and had to leave it him to work out with our employment manager.
I was also able to finally take care of the van registration, which I had been trying to get done since before Christmas. I was thankful to be able to finished that at least, so Mike didn’t have to deal with that when he got back.
Tuesday 09 January
By Sunday Mike’s wife was doing much better. But the soonest flight wasn’t until Tuesday. So, Mike and his wife were able to return around 9:00 on Tuesday morning. We had planned to leave for the airport about 11:00. That gave us about 2 hours to talk through things and pass the running of the center and oversight of the employees back to him.
About 11:00 we headed out for the airport. When we arrived to check in for our 1:00 flight, the departure terminal was full and they wouldn’t let us inside to check in. The previous flight had not left yet. So, I got on the “FlightRadar” app to see if I could find the plane. I did, and then watched it take 3 or 4 passes around the airport before it finally landed, about an hour late. With the plane landing, they opened the door and allowed us to check in. As we checked in, we learned that the flight that had been late in coming, was the same plane we were to take to the capital. It was going to Manus, then returning to get us. This was a bit concerning seeing that we only had 2 hours in Port Moresby before we were supposed to board our international flight to Cairns, Australia.
As we waited for the plane to return, it was becoming less and less likely that we would make it. When we did finally board it was just after 4:00 and our connection was scheduled to depart at 5:00. The flight time to Port Moresby is about 50 minutes.
We landed in Port Moresby at 5:05. As we landed, there was no sign of the plane to Cairns. I am still not sure if the flight was cancelled, or if it left before we arrived. But, once we deplaned and got our baggage, we headed over to international to see what the story was. When we got to the counter, they had hotel and meal vouchers already waiting for us. They also rebooked our flight 24 hours later. We were scheduled to depart at 5:15 Wednesday the 10th.
The airline put us up in the Lamana Inn. Having stayed there before we knew the Lamana was a decent place, not to mention having the only bowling alley in PNG. We enjoyed a nice evening. Bowled our free game, had some dinner, then relaxed for the evening.
Wednesday 10 January
We took our time getting up in the morning. We packed up and headed out around 9:00. We had a nice breakfast, then checked out of our room about 10:00. The airport shuttle wasn’t scheduled to leave until 1:00 so we just relaxed for a couple hours. About 11:30 we decided to get an early lunch, so we would be ready to leave for the airport a little early.
I ordered a burger, and Robin ordered grilled fish. After we finished our lunch, I paid, then we went to collect our luggage from the reception. As we were collecting our luggage, it was clear that Robin was feeling ill. She was having a hard time standing. Her vision was doing funny things. We boarded the shuttle and headed to the airport, but her condition worsened. By the time we got to the airport she was really not doing well at all. She thought maybe she was having an allergic reaction and suggested me go and see if I could find a pharmacy where we could get Benadryl or something. So, I went to talk to airport personnel and see what I could find.
When I came back, Robin was talking with our medical clinic staff. Robin said later that the first thing our nurse asked was, “Did you eat fish for lunch?” He thought she was reacting to the fish. She passed the phone to me, and our medical staff informed me that I needed to take her to the Emergency Room immediately. He was strong enough to say, “People have died from this kind of thing!” Thankfully there is now a hospital in Port Moresby that has adequate health care and an ER that we can go to. I called our people who live in the city, and they came and picked us up. As we were heading to the hospital, he said, “The best way to get in there is come on an ambulance. It’s sometimes hard to get in there.” So, I called the ER and let them know we were coming. When we arrived, they had a bed waiting for her and we got right in. We thank the Lord for his goodness.
It took about 30 minutes for the nurses to attend to her. But, when they did, it was clear she was reacting to something. They tried to get an IV going, but had 2 failed attempts. So, they rolled her over and just gave her a shot of antihistamine. They were finally able to get the IV in on the 3rd attempt.
It was now about 1:30. While they were working on Robin, I was having all kinds of visions of missing our flight to Australia, and having to rebook our whole itinerary since the two were on different itineraries (PNG to Cairns, Cairns to the US). What I found was not encouraging. I was quite anxious about it.
After about 30 minutes, Robin was responding quite well, and things seemed to be settling down. So, when the doctor came back, we asked about the possibility of still making our flight at 5:00. He was actually very encouraging and said he’d like to monitor for another hour or so then as long as she is doing well, he would let us go. He said he would try to get us out by 2:45 or so.
2:45 came, but they hadn’t done anything to get her ready to leave. So, I went and found one of the ER staff and reminded them that we had a flight to catch. After some encouragement, a nurse came and removed her IV. I went to the Pharmacy and got the meds that were available (1 out of 2). The doctor gave us a prescription for the other med and told us to find a pharmacy as soon as we get to Cairns. Then we were on our way. When I asked about the final payment, they said, “no charge.” We did pay for the blood work, and the pharmacy, but they didn’t charge anything for the ER visit! We thanked the Lord for that.
