Vacation Part 1 – Jacksonville

Things never go quite as planned, but this might be taking it just a little too far. I talk about being part of the Jacksonville airport bomb scare and how it started off my vacation.

I just got home from vacation and thanks to nearly thirteen hours on planes; I already have rough drafts done for the first four parts of the posts about my vacation. I am guessing there will be seven posts in the series but we’ll see. This first post shares the excitement that was our first day of travel to Jacksonville.


The night before our trip, with the government shutdown on the horizon, I asked if anyone knew whether it would cause the TSA be shut down. I was worried it would cause problems for us traveling on October 1st. Thankfully, it turned out that the TSA was unaffected, and that was the least of the crazy for our day.

So we packed our bags, grabbed a few hours of sleep and woke up plenty early to get to the airport.

I’ve always been someone to arrive early at the airport. Part of it is preparing for the worst. What if we get a flat tire? (Never happened.) What if we get in bad traffic? (Happened but never really been an issue.) What if we get in an accident? (Happened and did cause me to miss my flight.) But even with all that the truth is also I sort of enjoy the airport.

So we get to the airport, check our bags, and head for security. Despite TSA being fully operational on the day, they were woefully struggling with that morning’s traveler traffic. If I didn’t have premier access with United, Katie and I would have a waited probably ninety minutes to get through. It was terrible, and lots of people were frustrated with the security theater. It’s times like that which makes me question all of TSA. How much security do we gain from removing our shoes?

Eventually, we get through the security and get onto our flight. We fly through Dulles on our way to Jacksonville before driving up to the small town in Georgia where my grandmother lives. On our first flight, Katie noticed one of the attendants accidentally dropped a pair of wings. You know, the lapel pins that are almost cliche for kids to get when flying. When she pointed it out to the attendant, the woman just gave her the wings–so obviously I called dibs.

wings

When we landed in Jacksonville we knew something was amiss because we came to a halt, almost immediately. The Captain came on the intercom and told us something was going on with the airport so we were going to sit on the tarmac for a while as it got figured out. Moments later Katie’s mom, who had been in the airport for a while, texted us that they had evacuated the airport, and she was outside waiting to be allowed back in.

And so we sat on the tarmac. I made use of social media tweeting what was happening, and reading news reports about what was going on. I ended up becoming a news source for people on the plane. Between social media, news websites, and an aunt who lives in Jacksonville who texted me news from the local broadcast she was watching, I knew more than anyone on the plane.

During it all, I never felt like I was in danger and wasn’t worried. I mean, we were remotely situated on the tarmac with no one around us. It was just a matter of time before it got straightened out so we had to be patient. That seemed to be the common feeling on the plane, everyone was just relaxed and either talking on their phone or even sleeping. Our flight from Dulles had been just under two hours long, but our time on the tarmac was nearly two and a half hours.

While we waited many people were on their phones texting or calling people letting them know they were indeed safe. Including me. There was almost a phone tree in my family of people making sure we were okay. My grandmother heard about the airport from a neighbor. So she called my dad to see what he knew. He hadn’t heard about it, so he called me and got my voice-mail. As soon as I finished whatever call, or turned my phone on, I call him back and call grandma to reassure them both we were safe and just stuck waiting.

Eventually we are told that we are going to be bused to a nearby “secured location.” Now, I don’t use quotes there ironically or humorously, just to note the verbiage. That phrase feels we are going to be taken to a detention facility. What it really means is that we’re being bused to the Clarion hotel which is directly next to the airport. We arrive to find several hundred other passengers already there. Everyone who has been evacuated from the terminal as well as everyone who has been deplaned and transported there are just left waiting. It’s not a zoo but I had the thought that we would have posed a feeding frenzy if zombies attacked.

Now, my major concern was figuring out how to meet up with Katie’s mom. Katie’s mom was helping us out by driving up to get us and then taking us into Georgia to see my grandma. Katie’s mom wasn’t familiar with either Jacksonville or its airport, and neither was us I. So combine those things with this bomb scare chaos, and I was really worried about how we would meet up. Thankfully the problem was solved for us, the Jacksonville police had already escorted her to the same hotel so we were able to easily meet up.

Now that we had met up we decided to hang around for a few hours in case the airport opened back up and we could get our checked luggage. I even called United to see what they could tell me. I wasn’t expecting any action, just trying to find out if we were wasting our time or how the process would work for getting our bags. Even though the event had begun hours ago United’s phone agents were completely in the dark.

Now, I realize that Jacksonville is far from a major United airport. Also, I realize that Jacksonville is a fairly small airport compared to most airports. But, in this day of terrorism as an ever present concern, it seems like a bulletin about the incident would have been merited. The people were all very professional and apologetic for not knowing anything useful for me.

We leave the airport and drive up to the Georgia border and check into a hotel. We order pizza to the room and just relax, unwinding after our long day, and catching up with Katie’s mom.

So it was the next day that we go back and get our luggage from the airport. JAX was back to normal except for a gaggle of reporters standing around waiting for a press conference about the ongoing investigation as to what happened last night.

What eventually came to light was that the incident started due to a presumably deranged man had a fake bomb in his carry-on. From there, they went on high alert and took two other individuals into custody, one of whom was near my mother-in-law when he was taken down.

Bomber - Zeljko Causevic

Zeljko Causevic stirred up some shit.

What happened was that when the first guy set this whole scenario off they followed protocol and evacuated the airport. So anyone waiting for their flight, or for arriving family, were forced out into the parking structure. As my mother-in-law tells it, she was maybe twenty feet from this man. He was sweating in the Florida humidity and appeared quite agitated. He was talking into his phone in some language she didn’t recognize and pacing rapidly and gesturing widely.

She says that she was planning to offer him a wet nap to wipe his sweat, but when she looked away and then looked back she watched as two officers swooped in from different sides. One took him down and the other pinned him before quickly taking him away. It seems that he was in fact not guilty of anything and released as far as I can find.

All in all, for what was a rather uneventful event for us, it generated a few unusual stories to share and made me wonder what the guy with the fake bomb was thinking?

Was it a statement? Was it a maligned suicide attempt, hoping to be shot by security? Was he hoping to get onto the plane before demanding they fly him somewhere other than what was planned? I have no idea, and I hope I never find out. Life’s too short to spend more time thinking about him and not my own life.

So that was the start to our vacation. It certainly made for an interesting day but was definitely not something I would call a highlight of our trip.

In the next post I will share with you some about my roots in rural Georgia, about and visiting my grandma, and about why she’s one of the most important people in the world to me.

Next time: I talk about our visit to Georgia and share some background around my memories of visiting as a child.