Plane and Train Fails by
(236 Stories)

Prompted By Planes and Trains

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Finally made it to Grandma and Grandpa’s house

We hated the drive to Detroit to visit my family when our three kids were young. In those days, it was six hours of torture. They were not great car travelers and entertainment options were limited to coloring and puzzle books, my reading to or singing with them, and I Spy type games. When boredom set in, fighting was also an option. Thus, we decided to try planes and then trains to get there more quickly. Both ended up being disasters.

Sometime in the late 1970s, we booked a flight to Detroit. Air travel was much easier back then. I think there were metal detectors to pass through, but my parents would be waiting in the area where we deplaned. Unfortunately, hijackers, or “skyjackers” as they were known then, were still commandeering planes. Sometimes they demanded to go to another country, most often Cuba. Luckily for us, the person who threatened our flight just wanted a ransom.

Around the time of our ill-fated plane trip

Upon arrival in Detroit, we were herded into a large room while my parents waited helplessly outside. No one explained the plan, but we assumed they were going to keep us there until someone confessed to making the threat. If we thought the drive to Detroit with our little ones was bad, this was a real nightmare. They were hungry, frightened, and bored, and the baby needed a diaper change. I think they kept us for a few hours, although no one talked to us. I do remember begging them to let us give our children to my parents, who were just outside the door, as they were too young to be questioned. Permission denied, although shortly after that exchange they released us with no explanation.

Thus, planes were out for future visits. But we still hated that drive and decided a train might be fun next time. Before the train left the station, we had a morning dental visit for the kids. The dentist decided our middle child needed a few baby teeth pulled. He claimed it wouldn’t be a big deal, but she cried and bled as the train slowly chugged its way to Detroit. It was definitely not an express train and the many stops did not delight the kids. They quickly became bored with looking out of the windows (have you ever driven between Chicago and Detroit?). The only improvement over a car trip was that two adults were free to entertain them and they could move around. On the other hand, it took longer than driving and there was plenty of whining. Turns out, they were more excited about looking at trains than actually riding them.

Ready to board a train this time?

Fast forward to now. There are just two of us to consider and we still don’t love long driving trips. But our rule of thumb is, if we can get there in under eight hours, we drive. Air travel in 2022 is an unpredictable nightmare and often ends up taking longer than driving once we factor in the wait time, security, delays, and cancellations. If we ever get high speed rail in this country, that would be great, but I’m afraid I won’t see that in my lifetime. While we are dreading the six-hour drive to Cleveland for a wedding in two weeks, at least we know we will arrive in time for the ceremony.

Sadly, we still can’t count on planes or trains to get us where we are going.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, these are both horror stories in their own way. Did you ever learn what the story was with that flight to Detroit? I’m so sorry that happened to you. In the late 70s, I lived in Chicago, was in sales and flew out of O’Hare all the time, first to Indianapolis, then to St. Louis (and of course, back to Boston to see Dan every few weeks – we saw each other every other weekend, but alternated who visited whom). I was lucky with my flights, I never encountered anything like you described.

    Flying today is a nightmare. We watch the news, see all the stories of cancellations and delays and are just so glad that we do very little travel.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I agree about air travel today. Our daughter’s family went to the east coast this summer and had booked a flight home out of Providence because she wanted to show her kids Brown. They never got there, as the flight was cancelled due to “weather” (which was fine for both ends of the flight). They offered to rebook them out of Hartford at 5:00 am the next day, with no help for a hotel or food. They decided to drive 16 hours straight home, which was wise because their rebooked flight was also cancelled. I have heard so many similar stories. I don’t know exactly what the deal was with our ill-fated flight in the late 70s. They never gave us any explanation other then there was a skyjacking threat.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Decision to drive if feasible is ever more sensible since air and train are such a hassle—even without three kids to entertain. And with ever-improving EV charging, also can be climate-friendly. The skyjacking sounds arduous, but at least you didn’t end up in another country or worse.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Ugh, Laurie. But a reminder that travel horror stories — even those dealing with airplane security — are not a new thing.

    I agree with you about long car drives and am amazed thinking about all the “road trips” I happily took in college. With some of the trips I now take, I still have no choice but to drive, but I happily take the train to New York these days or fly the Shuttle to DC – -though, as to the latter, the days of arriving at the gate ten minutes before the flight leaves are long gone.

    I’m hoping that self-driving cars or, better yet, teleporting comes true in our lifetime!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Amen to that John. I hate to drive and my husband is coming around to my point of view. Still, we don’t have a self-driving car yet, so it’s off a to 6-hour drive to Cleveland for a wedding in a couple of weeks.

  4. To heck with the traveling-with-kids nightmares Laurie, just delight in how adorable your kids were then – great photos!

  5. Marian says:

    You had no luck at all, Laurie. I feel for parents traveling with kids no matter what, and driving is definitely preferable if you can do it. On our way back from Amsterdam we were seated in front of a family with a three-year-old and 18-month old who never slept the entire time. I felt for the mom, but I finally asked the dad to stop singing them Barney songs. That was way worse than the kids chattering or screaming.

  6. Suzy says:

    Sorry about your plane and train disasters, Laurie. I did have a friend who was on a plane that was hijacked to Cuba. I think they just sat on the plane for a while in the Havana airport, and then flew back to the US, to their original destination but without the hijackers. And I agree with Dana, the adorable kid pix are delightful!

  7. Joe Lowry says:

    You have my sympathy for the hijack incident. Fortunately, I have never experienced that event. Car travel as a child was adventure in my family. Many trips between Seattle, later Los Angeles to Caspar Wyoming were done. Construction delays were numerous. I remember a few times we were delayed by cattle since some areas were open range and they had the right of way. However, the worse was crossing the Mojave Desert when we were going from LA to Wyoming. We started at 5am to beat the heat since the our cars had no air conditioning. It was still hot.

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