While we were trying to get checked out, I had called our people to let them know. It took them longer than expected to get to us. When they arrived, they informed us that while we were at the hospital, riots had broken out all over the city. They were having to find alternate routes to get around, since the normal routes had groups of rioting people blocking the way. As we made our way back to the airport, we couldn’t avoid all of the rioting, and actually drove through one pretty volatile group. But, the Lord kept us safe, and we made it. We were able to get checked in, get through security, and get to our gate with an hour to spare! 🙂
Our flight departure time came… and went. There was no announcement that it had been cancelled. The board still read, “On-time.” As I looked out the window to where the plane was, I could see a maintenance truck with two guys working on the nose gear. As I watched, they changed the 2 tires on the nose gear. As they pulled one of them off, it looked like it had a hole in it! The tire change delayed us about 30 minutes. Once again, I thanked God that they changed it BEFORE we got on the plane, so that it didn’t have an issue with our flight!
By the time we got to Cairns, Robin was feeling back to normal. We checked into the hotel, then walked to the nearest pharmacy to pick up her meds. She felt well enough to walk down to the Cairns Night Markets also, about a mile away. We enjoyed the evening, thanking God every moment for getting us through the day!
Thursday 11 January
Our flight from Cairns to Sydney wasn’t scheduled to depart until 6:45 PM. So, we slept in. I went for a jog and a swim. We checked out about 10:00. Then we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around downtown Cairns. We ate lunch, then grabbed our bags and took a taxi back to the airport.
Our flight out of Cairns was delayed. So, we contacted our hotel to let them know we would be in later. They sent us the schedule for their shuttle. The last shuttle was scheduled for 11:10 PM. By the time we landed, deplaned, and picked up our luggage is was just after 11:00. But, as we went to find the shuttle, we found that taking a taxi would actually be cheaper. We settled into our hotel about 12:00AM.
Friday 12 January – Australia Time
Our flight for LA was scheduled to depart at 11:15. So, we took the shuttle back to the airport about 8:00. At some point before we left for the airport, we learned that our flight from Chicago to Kalamazoo had already been cancelled due to impending weather. I received several messages from American Airlines. First, that the flight was cancelled. Then a message saying they were trying to rebook us. Then finally, a message stating they were unable to rebook and that we’d need to call and talk to someone. But, we were heading to the airport anyway, so I figured we’d just work with the people at the counter and see what they could do.
As we got in line and waited for the counter to open, Robin realized that she had left her phone charging next to the bed in the hotel room. So, since we were still waiting for the counter to open, I suggest she see if she could get a taxi back to the hotel and retrieve it. So, she left. Just after she left, the counter opened up. The line went pretty fast, and when I got to the counter, Robin still hadn’t returned, and I had no way of getting a hold of her. The lady at the counter suggested just checking me in and then they could check her in when she got back.
We went through the check in process. But, when they went to check in my bag, the system wouldn’t let them print the bag tags because of the cancelled flight. The lady I was working with couldn’t figure it out, so she had to get a manager to help me. They were finally able to get it sorted out and were able to get my bag checked as far as Chicago. While there, we looked at different options for the cancelled flight. But she really couldn’t help me. She suggested trying again in LA. But, we knew we only had about 1 ½ hours in LA and knew we wouldn’t have time to mess with it. So, she said we’d have to sort it out when we get to Chicago.
I left the counter, and then waited for Robin to return. She came about 10 minutes later, with phone in hand! She had been able to get back to the hotel, get the room key and retrieve her phone. The taxi waited for her and brought her back to the airport.
Having gone through the process with checking my bag, when we returned to the counter with Robin, the check in process went quickly for her. After checking her in we headed to the gate to wait. We had about an hour before we were supposed to board. So, while sitting there, I thought I’d try and call the number American Airlines gave me to see what they could do about our cancelled flight. When I called, they said the hold time would be 45-50 minutes. But, I set up a call back, and figured I wouldn’t hear from them before I got on the plane. But, about 5 minutes before boarding was supposed to start, I got a call. We talked for a couple minutes. She was able to find a flight into Grand Rapids late that night. She booked us on that flight. As soon as I got off the phone, they called for us to board.
Friday 12 January – US Time
An interesting fact. We left Sydney at around 11:30 AM Friday 12 January and after flying for 13 hours, arrived in LA at about 5:30 AM the same day! As we deplaned, and got connected to wifi again, I received another message from American letting me know that the Grand Rapids flight had also been cancelled. We were initially a little concerned about our connection, but once we knew the flight was cancelled again, we knew we didn’t have anything to hurry for. The customs and immigration process actually only took about 30 minutes. As we finished that and went to security to make our way back to check in again, we learned that our flight from LA to Chicago had been delayed by an hour.
As we stood in line, and looked at the weather reports for Chicago and Michigan, we began to wonder if we would even be able to make it to Chicago. But, all indication was that the flight was still moving ahead. After checking our bags in again, we went through security and headed to the gate. After about an hour, we boarded the plane, and flew the 4 hours to Chicago.
