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Dad's First Airplane Trip A Lesson In Preparedness, Perseverance

Kelly Garrett

For Kelly Garrett of Bloomington, her father's first plane ride at the age of 89 was a great experience. The second, not so much.

The two landed in Clearwater last week for a reunion 70 years in the making. The return trip to Illinois was was rife with problems, mainly due to icy weather that hit the Midwest over the weekend. It included a near landing in Bloomington Friday, a diversion to Indianapolis for the night, a return to Clearwater, and an extra night of waiting for weather to clear. Finally, early Monday evening, their flight from Clearwater landed at the Central Illinois Regional Airport.

"On the way down, he said, 'Well that was easy. I think I can do that again,'" said Garrett via cell phone from Clearwater. "So, we've done it again, and again, and again."

The trip was scheduled after Garrett's father, Jim Pratt of Burlington, Iowa, revealed to his family he had been engaged during World War II to a woman who was not their mother. Edna and Jim Pratt were married 65 years when she died in September, and during Thanksgiving, Jim Pratt shared his teenage past with his family.

Garrett said her sister helped track down his former fiancee, Carol Marino of Florida, and a reunion was planned for a few weeks later.

Credit Kelly Garrett
Jim Pratt is reunited with his former fiancee, Carol Marino of Florida. The two had not seen each other for 70 years.

"They were thrilled," Garrett said. "I stayed in a hotel by myself and let them catch up. I think they talked for four straight days, it was so nice," she said.

Garrett said, at the end of the trip, she began monitoring the storm moving into the plains. Their return flight was initially delayed because the plane was deemed inoperable. Another delay ensued when the second plane had mechanical issues. Garrett said the pilot announced the third plane appeared okay to use so it departed Clearwater bound for Bloomington. It seemed they had dodged the elements as the plane began its descent toward the Central Illinois Regional Airport Friday night.

But, just as the wheels were about to drop, the pilot pulled up and announced they would have to circle the airport a few times. When conditions worsened, the flight detoured to Indianapolis, where the storm was just a steady rain. After sitting at the airport for several hours, the two decided to search for dinner before heading to a hotel room provided by the airline, Allegiant. By this time, several of their co-travelers had gone their separate ways.

"We were the lucky ones. One couple with children took a taxi and got stuck on the interstate and were there all night. Another couple became stuck on an interstate ramp and spent the night there. Another couple with a baby had no extra diapers because it was a two hour flight. It was a disaster," Garrett said.

After a return to the Indianapolis airport Saturday and more waiting, it was announced that the trip to Bloomington wasn't possible because the airport there was closed.

Credit Kelly Garrett
Fire officials in Clearwater check the hotel-restaurant following an alarm

"At this point, our only option was to fly back to Clearwater or we would have been on our own," Garrett said. Allegiant paid for a hotel room in Clearwater, where the pair spent Saturday night waiting for a Clearwater to Bloomington flight Sunday. While eating dinner at the hotel restaurant, Garrett said she and her father joked that at least the fire alarms weren't going off. About that time, the alarms began.

To top off the travel woes, Garrett had endured the entire trip with a boot on an injured foot.

"I'm missing a doctors appointment in Bloomington today (Monday)," she said via text from Clearwater.

"It was frustrating because the airline told us the Bloomington airport was closed but we had heard reports other airlines were flying in and out of there," Garrett said.

Credit Kelly Garrett

Through it all, Garrett said her experiences have taught her to be prepared for anything when traveling.

"I'm always up for a good adventure...but I learned always take snacks on a plane because you never know how long it will take," she said. "I also learned you have to be your own advocate."

Garrett also said she has learned how the worst can sometimes bring out the best in people.

"It's the most polite group of stranded people I've ever seen. No one lost their temper," she added. "It says a lot about our area. I was really impressed."

At long last, some of the weary travelers who stuck it out to the end were ready to board Monday afternoon for the final trip to Bloomington. Garrett reports the airline photographed the group and gave them priority seating.

Credit Kelly Garrett

Editor's note: This story was edited at 10:56 am Tues 12/20 to reflect the couple's safe return to Bloomington Monday evening 12/19.

Willis is a Bloomington, IL, native. During his senior year at Bloomington High School, he finished third in the "Radio Speaking" division of the state speech contest, the only year he competed.
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