Chicago was a mess. I heard the news later, and they said more than 1000 flights were canceled at O’Hare on Friday. We were just glad that our flight was not one of them. While Robin was waiting for the bags, I went upstairs to see what I could sort out for accommodations, and check on rebooking our flight.
The man at the check-in counter was very helpful. He was able to get me a flight into Grand Rapids 24 hours after the one that was cancelled. Unfortunately, that flight didn’t leave Chicago until about 9:30 Michigan time. Which would mean that after the flight (60 minutes), waiting for our bags, then driving home, it would be close to midnight by the time we would be home. But, we were just glad to have a flight booked, at that point. And after looking at our itinerary, and seeing where we started, and the other delays and challenges we had along the way, he really wanted to help. He said that normally the airline does not accommodate for weather related cancelations. But, he found a note in the computer that said our delay out of Sydney had been due to a cargo issue. And from that he was able to get the airline to issue us hotel and meal vouchers. Again, we thank God for looking after us.
When I went back down to baggage claim, Robin was only able to collect 3 of our 4 bags. One of them was missing. We were going to go a file a missing bag report, then I remembered that the American Airlines app should have bag tracking. So, when I looked at the bags in the app, it said the bag had been unloaded in Chicago. When I went to the baggage counter and asked about it, and showed her what the app said, she was able to find it in the computer and said, “For some reason it got put in the back room instead of on the conveyor. So, about 10 minutes later, it came out. After collecting our bags, we headed to the hotel and hunkered down for the night.
When we checked in at the hotel, we explained that we had a flight the next day, but not until after 8 PM. So, they graciously said that we could have a late check out (2:00) for no extra charge.
Before turning in for the night, we got a message from Robin’s aunt and uncle, who were also in Chicago. They were returning from traveling in South America. They let us know that they were going to rent a car and drive back home (Traverse City) in the morning. They said they would go right through Grand Rapids on their way and offered for us to ride along with them. That sounded like a nice alternative to arriving home at midnight. But at that point, I had been awake for almost 28 hours (I didn’t sleep at all on the planes) and we were ready for bed, so we said we’d have to contact the airline in the morning and let them know.
Saturday 13 January
I got up around 7:30. My first priority was to contact the airline and find out the possibility of skipping our final leg and driving home with Robin’s aunt and uncle. But, because we have return flights to PNG tied to this itinerary, the airline informed us that if we didn’t show up to board that flight, we would lose our return flights. So, we opted to just wait it out.
After the phone call, I went back to bed. We must have both fallen asleep. The next thing we heard was room service trying to open the door to come in and clean. When we looked at our watches it was 12:30PM! I was thankful, once again, that they had allowed us the late check out. We quickly got up, got our things together, then headed down to check out, apologizing to the room service people as we went.
When we got down to the lobby and checked out, we tried to go to the hotel restaurant for lunch, but it was closed. But, as Robin texted with one of her friends we were reminded that, “You’re in Chicago, use Door Dash!” Neither of us had used the service before. But, Robin downloaded the app, and ordered us some lunch. Amazingly it was there in about 10 minutes! By then it was around 1:30.
We hung out at the hotel for another couple hours. Then took the shuttle back to the airport about 4:00.
The weather in Michigan was still looking pretty bad. I was worried that the flight would be cancelled again. But, we got checked in and found our way to the gate. As we waited, there was no indication the flight was cancelled. In fact it wasn’t even delayed. When the scheduled time came, we boarded, on time. As we boarded, they were telling us to check carry-ons if we could, since the flight was completely booked, and the over head bins would run out of space, if everyone tried to use them. Once everyone that was waiting was in their seats, the stewardess walked up and down the aisle and counted the empty seats. There were 25 empty seats? With so many empty seats, the pilot informed us that they were going to wait to see if some of the missing passengers were just late due to late connections. Sure enough 2 groups of people came, huffing and puffing from running through the airport to catch the flight. We were thankful once again that we had a seat and we didn’t have to run to catch it. After about 30 minutes of waiting, they decided they couldn’t wait any more and closed the doors. We were still missing 10-15 people.
We left Chicago about 45 minutes late.
When we landed in Grand Rapids, we were able to get on the wifi again and let our son Caleb know that we finally made it. We collected our bags, then loaded up in the car. By then it was about 11:30 PM. The snow was really picking up as we drove away from the airport. By the time we got out on the highway, it was close to white out conditions. Thankfully we are only about 20 miles from the airport. So, we took our time and slowly made it to the house. Thankful once again that the heavy snow didn’t start until AFTER we arrived!
We visited with our son and his fiancé for a bit, then finally headed to bed about 1:30 AM! We were finally done traveling. We started this journey at 11:30 AM Tuesday PNG time (7:30 PM Monday EST), and finally stopped traveling about 12:30 AM Saturday! That is more than 5 days. But, God is good and looked after us all along the way. Thank you for praying!